Sunday School Series: A Higher Standard/Calling

9 02 2017

I bet God hears a lot of excuses.  If I could have a telephone wired to his ear, so that I could hear all of the prayer requests and conversations that Jesus’ people had with him, I’m sure I would hear a lot of excuses.  I’m sure I’d hear all of these perfectly valid* and honest reasons* for not being kind.  I’m sure I’d hear a lot of blaming* and I’d hear a lot of absolutely convincing* evidence that the person is doing the best they can.  (*=sarcasm).  I wonder how many of those excuses would be mine.  I wonder how many of those reasons I’ve used to validate myself or make myself feel better about the lack of commitment I’ve had/have today, when it comes to building my relationship with Jesus.

The thing we gotta realize is that excuses don’t cut it.  When we excuse our self out of opportunities to show growth or to show maturity, then we are truly misunderstanding the whole point of Jesus’ coming to earth.  See, prior to his coming, this personal relationship thing?  It didn’t really truly exist.  You worshiped as a corporate body.  God was over there, and we are over here.  When God came to earth, he ripped away the veil and was able to gain entrance into our hearts.  There’s no excuse that is worthy of giving a reason for not loving or for not caring for other people.  By excusing our behaviors or lack of behaviors, we are shying away from the responsibility of our call as a believer.  Excuses are of this world.  They’re not of the kingdom of heaven.  If we continue to make excuses, then we will live a life full of excuses, and not full of obedience and living.

Philippians 2:1-2:  Joy in Unity

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

It is not of this world for people to be in unity and not to be fighting.  In fact, all stories typically have a conflict that go with it.  One of the earliest things that I learned about the church is that you had to go.  Then, I learned why.  You go because of community, and wrapped up in the word community is the word unity.  See it there?  commUNITY.  You go because of the people there, you go to worship God.  You go because christians know that you can’t hope to grow unless you have a community that surrounds you, helping you, and encouraging you.  As a young kid, I disliked church, because it was the dreaded opportunity for me to have to wear a dress!  Gross!  But I learned something as I grew older and I wore pants, that the church is not designed to be an oppressive place, but a place of freedom and joy, a representation of the freedom and joy we have in our relationship with God.  We were not designed to grow and go through this life alone, we were designed for community because the trinity is community.  We were made for community, because it is only when we are in community that we can practice unity.

Paul is clear here, that if we have value in Christ and each other, then we must remain united.  There is no room for selfishness in unity.  We must remain supportive and we must be known by our love for each other.  Unless we do not have value in each other, then we will never rid ourselves of the selfish chains that attempt to hold us to ourselves.

We cannot hope to love each other, and to unite together if we do not understand that community/unity is expected of believers.  We cannot hope to embody the love of God if we do not hold each other to a high standard of unity.

But this comes at a great cost.  Be aware of this.  If I hold unity and community in high regards, then I must hold myself at a secondary regard.  There is no place for selfishness here, but each person submitting themselves for the sake of unity.  We must have all of the same priorities, the same desires, and advance them together for the sake of unity.  I do not think that this means that we lose our own individual personas, but on the contrary, we were all made differently so that we can approach the same goal from different angles.  If the goal is to love people, then each individual does that in their own unique way.

Philippians 2:3-4:  Humble Service

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We are called to a higher way of living, we are called to a new life of love and living together.  We are called of a different way to live.  This type of living is very foreign in our world.  It is so foreign that I almost feel confident in saying that many churches don’t have a hold on this type of living.  Our world teaches us that our selfish ways are the only way to get ahead.  We are supposed to look out only for our spheres of influences, and no one else.  The world teaches us to divide ourselves from each other, to keep arbitrary things like skin color, religion, money, music preferences and a whole other list of things that make us different from each other.  It does not tell us to look beyond our comfort zones and it does not tell us to see beyond our own little world.  It tells us to put our blinders on, and separate ourselves.  That, my friends, is not biblical and it is not loving.  This selfish attitude has unfortunately, permeated our Christian thought too.  We seem more concerned about all of the things that divide us, and more concerned about those that we can keep out of heaven than those that we can let into the fold.  We claim that God is the excluder, but then we ignore the prophecy found in Revelation.  In Revelation, it says that all sorts of people, all kinds of people will be found worshipping God.  Do you remember that?  Excluding people is not the way of the kingdom of God.  But we are often so closed off from everyone except those who exist in our own little worlds.  And that is selfish.

