Monday, June 25, 2012

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO HANG OUT? CHURCH, OR THE BAR AT "CHEERS?"


I’m sure those of you who know that I am a dedicated Christian will assume that you know what answer I plan on giving. Well, read on . . .

Houstonwe have a problem
What is the problem that made me pose the title/question and ask where you would prefer hanging out? Well, it’s something I’ve been aware of for some time.

But first, to start the subject rolling, in the next few paragraphs, I’m going to give you two situations that have happened to me, and I know that most of you have also experienced it. Then, I’ll move on to the crux of the issue and comment on “Cheers,” the TV show set in a bar in Boston.

Often, I take a walk around the neighborhood and sometimes see someone ahead coming down the sidewalk toward me. For some reason, I get a little nervous feeling that we shouldn’t just pass like ships in the night without saying something. When we eventually pass, do we speak? Not usually—although one of us may give out a weak smile. After we pass I, like many others experience a strange awkwardness because I didn’t say anything. Isn’t that strange, I thought to myself, that strangers don’t speak something to each other? We’re both human beings and at some point back in time we probably shared the same progenitors. Somehow, we ought to be relating.

Then I imagined the insides of that person I just passed and I say to myself:  Way down deep in that person’s heart, we’re both alike. We have the same needs; we want to be noticed, feel valued and significant, experience fellowship, be loved and listened to. Also, God loves that person, just like he loves me.

When I amble home from my walk, I board the elevator on the ground floor to go up to my unit on the top floor of my condominium. Someone may get on with me whom I don’t know, even though we live in the same building. Then there is the lo o o o o n g, silent ride, accompanied by an awkward feeling because we aren’t saying anything as we impatiently wait for the elevator to hurry up and reach our respective floors. During that time, for something to do, we stare at the lights of each floor the elevator dings past. Fortunately, out of desperation, if the weather outside is bad, a comment or two may be shared about it. If no weather to comment on, then silence during the ride is guaranteed. However, sometimes, when getting off the elevator, one or the other of us, trying to overcome the sense of awkwardness, says, “Have a good afternoon.” And then the other person says, “You too.” At least we said something. It helps . . . a little. But when I'm in that close proximity with another human being, something inside still nags at me, telling me that I should be connecting somehow. But I'm not.

Most all of us have experienced this. Why? Because God made us that way. He implanted within us relational needs that can only be filled through communicating with others.

The tragedy is that many of us aren't brave enough to make the first gesture. We hang back. Now, I’m not saying to get buddy-buddy with strangers on the street you might pass. That could prove dangerous. But a “Good morning,” said, not in a humdrum monotone but with some exuberance behind it, can affect the person whose path you cross, even if you never see them again. It may make a difference in their day, in their mood, or something they may have been worrying about, and somehow something inside us fills fulfilled because we did it. Every human being needs to relate to other human beings—to give to them and receive something back—even if it’s just a voice that says “Good Morning.” To miss or avoid that opportunity can be serious.

Sticks and stones are hard on bones aimed with angry art.
Words can sting like anything but silence breaks the heart.(2)

No human being, whether we know them or not, should live in that kind of silence.

What do people grasp at to fulfill the need for relationships?
People pursue various avenues to fulfill these inner needs because it is so embedded in us. For the majority, the solution is to affiliate with a group of some kind. There are four options:

