Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Welcoming or Blocking

August 12, 2016

While researching for yesterday’s post on humility, I spotted this teaching of Jesus.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

John Fischer at The Catch talks often about welcoming Christianity, about grace turned outward. I think about those people who call themselves Christians who stand in the marketplace and in the political realm and shout out a message very  like the one Jesus condemned.

Yesterday in Fischer’s email he said:

There is a mean-spiritedness prevalent in our society today and we need to counter it as Christians in the marketplace. Donald Trump’s success is not because of Donald Trump, it’s because his message and bullish attitude has connected with a large number of people who are not happy with the way things are and feel powerless to do anything about it.

First, we need to cultivate an overall graciousness whenever we are operating in the public square.

Second, we need to cultivate compassion – not only caring for the needs of the disabled or the less fortunate because their needs are often so obvious, but for everyone.

And finally, we need to cultivate an overall attitude of respect for every human being no matter who they are or what they represent. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is the evil one, and when we make people or groups of people our enemies we are playing right into his hand. Learn to see the image of God in everyone.

That attitude, and just listening to his podcast, makes me glad that two of my friends told me about him. Yes, as Christ-followers, we really need to bring grace and compassion into the marketplace and general discourse.

This song resonated with me 40+ years ago, and still does.

Noel Paul Stookey (Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary)wrote this song, “Hymn.” The times are different, but there is a similarity. We sometimes still talk theory rather than people.

I visited some houses
Where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving

They passed a basket with some envelopes
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was I believe in You

Passing conversations
Where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that
You had been replaced by Your assistants

The discussion was theology
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was I believe in You

Just What Are Spiritual Disciplines?

July 12, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines are merely activities that we do to enable us to receive more of Jesus’ life and power. –Howard Baker writing an introduction to Galatians in the “Life With God Bible”

Ever listen to little kids (under 10 or so) organize to play? There’s always at least one who assumes the burden of making up the rules of the game. Sometimes they spend more time discussing the rules than actually playing–or so it seems.

Then again, I know an adult who makes up rules all the time–well, actually, I know many–that include other people. Yet they may not always tell them. Then they are upset or worse if the other person doesn’t keep the rule.

Organizations and even societies make up those rules designed to differentiate outsiders from themselves.

The other day I was sitting in a nice little storefront Middle Eastern restaurant. A gentle and humble woman and her husband owned and ran it. She was so nice to us, if I lived in the town, I’d go back to eat. Oh, she was Muslim–from Palestine. Came over here for a better life. Works hard. Has a good business. Great Turkish coffee.

While sitting in that restaurant, I opened Facebook to check on something for business. But the “news” stream pops up first. The first post was a “photo” of a saying from a politician about how bad all Muslims are and how we need to ship them all back to where they originated. Someone made up one of those “rules.”

The irony was too much. When we stop labeling and start meeting, then we see that people are people. Name your group–Christian, Muslim, police, black man, liberal, conservative. Some are good. Some are filled with hate, anger, evil. Every group includes some of both.

Paul wrote Galatians to teach us how to live beyond rules. “Live for God,” he said. “The law (rules) was our disciplinarian until Christ came,” he added.

Spiritual disciplines pursued with an open, loving heart, bring us closer to Jesus and to the ability to live a life focused on God. We don’t need to focus on others and how we’re better than them. We only focus on God. Open our hearts to God. Then when we leave our prayer room or chair and live with others in a way pleasing to God.

Disciplines? Study–not to reinforce prejudices but to learn something new about God daily; prayer–to focus our minds on God; worship–for the joy of singing and praise; service–to be like Jesus was during his  ministry physically on earth.

Marketplace Ministry

June 13, 2016

The church exists to equip Jesus-followers for ministry; it does not exist primarily to do ministry.

My friend Chuck called the other day from a conference where he heard a speaker discuss this idea. The speaker is now successful in the marketplace. He formerly worked on the staff of a megachurch.

Chuck said, “I was thinking of you and your status right now.”

A couple of years ago I felt I was open for a new ministry. A door opened and I took a position with my church. If you’ve read this blog for long you know that I am an analyst by nature (TP in Myers-Briggs speak) and also a management coach. I could dive into a deep analysis, but I’ll spare you…and me. It just didn’t work out.

He was telling me that I should use my teaching and writing skills out here in the real world. Not to worry about inside the four walls of an organization.

