Archive for the ‘Witness’ Category

Building Up Women’s Status

October 25, 2018

Certainly the history of the Christian church’s attitude toward women is not so progressive. Even today in the United States there are denominations that teach women are inferior to men. What shocks me is when I meet a strong, yes even domineering, woman who belongs to such a church and seems to agree with it.

They justify this attitude by lifting certain “rules” from the apostle Paul and ignoring the bulk of the New Testament.

I’m reading Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey. He helps explain things I’ve read and could not articulate well. Such as the dichotomy between what Jesus taught and did and some of those “rules” from Paul.

Jesus was a gender revolutionary. For example:

The accused adulteress whom the Pharisees wanted to stone to death. Jesus turned the mob scene into an individual responsibility event and then told the woman he didn’t accuser her and to go and sin no more.

There was Mary “sitting at the feet” of Jesus meaning that she had become a disciple. But women could not be disciples of a rabbi–as Martha tried to point out. Mary’s place was in the kitchen away from the men. Jesus told Martha she was wrong.

There was the woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, uncovered and unbound her hair to dry them, and then anointed them with perfume–all to make up for the inhospitable behaviour of Simon who invited Jesus for dinner and then snubbed him. Jesus pointed out that Simon had the wrong attitude toward her.

There was the scandalous behaviour of Jesus permitting women to travel with the group and even fund their travel.

We can read these and miss the significance of the acts at that time in that culture.

Thanks to Phil for recommending the book.

Talking Is Not Doing

June 27, 2018

The Washington Post recently ran an article profile on gossip writer Elaine Lui. In it, she is quoted–“Talking is action. Conversation is action,” Lui says. “The result of a conversation is that you’ve conversed; you’ve heard each other. That’s an action.” I picked this up from an email on the Daily Stoic.

Ryan Holiday, who writes the Daily Stoic, was aghast. Talking is not doing. He quotes Marcus Aurelius, a leading Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor–Marcus Aurelius struggled with this even two thousand years ago, and reminded himself that it was meaningless to have philosophical debates about being a good person—all that mattered was what you did. “No more talking about what a good man is like,” he said, “Be one.

I am reminded that Jesus left us with action verbs in his commands–Go into the world, Make disciples, Love God, Love your neighbor.

One of the largest bursts of growth of Christianity occurred in Rome early in the Christian era. There was a plague that ravaged Rome. All the men fled to the hills. They left women, children, elderly, servants behind to fend for themselves and probably die.

Christians came up out of hiding and nursed the sick and dying at great risk to themselves. People were so impressed by the way that Christ-followers lived that they also wanted that life. The church grew out of an active response to calamity.

One of today’s greatest cultural problems is that way too many people spend their time debating–or spouting off–ideas and opinions. We are doing way too little doing.

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, “No more talking about what a Jesus-follower should believe. Be one.

Get a Guide, or Be a Guide

April 2, 2018

“Do you understand what you are reading?” said Philip to the Ethiopian. “How can I sir, unless someone guides me?” came the reply.

How did Philip know the Ethiopian government official was reading from the book of Isaiah when he approached him? People in those days did not read silently just to themselves. They read aloud.

Why did Philip, an observant Jew up until a few days ago, go to an “unclean” man–darker skin, sexually impure? God told him to. If you are around my age you remember the comedian Flip Wilson who had a routine, “The devil made me do it”? Well, God made Philip do it.

Side note–could you as a modern Christian go up to a person of another race and/or one who is not “straight” and guide them through the Scripture to a belief in Jesus? Could you accept them into the fellowship no strings attached–just like God does? Something to ponder.

Could you, like the Ethiopian eunuch, ask someone for help? Oh, and then listen to your guide?

Could you, like Philip, not only respond to God’s urging, but also be of such an open personality that someone different from you would actually ask you to sit beside them and guide them?

We only read about Philip in one chapter of Acts of the Apostles. Yet, he is a powerful example to us about reaching out to people we have been taught to hate and sharing effectively with them.

When God’s Spirit whispers to you, are you listening?

It Is The Quality of Your Questions That Counts

March 26, 2018

“Bacon is the answer. Now, what’s your question?” So goes a popular quip.

“Jesus is the answer.” Seen on bumper sticker every day at the gym. It is implied, I guess, now, what’s your question.

If you begin with an answer, you will learn nothing new.

If you begin with an answer, you will be unable to help anyone.

I’m in the midst of recertifying in First Aid / CPR / AED. We begin with questions. May I help you? Please describe what happened. Where does it hurt?

Better than saying, “Jesus is the answer” is “How can Jesus help you?” This direction means that we must focus on the other person’s needs not on our “answer”. Maybe it is the need for food. Or shelter. Or peace. Or to be understood. Or it’s something you can provide in the name of Jesus. Now that’s a revolutionary thought! Maybe we don’t just sit back and shout “Jesus is the answer.” Maybe Jesus wants us to say, “How can we be the answer in the name of Jesus?” That is starting to sound like much of what happened in the Acts.

