Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Christianity Is Not Found Useful

July 18, 2017

Young people do not find Christianity useful. 

Scanning my Twitter feed and saw that tweet.

First thought–this sounds like a recycled news item that pops up every few years. Young people have been abandoning the church for generations.

But the writer didn’t say church, he said Christianity.

Is that the same thing?

The term useful is intriguing.

Maybe in terms of a church… It’s perhaps a place to meet people and be with people.

But maybe at 20 you’re thinking that those are not the type of people I’d like to meet. Perhaps not cute, or fun, or smart? Maybe not useful for meeting friends and a future spouse?

Maybe at 30, I’m thinking about contacts for getting ahead in business or my profession? Maybe not useful for that?

Maybe they are so young that they have not experienced a spiritual crisis, yet. Or they haven’t recognized that they are searching for something undefined.

Or maybe, they have. And they can’t find a church more interested in people than they are in politics.

Not being there on that personal level when a person is seeking spiritually or in spiritual need (which in reality we all are) is a failure of the church far too often. 

Church as a social place or political place, well, that’s bound to turn people off.

Church as the embodiment of Christianity–now that’s useful. Useful because it helps people. 

A half-hour ago, I had only the idea with no idea where it would lead. Then, much like how Jesus would take a physical concept and move it into a spiritual concept, I let the idea take me from the absurd to the spiritual.

What Cannot Be Measured Cannot Be Managed

June 13, 2017

My early career education consisted of engineering and management. The mantra of each was What cannot be measured cannot be managed.

I started thinking about this after several meetings and conversations about the number of churches in my county in west Ohio. The population of Shelby County is approximately 57,000. There are about 100 churches. The rural Midwest of the United States is supposed to be one of those “Bible Belt” areas where “everyone” is a Christian–or at least a church member.

So, there are about 570 people per church. There may be only three churches in the county that are larger than 400 in average attendance. Most of the rest are lucky to have 100 in attendance. Excluding Christmas and Easter, there probably are not as many as 15,000 our of our 57,000 people in church on a weekend. And this is the Bible Belt.

But–does this statistic have any meaning?

Does this relate to the spiritual life of the area?

Is there a correlation between church attendance and spiritual life?

Check out Acts 2. Humans didn’t manage the growth of the early church. It was a manifestation of the outpouring of the Spirit. People joined because “I want what she’s having.”

Maybe in the US we aren’t living the sort of life that attracts others?

Maybe we focus more on politics than on the Gospel?

Maybe our priorities are internal to our group (congregation) rather than external to others?

What if it’s not about managing and more about living a life in the Spirit?

Sometimes You Get What You Need

April 17, 2017

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need — The Rolling Stones

The child uses the persuasive and time-honored technique of screaming to get a candy. Mommy buys fruit.

Followers ask their leader if he is finally going to do what they expect. He says no, but he’ll give them something he thinks is better.

Jesus’ followers, talking with him after his resurrection, ask, Well, now that you pulled off this coming back to life thing after suffering a cruel death, are you going to finally put on the king’s robes, grab a sword, and drive the Romans out of Israel. In so doing, are you going to re-establish the line of legitimate kings and also restore the Temple to the glory it knew under Solomon as the dwelling place of God? (see Acts 1:6)

Jesus said, No.

But, I’ll give you something better. You will get the power of the Holy Spirit from God and then you will go around telling people about me–what I did, how I changed your lives, and what I offer to other people. (apologies to Acts 1:7-8)

As Christ-followers, we are living in a post-Easter world.

Maybe we should get over the childish tantrums of arguing over which theology is more correct–even (throughout history) raising armies and fighting to the death among ourselves to prove whose theology is the best, and actually do what Jesus said and accept his gift.

Come Holy Spirit, enter the hearts of your faithful goes the old prayer.

And we’ll tell people about the power that came over us. Not the power to argue a point. The power of living a full and free life. With-God.

Offering Ourselves As a Living Sacrifice

March 29, 2017

“I appeal to you therefore to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

This was a summation statement by Paul in his discussion to the Christ-followers in Rome.

We are all sinners–that is, we all fall short of doing what we should at all times and can commit any number of acts that separate us from God and people.

We acknowledge our belief that God brought Jesus back to life after he was killed.

We are brought to understanding that there are no divisions within the community of Christ-followers (the church). We are all the same.

Then Paul says, “therefore.”

That means given all these facts, we must do this next.

But what does this mean?

We do not come from a culture of killing live animals on the alter at the Temple.

First Jesus, then Paul, revolutionized the way we think of temples by referring to our bodies as the Temple of the Holy Spirit (that is, God).

