Real Christians …

September 22, 2017

I interrupted my vacation with a quick business trip. Drove back from the Savannah airport to Hilton Head in the morning.

Saw that billboard again.

“Real Christians…Love their enemies.”

Former magazine guy that I am, I thought here’s a series.

Real Christians …

How would you fill in the blanks?

From the fruit of the spirit? From the Sermon on the Mount? Real Christians…are peacemakers. Real Christians…live with compassion.

Or maybe Real Christians…are filled with awe and wonder?

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I was interrupted in my meditation this morning by the people I’m staying with in Hilton Head to go to the beach and watch the sun rise. A beautiful dawn, don’t you think? Made me reflect on many Psalms.

Fill Your Mind And Your Life With the Good News

September 21, 2017

I return often to the teaching of what you fill your mind with will determine what sort of person you will become.

Therefore, I do not fill my mind on sensationalism in news or news with an agenda. Those are only designed to get your emotions worked up so that you’ll stay on channel and watch the ads. (I’m in the media, I know how it works.)

But I do fill my mind with good teaching. One of my favorites is John Ortberg. He is teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. A few months ago I spent some time in those early chapters of Matthew recently. Powerful teaching.

Ortberg asked where you get your news. It was a trick question. For Jesus told the people that he brought the Good News. And what was the Good News (gospel)?

The Kingdom of God was here.

We could, if we so chose, to live in the Kingdom of God. Right now. Right here.

Check out the Lord’s Prayer–“thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

This was not the kingdom of “things you gotta do to get to heaven.” It is the kingdom of how to live. Starting now. Even starting before you understand who Jesus is.

The Gospels teach us over and over how to live that life in the kingdom of God.

Yet, we over the centuries have perverted and turned upside down Jesus’ simple teaching. 

Say, “I’d like to live in the Kingdom of God and be a follower of Jesus.” Read the Sermon on the Mount. Try to live that kind of life that Jesus describes. 

You’ve switched citizenship from the world to God. And that’s a good thing. Even the Good News.

Getting Rid of Things From Your Life

September 20, 2017

In my reading yesterday, I came across some thoughts from a guy who is a bundle of nervousness. Somebody my therapist daughter would make a career from.

Side note: notice the reading part. I saw an article the other day about how reading rewires your brain in a good way. Did you know that your brain is not a static instrument. It is constantly changing. You can feed it information and experiences and it will grow in size and complexity. Or you can starve it, and it will shrink leading to bad things later in life. So, deepen and expand your reading. It’s a good thing.

Anyway, the guy was talking about shedding his life of things that no longer mattered. While at it, someone raised his anger. Then he thought, that’s something else I should get rid of. Anger.

Anger rises naturally. You can’t always stop it. But you can decide to get over it. It is up to you. Do I let it control me? Or, do I assume control over it?

Do you know anyone consumed by anger? Not very pleasant people, are they?

I’m ashamed of myself for years after I lose my temper and give in to the emotion.

The Apostle Paul put it this way–anger lets the devil set up a staging area in your life. Sort of like those construction sites where the contractor piles up all the materiel that will be used to construct the building. We need to be careful lest something negative build up in our lives.

I prefer to the best of my ability to fill my mind with only things that will help it grow–grow in knowledge, grow in understanding, grow in compassion, grow in love.

Things that are designed solely to provoke negative emotions such as fear and anger–those I banish. Think TV news for one.

Think Of It As a Way of Living

September 19, 2017

Listening to a couple of guys chatting on a podcast about productivity sent me into my library to scan a good book I’ve read a couple of times–Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

The book is sort of an evangelistic message for helping us become more productive, more effective, and less stressed while doing it.

He talks about some classic things like learning to say no, focusing on what’s important, eliminating extraneous tasks and effort, watching your health, and the like.

But McKeown dropped this little gem on me:

Think of it as something you are. It is a different way–a simpler way–of doing everything. It becomes a lifestyle. It becomes an all-encompassing approach to living and leading. It becomes the essence of who we are.

I thought about this for a while.

Isn’t being a follower of Jesus like that?

It is not politics.

It is not singing a few songs with people we know and listening to a preacher once a week–most weeks.