This is Holy Week. Reporting the details of this week from almost 2,000 years ago comprises a huge part of the Gospel of John. That must mean it’s important.

We could be asking better questions this week in our private time–and maybe even our discussions–than simply rushing from one event to the next.

How am I like the disciples?

How am I like the Pharisees?

How am I like the Jewish religious establishment?

How am I like the Roman soldiers?

How am I like Pilate?

What one thing would I like to learn from this Holy Week experience that had never dawned on me before?

I Don’t Believe In That God Either

August 7, 2017

“I don’t believe in God.”

“Tell me about the god you don’t believe in.”

“Oh, I don’t believe in that god, either.”

Gene Appel (Eastside Christian Church, Orange County, CA) and Andy Stanley (North Point Community Church, suburban Atlanta) have each done a teaching series on the topic. Yesterday I heard another take on the subject rolling up an entire series into one talk.

You know, you have what I have called the “Great Vending Machine in the Sky” God. Granted James tells us (and it’s in several other places as well) that if you ask with enough faith, you’ll receive. But what happens when you drop in your four quarters, press the buttons, and the bag gets stuck against the window. You can see it, but you can’t get it. Now you blame that God and cease to believe.

Or the political god who cares about which political party you vote for. Vote the wrong party and you’re going to hell. Just a personal observation here–I haven’t found either Democrat or Republican in the Bible yet. I’ll keep searching, but after 50 years of study I doubt that I find it. But if you teach that, then you only reach 50% of the people that God wants you to reach–since he wants us to reach out to everyone.

Going back to my conversation–

I love the second sentence. Without threatening, we just try to draw out a conversation about God. 

How many of us would just jump in with a monologue about our god? Then pull out John 3:16 or another favorite verse. And tell them they are going to hell. And then leave. And they thing, there goes yet another judgemental Christian. Why would I want to be like them?

More than 30 years of my career have been devoted to definitions. Even now, I’ll be in an interview with some technology expert and they will throw out a word. I think, Hmm, I think I understand that word, but what does she really mean by it? I’ll say, At the risk of seeming ignorant, what do you mean by that word? 

Often that leads into a wonderful conversation and I get a deep explanation of the topic.

Works with God conversations, too. “Could you describe the god you don’t believe in.” Followed by “Oh, could I tell you about a different God–one who seeks a relationship not a subject.”

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.

Responding To Jesus

January 2, 2017

They were perhaps the most learned men in all of the world. Wealth afforded them the luxury of study. They studied the stars, the meaning of the stars, all the religions of the world, all the science known at the time, all the literature that existed. They had obtained wisdom. They were the Magi.

While observing the movements of stars in the sky, one night an unusual star not seen before ascended. They studied. Discussed. Contemplated. The conclusion–this was the star of a new King of the Jews.

Well, they couldn’t just sit around and contemplate their navels. He was obviously an important king. 

So, they gathered together expensive gifts and started the journey toward the land of the Jews in search of the King.

Eventually they found him. In Bethlehem. They gave him the gifts. They prayed. They wished the family well. They went home without telling anyone, for they had been warned in their dreams to maintain silence.

That is one response–worship, reverence.

Along the way, they stopped by the capital city of the Jews. Someone there surely must know the location of the birthplace of their new king. The current king saw them. When they told him a new king had been born, that upset his plans. That upset him. When King Herod was upset, the whole country was upset. It usually meant someone would die.

Since his scholars told him the birthplace had to be Bethlehem and since the Magi neglected to return to tell him the exact place and family, he responded to Jesus in the way he responded to many things–out of fear and pride. He killed all the male children 2 years of age and under just to assure getting him.

That is another response–fear, jealousy.

There were shepherds earlier in the story. They saw a vision, angels, who told them about the baby. They went. They saw. They told people–not theology about the new king. They just told people the new king had finally been born.

That is another response–spread the word.

What is your response?

Living Faithfully Amidst Secular Neighbors

June 28, 2016

I’m writing this on a plane heading toward “sin city”. A technical conference awaits me. Not the slots, the shows, the girls. I was pretty much a boring geek in high school, and I remain so.

On the other hand, Paul wrote letters to early Jesus-followers who lived in cities just like that (without the lights).

You see, those early Christians knew very well that they were living amidst a secular society. Paul urged them to live so differently that people would be attracted to their way of life. And in so doing, they could attract more disciples of Jesus. Just what we are supposed to be doing.

