Category Archives: Christian living

keep christ in…

Let’s be honest.  People are not going to decide to follow Jesus because of our merchandise that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas“.  That just offers one more opportunity to pigeonhole Christians. I mean, seriously:  do we really need to gift-wrap  ammunition for people already antagonistic towards Christians?

In fact, it seems that the more one publicizes pithy little sayings and reduces the gospel to “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” soundbite (or my personal favorite, “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned” [are women not included?!  Ok, that was a cheap shot]), the more the Gospel (that is the good news of God’s love!) gets diluted.

Yes, we water down the Gospel, this phenomenon that has changed the world and still holds hope for the world.

Christmas wasn’t instated by Jesus Christ.  In fact, his birth was not central to many early Christians’ faith.  The fact that only two books in the Bible (Matthew and Luke) begin (or include) the story of Jesus’ birth certainly doesn’t mean that His birth was not important; on the contrary!  But it does mean that many thousands (at least) of people trusted in Christ without political ambition, without trying to coerce people who are not “called by His Name” to celebrate Him.

In fact, I wonder if Jesus cares as much about the arguments we make.  We often say it ourselves, that Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas.  So, why do we get all bent out of shape this time of year when people who aren’t Christians don’t want to celebrate his non-birthday?  Why is it that only one day in the year we remember God who came to be human?  Should not the advent of our Lord be celebrated and shared more than during the winter?

How many abuses have been done to others by Christians?  How many in the name of the babe in the manger?  How many have we, today, participated in, excluding others?  How often have we Christians been unloving or indifferent?  Not just to those who do not believe as we do, but to those who are our brothers and sisters, those who also claim the name of Jesus?

I’m all for celebrating Christmas.  This is probably my favorite time of the year.  But I can’t help thinking we’re fighting the wrong battle by trying to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  After all, is it really our job to keep Jesus somewhere, all neat and tidy?  It’s like we’re trying to appease the gods, relegating Jesus to His one time of year.  Maybe we should be trying to get Christ out of Christmas and into the rest of the world.

Perhaps instead of fighting to “keep Christ in Christmas” (or prayer in schools, or the 10 Commandments outside courthouses, or God on our money or in the Pledge – insert your Christianese battle here), let’s do something that really will impact our world:

Let’s put the Christ back in Christian.

That’s something we can control a bit more.  And it’s something surely more pleasing to God than trying to “take back” Christmas.  After all, what are Christians supposed to be known for, fighting and winning political battles over our rights, or pursuing justice and mercy for the oppressed, setting the captives at liberty, loving their neighbor??

Should we be known for making enemies by making the Gospel as offensive as possible, or realizing that the whole Gospel can be reduced to one statement, “to love your neighbor as you love yourself“?  To be sure, the Gospel is scandelous – who else’s god is celebrated as coming through an unwed teenager?  It can be offensive.  Unfortunately, Christians today have taken that job upon themselves, making ourselves offensive in an effort to claim the right to our own “pursuit of happiness.”  Christian has become a descriptive of culture instead of transformation.

Let’s decide to put Christ back in Christian.

That seems to be a better use of our effort.

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Where is God in all of this?

How many times have you heard this?  Let’s be honest, how many times have w questioned it ourselves?

Go ahead and fill in the blank:  where is God when ______________?  Why did God allow ____________?  Is God responsible for _______________?

It is not evil to question, to wonder, to beg for answers to our deepest hurts, to the world’s shameful deeds; to wonder why God did not put an end to this hurricane or that war; why children and women are still sold as slaves into the sex trade, why good people get cancer, lose spouses, children, houses.  After all, we are given good precedent:  David and others cries out in the Psalms – our sacred scriptures!  He is unafraid of questioning, of showing his weakness in attempting to rely on God in the middle of turbulent circumstances.  Look at Psalm 5 and 6 and Psalm 10, on and on through these songs.  We have a rich history of tears, frustration, fear and hope, beggars of God’s mercy for salvation from oppression and illness, questions without answers.

