Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

January 20, 2017

Do as I say, not as I do.

The memory is as clear as the day it happened. The small cafeteria/study hall in my high school. Group of high school students gathered around a new teacher. She tells them to do something. High school students are prone to questioning things. She uttered that response.

Paul devotes much writing to showing us how we’ll live as someone who believes in Jesus–the gospel, good news, resurrection from death.

People get confused. They think it ends with faith. Faith that Jesus is the Son of God. Not faith in Jesus as our guide and teacher and way to God.

Paul says many times, if we have faith, then we will behave in certain ways.

James says faith without works is dead.

Jesus says the second commandment (of two) is to love our neighbor. Then he shows us examples of love and neighbor. Revolutionary to his original listeners. Revolutionary to most of us.

John talked much of love–not love as an emotion but love as an action.

As I grow older, I listen less to what men say and watch what they do. — Andrew Carnegie

Some people can talk a good game. But they don’t play it.

Beware the person who tells you what to do with their mouth but says something completely different with their life.

A Leader To Bring Us Together

January 19, 2017

Those people! Those (other) people.

They ignore all the rules. They bring their guitars and drums into church. Wear whatever clothes they wish. They shout and dance. They don’t believe all of our strict interpretations of Scripture. They don’t even look like us. They don’t always speak the same language.

Those people!

They are so strict and humorless. They think they follow all the rules and sit there pointing out where everyone else falls short of following some rule. They think everyone should believe everything just like them, dress like them, talk like them. If not, then they don’t belong.

Sorry, I’m not talking about the politics of Washington, D.C. Or France. Or Britain. Or Germany. Or whatever. The state of politics globally is pretty divisive right now.

But what about churches?

I’m not Catholic, but I love to see the direction that Pope Francis is trying to lead.

On the other hand, there is the politics of all the local places of Christian worship. So much divisiveness.

Where is the injunction of Jesus–“you will know my followers by their love”?

In those early years of the church, leaders struggled with bringing together two completely different groups of people into one faith. The “racial” divide at the time was between Jews and everyone else in the world who was not a Jew.

Keeping that in mind, go back and read Romans straight through. Read it from the point of view of what Paul is saying about that divide.

“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised (Jews) on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised (everyone else) through that same faith.”

Paul’s plea throughout the letter is that the two sides come together. I often fall short of being that kind of reconciler. We need more of us to speak up to bring people together instead of bowing down to those who seek to divide.

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?

Shocking News-Other People Are Different From Me

December 27, 2016

Other people are different from me.

Live with it. No, really, trying to make them the same as me with the same attitudes, beliefs, and actions becomes a dizzying amusement park ride of frustration. We could try political action to pass laws to “force” people to be like me. Hint: that never works.

We can try empathy, understanding, or avoidance.

God made me in his image; I did not make God in my image.

Except, sometimes I act like God is made in my image. Of course, he agrees with me. She doesn’t like those I don’t like. Except…God is God.

We can try understanding our place in God’s universe.

Jesus was who God created; Jesus was not who I want him to be.

Sometimes we read a verse and think Jesus was gentle. Sometimes another and think he was judgemental. Perhaps another and think he was a super-hero doctor.

We can try reading the entire gospel and life stories of people who have encountered him. And accept who he truly was (and is) and try to be like him. That’s what disciples do.

Who Did Jesus Come For–Why Everyone, Of Course

December 20, 2016

“9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,c and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” — Gospel of John, chapter 1

When we talk about Jesus, who he was, what he did, and his invitation, do we digest what John says? “Which enlightens everyone.”

Do the people have different appearances than us? Different lifestyles? Different gender roles?

I thought for years that John was quite Greek in thinking. After all, he began with the Greek word Logos. Translated as word, it is steeped in Greek philosophic meaning. But that was probably just influence by the German theological movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s that strove to remove the “Jewishness” from the New Testament.

John’s writing is obviously quite Jewish (I have read explications of Revelation that relate the narrative to Jewish Temple worship). It must have pained him deeply to write “his own people did not accept him.”

We make the simple and miraculous too complex.

“To all who received him.”

Yesterday I talked of invitations. Last week of gifts. Both are implicit in these simple opening verses of the Gospel.

And there are no conditional clauses. No “if…then…else” statements.

Receive Jesus. Believe in his name. Become born a second time–born of God himself.

In December we recreate the invitation and the gift in our worship and study. Do we receive the gift? Do we pass along the invitation to the gift? To everyone?

Visions Dancing In Their Heads Come Christmas

December 14, 2016

The “first Christmas” wasn’t Christmas, of course.

The celebration came years after the event. Christians had conquered Rome. An unthinkable event at the time of the events we celebrate. And then Christians conquered a big holiday by making it a celebration of Jesus’ birth. A triumph over paganism, if you will.

The phrase of the old poem recurs. “While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.”

Do you ever wonder what was “dancing in the heads” of Joseph and Mary? Maybe, “Please, God, allow us to have a safe child birth?” After all, child birth was a dangerous event in the life of a woman in those days. And they were not around supporting family (we think).

We know that there were many visions dancing in the heads of Jewish people at the time.

They expected a Messiah (Anointed One, King). But like all visions of the future, there were many competing versions.

Some thought King–as in replacement of King Herod with a real Jewish leader who would restore the empire.

Some thought prophet who could perform might acts of God–like an Ezekiel or Elijah.

Both Mary and Joseph had been given visions. What could have been dancing in their heads as the little boy was born? Certainly not what happened some 33 years later.

Jesus later explained from Scripture why it pointed to him (think the walk to Emmaus). But even today Jewish scholars dispute that reading of their Scriptures.