  • Bars
  • Churches
  • Clubs and organizations (parties, softball and bowling teams, etc.)
  • Social media: (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.)
Each of the above options, regarding communication and the fulfilling of relationships, have both positive and negative sides: 
Bars:
Negatives: Drinking, perhaps to excess, a possible seamy environment, and loss of money. 
Positives:  Familiar faces; everyone knows your name; they’re glad to see you; they listen to your story non-judgmentally; tell you you’re still okay in spite of your failings; a place to trade stories, blow off steam, commiserate with one another, tell a few jokes, share your joys, sorrows, victories, defeats, problems at home, and dreams for the future. It can be a satisfying and relaxing camaraderie that will fill inner needs.
Churches:
Negatives: If a large church, personal relationships may be nil. On Sundays you may shake someone’s hand, exchange a few superficial comments, sit in one of the pews, sing hymns, listen to the preaching and then go home. While you may be greeted by someone and shake their hand, generally, for many church-goers, no real friendships are established that will continue outside of church—more especially for older singles who recognize that they don’t fit in socially without a spouse. (Special note: Lack of extended relationships between churchgoers outside of Sunday is not the fault of pastors—this is up to individuals.) 
Again, if a very large church, the deacons do not check with their elderly widows and widowers to see if they need help with anything (not necessarily financial), and oftentimes the elderly, when trying to telephone their large church to request help, find that it simply proves unproductive. Large churches are often overloaded with numerous ministries, classes, mission projects, youth programs and providing food to the homeless. As one pastor told me, “We have too much on our plate to take care of the widows.” 
Positives: If seeking God in a large or small church you will find instructions for that. If seeking how to live a good life you will find instructions for that. If wanting the Bible explained you can attend a class. If you need prayer for a problem someone is there to pray for you. You see familiar faces from previous Sundays. If you want to relate to them, you can shake their hands and chat a little, even if no relationships are established during the week. That at least half-fills the bill. Still, there is an exuberant excitement about Sunday mornings in at least saying hello to familiar faces. This kind of once-a-week-on-Sunday kind of fleeting relationship can be uplifting and is better than nothing. Pastors who recognize the need for members to personally relate with each other more than just on Sundays, knowing that the majority won't, set up small groups (cell groups) that meet during the week in someone’s home. There, members can get to know people much better in a more intimate setting. But normally that doesn’t mean the member will necessarily have a one on one relationship with any of them during the rest of the week in their everyday life. Still, it also helps to fill the bill. In small churches in particular, relationships are fulfilled to a higher  degree; plus, deacons will periodically call their elderly widows and widowers to see if they need any help.
Clubs & Organizations
Negatives: Fun and communication takes place which half-fills the bill, but no real intimacy where deep personal needs can be shared or met. 
Positives:  There is partial fulfillment of inner needs due to the simple act of interacting with other human beings. 
Social Media
Negatives: No real relationship or camaraderie is formed. Individuals on computers spend hours in their attempt to make connections with others, hoping to fill their needs. But they will never meet those people in person. 
Positives:  Even if no real personal relationships are established, one can, nevertheless, ask questions on a site that addresses personal problems and hope to find some kind of help. Or, one can fulfill someone else’s needs by answering others' questions.
A Word About "Cheers."
After all these years, Cheers continues to remain popular. Many still tune in on the reruns to watch Sam and Diane, Rebecca and Carla, Norm and Sam, Cliff, Frasier Crane and Woody sit around and talk about everything, their joys, problems and sorrows, and relate to each other. 


“Cheers touched something deep within the American public,” says Pastor Ray Pritchard, of “Keep Believing Ministries.”(2) What exactly is it that we were touched by? The answer is simple and is contained in the words to the Cheers theme song:
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go . . .Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same You wanna be where everybody knows Your name. 
Remember what happened every time Norm walked through the door at Cheers? Everyone called out, “Norm!” Do you think that made Norm feel good? You better believe it. They acknowledged him as a person of significance. Many of us, like Norm, want to walk into a room and hear our name called out in greeting. It’s great when “everybody knows your name.”

Acknowledgment as a person made me recall a recent sermon at my church where the two pastors were giving cute illustrations in a dialogue about the silly things children fantasize what they’re going to be when they grow up, and how as adults those desires change. As I listened, I asked myself this: “What, as a child, did I want to be when I grew up?” There was no hesitation. I remember it well. It wasn’t the usual nurse, movie star or fairy princess. It was, “When I grow up, I want people to acknowledge me as a person, so when I say something they’ll pay attention.” (Obviously, I didn’t have too good of a childhood, which I won’t go into except to say that I didn't view myself as a "person." I considered myself unseen, a zero, of no importance to anyone.)

God planted that inner hope in me—a need to seek for something from others that would indicate I had value as a person. I still have that same wish. Everybody wants to be acknowledged as a person who matters to someone.

This is why people are drawn to the neighborhood bar. They want to be recognized. They want to be able to share their problems and talk about what’s inside of them and receive some kind of acknowledgment back. Miles Franklin said, “Someone to tell it to is one of the fundamental needs of human beings.” Will they find it at the bar? Yes.