And yet someone comes to me with such questions, I’m tempted to offer answers.  I want to relieve burdens, to bandage wounds, to heal deep hurts.  I want to defend God against accusations of distance and disinterest, to give God an “out” and try to reason the world and other un-understandable things.  Then, when I watch a special on Children for Sale and see the young children around the world who are in slavery to those who pimp them out for a few dollars, I can’t help but wonder where God is in the middle of this.  So I try to rationalize Him yet again, and make excuses for the perceived absence.

But we don’t need to defend God.  God is God and big enough to handle Himself. Does He need our defense?  Perhaps in all our asking, we’ll find God in our questions; if we listen closely, maybe we will hear him tell us the answer: 

You: you’re the answer to your prayer.  I am at work within you.  I will always work through my people.  The fields are white for harvest, the needs are huge and the risks real, so pray that I will send workers to the fields.  In the meanwhile, you go.  Remember, I am working through you.

Maybe we are the answer to our own prayers.

Maybe God is stirring us to act.

What will we say?

(for more info on the child sex industry and what you can do to help oppose this and save children’s lives, please see International Justice Mission)

generous

Persecuted though they were, Christians in the early church were noticed by emperors, some of whom even wrote that Christians put others to shame by serving the poor, aiding the sick, and caring for the dead and dying.  In other words, those inside the church took care of people better than those outside!

These Christians were not simply known for their beliefs, but by the actions those beliefs inspired.  Isaiah writes of this progression: “Feed the hungry and help those in trouble.  Then your light will shine out from the darkness and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” (Isaiah 58:10).  For Isaiah, “light” would shine as a result of good actions.  And as bearers of the Light of the World, they are truly our actions that will prove to our communities who Jesus really is.

What would our community, our city, look like if followers of Jesus became known for this again: caring for God’s creation, for fighting for all of human life – unborn and born – for peacemaking, for forgiving those who wrong us, for extending God’s love to all?

Let us be generous. Let us live life beside each other, united in God’s Spirit and serving the world God has made.  Let’s join together to live the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

words

For me, the dread word “evangelism” can quickly lead to a case of the heebee-geebees.  I have memories of knocking on doors, preparing 30-second versions of my conversion on 3×5 cards, and the hardest, (in my humble opinion), tracts.  “Let’s go witnessing” was the invitation that left me cold and cringing, awkwardly fishing for excuses as to why I just couldn’t do that tonight.

It was scary stuff.

For too many years this was my only view of evangelism.  It was about words – telling someone something.

I’m not degrading the importance of words.  It is simply that for years, my understanding of “sharing the gospel” had exclusively to do with words:  saying the right things, telling people about sin and Jesus’ death and forgiveness and heaven and the sinner’s prayer.

Words.

And I was terrible at it.

I was afraid to approach people on the street, in airplanes, the grocery store, school and start talking about Jesus.  Brutally honest?  When I did summon the necessary courage, I mostly ended up talking about church.

Have you been there, or am I the only one?  My pride and a slightly-underdeveloped spidey-sense tell me it’s not just me.

But the good news is this:  sharing Jesus is more than words.  A world remains outside our church needing to know the God who loves them beyond imaginations, to see as well as hear about Jesus.  We, Christ’s body, can rediscover that fully sharing the Gospel includes speaking the hope of Jesus, but more importantly, it means the giving of our lives to those God loves.  It has been said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

What a statement when Christians in business hold themselves to the highest ethical standards; when teachers are known for the love they have toward students; when we stand against child slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the destruction of God’s created beauty; when we honor the poor; when our “friends without homes” are fed; when life is sacred from conception to death; when the stranger and enemy become, like the story of the good Samaritan, our neighbor.

There’s something powerful about letting the Gospel permeate us so completely that our actions preach more than our words.

Matthew puts it like this:  “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (5:16)

the hopeful way

John 14:3-7

Jesus said to his disciples, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

I was struck today by yesterday’s Anglican lectionary reading in honor of Saint Remigius, who apparantly effected the conversion of France in the late 5th Century.

The passage above, from John 14, is a familiar one, no doubt.  I can remember many times as a teenager hearing these words, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” and thinking how dark and foreboding they were.  They sent chills up and down my spine and imbibed me with an incredible sense of urgent fear.  Those words did not relay hope to me, instead serving as a warning to the world and the wayward:  if you want to get to heaven, you have to believe in Jesus.

