Us vs. Them?

battleBattle lines have been drawn.

Christians on this side.  Those “sinners” on the other.

We fight against someone because they are gay, or Muslim, or support abortion.  We take what we believe to be right – our convictions – and demand that others toe those lines.  We insist that the commands given to us are for all to follow.  Then, when they object or disagree, they become the opposition.  They are now, as the Pharisees shouted, “Unclean!”

Is this what we have become?  Pharisees?  Not all of us, for sure.  But, a whole lot of us. Too many of us.  Loudly.  The 2016 Presidential race has made many of these modern-day Pharisees a bit more obvious.

Even within the Church, we are divided.  I follow this doctrine, they follow that one.  I surely can’t agree with what they are taught, so I certainly can’t associate with them.  This denomination has better doctrines than that one.  This church has “more dynamic” speakers, that church has better educated speakers.  The one down the street allows gay people, while the one downtown would never have “those kind” there.

We like the battle.  We seem to thrive on the battles we have created.  The truth is, instead of thriving, we are weakening the Church and repelling those outside the Church.

Oh, yes.  It is we who have created the lines.  No, not the scriptures.  Not the lack of prayer in schools.  Not the Gay Rights activists.  Not the Pro-Choice folks.  It has been the Church.

Jesus never drew battle lines.  For that matter, He crossed over the lines the Pharisees and their merry men had firmly created and upheld.

He touched the lepers.

He befriended a Samaritan woman (half-breed dog) and a tax collector (traitor).

He defended a whore.

He stood up to the Pharisees.

I suppose we know better than He.  Many among our ranks have been communicating, clearly, more of what they are against.  So much so, that it isn’t is clear what they are for. We have taken the idea of Ephesians 6:10-18 (the armor of God) as an opportunity to polish the metaphorical armor or fight one another…and our neighbors.

I know I have some redundancies in my posts.  But, I am trying to communicate how seriously we need to get back to the idea of love.  Loving our neighbor.  Loving one another.  God’s love, that He has for us and put in us.

At what point does love draw a battle line?

Where does love say someone is “less than”?

Does love verbally bash anyone?

Does love select who gets served or prayed for and who does not?

What part of love speaks against people, for any reason?

Wait a minute there, you.  What about ‘speaking truth in love’?

Speaking the truth in love.  Love.  Love means, in essence, personal agenda is set aside. When we insist on being right, forcing our point or our agenda, we are not acting in love. Therefore, when we judge, malign, accuse and insist our way is a must, we do not speak in love, at all.

What God revealed about love to Paul…

  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Does not envy (not mere jealousy)
  • Does not boast
  • Is not arrogant
  • Is not rude
  • Does not insist on its own way
  • Not irritable (thin skinned, touchy)
  • Not resentful (holding a “record of wrongs”)

This only covers verses 4 and 5 of 1st Cor. 13, but these are the aspects of love that we need to examine, embrace and put into practice.  As it stands, many of us walk in something that does not look like love, at all.  What we are left with is a bunch of us being impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insisting on our way (Christian nation, anyone?), irritable and/or holding offenses over people.

If we act/live in love, battle lines would no longer exist.

This is not that feel good, mushy kind of crap. This is practical, to the core.

It is not about agreeing with everyone.  It is about respect and being undaunted by the beliefs, lifestyles, speech and actions of others.

It’s about imitating Jesus.

He would build a house for a gay couple.  He would comfort a woman who considers an abortion.  He would invite the unmarried couple, who live together, over for a meal. He would hang out with Muslims to watch football.

It is also about maturity.

Notice, near the end of 1 Corinthians 13, after all that talk about love… “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”  It would seem that putting others before oneself is a mature thing to do.