Joining in this dialogue are Pastors Bruce Larson and Keith Miller, in The Edge of Adventure, p. 156, who offer their input as to why people are drawn to bars:

The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is for the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It's an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don't tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers. (Italics mine)

The New Trend—Bars in Churches

I was shocked. Some churches are now building bars in their churches—and with beer! (I saw it on YouTube). Not only that, but some churches are moving their services to local bars and pubs. It’s happening in Dublin, Ireland, Atlanta, GA, Forth Worth, TX, Erie, PA, Lakewood, OH and other places. One can understand why pastors are grasping at this. People feel more comfortable in a relaxed atmosphere and where there is camaraderie, and makes them more susceptible to listening. I mention it only because it’s happening. It doesn’t mean I go along with meeting in bars, nor having alcohol in the church.

I read a post by a Christian man who described how he and his wife worked at the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, MO and were obliged (too long a story to say why) to have a steak dinner with a couple of their “pagan” friends at a local bar. But, after that, he and his wife began going more often, and while the man was there, he began comparing the bar with his local church. He listed 15 advantages the bar had over the church and said he “wished our churches were more like bars.” (http://tatumweb.com/blog/category/rage/; scroll down to post entitled: “What’s Different? Church vs. Bar.”)

On another “church bar” website, one commenter described how “fun and casual” it was and how it never got rowdy; the bartenders were nice and funny but professional; and the couches and fire place made you feel comfortable where you could get cozy and have a conversation.

Chuck Swindoll, in his book Encourage Me, pp. 17-18, tells about a Marine buddy of his who at that time cursed, drank heavily, was a woman chaser and hated church. Swindoll was shocked to later find out that he became a Christian. When they met again, this is what his buddy told him: 
Chuck, the only thing I miss is that old fellowship all the guys in our outfit used to have down at the Slop Shoot (Greek for tavern on base). Man, we’d sit around, laugh, tell stories, drink a few beers, and really let our hair down. It was great. I just haven’t found anything to take the place of that great time we used to enjoy. I ain’t got nobody to admit my faults to . . . to have ‘em put their arm around me and tell me I’m still okay. 
The heavy point Chuck Swindoll’s Marine friend made about missing the bar, even though he now attended a church, is this:  “We will go anywhere and pay almost any price to find someone who will care about what we are going through.” The bar provides a relaxed atmosphere where people can let their hair down and contribute to intimate relationships—at least intimate enough where they can share their needs and find a listening ear. If they don’t find true friends in the traditional church (not surface friends or momentary shake-hands-only friends), they’ll go somewhere else. This is why I feel that church members need to start extending themselves more to others at church, like communicating with a few of them during the week, so it's not just on Sundays. Maybe go to lunch together one day. Or, simply call them on the telephone to touch base. (Lack of  extended friendships during the week between churchgoers is not the fault of pastors. It’s our fault because we hang back.)

In researching this subject and finding out about these church bars and what they offer, I suddenly realized the great thing that my own church was doing. It was comparable to the bar atmosphere and I wasn’t aware of it, although I don't think they were trying to purposely imitate one.

They have built a cozy section near the main entrance containing small café-like tables, comfortable couches, a fireplace, and a large food and drink bar. Many congregate there before, in-between and after the service.

I noticed one lady in her early thirties sitting at one of the small tables last Sunday. I didn’t know her, but reminding myself of how I needed to be more aggressive and start making contact with people—not only to fill their need, but my own as well—I went over to her. I hesitated due to the huge age difference between us thinking she wouldn’t relate to me; nevertheless, I bit the bullet and introduced myself.

We chatted for a few minutes and I found out it was her first time at my church. Eventually, I said, “The service is about to start.” I pointed to the sanctuary door so she’d know where to go. She said, “Oh no, I just prefer sitting here and I’ll watch it on the monitor.” (We have two wall-mounted TV monitors). She preferred the relaxed, unsophisticated setting instead of going into a church-structured service. How wonderful that my church provides this! It’s comparable to the cozy bar setting that many may have been used to, but with no alcohol; and the language will always be “Christian.” The place is always packed.

A Word About Churches
Most churches have more or less five major objectives that they emphasize to their congregations: (1) Read the Bible; (2) Witness and get other people saved/born again; (3) donate to Missions; (4) contribute food to the poor in the community; and (5) take various classes of instruction—all Biblically worthy objectives. But oftentimes when these are set as the focused priorities, it automatically pushes other imperatives down the list.