I’ve recently been turned on to John Fischer’s The Catch (fisher, catch, get it??). The link goes to the blog page Definitions of a Marketplace Christian.

John is a worship leader/song writer. Part of the “original” Jesus movement of the late 60s/early 70s. He talks of “grace turned outward” and “marketplace Christian”two phrases that resonate.

Churches as organizations can be frustrating. There’s local politics, denominational politics (and remember, my masters work was in political science and philosophy), and I like neither. As Dallas Willard has said, churches are the one place where hurting people should be able to come and find healing, yet they usually find judgement and ostracism.

Yet, I kept trying. I’ve been Baptist Chair of the Board of Deacons, chair of Trustees, leadership committee, missions head, probably other stuff. I’m neither bragging nor asking for solace.

Chuck says, just keep writing. Maybe someday I’ll get good at it.

But I don’t write this for my therapy. What is it that you can do outside the church to bring Jesus’ message and love to hurting people? That’s all he asked us to do, right?

Concern For All People

May 19, 2016

People of Paul’s world were divided into two groups–Jews and non-Jews. At least it was so from the point-of-view of a Jew.

Taking another look at Romans 10 (and 9 and 11 to put it in context), I’m suddenly struck by Paul’s concern for everyone. Paul spends considerable time talking about God’s grace toward non-Jews (Gentiles). This was revolutionary in Jewish thought.

Paul also spends considerable time discussing Jews. And how God wishes for them to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus and the reconciliation of grace.

Paul cared for them all!

In the world of that time, a Jewish person was to have as little interaction with non-Jews as possible. Definitely one didn’t eat with them or go into their house.

Yet, after Paul’s conversion and the redirection of his life, he seemed to have no problems being anointed “apostle to the Gentiles.”

Look at the struggles of Peter coming to the same conclusion. It’s remarkable that those internal struggle Peter had before he finally accepted Gentiles as people just like Jews were even recorded and saved.

We keep trying to divide the world today. Every culture I’ve had contact with finds ways to divide people. Even going so far as to label some in such a way as to imply “less than human” status.

Today’s discipline for us to practice is to go out this morning and begin to see everyone we meet (and think about) as people whom God created and God loves. Be like Paul who was concerned for each and every one.

I can hear the “Yeah, but what about” comments forming even now as I type. Cast those evil thoughts out.

If you need to find the strength, read Romans 9-10-11 with new eyes. See how Paul was deeply concerned for the lives of everyone. Go and do likewise.

Other People Are Not Always What We Think

April 27, 2016

When you know someone well, you get a picture in your mind about their overall life attitudes and ethics. Sometimes we are surprised when someone we thought we knew does something out of character, but usually when we know someone, we can predict their behavior.

When we don’t really know other people but think we do, we can be completely wrong.

Some people in the US have a picture of what a Christian looks like, thinks like, acts like, and so forth. Then they read something about Europe, for example, and form an opinion about Europeans. I’ve seen the same attitudes directed toward people of other areas in the world, as well.

If you ask around the rural American Midwest, the picture that you form about Europeans would be that they have loose morals, open sex, much drinking, no religion.

While that would not be every person in the Midwest, of course, you’d find enough to paint the picture.

I’m in Europe while writing this after having dinner last night with several Germans and a Dutch guy.

While by and large Europeans do not have the same view of religion as my neighbors, I for one am not ready to pronounce judgement on them.

Regarding personal morality, I have found every person I’ve met over the past 30 years of traveling over here to have the highest. You, my Midwest readers, may have heard about Amsterdam and other European cities where prostitution is somewhat open–that is, not hidden in truck stops and alleys like in America. That does not mean that every European man visits them.

Let’s take the thought of assumption to another level. Think of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus. The man was obedient to God. He followed the laws. Jesus loved him. Yet, he went away sad when Jesus told him that to inherit eternal life he must give away all his possessions to the poor and follow.

Have you speculated on that man? Come to any conclusions? That is hard to do. We hear rich and paint a picture of a certain sort of man. But maybe that painting is wrong.

I think the reason for the story is not to point to the young man and allow us to speculate about other people. I think we are to take this story to ourselves. What are we willing to give up that gets in the way of our following Jesus?

Our job is not to assume what other people are like. Our job is to get ourselves right. Then we can meet other people with openness and sensitivity.