Then not only did Jesus revolutionize relationships–basing them on love instead of power, Jesus also revolutionized what we think about God. God does not live in some stone building where we bring animals for a ritual slaughter.

Instead, we see it that our bodies are a temple in which the Spirit dwells. And we offer it to God as a sacrifice–not as one who is killed, but as one who lives.

I’m not sure what all Paul had in mind when he wrote that. But I’m guessing it has to do with things such as

  • Doing things that are pleasing to God
  • Putting into practice the teachings of Jesus about love
  • Putting others ahead of me
  • Giving not only our tithe, but also offerings, generously

As we try to focus during Lent on a Jesus sacrificed and resurrected, maybe we move beyond (at least in America, if not western culture) the Easter bunny, new clothes, candy, and other trivialization of the holiday.

Maybe an act of service. At least once a day. Or, maybe, just as a natural part of living every day.

The Inevitable Result of Great Expectations

December 26, 2016

Clark Griswald had built up a great expectation of a “fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas”. It all went wrong, of course. Or the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” wouldn’t be funny.

One of the subtleties within the movie revealed that the “old-fashioned” Christmas gatherings were not fun. They were stressful. 

And talk about stress–from the failure to bring a power saw to cut down the “perfect, Griswald family tree” at the tree farm, to the dried out tree that flames out, to the new tree from the front yard that contained a squirrel, then the dog and squirrel destroying the house, to the SWAT team–there was plenty to go around.

Some expectations stress us out. And everyone around us. Stress breeds like rabbits.

Jewish people 2,000 years ago (plus or minus a couple of hundred years) had built up great expectations for a new king (called Messiah, or in Greek, Christ–the anointed one of God).

Jesus came. But he fulfilled a bunch of other expectations than what many had. It was a confusion time for many.

Still confusing today.

The disagreements stress out many. Cause many splits among people.

Do you continually build great expectations only to be crushed by reality?

Do you allow others’ differing expectations of the same event to derail your own hopes?

Advent is another way of saying expectation. 

Perhaps that one expectation has been fulfilled. But perhaps we continue to build other expectations. 

Be careful what you hope for.

What is your expectation in the light of Jesus coming?

He Was A Righteous Man

December 22, 2016

If someone were to describe you with a phrase, what would it be?

We have so few facts about Joseph, Jesus’ father. I took a speculative path recently about the trust issue. His first reaction to Mary’s pregnancy was distrust. He figured she had sex with another man. That happens often in today’s America. Back then…not so much.

But the writers say, Joseph, being a righteous man…

He had a vision. It complemented Mary’s vision. Must be God at work.

They formed a family. There were brothers in the house. They followed Jewish religious customers (we can infer because the writers say they went up to Jerusalem as was their custom for Passover.

They lived with Jesus for 30 years.

Yet, they didn’t figure him out.

Joseph disappears from the record after the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12.

Mary pops up a few times, seldom in a supporting role.

James, a brother who like Jesus is steeped in Wisdom teaching, became a leader of the church–but not until after the resurrection.

Joseph was a righteous man who taught his sons well.

What will they say about us?

Living As If Jesus Meant What He Said

October 11, 2016

You guys must be “Red-Letter” Christians. You live as if Jesus meant what he said.

Jim Wallis from the Sojourners Fellowship was on a book tour when he was interviewed by a DJ on the radio in Nashville. The DJ made the exclamation.

The term comes from the old Bibles where all the words of Jesus are printed in red letters.

I’ve no doubt heard the term before. Searching for a couple of Tony Campolo books to read on Amazon, I came across a couple of books with that phrase in the title. I love reading Tony, so I bought them for my Kindle app.

This phrase popped out partly because a few months ago I decided my two or three year depth study of Paul needed a break. I know, I thought, I’ll just go back to the gospels and study not the stories but just the words that Jesus said. That’ll be interesting.

It’s not that the healings were not important. It’s not that the core is not Jesus’ death and resurrection. My curiosity was aroused by what Jesus taught. After all, Jesus really wanted us to change how we live.

That’s why yesterday’s thoughts were important. Jesus said “Listen”, or “Pay attention”. It’s like when Andy Stanley, Sr. Pastor at Northpoint Ministries in the Atlanta area, gets really serious about a point he’s about to make and says, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, listen to this.” We Americans need the speaker to repeat for emphasis, I guess. But I digress.

So I am in Mark. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a large shrub.

Listen all of you Christians who think we should capture the government and force people by the power of law to do what we say.

Do not look for the kingdom of heaven among the mighty and powerful. In Jesus’ day, do not look either at Rome or at the Jewish Temple leaders and Pharisees–both groups who put confidence in power relationships.

