Thursday, July 14, 2011

Christianity's Biggest Mistake

I read this post from Chad Holtz at his site, "Dancing on Saturday"
Good insight.

Christianity’s Biggest Mistake

Jul 13, 2011 by 
It’s not our buddying up with empire under Constantine.
It’s not our acceptance of the myth of redemptive violence, launching the Crusades and countless other imperialistic wars of conquest.
It’s not our long history of patriarchy and subsequent subordination of women. 
It’s not our silence during and even defense of slavery.
It’s not our split from Rome and the countless factions that now exist.
It’s not the millions upon millions of ethical blunders sinful men and women have made while representing Christ’s Church. 
It’s not our constant and seemingly eternal infighting while orphans and widows around us starve and perish.
It’s not even Mark Driscoll.
Nope. It’s not any of that.   Christianity’s biggest mistake can be summed up on a billboard I saw while driving to Nashville this week:
Our biggest mistake is turning the Kingdom of God which Jesus announced as here into one more tool to comfort us in the midst of our mortality.   Our biggest mistake is turning the Gospel into knowledge that if possessed and accepted unlocks the holy grail of eternal life.  We will live in mansions and walk streets of gold beside crystal seas, or, if you were born in another part of the world, wake up next to 70 virgins (let’s save the debate over whose heaven is better for another time, ok?)  
Life is short, Eternity isn’t, isn’t the point!   Implied in this message, which sums up the evangelical gospel of the last century, is that the most important thing to consider when making decisions in this fleeting appendage of a thing we call “life” is how will this or that impact my destination after death?  
This is so contrary to the way of Jesus, who turns that question on it’s head and asks instead, “How will this decision affect the neighbor around me?” 
Yet another dangerous implication in this biggest mistake of ours is that the justice of God is such that actions, good or bad, done in a “short” amount of time render an “eternal” consequence or reward.   God, we are told, holds an infinite grudge.
Now, in seminary I read the many theologians who have an answer to this problem.    Our sins are committed, they say, against a holy and infinite God and therefore require an infinite response if God’s sense of justice and honor are to be met.    We, being human, could not and would never be able to satisfy that need of God (God is “needy”?) and so God sent God’s Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty we could and would not be able to pay.   Because Christ was duly punished, tortured, and executd, God is “satisfied.”   His anger towards us is softened, and now, we sinful humans can just hide  behind Jesus’ blood and all will be well for us when we die.   Those who do not hide behind Jesus, however, are subject to God’s wrath (which is eternal) and by default, subject to our (Christians) wrath, as well.  
And since God still hates those who are not clothed in Christ, it is only natural that all the things I listed at the outset of this post happened, and continue to happen.    We annoucne the Kingdom of God is at hand not by embracing everyone as already a beloved child of God – as our neighbor – but by shock and awe.   We drop bombs of both word and steel under the guise of eternal significance.   Something of such weighty importance (eternity) deserves and requires such weighty tactics.  
I am more and more convinced as of late that our biggest mistake as Christians is that we have put so much weight on eternity that we miss the life in front of us.   We are so heavenly minded, as the saying goes, that we are no earthly good.   
Why do we do this?  Why do we love to place so much emphasis on the wrath of God, which is, we claim, eternal?   Why is God’s wrath forever but God’s love finite?    Why does God stop loving us after this “short life” and cease to stop searching for and reconciling us?  
What would the Body of Christ (the church) look like today if we embraced the good news that God loves us – ALL of us – and that eternity is in God’s hands, not ours?   What if we trusted that God is good and so too, is life?    What if we changed that billboard to read instead,
Life is short, live it.   ~ God.  

Sunday, July 4, 2010

My Independence Day Lament

I am a patriot. I love America. I pledge allegiance to one nation “under God”. I sing with gusto the Star Spangled Banner when it is played at ball games. The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I am deeply concerned with political affairs and have great interest in what happens in our nation. I have nothing but the highest regard for our men and women in military service. I am very grateful to God for the privilege of being born and living in the United States.

My intent is not to brag, but to lay a foundation lest some readers think the remainder of this post is about bashing America. Please don’t misinterpret my comments to be anti-American. My concern is for the Church, for Christ followers. Specifically, that at times it seems we are prouder of being Americans than we are of being Christ followers.

Why is it that in our worship services songs that convey a deep spiritual meaning are hardly acknowledged by the worshippers, but songs that have a patriotic flavor can evoke a highly emotional--even wildly emotional-- response? Why is it that many “Christians” are more concerned with the advancement of the religious right than they are with Kingdom of God?

For me, our Sunday morning worship service is a public and collective expression of our love and devotion to our Heavenly Father. Picture this: A husband takes his wife out for a romantic anniversary dinner and spends nearly an hour telling her about another woman—how beautiful he thinks this woman is, how this woman inspires and encourages him, how grateful he is to this woman for the “blessings” she brings to his life. How do you think his wife would feel?