The number one priority of what I believe God wants us to do in the church (and for non-Christians outside the church) is for individuals to connect in a real way, to communicate and make others feel valued and have their needs filled (as well as their own). For Christians, how can others be witnessed to if the person doesn't feel that the person witnessing to them values them as a person? This must come first. This life should be all about relationships and communicating. In the Christian context, let's take Adam and Eve as an example:

Before the Fall God created the perfect environment. In the evenings, God walked and talked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. That communicative relationship was all that God required of them, other than for them to tend the garden. Adam and Eve had nothing else to do—no one to witness to or lead to the Lord; no one to intercede for in prayer; no church to be active in; no Sunday school classes to attend. All they did, and were meant to do, from God’s perspective, was to enjoy their intimate relationship with God and talk with Him. (Gen 3:8) After the Fall, God meant for them, as well as their offspring, to continue to enjoy their relationship with him through prayer, and establish similar affinities and bonds with other human beings.

Rev. 4:11 says that God created Adam and Eve and all of creation simply “for His pleasure.” What was His pleasure? To love Adam and Eve and talk with them. His pleasure was also for Adam and Eve to enjoy that relationship and love Him back in the very same way he loved them. Then, when other humans came along, which includes us, he wants the same thing—for us to love Him and love others by communicating, establishing relationships and bonds and thus fill the major inner need of both God and man. That man has inherited the same inner needs of God stands to reason because the scriptures tell us that God made us in his (inner) image. Therefore, we naturally have the same desires as God to relate and communicate. It is embedded in man.

How Can We Go About This?
Here are some general steps:
  1. Speak to others (“Good morning,” etc., use their name if you know it.)
  2. Shake their hands (or give them a pat on the back or shoulder)
  3. Try to establish deeper communication skills, e.g., ask questions and listen with genuine interest.
  4. Establish a personal relationship and then keep in touch (not just on Sundays, but other days)
  5. Get to actually “know” the person.
Regarding No. 5, what does it really mean to “know” someone in order to relate to them and be a friend? The kind of knowing that God wants us to be involved in is different than just knowing about someone.

Let’s take a look at the word “know,” because there are different meanings. For example, John 17:3 says this: 
For this is life eternal, to know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” 
What kind of “knowing” God is that supposed to be? The Greek word to know someone simply from observation is Oida. But the Greek word for “know” used in the above passage is Ginosko. It is a knowing that is intimate. How intimate? It's as intimate as you can get.

The Greek word, Ginosko, is also used in Luke 1:34 where Mary says to the angel who has told her she's going to have a baby, “How can this be when I know not a man.” We know what she means by the context. If the Old Testament were written in Greek instead of Hebrew, Ginosko would also be used where it says in Genesis 4:1, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bare Cain.”

So, the kind of “know” that Jesus referred to above in John 17:3, is an intimate knowingnot just knowing about someone. This is the level of intimacy that should not only be had by the believer for God, but by the believer for others, and if possible by non-Christians for others. That God wants us to do this is reflected in Jesus’ statement, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)

But are we all capable of love? No. Here are the harsh realities:

If we had a poor childhood with no loving parents, it can hinder our adulthood in showing love to others. You simply can’t give what you have never experienced. You may not even know what love feels like.

For Christians, here is a harsh reality: If they want to give and show a Godly love to others but have a poor relationship with God and don’t fully understand His love or ever felt it, they won’t be able to relay this to others. How can you offer a Godly love to someone if you have never experienced God’s love?

Why is experiencing God’s love so important as we attempt to love others? Because we need a supply to draw upon. What kind of supply and why?

If you are called upon, again and again, to show love and perform loving acts to others, even your own family members, and you’re trying to muster it up from your own reservoir, you can quickly become empty, drained and exhausted—especially when demands are strong and situations unbearable. You can become so spent, you can reach a point where you feel no love at all and have nothing more to give. (If you’ve lived long enough, you will probably experience this.) You can, of course, fake it, but it will be hollow and others will recognize it as such. We need a way to replenish ourselves when we run dry, and we can’t do it by pulling love up through our own bootstraps.

The only way to keep giving love is to draw upon an additional supply that is inexhaustible. Where do we find an unlimited supply of love such as that to carry us through when our own love gives out?