When we put others’ needs before our own comfortableness, we create an excuse for not sharing the gospel, or not living out the gospel.  When we follow scripture, we realize that our own ambitions are worthless, unless they benefit the people of God.  We must seek to erase the divides and love each other like our neighbors and love each other like family.  That’s hard.  Because that means that we have to eliminate the personal bias and prejudices that exist within us.  That means that we have to do the hard heart work.  And if we don’t do that, then we’re keeping ahold of our selfish superiority.  And that’s contrary to this scripture.

Humility isn’t something that you do, but it’s a process of showing people that they are important by decreasing our importance to ourselves.  This is an attitude that also applies to our relationship with God.  If we want to show humility then we gotta submit to God’s plans too.  We gotta realize how much wiser his ways are than ours.  This is something that’s so often talked about in this life, but if we were brutally honest, then I’m sure you could join me and say that surrender isn’t quite so easy.  If I were to truly surrender, then every summer, I would not search for another job, knowing full well that God has called me to the one I have.  But I still search, thinking that the grass is greener than where it is, and honestly, it probably is, but if I were to actually cross pastures, I am certain the grass would not taste as good as being in God’s will and purpose for my life.

Philippians 2:5-11:  An Example Worth Following

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place  and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We don’t have to look hard or far to find an example that is worth following.  We see an example for us clearly lined up for us and laid out clearly.  Quite simply, this is the message of the gospel.

The first instruction that the gospel message has for us here is that we gotta make our attitude just the same as Jesus’ attitude, and then it lists examples of that behaviors.  These specific behaviors are more than guidelines, they’re commands and commitments.  By following and doing them, we discover more of Jesus and his love.  We discover how to love each other by following that example.  If we refuse to follow this example, then we’re not true believers.  We’re not truly convinced of the saving power of the gospel to all people.  It’s one thing to preach the gospel, but believing it is another story.  If we can’t believe that it is our calling and our example, then there’s no reason for us to hold salvation to be true for ourselves.  We demonstrate our belief in this salvation story by allowing it to lead us and be a defining example for us.

Christ has a humble attitude and demeanor.  While Jesus was God, scripture is full of references to where he refers to God as his father.  Let’s take a minute.  To call someone a father is to refer to him as a superior person.  But, scripture says Jesus is equal to God?  How can that be?  Simply put, although Jesus had all honor as a son of God, he, in effect, took his crown off, and placed it on a throne and started working and walking around with beggars in plainclothes.  More than just that, he was selfless in his obedience to his father’s will.  We can see in the garden where he is struggling to accept the ultimate call of his obedience and purpose of life, in choosing to accept death on the cross.  But he made that commitment and he went  through with it, just like he said he would, even though it was difficult to do so.  He could have decided that he didn’t want to die for humanity at the last minute.  He could’ve been in so much pain that he could’ve just called a legion of angels to his rescue while he was on the cross.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t because he knew his purpose in life was to glorify God, and by his choice to be obedient, he would make salvation available to all people.  He accepted that call.  Regardless of how he was feeling.  When we have a humble attitude like Jesus, then we recognize the supreme lordship of God’s will over our lives and over our own desires.  When our plans are submissive to the will of God, then we are liberated from all of the choices that being “in charge” requires of us.  This is very hard.  It is not for the lighthearted.  It is easier said than done.  I’m still working on setting aside myself to the will and ways of God.

Christ followed up his submission with acts of obedience.  His method of obedience was in casting aside his deity, becoming a man and entering this world as a manger, surrounded by cattle and stinky, smelly sheep.  He became a carpenter who was essentially at the mercy of the hospitality of others.  He squatted to poop on the side of the road, probably experience bowel discomfort, battled illnesses and hurt feelings.  Our humility is nothing unless we follow that up in actions.  Christ did.  We cannot be humble and have no actions that back it up.  This is hard too.  This is the higher calling.  Humility means that we don’t get angry when someone hurts us.  We recognize that we too, are imperfect people, and so when people make us more aware of that fact (through hurting us), we find no offense in it.  When we make a mistake, we admit it first, we are not stubborn, but we look out for the best of others, and correct those mistakes.  This is really hard.  Truly hard.  It would be easier to never forgive someone when they hurt them, or refuse to admit that we made a mistake.  But at what cost?  We ruin relationships that way.

The benefits of Christs’ humility benefits us all.  In the same way, others are benefited by our humility.  Because Christ was humble, he is now lifted up and exalted, given a special seat at the right hand of the father.  This is very backwards, but from my experience with the Kingdom of God, it’s pretty all backwards there anyways, so it fits right in!  There, the last are first and the first are last, the humble is exalted and the proud is cast down.  If we want to take ahold of heaven, if we want to enter the gates of glory, then we must follow his example.  We must follow up our faith in actions of service and love.  We must not allow our pursuits or loves to overshadow our love for God and our desire to see him work in our lives.  Because we have his example, we are able to experience grace, and we have benefited from his humility.  In the same way, others benefit when we are humble and we are able to approach them with an attitude of grace and love.


