Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Pointless Knowledge

April 1, 2021

Seneca spoke critically of literary snobs who could speculate for hours about whether The Iliad or The Odyssey was written first, or who the real author was (a debate that rages on today). He disliked hearing people chatter about which Roman general did this or that first, or which received this or that honor. “Far too many good brains,” he said, “have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”

I find this point of Seneca’s to be disturbingly true even today, 2,000 years later.

Today is celebrated in many Christian traditions as Maundy Thursday, a remembrance of Jesus Passover meal with his friends just before his arrest.

Scholars may think it was only the Twelve plus Jesus. Some have suggested that there may have been more disciples there than the Twelve. What does it matter?

I believe Jesus had a dinner celebrating both the tradition of Israel’s emancipation from Egypt and anticipation of God’s working in the world again. Later, he was put on a quick trial, found guilty (sort of), executed, and then came back to life. All this in four days–Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in our calendar.

It is good to remember.

When his close friend John remembered later in life and wrote his memoir, he called Jesus the Light of the World. That is what we celebrate. And what we try to incorporate into our life.

Holy Week or Spring Break

March 29, 2021

This is Monday before Easter. Where are you? I mean physically, mentally, spiritually?

It used to mean new, spring clothes and anticipation of Easter eggs and chocolate. And, everyone in town would be in church on Sunday–looking good.

The Easter gifts came a little later in the generations.

Maybe now you are in Florida getting drunk and spreading viruses. Like Easter used to be a thing for everyone to do, now Spring Break is a thing everyone must do (or so I read in the media).

Somewhere in the mist of history, this is a week of remembrance and in the end–celebration.

The church we are now “attending” is doing one of those evangelical stunt things–dropping Easter eggs from a helicopter. I’m sorry, I keep having visions of Les Nessman reporting live from a shopping center parking lot in Cincinnati on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati as the turkeys fell from the sky. The key sentence from the boss, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” I have these visions of eggs…

I’m sure it will be fun for the little ones.

Or maybe it will be a gathering on Thursday evening recreating Jesus’ Passover meal with his friends. Followed by a solemn service on Friday to remember Jesus being killed by the authorities for daring to buck the system. And on to the celebration of joy of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday.

So will the week be adolescent memory making, Christian tradition, first family gatherings in months?

No matter. Best is to read again the final chapters of the Gospels and have a right attitude for the week and weekend.

Jesus, So What?

December 17, 2020

I devoted some hours yesterday to thinking about market disruption in the industrial automation and control market. Is there a new technology that will upend the incumbent market leaders much like digital photography (incidentally, invented by Kodak) rendered Kodak almost instantly obsolete?

And I thought, it was really all about what serves the customer and solves its problems.

I intended to write something from the Desert Fathers this morning when my mediation took this idea of serving the customer into the realm of churches, and eventually Jesus himself.

Christians are in the season of Advent, the time of preparing to celebrate Jesus’s birth as a human being. Some people focus on the celebration. In parallel, there is a secular side of Christmas–family dinners (not this year), getting (and maybe giving) presents, wishing people peace and joy, and wishing for snow (depending upon where you live).

I’ve observed churches for almost my entire life. Most of them say they want to attract new people “to Jesus”. And I’ve sat back and watched and asked, “So what?” Why? What happens afterward?

Andy Stanley, founding pastor of Northpoint Ministries in the Atlanta area, invites people to “make better decisions and live a better life”. I like that mission. It sounds much like Jesus who also invited people to make better decisions and live a better life. That is the “so what” that people ask when they commit to joining an organization (or buying automation and control equipment).

I’ve seen too many people say that they’ve “accepted Jesus into my heart” and then noticed that nothing changes about their lives.

If we have not made the changes that comes from really living in the kingdom of God, then we have missed the message. It is not so much what we say about Jesus; it is very much about how we live our new life. That is the “so what” that is too often missed. Maybe our reading for this celebration of Jesus’s coming, we shouldn’t just read the “Christmas story”, but maybe we should go to Matthew 5-7 and read Jesus’s words to us.

Make better decisions; live a better life. Beginning now.

I Have Written These Things So That You May Believe

January 16, 2018

Jesus did many other signs in our presence, John told him.

But I can’t believe that those things could really happen. Was it just a magic trick? Some sort of sleight of hand? Something we can explain away?

I understand that it’s difficult. That’s why I wrote about so many of them. I was even honest about it. Even when Jesus fed all the people on the side of the hill by the shores of the lake, we couldn’t figure it out. Then he was walking on water. We still couldn’t figure it out.

You see, none of us started out as believers. We knew he was a powerful man with new teaching the likes of which we had never heard. Not even from John the Baptizer.

You mean you were with him, saw those signs, and you still didn’t believe?

Yep.

We just couldn’t figure it all out. Even in the garden when he was arrested in the evening. Even during his trial. We kept expecting him to stare down Pilate and do something to strike down the Jewish ruling council. Yet he did nothing.

Even when we stared into the open and empty tomb it took a bit before our understanding began to open.

Then we met him–risen. Alive, not dead. And it all came together. We just didn’t know what to do next. It took a few weeks for us to put all the story together and discover our lives’ mission–to go out and tell people about what we experienced.

And in so doing helping others believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the provider of true life.

So, what is this life?

That you may know the one true God, now, and Jesus his Son.

You see my child, none of us started out as believers. We grew in understanding and belief. And we found true life. He changed our lives, and he’ll change yours.

I am finishing a long reading of the Gospel of John. The conversation came to me about people not just jumping into belief. Don’t criticize them. Understanding takes time, but eternal life begins now.

Tending To Overthink Things

August 30, 2017

Here’s a man who has always lived outside society. Although we are talking about 2,000 years ago, in today’s terms he’s like a homeless man who hangs out on a downtown street with a cup or bowl asking for money.

Maybe he picked up some training and education as a young person just listening in on conversations.

Oh, he’s blind. Never has seen anything in his entire life.

Then one day someone comes by and heals his sight. (And his soul, but he didn’t know that then.)

So there are these men in town. They don’t have any obvious job, but they think they are important. And…they do wield some political influence. They could cause people to be killed.

These men have spent their entire lives studying the Scripture. They have post-Docs from the University of Shammai (a famous teacher). They think they know everything that matters.

(Know anyone like that? Likeable people, aren’t they?)

So they bring the homeless guy before them to question how he was healed. And they talk about the man who did the healing and about how he couldn’t possibly be from God. And they get all theological.

And the healed man says, “I do not know if the man is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

To the man, there is no theology. He was blind, and then he could see.

Instead of rejoicing over a remarkable event, the leaders bound up tightly in their traditions and thinking couldn’t comprehend it.

Later the homeless man meets Jesus and his response is similarly simple yet profound, “I believe.”

We have to believe that from that day the man’s life was completely changed. He lived differently.

In the growth of the early church as recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles, Luke reported that people joined in large numbers because of how the Christ-followers lived. It was different from everyone else.

The question John (I am telling stories from the Gospel of John chapter 9) leaves us with is do we simply believe–or, do we overthink things and let our theology and tradition get in the way (blind us, if you will) of belief?

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?