Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

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.

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.

Tell The Story Of Christmas

December 22, 2015

Can there be anyone in the world who does not know that Friday is Christmas?

It is impossible to live in the US and not know about Christmas–at least as a holiday. The name is everywhere.

Many people will have the day off work.  Many have been buying presents. Even people who do not celebrate Christmas or know about the reason for the celebration buy presents for celebrations.

Unlike Easter which always occurs on a Sunday, Christmas can be any day of the week. But still churches are filled during December. Maybe not so much in January, but the last Sunday before Christmas and Christmas Eve services will draw more people than any other time excepting Easter.

Even more than presents and church attendance, the holiday means family gatherings. These dinners are as often fraught with tension and disappointment as they are joyous. Often the tension between hype and reality takes the luster off the day.

Let’s look at just the “Christian” perspective.

Is this just a celebration for the “in” people? We gather the members, sing songs, pat each other on the back, congratulate the pastor on drawing a big attendance.

What if…what if the followers of Jesus took advantage of all this marvelous (and free) advertising. We don’t have to be apologetic. Or in your face. We don’t have to say “merry Christmas” as if it were a challenge.

But so many people are hearing about Christmas who have no idea what the meaning is. They only know rumors and bad information about who that man Jesus was. Some may only have a vague idea that this is a birthday party for a man who changed the world and billions of individual people.

What if we saw this season as a great opportunity to start conversations with people outside the church. Let’s turn it all inside out. Instead of inbred celebration, let’s reach out to others.

Marketers spend tons of money and lots of energy to create this sort of messaging. I consult with companies to help them achieve just a part of this sort of marketing. Companies use this marketing to start conversations with prospects.

What if we used all this awareness throughout the culture to introduce people to a man who was God who can help them through so many life challenges? Not by shouting at people but by conversing with them.

The Coming of Jesus

December 17, 2015

Christmas is only one week away. I have to admit that so far, other than the tree in our living room, the last two weeks have seemed much like any other weeks except that I’ve been home for most of the time.

It’s advent. We celebrate Jesus’ coming.

The romantics work up sentimental feelings of kids, anticipation of presents and Santa, snow and warm fires, food and family.

Churches put a few Christmas carols in their worship. Maybe light an advent candle. Have a children’s program. Maybe a choir cantata if it’s a traditional church.

We’ll read the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke along with the prophecies.

What we really need to do is project ourselves in contemplation back to the time. Anticipation of something changing, maybe God returning to the Temple, had been building for a hundred years.

Expectations. Simeon and Anna had hung out at the Temple for most of their lives. God had told them that someone special was coming. Every day. Visiting the Temple. Watching. Every person who came. Every baby to be dedicated. Who would be the one? When would he come?

Then one day a baby came. Quietly. They spotted the family and came over to them. He is the one. Finally. We can die in peace. God told us, and he didn’t lie. There he was. They knew.

Jesus came. Many followed him. They tried to do the things he asked of them.Today, many of us still follow him–or try to. We’re glad he came. He showed us how to live.

Even so, with the commercialization, hype, desires for things–not to mention the lack of peace in the world, these things impinge on my consciousness.

Maybe we need him to come again.

Let’s Just Hate Them All (Not)

December 8, 2015

I am so saddened. A news alert just came across my iPhone. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for barring all Muslim people (I doubt that he calls them people) from entering the country.

OK. OK. I know that he is running for office and is on one of those populist platforms that plays to a segment of the American population. William Jennings Bryan (yes the guy who defended the creation-in-seven-24-hour-days lawsuit) ran for president four times as a Democrat on a free silver platform appealing to the lower middle classes of his day. He lost all by huge margins. We have a history of populist candidates.

I know better. I shut out most of that sort of news. Most politics are just not interesting to me anymore. I did spend a year in a Master’s level political science program back when it was hard to get into grad school. I got something like a 99-percentile on the Graduate Record Exam in Politics. I’m not ignorant–just not engaged.

From a spiritual discipline point of view, however, I am so sad that someone feels he can appeal to a large segment of a “Christian” nation by pandering to the lowest of fears and emotions. Judging by my Facebook news thread, many people who call themselves Christian are eating this up.

I have many friends who follow Islam. Also Buddhists and Hindus. Just as my Christian and sort-of-Christian friends, they are all good people. They were created in God’s image. God loves them. I am commanded by my master to love them. I need to show them as a Jesus-follower that we are not all Crusaders bent on wiping out all “non-Christian” peoples.

Yes, we need to deal with evil people. But to paint everyone as evil because of a few is a travesty.

Lord, guide me to following the spiritual disciplines of prayer and seeking wisdom. And so for my fellow citizens of my country. And every country.

A Life of Service

December 2, 2015

It was somewhat “accidental” that the government sent him to work with youth in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the US.

You wonder how much of an accident it was. For the government, it was a form of punishment for not being drafted in the VietNam War era. He chose service.

There are people who love to quote passages from the Bible such as all things work for good for those who have faith. Whether God was behind the decision or God worked in the moment, the decision led to a life of service.

After some years of service, he went into business. But the service continued. He began adopting children whom no one else would care for. Severe handicaps and abuse. Some would never be able to leave his care (also his wife’s by the way who shared the entire journey).