It’s obvious to me that the call of Jesus is a call to a higher standard of living.  It is a very difficult one.  Jesus even said it would be hard.  It’s not easy to look at the face of your enemy and offer the other cheek when he already slapped you.  It’s not easy to volunteer to go the extra mile with someone when they won’t help you the same way.  It’s not easy to allow people to hurt you without striking back or getting defensive.  Simply put, the call of Jesus is not easy and it’s not human and very un-American.  But like I said, it is a higher standard of living.

Because after all, our lives are not about us, are they?

 

Peace and love,
-MB

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Sunday School Series:Living a Purpose

16 01 2017

Today’s scripture comes from Jeremiah 1:4-10.  This is actually my Sunday school lesson from yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you.  So go ahead, and get comfy.

When we start talking about purpose of life, then we start thinking about the value of life.  The “Sanctity of Life” Sunday in the American Church is the upcoming Sunday.  We cannot look at the value of a human life without seeing what the purpose behind that life.  Yes, every life is valuable.  Absolutely.  I’m not protesting or disagreeing with that fact.  But before we talk about how valuable life is, we must first examine the purpose of life, the why life exists, what that life is for.

Section 1:  Jeremiah 1:4-5:  “The Word of the Lord came to me:  I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.   I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Now, let’s delve into a little bit of background and context.  Jeremiah was a prophet to the people of God during a 40 year period of great difficulty.  Judah is in peril, and Babylon will eventually overrun them and take the Jews into captivity.  Enter Jeremiah, God spoke to him and he told him several things.

  1.  You have been chosen.  From God to Jeremiah, Jeremiah had been chosen.  He had been chosen before any formation of himself was made in his mother’s womb.  He had been chosen to deliver a message to the people of God, to carry out a purpose of his life.  Thankfully, God is no respecter of persons, and God demonstrates this because he says that he was chosen before the womb.  There was nothing that Jeremiah did or said to earn this, God chose.  In the same way, we are all chosen to live out our purposes.  We have a purpose.  I have a purpose for my life.  You have a purpose for your life.  We all have a purpose.  You were chosen.  If God has moved in you, you have certainly been chosen.  The cool thing is that we all have different purposes in life, different reasons that we are alive and on this earth, but I’m almost certain they all have the same theme:  To serve God.
  2. God has set you apart.  Now to be set apart means to be special or reserved for something specific.  Again, Jeremiah was set apart by of no means of his own, but was set apart only because God chose him and God set him apart.  My grandmother has a special tablecloth that she uses when fancy company is coming, as she calls it.  The other tablecloth is one that we use all the time, but the other one, has a special place and is only used on special occasions.  In that same way, we are all set apart.  We all have been set apart to be different, and to accomplish something in our lives.
  3. God has appointed you.  In Jeremiah’s case, God had appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations.  Always, there is a reminder that our purpose, like Jeremiah’s is not only to the church and the other believers, but to the world at large.  We have a purpose that not only is about serving God and God’s people but impacting the world through our relationships and how we share the story of Jesus.  Have you ever been appointed to do something before?  I have, and it’s an unique experience.  Whomever has appointed you did so because they knew you were the perfect person for the job/task.  Not because you asked for it, and not because you wanted it, but because they knew you’d be the greatest person for that job.

Section 2:  Jeremiah 1:6-8:  “Oh, no Lord, God!  Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.  Then the Lord said to me:  Do not say I am only a youth, for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you.  Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to deliver you.  This is the Lord’s declaration.”

A lot of people like to pick on Jeremiah because he started to throw these excuses to God.  Honestly, that’s not fair.  If we are honest, and if I am honest, I give God a lot of excuses as to why I don’t obey commandments or share my faith.  But if we look at this without the excuses and look at his heart, we discover a few things about Jeremiah.