I imagine that’s how God feels when we gather to worship Him and then pledge our allegiance to something other than Him; when all the songs we sing are not to Him or about Him, but about how great our country is; and how mighty is our military strength, and how grateful we are to soldiers who sacrifice for our freedoms. I am not ungrateful for those things, I just don’t feel they have any place in a meeting dedicated to the worship of God.

“Christian Americanism”, that strange blend of worship and patriotism is very troublesome to me. On days like today—Sunday’s that are close to Memorial Day, Independence Day or Veteran’s Day-- all too often I see an unbalanced mixture of nationalism and religion; perhaps to the point of idolatry.

It is appropriate that we show gratitude to God for the blessings of liberty. It is important, I feel, to endeavor to place biblical morality as the guiding principles of our society in many cases. It is even good to exercise our rights of citizenship in such a way that it reflects our faith. But for those of us who follow Jesus I hope we never forget that we are Christ-followers first, and Americans second; but it often feels the other way around, especially on days like today.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Worse Than I Thought

The sore throat I've had since Monday morning... which I thought was the result of screaming too much on behalf of the Saints the night before... is actually acute bronchitis on the verge of pneumonia... glad I didn't wait another day to start antibiotics :0

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Spirit of God Dances...

I love this piece by one of my favorite authors, John Fischer, at The Fischtank :)

The Spirit of God dances. He can't be tamed. He won't be contained. He refuses to be confined to a weekend retreat, an evening meeting, or a moment of devotion. He doesn't follow schedules, programs, or agendas, and He doesn't wait for His name to be called. The Spirit of God dances.

He dances right under the noses of those who don't believe in dancing; and He dances right on by those who do. He dances through the assemblies of the keepers of the dance, and right on out the door—and no one sees Him go. And as the dancers continue their pantomime, the Spirit of God dances in the streets.

His favorite dancing places are those where the keepers of the dance don't want Him to go, like on smoky stages with microphones that smell of whiskey. The Spirit of God loves sinners and dances best where life spills out on the floor.

Occasionally He dances on the clean, sweet-smelling stages of the keepers of the dance—but not as often as He would like. He dances there when there is pain or grief—whenever life spills out on the floor. But usually the floor is clean and the dance is simulated, carefully choreographed by the keepers of the dance to use only those steps with which they feel secure.

The Spirit of God refuses to be choreographed. His dance is raw, new, and jerky. It's not always pleasing to the eye, but His dance is fresh in the lives of those whose floors have not been cleaned up. It isn't well rehearsed, polished, or perfect; it slips and slides, sometimes innovative and shocking and at other times just exhilarant, but it's always real.

Sometimes the dance turns to mourning, but always there's the dance. Happy dance or sad dance… the Spirit of God always dances. Most people, even those who pride themselves in their dancing, are afraid of this unpredictable dance. They're afraid of anything they can't control; and His dance is wild, unmanageable—even mad.

But most important, it's vulnerable, open to criticism—the quality they fear most. So they must create their own dance of predictable steps and prescribed routines and send all their people through dance school—or outlaw dancing altogether. But this should come as no surprise. It has always been this way.

The Lord of the Dance himself was here once, and it was the same way then. He danced on the keepers' holy days and broke their holy laws. His timing—if not His whole dance—always seemed offbeat. He wanted to turn their empty religious movements into heartfelt, joyous dancing.

He wanted them to exchange the grip of the Law for the freedom of the dance. But they thought He was a clumsy dancer, always bumping into their traditions and stepping on their toes. He even danced with the wrong crowd, in smoke-filled rooms, with messy floors.

Once, describing His generation, He declared, "We played the flute for you, but you would not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' "

…and the Spirit of God dances on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lights Out

The other day I popped into to local library to check out a book. While I was there I logged onto the public computer to check my e-mail. Boom! Instant darkness. The monitors were blank, and all the patrons let out a collective, "Awww" along with a few whispered expletives.

Frustration at the inconvenience was soon forgotten as we heard children screaming. They were trapped in the elevator. No sooner had they begun their ascent than the power went out. Imprisoned in their pitch-black container, they were panic-sticken to the point of hysteria.

I rushed over and called out to them hoping to bring some calm to the situation. The unfamiliar voice in the darkness only added to their terror. The three boys were so loud they couldn't hear the people who were trying to help them.

Their mother arrived (she had been in the restroom when the lights went out--oh, joy) and although she had been down a long hallway some distance away, she recognized the screams of her children the second the electricity failed. She called each one by name, and the instant they heard their name, and recognized the voice of the one doing the calling, they began to settle.