He and his partner were good at that business thing. Became quite wealthy. The resources enabled the growing family to build a suitable estate to house them all.

A life of service done in the name of God. A life of service of which he never boasted. He and his wife “just did it.”

I heard the story once. It stuck. It makes me wonder what I’ve done with my life. Christians used to call this feeling “conviction,” in the sense of being convicted of a crime.

Stories such as this from my lifetime force me to recall Acts 2 and 4 where the church grew rapidly because of the way the members of the fellowship lived and cared for people.

Our witness of the power of Jesus gains credibility when done from a life of service to others.

What If We Had a Ceasefire?

December 1, 2015

CEASEFIRE!

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.

Bringing Down The Walls That Separate

November 23, 2015

Business writers (like me) often write about new technologies that promise to “break down the silos” of the various departments within an organization–for example, manufacturing, finance, engineering, maintenance.

The same can be true in other organizations. A church may have organizations (committees) around finance, buildings, worship, children ministry, youth ministry, missions. A church without a strong leadership team will discover that each of these have become a silo working independently often at cross purposes wasting resources.

Herod’s Temple in Jesus’ time had a wall beyond which non-Jewish people could not traverse. They were not allowed into the holiest of the areas. Paul the apostle had a problem when he was accused of bringing a “Greek” into the “Jewish” area.

Today we are still busy building walls. I read something about a bunch of governors wishing to erect a wall to keep refugees from the war in Syria out. Others desire a physical wall to keep Mexican people out.

We have church walls–even among varying persuasions of Christians. I remember playing guitar for a Mass in 1970. Father Ottenweller looked at me and said, “Someday, you will be able to take communion with us.” Well, 45 years later, still not true.

Several of my sources suddenly are all teaching on Ephesians. There is a chain of scholarly thought that this letter was not written by Paul. I guess these are the anti-Catholics (against priesthood that can be found implied in the letter). I’m not a scholar. This pretty much looks like a letter of Paul. And the second chapter has some interesting imagery. It talks of tearing down the walls that separate us. As Paul said elsewhere, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; male nor female; slave nor free; for we are all one in Jesus.”

Somewhere along the line, we as a people keep forgetting the simple facts of Christian life. We are meant to be wall removers, not wall erectors. Go find a wall to knock down today. And tomorrow.

Speaking About What We’ve Experienced

November 17, 2015

Coffee lovers have come to the opinion that their drink must be incredibly strong to be good. That is the power of advertising and peer pressure where you go to places that must over-roast their coffees to make up for the variation in the quality of the beans. In process control it’s called compensating for the variables of the input material.

When the quality of the raw material is more carefully controlled which can be the result of the way the coffee is purchased from the farmer, then the roaster is free to bring out the true flavors of the different varieties of the bean. The result is a coffee that is more pleasing to the palate.

We cannot help from speaking about what we have seen and heard. — Peter and John recorded in Acts 4

Christ-followers call it “witnessing.” Originally it meant “speaking about what we have seen and heard.” For us it is speaking from experience.

Sharing an experience is powerful. It is your story. But it is a story that can relate to other people. It is a story pleasing to the palate.

Followers of our faith for centuries have given us a bad name by coming on so strongly like that overpowering cup of coffee. They try to force feed their beliefs–often emphasizing peripheral beliefs ignoring the central belief that we have experienced new life as a Jesus-follower after coming to belief in his resurrection.

I’m thinking about Galatians 5 and Paul’s description of changed lives. And also of the especially powerful first five chapters of Acts.

Think of the growth of the early church and the lives that were changed because they:

  1. Shared what they had experienced
  2. Served others with no thought for themselves or their own well being

And we wonder why we’re not growing and thriving.

Prepare To Meet Thy God

November 3, 2015

I was driving some back country roads this evening on my way to dinner. Passed by a small country church with a sign about as big as the church. “Prepare To Meet Thy God” it proclaimed.

Do you also get the feeling that that comment is an in-your-face remark? The picture of a black-bearded, black-suited, black string bow-tie wearing, finger waving, American country preacher springs to mind?

Maybe I get that image because I know so many people that way. It may be a caricature. But unfortunately, the phrase just strikes me that way.

Many of those “bumper-sticker” phrases do. There is something impersonal about them. It’s like shouting at someone. Not like conversing with someone.

Maybe that is my problem. This should be personal–not something shouted out.

I remember meeting God. It was personal. And life-changing. In the quiet of meditation, the experience was unmistakable. Then again in celebration time during an Emmaus Walk. And other times.

Preparing to meet your God–THE God–takes a life of getting ready. There was study so that I knew what was real. There was prayer. There were the disciplines of meditation and contemplation. There was an openness toward and expectation of the reality of God.

Like Paul, I hesitate to write things such as this. It is not boasting, which Paul abhorred. It is merely witnessing. Pointing to a reality that exists no matter what materialists say. No, it is not delusion as much modern psychology maintains. If they would prepare….

I don’t like in-your-face evangelizing. I am praying right now that God would lead someone into my life to disciple. Personally. Not just shouting slogans, but really preparing to meet our God.