It is not proving I’m better than someone else.

It is not about separating the sheep from the goats before the final judgement.

On the other hand…

It is following Matthew 25–feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner.

It is like the “Good Samaritan.”

It is living out our spiritual gifts every day.

It is treating everyone we meet with respect and the love of God.

It is going the second mile.

It is becoming one with God just like our teacher was.

It is a way of life.

Real Christians…

September 18, 2017

In the southern Bible Belt of the US, the most outspoken theme of Christian messaging is conversion. That is, “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.”

As we travel south on vacation, we are always greeted by a parade of two types of billboards. One tempts you into visiting an “adult” store or stripper club. I’ve never visited an “adult” store, but I imagine it is, well, for adults. The other series of billboards attempts to provoke a conversion–whether by guilt or fear (usually fear).

This billboard in Virginia was different.

“Real Christians…Love Their Enemies”

Well, that is what Jesus instructed, right?

He said that anyone can love their friends. Even the pagans. But as for his followers, they should take this love thing to a new level.

So, what about this love thing?

Certainly not emotional. How about in action? Like when he followed up that discussion with examples such as “when someone asks you to carry his baggage for a mile, do it for two” or “when someone slaps you on the left cheek, turn the other”.

I’ve been injured by a few people in my life. Some years ago one of these people was talking with me. I listened politely and civilly, then went on my way. A friend asked, “Don’t you hate that guy?”  I replied, well, I don’t like what he did to me, but that’s no excuse not to be civil if I can’t otherwise avoid the conversation.

That’s probably on the weak side of love. But it beats the alternative–for both of us.

We are often too complicated. We overthink things. Why not just do the simple thing and move on?

And life goes on.

Christ Is All In All

September 15, 2017

“In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

There we have it. For 2,000 years. Right there in front of us. This is from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. But he wrote the same thing in other places.

We are struggling with this concept. Aren’t we? 

And by “we” I mean humans. Everywhere. In the US we are still struggling with some white people trying to come to grips emotionally with the existence of people with other skin colors or ways of living.

But not just us. Look at other “we” places. Myanmar. Terrible things happening there. Africa. Tribal divisions are still killing people. The Middle East. The areas around the Black and Caspian Seas. Britain. Germany. France.

As a society we have advanced much during the past 150 years. But we have a long way to go.

I was thinking about this sentence from Paul.

Why do we ignore it? Often even within churches. 

Does it apply only after they are “saved”? But how did they get into the church in the first place? Someone ignored the differences, saw Christ in everyone, and invited them in.

Jesus didn’t surround himself with Christians. He surrounded himself with people who wanted to learn to be like him. And notice how many different types of people he interacted with while not even leaving Galilee.

Then I wondered if this may be just an intellectual exercise for us? We can repeat the words. Maybe even agree with them in our mind. But then we go out and meet someone different–color, piercings or not, tattoos or not, Western dress or Middle Eastern dress–and fail to treat them all with equal respect.

One spiritual discipline is to study the Word. Another is to act like we have read it.

With Freedom Comes Responsibility

September 14, 2017

I follow technology issues. Pressure has been building for quite some time for the social platform providers to clamp down on hate speech. The whining that follows inevitably cites “free speech.” It is my firm belief that any freedom not treated with responsibility is not a freedom for all.

I think about Jesus setting people free–from sins, from health issues, from mental health issues (demons). He always had some sort of responsibility tied to it.

The men who founded a government in the US based on liberty as a foundation had much to say about liberty and responsibility. I remembered one, but I thought I’d better check my sources. So I found this Website with quotes from the founders of the US government:

George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,”[6] and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.”

Benjamin Franklin said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” 

James Madison stated: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.”

Samuel Adams said: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”

Patrick Henry stated that: “A vitiated [impure] state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom.”

John Adams stated: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Virtue ennobles individual character and lifts society as a whole. Virtuous principles eschew prejudice and discrimination, confirming that “all men are created equal.” Virtue encompasses characteristics of goodwill, patience, tolerance, kindness, respect, humility, gratitude, courage, honor, industry, honesty, chastity and fidelity. These precepts serve as the cornerstones for both individual happiness and societal governance.