  1.  Jeremiah understood the gravity of his call.  He understood that to communicate God’s words was an awesome responsibility.  Perhaps because he was young, or he hadn’t spent as much time as his elders, in studying the scriptures and getting to know God, he didn’t feel prepared.  I honestly don’t think he was running from the responsibility because he didn’t want to do it, I honestly think he was aware of how great the responsibility is.  To be his hands, his arms, his feet, his voice….it’s a very large responsibility.  Please, don’t discount the gravity of this call, but let us be aware of the responsibility that we are given!
  2. God is no respecter of persons, he uses whom he wants to use.  I think it’s very interesting that God doesn’t fuss at or chastise Jeremiah for his inadequate feelings of preparation.  Instead, he disagrees with him, and says that his excuse is invalid.  God will use Jeremiah anyways, regardless of how prepared Jeremiah feels.  And we’ll get to more of that later.
  3. If God instructs us to do something, we have no need to fear.  By telling Jeremiah that he was going to use him anyways, he reaffirms the facts he has spoken to Jeremiah previously, that he is chosen, he is set apart and he is appointed.  And he tells him that he will be there for him.  When we are told to go do something, then we have no reason to fear, because in his own words, when God calls us he will be with us to deliver us from all that we face.  It doesn’t matter what we face, the promise is that God will be there for us.  That’s good enough, and that’s all we need to know.  Yes, there may be consequences that we would rather avoid when we obey God, but God is there, and we have nothing to fear.  When we are in God’s presence, then we are empowered to go out with boldness!

Section 3:  Jeremiah 1:9-10:  “Then the Lord reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me:  I have now filled your mouth with My words.  See, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.

This passage is a response to Jeremiah’s response to his command.  Not only will God be there for us, but he will do something special for us, something that equips us.  I honestly deeply believe that we will all experience some sort of special moment where we realize that God is there, and he has called us to do something special through his moving and working.  For Jeremiah, it was a touch.

  1.  God will equip us precisely for what he wants to use us for.  Truly, truly, there could be no better way for God to have quieted Jeremiah’s fears, other than the touch of God.  God  reached out of heaven, I believe, and touched Jeremiah’s lips, and doing so, transferred God’s words to Jeremiah.  I truly believe that God does that same reaching for those whom are presented with the task of God.  I believe that every person God is using, just like Jeremiah, God touches in some form or another.  He, in a sense, “anoints” his beloved ones to fulfill his purpose on this earth.  I remember when I was appointed a task by God, and God did give me that touch of inspiration.  And then, I was equipped.  We are merely the vessel for God to move people, mountains, and God is the one providing the words.
  2. God will give us a specific instruction for us to do.  Jeremiah received specific instructions here.  He was to be a prophet to the nations and kingdoms.  Notice it wasn’t just for the ones who already knew God, but it was to all people.  Again, we are not called just to speak to the church and minister to the church, but to all people that God calls us to work with.  The message Jeremiah had for those outside of Judah would sadly be a message of judgement, but it was a message nonetheless.  Remember in the last section, my #2 said we’d get to something later?  Here it is.  We are called, and we have a specific call, and there is no one who can fulfill God’s call for your life than you!  Jeremiah was called at a specific time and given specific instructions, just as you and I are called in the same specific ways.  My call is different from yours.  Right now, I know that my call is to wait on something, and to write these Sunday School lessons for you.  I don’t know why, but your call will also be specific.
  3. When we follow God’s instructions, then our ministry will have an impact. But let me forwarn you, if you’re looking for visible, automatic signs of impact, you’re setting yourself up for failure, because the work of God sometimes takes a very long time to accomplish.  Jeremiah told him that he would uproot and tear down kingdoms, that he would destroy and demolish.  This probably was a prophecy that told us that the temple would be destroyed.  Jeremiah’s words would be a warning.  Jeremiah was also told that his words would also build and plant.  I like to think that he would build up the faith and the presence of God in the community of the people of God, that he would plant seeds of faith in the lives of those that he encountered.  I don’t know if this was reality, or what was meant in this scripture.  But, likewise, our ministry, if effective, will be the way that God sparks life into someone who doesn’t know God.  And sometimes, that’s a long journey.  More often than not, it’s not an immediate change, but a slow-growing process.  But if we do follow those specific instructions, then we can rest assured that it is not for nothing, and it is not fruitless.  Obedience is never fruitless.

Conclusions

First, I hope that you feel encouraged.  I hope that you feel empowered by the words of scripture to have courage and to not be afraid of whatever it is that God has called you to do!  He will not abandon you!  I hope that you feel encouraged to go forth into your ministry that we call life, and seek to fulfill whatever purpose that you have in life.  Are you still searching for your purpose?  That’s okay.  Sometimes that happens.  Instead of being downtrodden about it, here’s what I want you to do, I want you to go to a quiet space, a space where there is no distractions, and I want you to pray a simple prayer, a request, “What is it you would have me to do, Lord?”  The answer may not come immediately, but sit there for a bit.  If it doesn’t work the first day, then repeat it until you do.  Chances, God will tell you what to do.  So do it.  In the meantime, may I encourage you to do a few things?

