Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Gospel for the Middle: A Synchroblog

Today I’m taking a “synchroblog” challenge from Frank Viola. The idea is to repost his hypothetical, but quite realistic, scenario, then write your answer to the question at the end.
Before I do that, though, I should note that this scenario is anything but hypothetical to me. I was Fielding for the first 2 years of my life in Christ. My mother still is.
After I present my answer, I’d like to hear your own response to the question at the end.
So, here’s the scenario:

The following exercise is from the synchroblog at
Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.
One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.
Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.
Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.
Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.
Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.
Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.
Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?

Before I answer, I have to make a few assumptions here (since I’m an engineer, I have to list them):
  • By “extended family,” I assume Fielding’s cousin is not among them, though his parents presumably are. The cousin isn’t close enough to see the Melish family more often than once a year.
  • Fielding doesn’t use the Web, and may resist using the Web.
OK, with that, here’s how I’d see the conversation between Fielding and his cousin going:

Cousin:You know, Fielding, I’ve been thinking a lot about something you said last time. You said you and Felicia would love to find a church in your area.
Fielding:Yeah, but you seem to like any of them near us. (laughing) Seriously, I see why you don’t. Felicia isn’t too thrilled with that idea, either.
Cousin:From what you’ve said about them, I don’t really think they’d do you much good. I know you don’t like the Internet…
Fielding:No way! Besides, our computer is so old, I don’t think anything new would work on it.
Cousin:It might, but you’re probably right. All the churches I can think of use stuff that your old machine won’t run well, if at all. They block folks like you who don’t want to upgrade, or can’t afford to.
Fielding:Yeah, have you seen the prices for the new models?
Cousin:Too often. But, hey, you can play CDs and DVDs on something, right?
Fielding:Well, yeah, but it’s hard to watch a DVD while I’m out in the workshop.
Cousin:How about an audio CD? Like an audio book?
Fielding:I don’t know. It can get pretty noisy when I’m out there, although I guess I could crank the volume up a bit.
Cousin:Here’s what I’m thinking. Our little church doesn’t record their services yet, but I’m thinking about asking them if they would let me do it. I’d like to tap into their sound board directly, but something with a microphone would work, too. I could record the pastor’s message each week, burn them onto a CD, and mail them to you for you to hear.
Fielding:That’s a little impersonal, isn’t it? I mean, what if I’ve got a question about what he says? Or what if I don’t agree with something he says?
Cousin:That’s a good point. Maybe you could write them down and mail them to me, or to my pastor, if he’s willing?
Fielding:I’d rather ask you. I don’t mean any offense to your pastor, but I don’t know him. You know I don’t have a college education, either. I wouldn’t want to look stupid to him.
Cousin:You wouldn’t, but I understand.
Fielding:The big problem is having the time to do all that. I’m so busy with Mom and Pop sometimes that I don’t even have time to be in my workshop. I guess I could listen to the CD in my car, but if the road’s noisy, or the kids are, I wouldn’t be able to pay attention.
Cousin:True. Some of the roads you have to take require undivided attention. How about you and Felicia take an hour once a week, like you would if you were in a nearby church, and listen to the CD?
Fielding:That would take care of that problem. I guess we could carve out some time like that. I could also watch some of those television preachers.
Cousin:Um, not all of them are that great. I can give you some suggestions for those to watch for, and those to watch out for.

For the record, this isn’t how my mother and I have handled it. God found us outside of a church setting (or, rather, in spite of a church setting), and that was that. She learned how to get by without any substantial “support system,” while God provided several through halfway-decent churches, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in college, and so forth. The area where we were all “born and raised,” though, sounds too much like the Maine setting of this scenario. Mom had tried to get a home study led by a Calvary Chapel pastor from 60 miles away, but there wasn’t enough local interest to make it worth his trip.
So how would you address Fielding’s situation?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Your Turn: Commands vs. Requests

One of the purposes of this blog has always been to make people think about what they believe, and where their assumptions about their faith come from. I’ve never wanted anyone to doubt their faith or their salvation, but I do want to encourage people to think for themselves, rather than rely on what some preacher or nutcase has said, or what they learned from their youth.
Sometimes, though, there are topics I have problems with myself. I don’t have the responsive readership of the “big-time blogs,” so I rarely get much discussion. That’s disappointing to me, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m always right. I don’t want to be the misleading nutcase!
From time to time, I want to put forth a question or topic I’d like to hear about from others.
Today’s topic for discussion: how does God treat a “command” to His children differently from a “request?” Also, does God make demands of those who are saved?
Now, in this, please note that I’m speaking strictly on those who are saved. I’m also assuming, contrary to what some churches teach, that God doesn’t toss us into the line for the direct bus to Hell if we have a lustful thought or request Him to condemn someone by accident. I assume that, though God “cannot look on sin,” that He sees Christ’s sacrifice instead of our sin. (Habbakuk 1:13 seems to be the main verse for that one, though in context it indicates that God cannot look on sin and not punish the guilty ones, which would be Christ for those who have accepted His sacrifice)
My problem is that I cannot see the essential difference between a “command” (as compared to a “commandment”) and a “request” or “desire” as far as the believer is concerned. If we are right with God, we will want to do what He wants. He shouldn’t have to command; a request should be sufficient.
Is there some sort of earthly “punishment” if we do not obey His commands? Do we lose our salvation?
I’d like some discussion on this. Please do support your comments from Scripture, and discuss the topic or comments, not the people making the comments.
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