Jesus Turned Everything Upside Down

April 11, 2016

Matthew had an interesting outline for how he wanted to present his friend Jesus to the world. He introduces Jesus and the scene. Then he skips to Jesus baptism and what we call temptation (actually a period of spiritual formation followed by facing temptations which always happen to us after a deep spiritual experience and we’re strong enough to deal with them).

Then he consolidates the core of Jesus’ teaching. Chapters 5-7. I have now decided to reread these annually along with my annual reading of the book of Proverbs.

If you can clear your mind, throw away footnoted, transport yourself back to the scene in your imagination, then read the teaching, perhaps the message will sink in.

Many of us need time to let things sink in and become part of our awareness.

Looking at the “blessed” statements with eyes open to the world of the Romans, you see how Jesus turned it all upside down. Instead of the powerful being blessed, it is the opposite.

Then Jesus proceeds to raise the bar on following the law. It was already hard for people,  especially common, ordinary working people, to follow every bit of the law. Then Jesus says, you have heard it said, but I say… He made it impossible.

Then you think about it. If you think you can follow the law to become right with God, you have set an impossible task. However, if you have the right relationship with God and people, then you will in fact be following the law. It’s all upside down–God’s way and our way.

So it’s sort of weird, our spiritual practices. They should help us maintain a right relationship with God and at the same time help us focus on being right with other people.

We don’t study just to be knowledgeable. That is useless. We study so that we know how to relate to others and how to help point them to a relationship. We also study (people have said in surveys) to achieve and maintain our own right relationship with God.

Same with prayer. Same with worship. Same with fasting.

Spiritual is not just what’s inside you. Spiritual is also how you manifest that which is inside to other people. Are you helpful or a hindrance? Generous or selfish? Thinking of others or all about you?

Jesus Kept Raising The Bar

April 8, 2016

Imagine you are a first-century Jewish common person. From Galilee, the “hillbilly” of the country. You’re listening to a new guy preach. You’ve heard rabbis and self-proclaimed rabbis speak before.

But this guy is different. His name is Joshua, same as the guy who conquered the Holy Land. (In Greek, which they spoke but didn’t use except for trade, Jesus.)

His talks turned the power relationships upside down. He brought forward the poor and disenfranchised. He poked at the rich and powerful–Romans and especially Pharisees.

Then he reinterpreted the Law and raised the bar. He raised it so high that even those self-righteous Pharisees couldn’t make it.

John preached righteousness and repentance. But this Jesus dude–he took it to a whole different level.

There was no way anyone could make it except by God’s grace.

I guess that was the point.

No wonder those first-century listeners followed him. He also backed it up by healing those who came to him.

So how does all that impact our spiritual formation and disciplines today? Does it still seem so impossible? Or, have we heard the story so many times that we lose the wonder and mystery?

I’m going back and reading just Jesus’ words. Not the stories or interludes. What did he say?

Then I try to put on new eyes and see the text new. What would I think if I were sitting on that hillside on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee? Seeing this guy for the first time? Not knowing what would happen in just three years.

Could he topple governments? Put those snooty people who think they are so great in their place?

Certainly he was feeding the spiritual hunger that had grown so much at this time.

Messiah (in Greek, Christ; in English, anointed one of God)? What did that really mean?

He certainly gave us something to think about as we walked home afterwards.

Jesus Lived, Jesus Died, Jesus Lives Again

March 25, 2016

The very first misunderstanding about Jesus was that he could not possibly have been a human being. Taking Greek rationalist thought (which still screws us up even today) to a logical extreme, some thought that material things and spiritual things could not abide together.

Christians put that heresy away. Jesus lived as a man, a human. He was born a baby, grew up a boy and adolescent, taught as an adult male. There is not even a hint in the New Testament writings that Jesus may have been just an apparition.

My Muslim friends are taught Jesus lived, was a spiritual leader, and will return in glory. My friends from India whether Hindu, Jain, or Sikh all believe that Jesus spent time in India learning from the spiritual masters of the day.

Being a Galilean and looking at the texts, Jesus apparently was comfortable interacting with people from a diverse set of cultures and languages. It appears he spoke Latin and Greek as well as Aramaic and Hebrew. He’d have grown up with people who did. It wouldn’t be unusual.