  1.  Read the word.  Unless we know the scriptures, we have no idea what they’re about.
  2. Pray for understanding of the scriptures and your purpose.
  3. Find a prayer partner about this purpose, and ask them to pray for your purpose.
  4. Live out your purpose.  Don’t ignore your calling!  You were chosen for this purpose.

Peace and Love to you all

MB





Religion or Relationship?

22 07 2014

Let me start out with a question:  Is it enough to simply go through the religious motions of church attendance?  Is it enough to stand and sing, at the appropriate moments, laugh at the appropriate places in the sermon?  Is it enough to turn to the appropriate song in the hymnal during the closing song?  Is it enough to leave looking forward to the next encounter with God, the next gathering?

To which, I respond a resounding no!  Church attendance doesn’t change you.  Singing doesn’t soften our hearts.  Listening to the message doesn’t push you forward.

So many people miss the mark.  So many people think that mere church attendance is enough.  It has to be enough, because we’re just sooo busy that we can’t take any more time out for God.  It’s funny, isn’t it?  The one from whom all time comes from, we cannot give that time back to him.  It’s not enough unless you do something with it. 

Look at Jesus.  He taught alot, right?  But he also did alot.  He touched the untouchables.  He healed the sick.  He walked on water.  

Church attendance makes it easy for us to talk the talk.  “What’d you do this weekend?” a colleague will ask us, and we chalk that as an opportunity for us to share that we’ve been to church, check off the list, and we use that as an opportunity to “witness.”  Through the church, we have opportunities to minister, direct children’s plays and do missions outreaches.  We have opportunities to visit the sick, pray for the hurting, and hope for healing.  But…is mere attendance enough?  

What about if we walked the walk?  More than simply telling people that we attend church, why don’t we be the church?!  We invite people to experience a relationship with God, and then, when they become a “Christian” and get “saved” we are in victory of another lost soul being won to God, but we abandon them, and don’t show them what discipleship is all about.  Because, the problem is, we don’t know what discipleship is all about either.  

While Jesus was on Earth, a disciple was one that walked around with Jesus.  Now that Jesus is not physically on this earth, the definition is the same:  one who walks around with Jesus.  Discipleship has the form of the word “discipline.”  Because it’s never easy to take out time for God.  It’s never easy to make time for God to encounter us, or us to encounter God, in our normal life, but it is a discipline that we learn.  

Discipline?  What?  The Christian life was never meant to be easy.  Jesus warned us that it might be difficult, but in the end, it’s worth it, because Jesus understood that this life is not all there is.  What discipline does Christ call from us?  If you read through the Gospels, you encounter challenging words, words such as “deny yourself.”  “Love others as you love yourself, but love God first.”  “Go and sin no more.”  “Follow me.”  Commands that seem very easy…but very difficult.  To deny yourself, that means that you quit desiring what you want, and desire what God wants.  To love others like you love yourself, means even when someone is mean to you, or hateful, or they annoy you….you’re commanded to love them like yourself.  But you must love God first, before your family, before your friends…you gotta love God first.  To “go and sin no more” talks about how you have to not merely regret when you’ve done wrong, but to change your heart so that you won’t do it, that’s called repentance.  To obey the call to “follow me” means following God wherever he takes you, even if it is the roughest places of the world.  All of these things, when we take them literally, are very harsh commands, very difficult commands.  How is this possible?

I return to a basic principal of the faith:  we invite people into a personal relationship with God.  That’s it.  This means a relationship that has constant communication between each other.  And not just from one side, either.  But both people engaging in conversations and communication.  We communicate to God through prayer, song, meditation…and God has a multitude of ways that he communicates to us:  through speaking to us, songs, meditations, through scripture.  To invite people into a relationship is inviting them to a communion that is dynamic and ever-changing.  

But sometimes, God is silent.  Sometimes he just doesn’t have alot to say.  Sometimes, we get no response, or the response that we get, we don’t like.  So many people fall away from the faith because they enter into momentary silence, and they forget the important spiritual practice that silence is.  They forget that the Word of God, was born out of the eternal silence of God, as Henri Nouwen says.  Instead of remaining fiercely committed to God, no matter what (like they promised in the mountain), they abandon their spiritual growth. We want the fireworks, the explosions of love, like the experience we have when we first fall in love, and ordinary life isn’t enough to satisfy our longings.  I can honestly say that this is my experience.  This is what I’m experiencing right now.  But the prayer of Jim Elliot captures this solution very clearly:

Teach me, Lord Jesus, to live simply and purely, like a child and to know that you are unchanged in your attitudes and actions towards me.  Give me not the hungering for the ‘strange, rare and peculiar’ when the common, ordinary and regular…will suffice to feed the soul.  Bring struggle when I need it; take away ease at your pleasure.