Or maybe adding in the Apostle Paul who asked rhetorically once, “Since we are freed from the consequences of sin, should we go out and sin more so that we can get more grace?” His answer, of course, was “No”. Then he wrote letter after letter explaining a better way to live.

So That You May Lead Lives

September 13, 2017

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,”
Paul writes these thoughts to the Colossians. 

In our rush to parse through the Bible in a rush to pull out rules that make us different (better) than others or in a rush to apply to politics, we miss the “so that.”

Why do we study, pray, meditate, grow in knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding?

So that, we may lead lives worthy of the Lord. What kind of life? Pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work, strong in character able to withstand those who are against us.

Thinking of descriptions such as compassion, joy, kindness, humility, patience.

What we know is only a foundation or a guide to living a better life. Paul, Jesus, James, Peter, the whole lot of them stretching back to Moses and all the prophets explain what that better way of living is. 

Yet, so many Christians miss that point. It is so sad. They miss the joy in the midst of their anger or pride.

For years I have made it my prayer that from the time I get up in the morning or when I leave the room after a study group that God will guide me to living a life pleasing in his sight.

Let Your Speech Always Be Gracious

September 12, 2017

“Let your speech always be gracious.”

Paul says that in his letter to the Colossians where he instructs them on how to live.

I notice that he added no qualifiers. 

There is a reason–that we might be persuasive.

Does that mean that we make our points better with gracious speech rather than shouting?

Earlier in the letter, just to let us know this is important, he says, “But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”

I read these teachings and I feel challenged. I’m instinctively analytical. I analyze everything. And everyone. And often it is best that I keep all that thinking to myself. But sometimes…sometimes I say what’s on my mind anyway. Then I’m embarrassed for days.

My speech, verbal and written, must be for building up, not for tearing down.

And that’s a challenge.

How do we do that?

Paul answers. “Set your mind on things that are above.”

We become what we think about. If we are always focused on our passions, our anger, ourselves, then our speech will betray our thoughts and inner turmoil.

If we focus on Jesus and “things that are above”, then our communication will follow. Full of grace, understanding, encouraging.

What was your last Facebook post? (That seems to be the place that brings out the worst in us.) Mine was about eating Italian food. I figure that’s safe. (Well, and this gets automatically posted to Facebook. I hope my meditations are gracious more often than not.)

Be Wise In The Way You Act Toward Outsiders

September 11, 2017

“Well, isn’t it just a matter of law?” he asked. “After all they (immigrants) are here illegally.”

He was a man I respect. He was trying to be respectful while still embodying the typical rural Midwestern values he’d grown up with. It only just made sense to him.

I understand.

But, still, if only life were simple. If only everyone just followed all the laws and rules, life would be great, many think.

Many have always thought. If only everyone were like us and if only they followed our rules and laws, then the world would be perfect.

Except–that didn’t even work in the villages that many of my contemporaries grew up in. Of course, I was an outlier. In a predominantly Lutheran town, I was Methodist. In most of the villages, “everyone” was of the same Christian persuasion. The eastern half of the area where I grew up was Lutheran; the western half Catholic. Much like where all the ancestors came from–Central Europe, principally Germany.

But even the villages in the area are admitting “outsiders” at a growing rate. There are protestants in some formerly 99% Catholic villages. I remember the first time I saw a black person walking unafraid down a street in a local town. I asked, does he live there? Yes, my friends responded, we are changing.

I’m reading about this phenomenon occurring globally. It’s still difficult in a lot of areas where people still sometimes pick up weapons and drive out or kill outsiders.

But Paul, writing in a different time and place, understood this mixing of people. People of different religions, tribes, skin colors, all lived in the same city. Then some became Christ-followers. And Paul advised them, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

That’s in his letter to the Colossians. He understood. How do you help people find a new life with Jesus if you talk about them disparagingly? How do you help one person find that eternal life that begins right now if you don’t speak kindly to them? How do you serve other people as James instructs us if you don’t act wisely toward outsiders–that is, those who are different from us?

How many opportunities for help or for our own growth have we missed by disrespecting people who live around us yet are not like us?

I’m guessing, based on my own experiences, way too many.