"Sit down. Sit close together and hold hands. Be quiet so you can hear me. Got it?!" She turned and explained that they knew they were forbidden to ride the elevator without her, and she had half a mind to leave them threre until the power was restored in order to teach them a lesson.

A search of the maintenace room failed to turn up the emergency key for the elevator. The fire and rescue unit was summoned and they arrived within about ten minutes. After another ten minutes of searching the same room for the same misplaced key, the rescuers had a key brought over from the fire station.

Finally, the siblings were extricated from their dungeon. The looks on their faces told the mom that the ordeal had been punishment enough. It would be awile before they would be riding an elevator without adult supervision. As they embraced the tears began to flow uncontrolably. They were safe, but shaken.

I sat there thinking about what I had just witnessed. God whispered the lesson to my heart. "When you are in a dark and frightening situation, trapped and without options, do not be afraid. I will come to you. I will call you by name. Sit still and be quiet so you can hear me." A smile crossed my lips and a whispered 'thank you' rose as a prayer.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Take Heed

John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim's Progress, writes in his Epistle to the Reader...

"... take heed
of being painted fire, wherein is no warmth;
and painted flowers, which retain no smell,
and of being painted trees, whereon is no fruit.
Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift,
is like clouds and wind without rain."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

answered prayers

"When the focus of your life goes from getting answers to your prayers to becoming answers to the prayers of others, you'll know Him like never before." ~ Darin Hufford

Sunday, July 12, 2009

God always protects?

God always protects. In a previous post about taking my then three-year daughter to the doctor, I speculated about what that divine protection could look like. That episode helps shed a little light on the subject, but makes it seem that God is always behind our pain, or that there is a divine/ultimate purpose for our pain.

God always protects. My reaction is, "No! There is plenty of painful evidence that he doesn't!" Always? Don't try selling that to the parents of the young couple who was killed by a drunk driver Friday night. The promise sounds good, but what about the consequences of our (and others) destructive choices. God can redeem these situations, no question; but that is a big difference from protection.

Other translations of the bible read, "Love bears all things." I decided to do some deeper study. Words can have different meanings. In my native tongue the word "rock" can refer to a stone to throw, something to do in a chair with a baby in your arms, a type of music, a person’s name. Rock.

The New Testament was written in Greek and the word in question (stego, στέγω) can mean: “bear, forbear, overhang (like a roof, thus to protect)”, to preserve or keep by covering (think Saran wrap). It can mean to hide or conceal, to carry on one's person in a secret place.

So then "love always covers." Love does not expose the one it loves. Like the infamous water-boarding, exposure (to light, heat, cold, noise, etc.,) is an effective torture technique. Love doesn't expose.Love does not humiliate or embarrass.

Like a sculptor working on a masterpiece, God is an artist when it comes to you. He sees the final picture, the finished masterpiece, long before he brings it into being. Artists often cover their work, away from public view, until it is finished, protecting what is in his heart until it has been fully expressed.

Many people fear God will expose them to the world at their worst possible moment. God doesn't do that. "Love covers a multitude of sins." From the beginning of time (remember Adam and Eve) God has been in the business of covering up sin. Not in a "cover up", conspiracy, "sweep in under the rug" kind of way; but love covers the object of its affection. Love does not humiliate, embarrass or expose.

Come with me to a third grade classroom....
There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden, there is a puddle between his feet and the front of his pants are wet. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he knows when the other boys see it he will never hear the end of it, and the girls will never speak to him again as long as he lives. He puts his head down and tries to fight back the tears.

He hears footsteps and looks up, mortified to see the teacher headed for him with a look in her eyes that says he’s been discovered. Suddenly, Susie absent-mindedly walks in front of the teacher while carrying the class mascot: a goldfish in a large glass bowl. Susie trips and dumps the water into the boy's lap.

The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying to himself, "Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!" Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the object of sympathy. The teacher rushes him out to get some gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out.

All the other children are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk. As Susie tries to help, she becomes the object of ridicule that would have been the boy's. "You've done enough, you klutz! Get out of here!"

Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, "You did that on purpose, didn't you?"
Susie whispers back, "I wet my pants once too, and I remember what that felt like."

That is a picture of your Heavenly Father’s heart.
God loves you. You are the object of His affection. He will cover you. He will never expose you or embarrass you. In fact, he will cover up embarrassing sins and struggles that you secretly deal with. He will never humiliate you in order to humble you.

He is great at keeping things just between you and him. You are his masterpiece and he will protect you and cover you until you are complete. The only exposing God ever does in your life is when he unveils the beautiful things about you to others.

I’m not telling you that others will never find out your sins. Sin has a nasty habit of eventually exposing itself. We have all been "busted", exposed, but God was not the one who did it. This is never in his heart. Love covers, conceals closely.