Children are all about, “I want!”, “Me!”, “Mine!”  As they grow and learn, they begin to see there is a whole world, out there.  If they are raised well, they begin to see the needs of others, they are taught to share and be considerate.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Honestly Dishonest

Honesty gets a backseat in the Church.  Actually, I think many are afraid to be honest. I believe that too many of us use deceit or omission in order to protect ourselves.  Grace and restoration are being overshadowed by judgment and manipulation.

We need a safe place to be honest.  A place where you can confess your feelings, your shortcomings, your sins, your struggles, your mistakes – a place where you can be you, warts and all.  We should be able to have an intimate friend – a true confidant – but within our congregations, grace and confidentiality should be the norm. While we should avoid “airing dirty laundry”, there are times we need an ear, a shoulder, someone to pray for and with us.

There are issues people face.

Psychological issues.

Mourning/Grieving

Pornography.

Marriage issues.

Sexual problems.

Mom’s who are weary of motherhood.

People’s issues (or sins) from their past.

Doubt or questions about our doubts.

We have to be “good little Christians”.  To admit doubts, failure or weakness, we may find ourselves being; ignored, belittled, judged, or manipulated. We may even find ourselves under scrutiny or having to endure (unwanted) “private counselling”.  We could even find ourselves the subject of gossip and presumption.

Accusations, such as;

Obviously you don’t spend enough time reading your Bible.

You need more faith.

You need to serve more.

You are obviously on the fence with your morals.

You must have some un-confessed sin.

There must be sin in your family (i.e., generational curse)

You must be spending too much time with..sinners, secular things,  worldly entertainment, etc.

Have we stepped away from the basics?

What is fellowship all about, anyway?  What about the commandment, “Love one another”? Why is it we feel we need to police and legislate and force one another into some sort of behavior pattern?

Notice something, here…Luke 22…31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”33 Peter[b] said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus[c] said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

Here is what I notice – what Jesus did not say.  He had the authority to tell Peter, “Don’t you dare deny Me.  No matter how bad you want to, don’t you dare, or I will be so ashamed of you.”  But, He never said such a thing.  He let Peter be the human he was.  But, he also knew how He was working on Peter and how much Peter would be changed.

We lower the boom.

It is us.  Not the Lord.  We do it.  We use terms that communicate how God is ashamed, how He is disappointed or how someone has disappointed Him.  We say how God is not pleased, how someone who loves Him “should not do such things”.  We even rub in certain blame, such as, “You did this to yourself.”.

Personal Story.

I once had my own business.  I made some pretty good mistakes in trying to build that business and, after a couple of years, I shut it down.  This left me with some sizable debt. At one point, I went to our senior pastor.  I had a list of all the debts and showed it to him. I simply wanted some pointers, suggestions, guidance…someone who would walk with me as I trudged through the mire of monthly payments and seemingly never ending balances.

I passed him the list as I explained how things were difficult.  He took a light glance at the list, handed it back to me and said, “You have made some bad decisions”.

Oh, now tell me something I didn’t know.  Thank you, Pastor Obvious.

I wasn’t looking for a handout and I wasn’t looking to be blamed.  I could blame myself, plenty.  I was looking for someone to walk with me, maybe come up with ideas or suggestions, to pray for and with me.

I put that list away and eventually got rid of it.  I talked with him on and off about how we were getting along, but didn’t ask for his help, again.

Grace.

God is love gives grace.  For some reason, we don’t care to extend that same grace. We would rather judge.  Grace does not deny whatever is wrong, but it makes no issue or big deal out of it.  Grace does not bring law down.  Grace remains undaunted by the shortcomings, failures, issues or the sins of another.  Grace is about restoration, rather than condemnation.

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Home Sweet Home?

There is little that is more sad than the stories of homes where there was neglect or abuse.  If there is anywhere we should always feel safe and loved, it’s home, among family.  It is also sad when we hear of Church abuse or neglect.  We should feel safe among those who love Him.homesweethome

According to what love is, our fellow believers should be a circle of people with whom we can share, people we care about and who care about us.   If we are able, we should readily help when help is needed. We should be able to be confidential and transparent without being judged or someone using information against us.  The Lord is our main confidant, of course.  But, we are in a family of believers with whom we should be able to walk together through life.  Yet, in too many circles, judgment lurks, ready to pounce on anyone who confesses a sin, weakness or failure.