As we approach Christmas, what visions are dancing in your head? We each have our own. I hope more than candy.

Beware The Yeast of the Herodians, Or Don’t Let Power Go To Your Head

November 17, 2016

This is the third post in a series on a comment of Jesus found in Mark.


Did you ever know someone who got a taste of a little bit of power and let it go to the head? Did it ever happen to you?

Power relationships.

It happens in dysfunctional marriages where one person needs to have power over the other. I see it often in schools where a principal or superintendent has such a need of control and such a great amount of self-absorption that they must exert power over their minions. Happens in business, churches, pretty much wherever people are gathered.

The yeast of the Herodians infiltrated the dough of their (our?) lives.

Herod was “king of the Jews” appointed by Rome to control the region. He knew how to exercise power in the most brutal way. Rome itself was the epitome of exercising power relationships. Remember when Herod ordered all infant boys aged two years and under killed in Bethlehem lest the new “king of the Jews” who was reported born there survive and kick him off the throne?

Even Jesus’ followers at the very last instant just before his arrest and trial were still thinking of the coming kingdom of God in terms of a power relationship where the Jews would rise up and kick some Roman butt. Jesus had other ideas. And the power idea didn’t work very well for the Jews, either, some 40 years later when Rome came in, destroyed the Temple and killed thousands.

But Jesus turned that power relationship on its head. Check out the Sermon on the Mount. The teaching that if a soldier asks you to carry his backpack for a mile (legal) you carry it two. Love your enemies. Washing the feet of your followers.

Jesus was not against power. He was against using power over others. He used power for others.

Where are you in your power relationships? Do you use it to lord it over people? Or do you use it for the benefit of other people? Your choice. Choose wisely.

Giving In Order To Receive

October 13, 2016

I have been on Twitter almost since it began. More than 3,600 people follow me. Many of those 3.600 follow me so that I will follow them back. Some “game” the system and have maybe 100,000 followers.

They give in order that they may receive.

Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be give; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. –Jesus

There are preachers out there happily proclaiming the “prosperity gospel” using verses such as this in a financial context.

Jesus taught us much about how to handle our finances.

This teaching sounds very like excerpts of longer stories told in other gospels. But let’s just look at context.

He just told the parable of the sower, and explained it to his close followers as a metaphor for the spiritual condition of hearers of the word.

Therefore, we must consider the spiritual meaning of this terse phrase.

This is important. He commands, “Pay attention.” Remember he said, “And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit.”

In like manner, those who give will also receive.

We know many cynics who game the system. Or they are always out for what they can get.

Those who give of their time to help others, seem to always have someone around when they need help. Or those who give generously of their money or resources seem to have enough to live on and more to give away.

Those of us  who just give because of the condition of our heart will be blessed. No matter what the social darwinists–survival of the fittest–believe, it’s not all about me. It’s about the condition of my soil which bears fruit in others a hundred times over.

Inheriting Eternal Life

September 19, 2016

Just walking along the road. Minding his own business. And a young man walks up to him. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Something must have been bothering him. What was it? An uneasiness in the gut? A whisper? Some uncertainty?

Something compelled him to approach the famous teacher and ask the pivotal question.

The teacher asked if he knew the commandments from his Scriptures. “Yes, I’ve followed them all my life.”

Well, that should have done it. According to the orthodox teaching of his faith, one earned his way into eternal life through following all the commandments. The young man should have felt assured.

He didn’t.

What about us? There is a current teaching reaching back a couple of hundred years or more that Donald Miller, back when he was writing stories, called “propositional Christianity.” Just say that you agree with their propositions, and you are saved–that is, you inherit eternal life.

But many, like the young man still have an uneasy feeling. Is this really the way? Why do I feel this little nagging in the gut?

The teacher says something to the effect of, well, you know the commandments, there must be one more thing in your way. Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.

At this the young man went away sad. For he was quite wealthy.

The teacher had disciples. His name was Jesus. He was always baffling his disciples–those who were trying hard to learn from him.

They looked at Jesus, puzzled. He said that it was almost impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. This was shocking. Everyone was raised to believe that the rich had it all. They could buy their way into anything. They were especially blessed.

“Who can enter the Kingdom of God if not a rich man?”

“With man, it is impossible. But for God, nothing is impossible.”

(Mark 10:17-23)

When we let go and trust God, then we find the Kingdom.

Diamonds on the Inside

September 9, 2016

“She’s got diamonds on the inside.”

I have no idea what the song was about, but I love that picture. I’m thinking of the beauty that shines through. Not wearing it on the outside for flash and attention. But coming from within.

The past few days I’ve read about “for profit” colleges shutting down suddenly. Why does pursuit of profit have to corrupt some people? It made me think of the three or four guys I’ve worked with over the years who wore their Christianity outside. Sort of a veneer. When we parted ways, they all owed me money. And other people.

On the other hand, I’ve known many leaders whose robust spiritual life shined through from the inside. They lived their beliefs. It was part of them. They had no urge to show it off or force a particular branch of religion. They were great to work for and with. And usually good at business or leadership, too.

I’ve joked in the past that when I meet an overtly Christian businessman I reach for my pocket for assurance that my wallet is still there.

But that is a bit cynical. True in some cases, unfortunately.

Still–where are my diamonds? Encrusted on the outside as a glittering veneer, or embedded inside showing through as a part of natural beauty?

Think of the people we know that are like that. I bet if we but stop and reflect we can think of many. Maybe when we’re contemplating upon that person we’d like to be we can focus on those and try to be like them.