The problem is, that we expect hugely emotional experiences when we worship or when we experience God.  But the thing is, God is with us always, and not all of life is supposed to be a hugely emotional experience.  There’s monotony in the daily washing of dishes, boredom in the commute to work, distraction at our desks.  But sometimes, that’s what relationships become.  After the initial euphoria of falling in love, you and your loved ones remain silent in the car, wash the dishes together and discuss the mundane happenings of the day.  It’s ordinary and regular.  Does that mean you abandon your beloved one?  No!  It’s just how the relationships changes and grows.  Doesn’t mean your love is any less, or it diminishes…it becomes more deeper!  

Another problem is that we don’t exactly always know how to remain committed when we’re not in tough times.  During the difficult times, it’s easy to claim God and to read scriptures, and pray and spend our time in spiritual conversations.  During grief it’s easy to run to God with our broken hearts.  But what about when God brings us through those difficult times?  What about when God heals us?  If we’re like the rest of the world, it’s easy to just go back to the usual way of life, put God on a shelf until we need him next.  That is what religion is.  It’s a crutch for the limping.  If we’re like the rest of the world, we chalk our experiences in church as our only encounter with God, and that’s just enough.  That’s what religion is.  But a relationship is something that we actively pursue, that we are not lazy about.

Think about the last time you were in a relationship, or starting to be in one.  In my previous experiences, I chased after that person with everything that I had in me.  And when we entered into a relationship, I put all of my focus on that person.  Why do we treat the relationship we have with the creator of the Heavens, Earth and the redeemer of our souls with any less of our focus and energy?  Why do we try to take shortcuts to spirituality?  If there’s anything in this world that we should work for, it’s our relationship with God.  This means that we must take our experiences of God outside the doors of our church.  When our churches and what they teach become the gospel and our only experiences with God for the week, we become brainwashed and deluded.  When our faith becomes more than the church, we realize that we don’t have to be in a particular church, or even a church at all, to experience the mercies and love of God.  Churches were created as a place to have Christian fellowship with our brothers and sisters, to encourage each other in the faith, not to become our faith.  

But let us talk of the good of Church.  When done right, it is a place for encouragement in our walk with God, and not a replacement.  It’s a joy to enter into the moments of fellowship and sharing of love.  It becomes an opportunity to enjoy corporate, rather than personal worship.  

Please don’t replace that individual experience with the corporate experience.  It’s far more valuable than you realize.  

 





Easter Reflection-Friday or Sunday?

20 04 2014

I hate the thing that says “there are two kinds of people….” and then someone introduces the dividing line between different groups of people.  I know that I do this quite often, I truly do.  I meditated upon this fact and reflected upon this, and realized that I think we have enough dividing lines drawn across the race of humanity, so I’m hoping that from this point on, I’ll stop creating these dividing lines.  

So instead of asking you which one you are, and how you respond, I am simply going to explain two of the personas of the types of people who profess to be Christians, and you can add to it, or take it what you will.  These two personas explain a whole lot about the believers that make up the Christian church, and I think it provides some insight into the church as a whole.  I hope you find encouragement in this.

Friday People

In saying that a person is a Friday person, I refer not to the fact that “hey!  It’s the weekend, let’s party!” Or “I don’t have to work tomorrow, I can sleep in!!”  In the significance of the Easter story, the thing that determines which one of the two perspectives I am mentioning in today’s segment, if you are a Friday person, your outlook, perspective and frame of mind is based upon the perspectives of the believers on that Friday crucifixion day.  

When you look at that Friday, you see an innocent man on a cross, the most gruesome and public ways a person can die.  You see him surrounded by these followers, who had hope that he would not die on this cross, and you see the blood and water pour out of the side.  You hear the ripping of the veil in the tabernacles, you see the darkened sky.  You hear the wails of weeping and mourning among the disciples and believers.  The “righteous” Sadducees and Pharisees are walking away from this scene, victorious, dusting themselves off, patting each other on the back, and going home to rejoice that this pain-in-the-butt-Jesus is dead, no longer around to put them in their places.  They thought themselves superior to judge the heart of one man and demand his death, simply because he disagreed with them.  They left him to die, and he died.  Those who followed Jesus were devastated.  Death is devastating, especially when it’s a friend who has promised to rise again, to defeat death.  