No, the kingdom comes not as the “Cedars of Lebanon” the usual metaphor for power. Instead it starts small yet provides shelter and sustenance. Don’t look for Jesus among the rich and famous; he’ll be found among the poor and sinful and ordinary people.

Those red-letter sentences–they make you stop and think.

Follow Me, He Said

October 5, 2016

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (Mark 1)

Someone jarred my thinking the other day. He asked if we try to “make someone into a Christian.” That is a phrase I have heard often in evangelical circles.

So, you meet someone who is seeking; someone who has questions about purpose and life; someone not sure where they are going. What is your response?

Granted that these four men were prepared. We know that at least Andrew was with John the Baptist from other stories. But Jesus just said, “Follow me.”

And many other times in the stories, Jesus just offered an invitation, “Follow me.”

Jesus, in fact, never used the term Christian. It was first used a few years later by outsiders referring to the group in almost derogatory terms.

Jesus? He just offered invitations.

Shouldn’t we copy that? That’s what disciples of a teacher or master do–copy the teacher. He’s like the pattern and we try to form ourselves to it. And so, when we meet people rather than dumping a whole bunch of Bible verses on them we just offer a simple invitation. Follow him.

And what about us? Are we more concerned with following the law (and making sure everyone else follows the law, for we are mostly concerned about others)? Or do we simply follow.

Jesus told us to know the scriptures. Jesus told us to pray. Jesus told us to have faith.

Why do we make things so complicated and authoritarian? We follow and invite others to follow along with us. An invitation to a party is much more attractive than a command to behave.

Change Your Direction

April 1, 2016

According to Matthew, Jesus appeared publicly in his new role first to be baptized and then to seek solitude in the wilderness where he was tempted (OK, that wasn’t public). Then, Matthew says (4:17), “From that time Jesus began to proclaim ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near.’ ”

To American, and probably British ears, the word “repent” may conjure images that are really far from the actual meaning of the word. I picture the hate-filled preacher with the black suit and hat and black beard in the movie version of “Paint Your Wagon”. You may have a similar image come to mind of an accuser pointing a finger and shouting “repent or go to hell.” And you get the idea that they’d rather see you roast.

I’m sorry the word has been so misused.

It really just means to change direction. Jesus was inviting people into a new way of doing life. Just like his cousin John (the Baptist).

Think about Jesus’ entire ministry. He made pointed comments to those who thought they were right with God but who were deluding themselves. John (the Evangelist) loves to point those out.

Jesus really used the word as an invitation. There was no accusation. No condemning to Hell.

He was saying, follow me and walk into a new life. Now. And forever. And we still can.

God’s Grace Is Better Than Rules

January 5, 2016

One thing about rules–everyone can have their own set. And feel good about it. A set of rules that we say we’re following places us apart from other people. And at a higher plane. We feel closer to God.

When I scan the news of the day, I see self-described “Christians” or people the news media enjoys calling “Christians” doing all manner of bad or evil things all justified by saying that they are following their set of god-given rules.

Maybe that is a reason Andy Stanley likes to say that calling yourself a Christian is pretty meaningless since it’s so hard to define. Jesus-follower, though, that is very well defined and hard to do.

I’ve been deep in study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He shows his anger and disappointment in those early believers because they slipped back into being rule followers instead of grace accepters.

Very early in the journal of the Acts of the Apostles, Mr. Jewish Christian himself, Peter, is shown by God that the Gospel and God’s Grace are available to all. Forget the rules that set Jews apart from everyone else. The Gospel breaks that all apart.

Grace is sufficient.

My heart breaks when I see people who think that they are following Jesus overcome with anger and hate and drawing up rules that set them apart from others.

That is the very attitude that has driven so many people I know away from the church and made them suspicious of the Gospel.

It’s easy to see why. Would you rather join a group that is suspicious of outsiders, bound up with rules, and shuns or even hates people who are different–or join a group that is welcoming, laughs and smiles a lot, sings, helps people in need whoever and wherever they are?

Every once in a while step back and look at the groups you are a part of–church, small group, service organization. See it with the eyes of an outsider. Is it welcoming? Is it helpful? Does it reveal God’s grace to others?

If not, it’s time to either work to change it or to say good-bye and find another group.

We teach new soccer referees that the profession is the only one where you are expected to be perfect from the first minute you set foot on the pitch and then improve!

Sometimes we treat people coming into church the same way. You need to be perfect according to our rules before you come–and then get better!

Grace says, join us first. Discover grace. We’ll get better together.