A side note–modern Americans, especially those of us in the Midwest–are very uncomfortable dealing with a multitude of cultures. Unlike the mixtures and melting pot of the ancient Mediterranean world, we expect everyone to be “American.” We’re shocked, hurt, maybe even fearful, of those who are not. That fear leads to a number of political and social problems.

The thing that energized those early disciples to believe to the extent that they were willing to die for the cause was the resurrection. Christmas may be a big holiday, but Easter is the reason. Without the resurrection, we are nothing but fools–to paraphrase Paul.

The shock, surprise, consternation that followed discovery of the empty tomb is a huge story right there. And then Jesus appeared among them for forty days. The witnesses were many. The power of their testimony beyond all measure. They overturned the world. In 300 years, the mighty power that none of the New Testament writers thought would ever be destroyed became a Christian government. Without a war being fought.

We can have that power today.

Keep Your Eyes On The Road

February 24, 2016

…And your hands upon the wheel…

OK, that’s an old song. But I was thinking about that today when I heard about a church where attendance is down 80%, the pastors are quitting, no one agrees on much anything.

That is what happens when people, especially leaders, take their eyes off the road. The organization goes off the road–a famous NASCAR driver once said you never look at the wall, because you’ll tend to go where you look–when no one is looking toward the goal. They go off the road, hit the wall, crash, and parts fly everywhere.

That is one reason Paul, the apostle, kept warning leaders and teachers about their responsibility.

We need to be all about service. And about sharing (not telling or screaming) our faith. Our friends may come from all manner of backgrounds. There’s nothing wrong with sharing about Jesus returning alive after having been killed. People have come to Jesus from backgrounds all over the map. Sorry, they don’t have to be Baptist, Methodist, or even Catholic first. Or last. It’s only about Jesus.

And we forget that. We take our eyes off our service, humility, sharing. We let other things cloud our sight and take us off the road.

That is why disciplines are so important. We go back to the Word. We go back to friends who worship and celebrate. We ignore the extraneous stuff. We focus on the important stuff.

I had lunch with a friend this week is is close to the end of his long path to a Doctor of Sacred Theology on Mary (the mother of Jesus). In my upbringing, there wouldn’t have been enough material to write a high school essay. He’s doing a dissertation on just one argument about Mary. Holy cow! It’s stretching my mind.

He told me about the three dominant traditions about Mary among the early church leaders up through 200 AD. And about St. Jerome’s definitive essay about the time of St. Augustine (my favorite of the early fathers). It’s fascinating.

But that’s interesting to discuss, and some people may be staking their whole faith in God on their interpretation of Mary.

But we all agree on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus–the foundation of our faith. When we keep our eyes on the road and our hands upon the wheel, we all move forward toward the goal. It’s so good.

From Theology to Practice

January 19, 2016

Andy Stanley last weekend talked about putting some motion in your devotion.

He captured it well.

Every time I dig deeply into either the Gospels to see what Jesus really teaches, or into the letters which were advice to the new disciples, I come to the same conclusion–the preponderance of the teaching focuses on how we live day-by-day, minute-by-minute.

I’ve been reading, studying, and contemplating on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Some scholars think Paul didn’t write it because the tone is a little different from the rest of his letters. It sure sounds like Paul to me. I go with some scholars who say it was probably more of a sermon than a letter. After all, Paul was firmly in the rabbinic tradition.

Some scholars dissed the letter because they thought it was used to justify the power of priests 1,700 years ago. Maybe so, but I don’t see that today.

Paul begins where he always begins, with the history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people, the breaking of the relationship, and then, most importantly, Jesus coming to teach, die, and be resurrected. Paul’s theology begins and ends with the resurrection. That changed everything for him.

Just as in Romans, though, Ephesians teaches that once we settle on God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus and our acceptance through faith, then the most important thing is how we live. Romans ends with practical advice; Ephesians ends with practical advice.

Part of our spiritual discipline, or spiritual practices, involves how we act. By the way, James who writes from a different tradition supports this thought. Be ye doers, he said (in 16th Century English).

But I digress. Today when you get dressed and head out to work or wherever you go, how are you going to act? What will you do? Will people see what you do and say, “There goes a disciple of Jesus”? Or, will they say, “There goes another one of those Christians who can preach belief but acts as if they’re the only people on Earth.”

I wrote yesterday about how I was once (?) book smart and common sense stupid. How hard it is for us to translate what we know into what we naturally do! But that is our task as set out by God. We may know. We may believe. But could anyone tell by watching?