People who are Friday believers, feel it is more necessary to focus on the unworthiness of sinners and how demented and lost all people are.  They focus on the badness of people, and how horrific people can be.  They look at the realities of life, without giving a real reason for redemption.  They are often self-righteous, and deem themselves worthy to judge others, their hearts and write them off as inferior.  People who are Friday Christians, often live in defeat, because they look at their present circumstances and see no way out.  They see no way to overcome their struggles and are overwhelmed with the task of continuing to struggle.  They mingle in their similar circles, never seeing need to reach out to others who are hurting, or noticing the need for hope in those who are having a hard time.  They blame the person, say they’ve brought those hard times upon themselves, than see that there’s more than meets the eye.  They do not welcome those who may not fully agree with them, or may challenge them to change their perspectives.  Instead of looking at the individual person, they make cut and dry statements that do not acknowledge the humanity of the person or the need to consider that person as an equal.  

Sunday Believers

On that Resurrection day, it paints quite a different story here.  On that morning, you see two women approaching the tomb, and the stone that sealed the tomb is cast aside, a heavenly messenger tells them that Jesus has indeed defeated death.  You see them run to tell the disciples, who then run to the tomb and go away from the tomb, praising God.  They later see Jesus in the flesh, see his scars, feel his touch and know that he is alive.  The defeat and demons they dealt with on Friday are gone on Sunday, for the story did not end there.  There was more to come.

Those who are Sunday believers, realize that the focus of the entire Bible and our faith, is on not the fallen-ness of humanity, but the generous grace of God.  The way that God worked it all out, and made his plan come to being.  The plan was made out of the love of God for all of humankind, and the fact is, our faith should also reflect that.  They are motivated to share the good news, because it is contagious, and they have a hope.  The hope is in the fact that hopefully, one day soon, there will be a day where the believers will be all reunited, body and soul, together.  This, they call, heaven.  This earth is full of pain and sorrow, and the church, faith is not there to make people feel worse about themselves, it’s to encourage them to continue to look forward to getting out of the struggles.  But in the meanwhile, there are things to be done, and growth to happen.  Discipleship is not an option, it’s a requirement, in that the person feels driven and compelled to spend time with God in the hopes that they will continue to be made like God.  They are humbled by the love and grace of God, and they see people as their equals.  Humbly, they see the need to unite for a common cause.  In addition, progress is advocated for, simply because that is the coming kingdom, and they are actively moved by the spirit in the process, and see the need to validate humanity and all people, through as many avenues as possible.  They’re moving beyond what the rules say, and into the heart behind the keeping of the laws.  Realizing it is wrong to steal not because of a law, but because to steal is to not love their fellow human being.

If I am honest, there’s a little bit of both in me.  I am sure that there are more things I can say about both, but this is enough for me for right now.  





Why I Have to Believe

2 04 2014

I was sitting here thinking of some various particular things and scenarios that are going on in my life right now.  I am exaimining some struggles that not only myself have, but others as well….and don’t worry, this isn’t a counseling session, where I talk about all my feelings and all that I’m going through.  

Recently, I’ve been having something of a ‘crisis of faith.’  When I say recently, I would say the last 4 years of my life have been chaotic, and I have not known what to believe, or how to believe in something other than myself.  I wasn’t sure that if I really believed.  I mean, it’s all so incredible, the story that faith teaches us.  How can it be real?  How can people believe in something they can’t see?  It’s ridiculous.

And I’m right.  It is ridiculous.  This life that we live is so ridiculous and so frustrating.  The cards that are in my deck are not always the same cards in your deck.  Some people get a really shoddy deck.  Some people get an okay deck.  And some people, they have this amazing, pristine deck of cards.  Mine are a little worn, some are bent, there’s probably something spilled on them.  I know at least one or two cards are torn.  

Go with me on this metaphor for a moment.  I have to believe that the deck of cards I have right now is not the only deck I have.  Because if this deck is all I’ve got, then there’s really no reason for me to hope, to strive for goodness, to find peace, to help others, to love even.  And loving is the greatest gift I can give another person.  I have to believe that this deck of cards is not it, and that one day, all of us will be given a new deck of cards.  

This world and this life….can suck.  Majorly.  It hurts to live sometimes.  It hurts to love sometimes.  I have to believe that the best is yet to come.  Because if the best is not yet to come….well, to me, it’s almost a suicidal thought.  The thought is so depressing and so heartbreaking that I simply can’t survive.  I can’t go on living my life in the way that it is.  