Jesus said the believer can receive that liberal supply of love through the Holy Spirit. This is part of the “life more abundantly” mentioned in John 10:10. When we accept Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and resides within us and gives us special access to God and His love. The Holy Spirit provides within us a deep reservoir of His love to draw upon. We then have the means to replenish our supply when we run dry so we can continue in Godly relationships with others. Not the “How do you do” kind of relationship, although that’s good for a start, but the arm-around-the-shoulder type, the heart-to-heart intimate “knowing” that must be accompanied by love, or we will fail in our relationship attempts. 


Is there another reason we might fail on our own? Yes. Everyone has faults, and you will see them as you deal with people. Seeing those faults could possibly turn one's natural love off. This is why lowering our “bucket” into that spiritual well provided by the Holy Spirit, and drawing up God’s supernatural love will enable us to continue on. It also enables us when we become depleted from exhausted giving. If you are a Christian, that love is already in your heart. You just have to allow it to come forth.

Is Love One of God's "Laws?"
This article has talked about filling others needs, but there is another aspect we should be aware of. It is a “law” of God that we do so. James emphasized in James 2:8, that we must live the "Royal Law:" 
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin [and] are guilty of breaking the law. 
Surely, no one wants to break God's laws. Which of the ten commandments pertains to this royal law? You may recall that Jesus, when asked which of the ten commandments was the greatest, summed it up in two, and it all has to do with love:
“Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second that is equally important is, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and all the demands of the prophets. (Matt 22: 36-40)           
So, there's only two things to focus on: love God and love your neighbor. This requires that we extend ourselves to everyone in a communicative relationship. This will fill the inner needs that God placed into us. Pastor Ray Pritchard (op cit) says that to extend ourselves in a tender, affectionate, genuine and Godly kind of love in relationship:
. . . transcends status, achievement race, ethnic background, money, education, talent, language, culture, age, sex, or any of the many other barriers that divide the human race into different groups. 
People keep going back to the bars, even if they are one-night stands, because of the camaraderie they can’t seem to find elsewhere. Maybe they tried a church and found it to be unfriendly. At a bar, they are allowed to let their hair down and talk about anything, everything, share and be recognized, but not many can really share their guts like that in a church. This motivated Pastors Larson and Miller to say: 
[the church should be] a fellowship where people can come in and say, "I'm sunk!" "I'm beat!" "I've had it!" (op cit.) 
In the church setting, it isn’t always necessary, when someone starts sharing, to get preachy and start spouting off scriptures or give them a set of point by point instructions of what you think they should hear. More often, what the other person needs is simply to hear you say things like, “Tell me about it,” or “I can sure understand what you’re going through,” or "Is there anything I can do to help?" Or if they're talking about their goals, be excited for them.

#

The objective of this article has been to challenge you so that you don’t pass up lone souls; those who have the same inner needs as you do; those who, as the Cheers song says, are trying to make their way in the world and it’s taking everything they’ve got. These lonely souls can be found both in church and out of church. They need someone to relate to them—someone who will take the time to “know their name.” It therefore behooves us to develop a keener awareness of these God-given inner needs. It’s easy—just think of your own needs. Others have the same ones. Look for opportunities to help others; lend a shoulder; fill their need to be valued; rejoice with them and share tears with them when they’re down. Shortly before his death, Frank Sinatra was asked what he does when the woman he loves is crying. He simply replied, “I cry with her.”

Being a non-Christian or a Christian friend means being a person who lovingly understands what the other person is going through, makes them feel comfortable enough so that they can just let it all hang out with no fear of judgment or preaching from you. Ella Wheeler Wilcox said: 
Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.  
If you are the shy, hang-back type, try to change. Don’t let other human beings experience the “silence that breaks the heart.” Become an aggressor in establishing relationships and don’t hesitate to communicate with the people you meet in church on days other than Sundays. Also, don’t forget the person you pass by on the sidewalk or ride in the elevator with who just may need to hear a friendly hello from another human being.

The universal problem of wanting to be recognized, have someone know your name, communicate, relate, feel significant, be valued, experience fellowship, be loved and listened to exists in every human being. Become aware of these needs. 

Relationships are what God created us for!

It's up to you.

Until next time,
Janis (If you enjoyed this article, please pass it on by clicking on the "share" buttons located at the top of this article.)







ENDNOTES
1.  Phyllis McGinley, in "Ballade of Lost Objects.”
2.  Ray Pritchard, “An Oasis in a Spiritual Desert.” www.Christianity.com.

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