Tag Archives: Christian

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.

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.

they like jesus

but not the church...

but not the church...

I’m disturbed.

Ask anyone on the street:  What do you think about God?  What do you think about Jesus?  What do you think about Spirituality?

Then ask them:  What do you think about Christians?  The Church?  Christianity?

I’ll bet we’d find that people – from all walks of life, religious and irreligious (with the exception of Bill Maher, perhaps) – have a positive reaction to God, immensely respect Jesus, even practice some sort of Spirituality.

But Christian changes everything.  Descriptives emerge:  bigotted, intolerant, homophobic, subculture, controlling, hate.

How in the world did we change the world to the point that the world likes Jesus (at least in their limited understanding, but like him nonetheless they do) but can’t stand His followers?  Certainly there are wrong perceptions, but the fact remains that perceptions shape people’s realities.  And as Christians, we’ve given more than enough fodder for people’s negative perceptions to become reality.

The question for us is not necessarily how to change their perceptions, but how to change how we shape those perceptions.

In other words, regardless of what narrow (and I mean this positively, not negatively) beliefs we have, how can we communicate love to our world.

More importantly, how can we communicate God’s love to God’s world.

Because as much as people may like Jesus…

…Jesus likes them more.

gated christian communities

You’ve seen them – from outside the key-coded gate. Maybe you’ve even tried to slip behind a resident and get under the gate before it closed on you. You know who you are…

Gated communities.

They keep people out: undesirables, less-affluent, more-affluent, those not-on-the-approved-list. They just do. They are safe-havens, isolated and intentional communities, a pick-your-own-neighbor life.

But this isn’t about the merits or downfalls of gated communities. No matter where on that continuum it falls, it is nowhere as insidious as the gated Christian communities.

You know what they are. You’ve seen them. You might not be aware if you are in one, but you sure as anything know if you aren’t. And these communities are sometimes harder to break into than physical gates. These gates communities have multiple gates.

You’ve attended church services and felt out of place. Or you have neighbors who claim to be Christians. Whether a Christ-follower or not, you know when you feel on the out of something in. And sometimes, no matter how how many gates you get through, there always seems to be one more. Here’s a few I am thinking of.

Gate #1 The Language Barrier: We Christians have our own lingo. We go to a church service; during that time we like to praise and worship; some of our favorite words in praise and worship are hallelujah or hosanna. After church we fellowship in the foyer (or lobby or vestibule – or the worst, the narthex); on Sunday nights we go to small groups (or life groups or home groups); in Bible studies we talk about spiritual warfare and principalities and powers…any of this sounding a little familiar? Then we talk about salvation and justification and getting saved or being born again. Learning this language can take years!

Gate #2 The Christian Smile: This is what you meet when you walk into the church and are handed a bulletin (this language thing is going to get messy, I can tell). It’s also what you see when you drop your kids off at kid’s church. Then you see it on faces when you finally locate a seat in the santuary (does anyone else hear Quasimodo bellowing in the recesses of your mind?). You’re first thought is, “dang, these people are happy.” Everyone you greet with a, “How are you?” returns a, “Great, thanks! How are you?”, which naturally begs you to return the same response. That’s when the smiles start to seem like plaster. Sure, there are a lot of genuinely happy people in church, but as my pastor’s wife says, “these people are bleeding all over the pews and no one knows it.” Then you try the experiment: when someone asks you how you are, you decide to respond, “Terrible, thanks. How are you?” And you answer this at least 4 times before someone realizes you said, “terrible”. Good luck getting the passcode for this gate.

Gate #3 The Christian Inside Jokes: This hit me in a brief service planning meeting that I had with our senior pastor and associate pastor. After talking about a few things, I said something christianese like, “the Bible companion guide to the pseudopigrypha.” We all laughed, and then I realized that no one outside our elite group would have got that joke. Did it make me feel good and superior? You bet! Did it make me feel woefully inadequate to interact in normal, non-churchy conversation? Nope. Should it have? Maybe. But come on, admit it: pseudopigrypha is funny!

I’m going to stop with those three gates. Heck, one is too much, and I’m mildly depressed having written all that about barriers to Christian community. There’s got to be a different and better way. Sure, we’re goign to stick out and seem a bit exclusive – every group does. Perhaps we need to understand the way we as the Church, as Christians, look and work hard to counteract that.

Let’s start a movement: NMGCC – No More Gated Christian Communities.

shhh…don’t tell

forgive.jpgOur church is currently working its way through the book of Matthew. This past Sunday, I spoke from Chapter 6:1-18. It communicates something vital to us about “spiritual transformation”, something that Diogenes Allen writes of in Spiritual Theology. Allen believes that the aim of spiritual transformation is to become more and more like God’s character and that, in order to get there (though it is not really an arrival) is to travel the road built of spiritual disciplines. Traveling this road culminates in what Allen calls, “love of neighbor”, the hallmark of following Jesus.

Matthew’s first 18 verses are divided into three passages, each dealing with a spiritual discipline contrasted against hypocrisy: Good deeds/giving (vs.1-6); prayer (vs.7-15); fasting (vs.16-18).

In brief, Jesus teaches his disciples (and the crowd that continues massing to listen) what it means to be a continual part of the kingdom of God (which is to be found within us, here on earth). When teaching these three disciplines, I find it interesting that Jesus uses the phrase, “When you give…pray…fast…” instead of “If you…” He implies that these are already, or should be, active in His followers’ lives as the way of developing a relationship with the Father.

After teaching on these disciplines, Jesus ends each with a secrecy clause – do it in secret, in humility. The kicker in each teaching is not the doing of the thing itself (for both Jesus’ disciples and the hypocrites participate in such), but the motivation behind the action: is it done for the Father or for personal recognition? Is it for a deeper relationship with God or for the admiration of others?

Perhaps the “reward” Jesus speaks of is personal/spiritual transformation. This transformation into His likeness continues to occur in disciples to the extent that the motivation is toward the Father.
Does following these disciplines with right motives enhance our relationship with God? Does it endear us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? What is one of the most powerful indicator of this inward change? Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 6, verse 12: to forgive others the sins committed against one’s own self. This is “love of neighbor”.