Jesus said, “Love one another…”.  He placed emphasis with, “I give you a new commandment.”

Note: People often cross this with loving our neighbors.  Actually, if we look at the language, the idea of one another is derived from the Greek word allelon which means “one another, each other; mutually, reciprocally.”  That would be, those with whom we have mutuality, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In that respect, I would think that the last word, reciprocally, would be according to its second definition, (of an agreement or obligation) bearing on or binding each of two parties equally.  So, while loving our neighbor is one of the most important commandments, Jesus also made sure that we would look to love one another.  I think this idea comes up again in Galatians 6:10, about doing good, “especially to those of the family of believers”.

Loving our neighbor is huge.  The world needs Jesus’ love.  But, we should not be so busy that we neglect our own house.  The world sees how we treat one another and this will speak volumes.  As we read further about the “New Commandment”, we see He says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

Jonathan loved David.  He would give his life for David and nearly did.  Jonathan knew that God appointed David to be king and Jonathan would stop at nothing to protect David and promote him.  For some reason, we don’t even want to be bothered with our brother’s life issues.

Too many of us are too wrapped up in our own issues.  We become indifferent, self-absorbed or simply keep others at arms length.  We don’t want close relationships with others as we probably don’t want them to find out our shortcomings. But, among one another should be our safe place…right?

How big is love?  What does it mean to love?  How do we love one another?  There are great examples in scripture, of course.  Jesus showed the best example of a life of love. We can also see the famous list in 1st Corinthians 13 of the attributes of love…patient, kind, does not envy (this is not mere jealousy, but not wanting someone else to have what we want), does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, not self-seeking, not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs.

In my view, love seems to be about setting aside ourselves…our agendas.  We are told that there is no greater love than to give up one’s life for his friends.  Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave up Himself.

Self.  Set aside.

Love is not about self-denial or self-deprecation, but about doing for another beyond yourself: your needs, your wants, your desires, your opinions…your agenda.  There are Christians who talk an awful lot about the agendas of others, but I think many of us have some pretty major agendas (I think I might tackle this agenda issue in a future post).

For now, I encourage each of us to examine where we might set our agendas above what is good for one another and, conversely, where we can set one another above our own agendas. We need to begin to love one another as Jesus loves us, as He demonstrated with the disciples.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35, NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How To Prove God Is

It was nineteen-seventy-something and a bunch of us youth were all together, ready to go to a 2nd Chapter of Acts concert.

For those of you under a hundred years old, we were not going to see a page from the Bible up on stage.  This was the name of a band/singing group.

More than half of our youth group was going, along with a few invited friends.  One invited friend was an interesting character.  He was smart, sure of himself and…look out…he was an atheist.

There are few titles in the minds of many Christians that come equivalent to naming Satan, himself.  Atheists have been pegged as being agents of the Devil and accused of being out to do away with Christianity.  They (along with folks from LGBT community and Planned Parenthood) are often accused of having certain agendas, conspiring against Christianity or the United States (which some seem to think is supposed to be a “Christian Nation”).

Oh, please.  The only specific agendas I have known are by some Christians who want to turn the U.S. into some sort of moral Christian utopia.

As for our Atheist guest –  Art – he was pretty sharp.  As a few of us talked with him, he explained his reasoning for being an atheist.  We, on the other hand, did our best to prove to him God existed.  Art was able to counter all of our claims and posed questions we could not answer.

We were naive.  Maybe edging toward stupid.  Arguing gets no one, anywhere, fast.

Our “calling” is not to argue God’s case.  We were never called to prove Him to anyone. God is perfectly capable of revealing Himself.  For some reason, as we do with other areas of life, we feel it is our duty to be His deputies and prove or defend Him.