Not only were these words a warning, but I was taught to use them in defense of Christianity.  This was the ultimate Trump card: if you’re not following Jesus, you’re not on your way to heaven.

But this morning, reading them in context with the verses before them, they exuded something new:  not fear, not urgency, not coercion, but hope.  These are words Jesus directed to his disciples, not in an effort to convince them to believe in him, nor to use as weapons to convert the heathen, but to assure them that they would live with Jesus forever – that he would never forsake them.

Jesus begins talking about leaving the disciples for a time, making ready a place for them, and then tells them they know the way to reach him.  Thomas, fearfully and perhaps urgently blurts out, “we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?!?

It is in this context that Jesus speaks these well-known (and often ripped-from-context) words.  If we listen, we may very well hear the hope he offers, spoken through perhaps a wide smile, maybe accompanied by his own kind laughter:  “Why, Thomas, I am the way!  And the truth, and the lifeI am the way to my Father.”  He’s assuring his friends that they’re OK, that they don’t need to live fearfully, that because they know Jesus (and by extension, the Father), they can offer this same hope – without coercion, guilt or fear – to the world.

These words are fresh.  There is no fear in Jesus, but hope.

projects

As part of my second year at George Fox Seminary (Portland), I’ll be researching two separate topics.  One will be Christianity and Christian history in Mexico.  The second takes a more contemporary bent and will focus on what holistic worship is.
I’m looking for resources (journal articles, books, websites/blogs, papers, etc) that touch on various aspects of worship and what worship means in the evangelical community.  Of late, “worship” has been restricted to a portion of a church service in which the congregation is led in song; it’s got to be more than that – in fact, I’m convinced we do the term and ourselves a disservice when we view worship with this shallow a definition.

I’m interested in your input.  What is worship to you?  What does it consist of?  Are their boundaries to what worship is?

attracting darkness

Darrell is a friend of mine.  He sits in a wheelchair when he’s not laying in bed in the care facility where he lives.  He’s in his 50’s.

Darrell has Multiple Sclerosis.

Darrell used to ride Harleys.  It was a huge part of his life.  In fact, when I recently bought a Honda Shadow, I was a bit unsure as to how he would react, being an HD rider.  But Darrell’s a sweet man with an amazing disposition and, even in the awful circumstances it appears he lives in, was ecstatic that I was simply getting a motorcycle.  You could see the nostalgia that came over him as he asked, “How big is it?” and “What does it look like?”  For a few minutes he was back in his riding days, unfettered by immobility.

When you see Darrell, you are immediately greeted with a smile and a conversation, even though he has to exert immense patience because at times he’s difficult to understand.  Your inevitable thought is, “What is his quality of life?  How can he be so positive?”  I am certain that were I in his position, I could not be as upbeat and enthusiastic about life and others.

Stu is an 82 year old assistant pastor at Mirabeau Chapel, where I work and Darrell attends.  A few months ago, Stu spoke up in staff meeting, trying to tell us the latest thing that he’s been learning from God.

When Stu talks about God, it is wise to listen.

“God showed me something this morning.  It’s generally understood that light dispels darkness – that’s what we commonly say.  But God began showing me that light attracts darkness.  The dark things of the world are drawn to the light.”

I began thinking of Darrell.  Darrell can barely talk, though he communicates everything with his smile.  But how can he, in the traditional evangelical understanding of it, “preach the gospel”?  What impact, really, does he have on those around him?  Can he have much at all?

Well, just recently, Darrell was rushed to the hospital with one of the many ailments he suffers from.  Spending several days in the hospital is not unusual for him, nor for others suffering similarly in a round-the-clock care facility.

What is unique are his visitors.

Hospitals are intimidating places.  They’re hard to visit for family, much less friends – even less acquaintances.  When others from Darrell’s home are admitted, it is rare for them to have visitors.

Darrell had 8.  The amazing thing is that 6 of them were nurses from his care facility.  People who work where he lives, change his sheets, bathe him, feed him.  These are people who are around hard circumstances daily.  Yet 6 of them were so affected by his life that they took personal time to visit him.

Many of these are not Christians, and they’re not doing it out of duty.  This is unusual.  They are doing it because they are attracted to something in him.

His light is not driving them away.

Light is attracting darkness.