Many Christians believe that when they stand before God all of their sins, a whole lifetime of failures, is going to be broadcast on huge video screens, celestial jumbo-trons, for everyone to see. This is just not true. Who is "the Accuser of the Saints?" Who delights in exposing, humiliating and embarrassing God's children?

We have taken the character of the Enemy, of Satan, and ascribed it to God. We have distorted God's character and disfigured his heart. God is love, and love always covers what it loves.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Painful Faith

I've been out of town for a week with no internet access--ugghhh! It is good to be home and back to blogging.

My friend John Fischer wrote today of "growing pains" as we die to old ways in order to live anew in our spirits. Old ways die hard--it's hard letting go of our security blankets.

Spiritual growth hurts because it often means facing long-held fears and letting go of comfortable traditions and routines.

“Put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him” (Philippians 2:12-13 NLT).

We obey by stepping into our weakness or our fear, trusting in the fact that because it is something He asks of us, He will meet us somewhere along the way with the power to do it.

This is a painful proposition, but if it doesn’t hurt, it’s probably not faith.

Old ways die hard, but new life dances on the gravestones.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Making God's Day

The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:6)

I used to read the account of the great Flood in the Bible, the story of Noah and his family, and see an angry, fuming God. It's not there. God was grieved and sad. This is just one example that God has emotions and his heart is stirred by what we do.
We can bring God joy, and we can bring him sadness and pain.

God is fully fulfilled within His own being. God does not need you, but He desires you... and me. While God doesn't need a thing, still he made us to reach out to him and perhaps find him. To do so, he would have had to make himself vulnerable to the process he created. Amazing.

One of my favorite authors, John Fisher, has "sometimes wondered if God didn't purposely create a need (a desire) in himself for us when he made us, thus making him open to both the pain and the joy of a relationship."

When working on his first novel, "Saint Ben" John explores the idea of what happens when one takes the Pascalian idea of a "God-shaped vacuum in every human heart" and turns it around. What if there is a Jim-shaped hole in the heart of God, just the size to fit my rebellious, moody, and all-too-often selfish self? What if there is a you-shaped hole in the heart of God?

That God would carve out a place for us in his heart is a mystery. That we would fulfill it is privilege worthy of life itself. So go ahead; make God's day. Seek after Him. Bring him joy and not sorrow. The choice is yours. Just know that His heart is for you, He desires a personal and intimate relationship with each one of His children.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rendering Sin Powerless

On the cross, Jesus took care of the penalty for your sins. In one sense, sin is no longer an issue as far as a relationship with God is concerned. It won't keep Him from you or, as a result, you from Him. You don't have to get rid of it to come to Him and He no longer holds your sins against you. What would be the point of Jesus dying on the cross if you are expected to pay God back every time you sin?

That is not to say that God ignores your sins or takes sin lightly. God hates sin, not because it of what it does to Him, but because of what sin does to His children. While the penalty has been paid, the power of sin still wreaks havoc in people's lives. That is why sin is still an issue and that is what God wants to change.

The further you get from the things that destroy your life the better off you are. God truly loves putting distance between you and death. God doesn’t want you caged in a cycle of repetition, where you repeat the same destructive acts over and over, causing damage to your own life and the life of everyone connected to you.

As we live each day with Him, God untwists what sin has twisted in us and in the process sets us free from the power of sin in our lives--rendering sin powerless. God does not want to punish you for your sins (that was taken care of on the cross), He wants to cure you from sin and its negative effects in your life.

God doesn't keep a record of wrongs--there is no need to. But God also doesn't keep a record of rights either--He doesn’t need a reason to love you and bless you. God doesn't want to punish you, He wants to heal you. He wants to undo some of the damage your sin and selfishness has caused.

We cannot experience that healing and new life apart from a daily, intimate relationship with God. "Come to me, all you who are worn out and loaded down with heavy burdens, and I will give you rest", was Jesus invitation. He is alive and that invitation is still extended today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

God Keeps No Record of Wrongs

God is love. Love keeps no record of wrongs. This unique kind of love is unconditional and transformational.

"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more..." (Isaiah 43:25)

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; (Psalm 103:11-13)

What happens in a relationship when one or both parties keeps a record of the other party’s wrongs and mistakes? Keeping a record of wrongs kills relationship. In most divorces one of both parties kept meticulous record of the other person’s faults.

If God keeps a record of wrongs then our relationship with Him is based on performance and intimacy is impossible—you can never perform good enough often enough. Since real relationship is not based on performance there is no need to keep score.

Most people who believe in God do not believe this about Him, but it is true. God keeps no record of wrongs. He will never throw your past in your face or use your mistakes as ammunition or leverage. We are never more like God than when we put down our scorecards--the ones we keep on other people, and the one we keep on ourselves.