I have recently become a fan of John Fischer and his daily email The Catch. Yesterday he wrote:

In an article this weekend in The New York Times called “The Bad Faith of the White Working Class,” author J.D. Vance pointed out that the politi cization of the church has led to widespread thinking that the main enemies of our faith are external. The bad guys are all out there – the secularists, the “evil elites,” the Muslims, etc. And while preachers preach against all the evil out there, Christians on the inside are pulling further and further away from the world and more into isolationism and finger-pointing. This isolation and fear of encroachment from the outside and tendency to project complex problems onto simple villains is fueling both the current political campaigns here in America and the decision in Britain to leave the European Union. It is a widespread fear that has gripped the white working class in the Western World that the world as we know it is changing.

This  is true, but pulling in and building walls is not going to stop it. Actually, nothing is going to stop it, and as believers, we need to be better equipped to handle these cultural changes with grace and love. That’s why, here at the Catch, we emphasize the Gospel of Welcome and grace turned outward. God’s arms are open to everyone without discrimination, and the grace we have received, we are eager to extend out toward everyone, everywhere.

So many rural people that I know and associate with think that cities are (or should be) just like the little towns they grew up in. Everyone went to the same church. Maybe one or two families didn’t go to any church and were watched carefully.

But we Jesus-followers have always and throughout history lived in a secular society. People may have nominally belonged to a church because that’s where the social center was (plus you didn’t want to be ostracized in a village of fewer than 1,000 people).

The question we really need to ask is, “Are we living the kind of life that attracts people to Jesus, or are we living the kind of life that repels people?”

That is a crucial question. None of us are perfect. But are we living as forgiven? Or as Pharisees who followed rules and pointed fingers at whoever fails to follow the rules? Let’s see, which ones did Jesus prefer? It’s not a trick question.

Are There People Who Are Not Christians In Your Church?

March 30, 2016

I didn’t mean to miss posting yesterday. We had guests and then we were relaxing and I forgot all about writing. Yes, that’s hard to believe. And, I left at 5:30 am for a meeting on the other side of the state. In Ohio, that’s a 3-hour drive.

Looking at our Easter service and thinking about the early  church growing by attraction, I started to meditate on people in the church. Especially when I see posts on Facebook from people who claim Christianity, but their posts belie that stance. Meaning that there is precious little in what they say that sounds as if it were rooted in the New Testament.

So, I got to wondering, how many people were attracted to come to the church who are not followers of Jesus?

Then I thought, there are two types of these people.

On the one hand would be seekers. They know that they are not followers, but they are attracted enough to find out more. They feel a need and feel there’s something that other people have. So, they come.

On the other hand, there are members or regular attenders. They may even say that they are a member. On a questionnaire, they may even check Christian.

But one wonders. Are they really? As the old saying goes, if you were tried at court for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Well?

So, I wondered. How many people around me are that second type? And why have I not attracted any of the first type?

And, how do my actions stack up?

I’ve been reading in an early “catechism” ascribed to the apostles themselves called the Didache (dee-da-kay). Many chapters are advice on how to live. Makes me wonder–if someone were watching my life unfold, would they know that I’m a follower of Jesus?

Treating Our Fellow Humans Well

February 29, 2016

I have many friends and acquaintances who are followers of Islam. Not one is even remotely a terrorist. Or even a bad person.

One thing I have noticed while reading about how Jesus and Paul treated people–they treated people of all cultures with respect.

Jesus was watched very carefully by the ultra-religious among the Pharisees. Every little thing was commented on. Yet, even in the Jewish  areas where he mainly served, he treated “outsiders” with respect. Think of his healings of Romans. Or the Samaritan woman.

Paul’s ministry was explicitly to people outside the Jewish faith and culture. Yet, he too treated people of other cultures well. Think of his “debate” in Athens pointing out the statue to the unknown god. “I’m here to tell you about that unknown God you’re worshiping. He is real.”

Last week I wrote a plea for more mature relationships among men and women. This week, I’m going even more off the deep end (at least as far as Americans are concerned) by commenting on relations with Muslims.

Someone asked me once about Muslims and Christians worshiping the same God. Certainly Muslims trace their lineage back to Abraham, just as we do. John Fischer on The Catch has been discussing this issue with great sensitivity and understanding.

I’m not going to give an answer to the question. But I know that most of the readers of this blog would be amazed to know just what is in the Quran. And that many Muslims are taught much more about Jesus than many who call themselves Christian.

I don’t believe that Muslims must suddenly become Baptist or Methodist. But I think that it is only a short step to go from their understanding of Jesus to the faith in the resurrection. We only need to present clearly the evidence that Jesus is even greater than they are taught.

My concern for people is not what “church” they call home–if indeed they even have one. My concern is to make disciples of Jesus. Maybe they are Samaritan. Maybe Greek. Maybe Muslim. Maybe Buddhist. Jesus is what is important. And sometimes we lose sight of the basics of the faith.

Humans are born with a longing. Jesus fulfills it. Those of us who are truly disciples try to tell others about that in such a way not to turn them off but to engage and encourage.