There are people that are out there who simply exist to hurt other people and to cause pain and suffering to others.  The justice part of me has to believe that this is the only heaven they will ever have.  I don’t know if I believe in a hell, but I do think that I believe in death, and death can be pretty scary.  Ceasing to exist?  How do you love then?  I have to believe that those who have done nothing good in their lifetime, like murderers or something like that, I have to believe that to those people, their deck is all they get.  

And there are people out there who struggle.  People who get handed a deck stacked with cancer, disability.  People whose decks are wrecked with heartache, with people walking out on them, people who have had to bandage their cards back together…I have to believe that this is the only hell they’ll ever know.  I have to believe that those of us who try to be a good person, who try to love other people and embody that spirit of unselfish love…I have to believe that this life is only the worst of it.

To totally reject religion and to welcome the idea that this life is all there is….that, to me, seems like a very depressing worldview.  I can’t survive in that reality and in that perspective.  I have to go somewhere else when I die.  I have to.  This can’t be all of it.  It just can’t.  I have to believe that I live on, and that my spirit will last beyond my life.  I have to.





Look for the Light

5 07 2013

 

Let me first preface this with a single statement, I love TED.  If you don’t know what TED is, they are talks that have a vision for what the world can become, or how to make your world better now.  Inspirational.  Encouraging, uplifting.  I highly encourage you to look at the other videos.  They are worth your time, for sure.

Anyways, I really enjoy this video for two reasons:  1) It incorporates photography stuff.  2)The talk itself.

I’m gonna warn you, this entry has a bit of religion tied into it.  If you don’t subscribe to a particular religious belief, that’s okay, I think you’ll find the message meaningful anyways.  If you’re really religious and married to beliefs, you may not want to read this, I could offend you.  Just so you know where I am in my religious belief….I really don’t know.  There’s no map.  I’m on uncharted territory right now.  God and I, we’re trying to figure out each other over again.  Good luck with that, right?  Hah.

Anyways….back to the point.  I’ve been in a church recently where the speaker was like dissing the world.  He was saying that all of our media, all of the celebrity-ness….all of it was terrible, and that we should really just reject the entire content of what the world has to offer.  After the recent bursts of violence, a church came out and said that this was judgement from God to America for what they’ve allowed to happen.  When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex relationship legality, churches everywhere across America had their prayers rejected by a God who claims to have their interests at heart. 
So, they came out and said that this is just tribulation, and that they are still the church of God, and they will still refuse to allow gay people in their church. 

We can look around and see all of the brokenness that we have in our churches, all of the ‘holier-than-thou’s attitude, and we can condemn it.  We can condemn how they don’t fit into their own beliefs 100% of the time.  But that is not the purpose of this entry.

The point I’m trying to make by mentioning these moments of negativity is that this is a very depressing viewpoint to have towards anything.  If you reject the world, you reject everything and everyone.  Which kinda makes it hard to embrace others.  If you reject the church based on its imperfections, you’re rejecting it because its imperfect….just.like.you.are.

I think there are moments and little lights that we need to look for, in order to jump over this hurdle.  If we look for these lights…we can have hope in something.  If we look at a good aspect of society, people who are trying to help others….churches who are wrapping its arms around those who need shelter…if we look at those good aspects, we have reason to hope.  We have reason to live, even.  If we can find one person that is doing it right like it’s supposed to be done, there is still reason to hope. 

I have many people who are these “delightful” people in my life.  I have friends who are Christians, but still are able to accept those who are different or walk a different path.  I see people who try to cheer others up, rather than running them into the ground.  I see families that try to take care of each other, despite the hardships.  I see lovers who love each other despite difficult circumstances, and choose each other despite all of the unhappy circumstances. 

All of these are acts of love, and if love is of God, God has to be in it!  If God is not in it, there is no love, no compassion.  Look for those moments of love, and I swear you’ll be in on something that God is of.  But if you surround yourself with hate, it’s not of God. 

Maybe I’m a dreamer, or an optimist, but I have to believe that there are good things in our society that are good.  I have to believe that our world is a good place.  There are bad things in it, certainly.  But look at it in me…I would say that I am a good person, but yet there is bad in me, there are moments of selfishness, immaturity, impatience, etc.  I don’t have to paint a picture of how bad I am, but I accept those aspects of me.  I may not ever become the most selfless person, but I am working on it, and I hope to be better with it someday.

Look for the light, and that may change your approach to all things.