Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

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.

What Kind of Person Will I Be This Year

January 4, 2016

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. … All the widows stood beside  [Peter], showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made.

This is a story found in the Acts of the Apostles where Peter brings a woman back to life.

Let’s consider the woman, Tabitha, in the context of thinking about looking forward toward our new year. Who do I want to be this year?

First, she–well let’s pause there a second. She. To all those rigid people who misread Paul and other texts, here is an early example of an important woman disciple.

OK, I’m not going to be a she, but I can certainly learn from her example.

She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. I don’t write enough about the spiritual discipline of service. But if I could be known as a disciple who does good things for people, that would be good.

Sort of reading between the lines, it appears that she was a leader of a group of widows. Women who had lost their husbands were at the mercy of others in that society. Remember how the apostles wanted Paul to raise money to support widows back in Jerusalem? One of the powerful acts of service of early disciples was caring for the unfortunate, such as widows.

She must have been a leader of the group, discipling them, doing good works such as making clothes for them most likely out of her own wealth.

For this next year, i’d like to be like Dorcas–do good works, lead a small group into discipleship, help people out of my wealth.

That would be a good year.

He Came To Set Us Free

December 23, 2015

“He had come to set people free, and like Moses with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, he was confronting the powers that held people captive.” — N T Wright, Simply Good News

We are only a couple of days from celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world. It’s not really his birthday, as some sects believe and shun the day. It’s not a pagan holiday, at least for us, but it was certainly adopted as an alternative to the pagan Roman holiday celebrated about the same time.

I don’t care about all that. We just simply celebrate the coming.

Why did he come?

I like what NT Wright says in Simply Good News, “He had come to set the people free.” Pope Benedict XVI wrote essentially the same theme in his book titled, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

I like the Gospels–Mark for his great literary style of simplicity and movement; Luke for his attention to detail and lifting up women and the Holy Spirit; John for his devotion.

But Paul captures this idea of freedom especially in his letter to the Galatians. “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”

I’ve come to see among a great number of Protestant denominations and even among some Catholics the tendency to have it all in the head. It’s agreeing with the right statements, saying the right things, judging people according to whatever law they ascribe to. And the number of people searching the scriptures for hidden meanings and fortune-telling the future simply amazes me.

When I was young, I wanted to be an “intellectual”, whatever that meant. I studied broadly into different fields of inquiry. By personality, I’m one who thinks too much.

What I’ve learned is that most of us think way too much. The meaning is right there in front of us in plain sight just waiting for us to see.

Jesus began his ministry quoting, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

“Release to the captives!” Who are they? They are us–all of us. Paul would say we once were captive, but now we’re free.

Who wouldn’t want to go out into the world teaching this? Why do we corrupt the message with too much other stuff?

Jesus came, now we are free.

What If We Had a Ceasefire?

December 1, 2015


I’m sure it was “bumper sticker philosophy.” I have no clue what the rest of the words were on it. But the one word blared out distinctly.

Then a line of thinking began. What is it about that word?

Ceasefire describes a momentary (or hopefully longer) cessation of hostilities between the combatants. Rifles and artillery fall silent. People can breathe. A certain amount of relaxation seeps into the body and the group.

What if we invoked that word a little more often? And in other contexts?

Here’s a thought that I believe a large majority of Americans would go with–what if we took Nancy Pelosi (leader of the “liberal” wing of the Democrats in the US House) and Jim Jordan (leader of the “conservative” wing of the Republicans). What if we forced them into a room together and wouldn’t let them out until they forged a ceasefire?

Maybe we could get them to work within their differences (which are OK in themselves) with the purpose of an effective government? Let’s stop shooting at each other and see how we can work toward some common objectives–say the overall welfare of the people of the US?

Then I heard about white, male, Christian who took his firearms to a crowded shopping area that contained a Planned Parenthood clinic and started shooting.

What if we had a ceasefire among all the competing brands of Christianity? What if we learned to live with the variety of opinions and then focused on living out the commands of Jesus? Very simple–love God, love your neighbor.

Yes. A ceasefire. We need one of those. Maybe we could begin with the Christmas season and then extend it.

Too Much Thinking, Not Enough Doing

November 19, 2015

When all is said and done, more is said than done.

As an investor in a local coffee shop, I must admit to coffee envy. This week I am attending a trade fair / conference in Chicago’s McCormick Place. A popular coffee chain has a store adjacent to the entrance to the exhibit hall. This is a large show with over 15,000 attendees. That store had a constant queue of at least 20 people from 6:30 am until they closed about 5:00 pm.

This morning I’m staring at the plain red cup of the day’s dark roast coffee thinking about the ridiculous uproar of a certain segment of self-proclaimed Christians who thought that the company was belittling Christmas by removing reindeer and snowflakes from its cups.

So, what do reindeer and snowflakes have to do with honoring Jesus’ birth? Well, nothing.

Then I recalled the old proverb quoted at the top. It goes along with another saying I find myself repeating–we think too much. That is a funny thing for an ENTP to say (if you don’t know what that is, check out the definitions in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). But we do.

Think of discussions on points of theology. A favorite one currently concerns the definition of the word translated as “day” in first story of creation. Many people take the English word day and make it a foundation of belief in creation that this means 24-hour days. Just had that discussion. I basically said, “You and I will always disagree on this interpretation. Does that mean that one or the other is not Christian? No. We agree on the foundation of the faith that Jesus lived as a man, was killed, and was resurrected.

Every time I read the gospels, I’m further struck by the words of Jesus. Certainly belief was the foundation, but his commandments always talked about the status of your heart and what you’re doing about it. Love your neighbor, he said. That’s not an emotional, sentimental word. It’s an action verb.

Thinking is OK. But let it not be said about us that when all is said and done, more was said than done.

How To Achieve Unity

October 5, 2015

Paul (the apostle) tried very hard to promote unity in the early church. Every thing was so new. They were figuring out things as they went. Paul was not the only evangelist. There were many. They didn’t always agree.

I started thinking about this during today’s message at church. I know, thinking in church is even worse than thinking in school, but I do that anyway.

What about within a congregation? That is mostly what Paul was addressing. 

There seem to be two ways to achieve unity in a congregation (or any smaller organization).

One way would be to reduce the size of the organization. Let those who disagree with the majority or leader or whatever move on. Perhaps the leader intentionally encourages them to move on. Perhaps they just don’t feel welcomed.

I’ve been around the block a couple of times. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon. Eventually you get a group that agrees or silently goes along. Therefore, we’ve achieved a kind of unity.

Seems to me there is another way. I think I’ve been influenced by Paul and James, but mostly by Jesus.

We need to focus on the core beliefs. There are opinions that are just not going to be agreed upon by everyone. That’s life.

In a church, the core belief agreed to by all denominations is the belief that Jesus lived, he died, and he was resurrected. 

Some go searching the scriptures for all manner of rules to follow. Or odd quotes to pull out to reinforce prejudices. It’s when we place those rules above the gospel that we get into trouble.

It’s like a dear old Baptist lady who bought her new Catholic friend  a Bible. She thougtht she would look inside the Catholic Bible to see what it was. She was astounded to discover that it was the same as hers.

We can build on that unity by emphasizing the core beliefs upon which we are agreed. Then remember and practice the continual injunctions in the New Testament about love. Then reach out beyond cultural and doctrinal divides.