Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Thoughts on the Thoughts of God

I rarely attend church here in Rakitovo. I'll go once every other month or so, and it'll be to the Evangelical Church as opposed to the Adventist one. It's even more rare that I attend both in one weekend. I think I've done that only one other weekend the whole time I've been here. I decided to go because, otherwise I'd have spent the whole weekend couped up in my apartment. I had nothing going on. No plans. At first it sounds glorious, but then it can get a little lonely. I needed to get out.
I think of the frustrations I feel with life here: the misunderstandings, the desire for something better, for people to act differently, to "come to their senses," and I imagine that's how God feels about me. I look at some of the people here, and I wish they'd view the world a little differently. I wish they'd live their lives a little differently - wish they'd act a little differently - wish they'd prioritize a little differently. I'm sure that's the exact way God feels about me. "Oh, Apryl, if you'd just do it My way and trust in Me, you'd see that your life is a whole lot happier."
It's easy to look at someone and look at all the ways they need to "change" their life. It's hard to look at yourself and realize the same. It's even harder, once you've realized all the ways you need to change, to put those changes into action. Actually, I see a lot of things about myself that I would love to change, but I don't know how to go about doing that. And I realize that I'm truly powerless to change myself in any extreme way that really matters. Why do I demand that others around me change? I've come to the conclusion that only God can really effect any huge change. That's just my point of view.
Anyway, back to the two church services.... They're interesting. There's actually quite a bit of bickering in the Adventist church. They're wonderful people, don't get me wrong, but they sometimes confide in me about the "sins" of others. Yesterday, they got into a friendly argument during Sabbath School because the one directing the lesson didn't want the discussion portion to run long. The Sabbath School here is a time for discussion - where most people ask questions and weigh in on what the lesson study says. If there's too much discussion, they won't get through the lesson. It was amusing watching the lesson leader play time-keeper and cut people off when they started to get a little long-winded. The entire church service goes for about three hours.
At the Evangelical Church, there isn't a lot of discussion. We get together and listen to what the pastor (a really sweet guy) has to say. The whole service lasts a little over an hour.
I'll get into theological discussions/debates with members of the Adventist church because a lot of the talk centers on logic and Truth. It's not good for me because my Biblical knowledge is not so hot, and my Bulgarian certainly doesn't help the issue. For example, one of the leaders turned to me and mentioned that the final power in the prophecy of Daniel 2 was the United States - which I've heard several times before. I mentioned that I'd also heard a hypothesis that it might be a reference to Europe and the European Union. Another church member was brought over, and he talked about the EU trying to unite through constitution votes and referendums, but he doubted it would happen. This seemed to support the hypothesis I referenced. But who knows? Maybe Asia will make the a union that will fall in line with the prophecy and they'll be the final power. If a Biblical Scholar is reading this right now s/he is probably shaking her/his head: "Please, Apryl, Daniel 2 a reference to Asia? Pshaw!" I don't know 'cause I'm not really the type of person that gets excited about trying to figure out calculations of years in history and spiritual prophecy. It's not my thing, but it seems to be what many Adventists are all about. And I feel like some of them can't understand why someone else wouldn't be interested in that. "Hello! It's the End of Times! How can you be so non-chalant about it?" "Well...." I think it has to do with Adventists and their insistance on knowing the Truth. I refuse to digress.
I never get into any such discussions at the Evangelical Church. It's mostly conversations about trials and difficulties, and then we praise God for being with us and shake hands saying, "Glory to God."
The sermon at the Adventist Church this week was about "hot, cold, and tepid" Christians. It was a good sermon, and the speaker repeatedly emphasized that only God is able to judge who is "hot," who is "cold," and who is "tepid." Even when others tried to hypothesize about what might constitute the definition of a "cold" or "tepid" Christian, he exhorted them not to judge. The only thing I wondered about is: If you accept the definition of a "cold" Christian as a person who has completely rejected Christ, can you still call this person a "Christian?" Again, I digress.
The sermon at the Evangelical Church this week was about the trials of Joseph and the phrase which appears multiple times in his story: "God was with Him." It was about how Joseph trusted God no matter how difficult things got, and God gave him success in all he did because God chose Joseph, and Joseph chose God. There was also an illustration about a dandelion seed and how, despite being caught in violent storms, floats along as if it doesn't have a care - completely trusting to be carried to an adequate destination.
And I realized why I like the Evangelical Church so much: We do a lot of singing, listening, and praying. It's all about trusting God in the hard times and relying on Him to take care of us. The sermons are interesting, light, and fluffy, and they make you feel good at the end. There are no demands of real sacrifice - no feelings of "shape up or ship out." God made the sacrifice. Trusting is difficult enough. Light, fluffy, chocolate-covered Christianity. The room is cozy. The people are always smiling. We have a song in our hearts, and we're loving God. The Evangelical Church makes few demands on me, and that's why I like it so much.
The Adventist Church extols me to make sacrifices. The Adventist Church tells me that I'm robbing from God if I'm not paying tithe. The Adventist Church tells me that I should be getting up on Saturday morning to go to church. The Adventist Church tells me I should be spending more time seeking out Truth in the Bible. I should be (gasp!) making sacrifices for God. The chairs are hard. The walls are a blinding white. The people get into debates about how we should worship. Yikes! Save me from the Adventist Church!
So it got me thinking: I really do like my Christianity chocolate-covered. I'm grateful for the sacrifice God made for me, but I'm appalled that others suggest I should be spending more time thinking how I can make sacrifices for Him. I love it when we talk about how amazing God is; how He's always there for us. I want my God to be like a big teddybear, or like a loyal dog that continues to adore you even though you run out the door without taking the time to pet it.
I'm inclined to believe that True Christianity lies somewhere between these two church services. Both are valid, and both have something to teach me about my relationship with God. Maybe it all comes down to spiritual pathways, and how we, as different individuals, experience God differently. I would imagine that He wouldn't mind a bit more sacrifice on our parts. I wonder if this means that I should continue attending both services. :)

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