No one needs to be held down and convinced of anything. We don’t need to stress and strive to pull people to “our team”.  Our “mission” is not to make converts or convince people to “pray the Salvation Prayer”.  Our mission is to share the Gospel, by living it. It is not about being silent about Jesus, but Him and His love shining through us.

Love.  Friendship.  Respect.  Love people, give them friendship and respect where they are, what they believe and how they feel.

What?  Respect an Atheist?  Should I also respect them gays?  What about pro-choicers? I suppose you think I should respect druggies and loose women!  They’re all heathens!

And to that, I extend; shut up!

Jesus loves everyone, even people who don’t believe in Him.  If He were walking the Earth, “those people” would be among his circle of friends.  Why do we think we are better than He?

Back to that concert night.  I really could not understand why someone would invite a self-proclaimed Atheist to a Christian music concert.  I mean, bring him to a barbecue, or something.  Actually, the fact that he came at all is pretty amazing.

Well, God is bigger than that.

There was an altar call.  I could just picture Art, sitting there, with his arms folded across his chest, silently mocking, as “suckers” would “blindly” accept a non-existent deity.

I had the wrong picture.

Art was one of the first people to run up for the altar call.

I did not have to convince Art.  No one had to convince him of anything.  Nobody had to prove anything.

God revealed Himself.  Without anyone’s help.  It is one of those amazing things He does. When He reveals Himself, it is a matter of the heart.  We can only reach the surface, with words or deeds. These are good and necessary and can begin a heart-preparing process.  However, God does His own special heart surgery.

Our job is to love.  Out of love, we do things beyond ourselves.  Yes, share about Him.  But, we don’t have to “prove” Him to anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Two Guys Walk Into a Church…

It’s Sunday morning.handshake

Greeters are at the door.  People are walking in to the church building.  Most are familiar faces and friends.  As on many Sundays, there are a few visitors, who are warmly welcomed and guided to wherever they need to be.  Then, two men enter the building door.  You move to greet them.  But, one of your fellow greeters puts his hand on your shoulder, leans in and quietly says, “Uh, these guys were holding hands as they crossed the parking lot.”

The next reaction is critical.  We’ll get back to that.

There was a time when I was a bit uncomfortable around gay people.  It was a combination of my own discomfort mixed with a legalistic mindset.  While I served in the Navy, I knew a few gay men. Most were simply good sailors serving their country.  However, I did meet a young man who made a disgusting and rude pass at me.

My reaction?  I grabbed him by the shoulders, put him down to the ground and told him to never talk to me like that, again.  He found the whole thing funny.  I, at the time, did not.  But, knowing what I know now, I could have handled that better.  Had I just seen he was actually harmless, rather than getting on my high horse, a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed.

No one was hurt, but my behavior was wrong.  Looking back at other instances, I know I have cast judgment on others, whose life choices went against my self-righteous grain. Maybe not in words, but surely in attitude.  Much of this has changed, in me, and I pray the Lord to continue to change me.  One needed change is proven when I am driving.  For some reason, when I get behind the wheel,  the dashboard often becomes a good place to bang a gavel.  Yes, I still have a long way to go.

Yeah, being human is difficult, sometimes.  Well…often.  Okay, it can suck.

So, back to those two guys.  There are a few ways their visit would be handled.

  • Welcome them, but encourage them to take a seat in the rear of the sanctuary.
  • Quickly grab hand sanitizer after shaking their hand, so you don’t “catch” their sin.
  • Put on your best Christian grin and suggest they might be more comfortable at the Episcopalian church down the street.
  • I was present when one pastor was “inspired” to preach against homosexuality when a visitor happened to be a lesbian.

Yet, there are people like those from Oasis Church in Scotch Plains, NJ, who choose to be undaunted by the ways people live.  They love people, right where they are.  There are other people like them, for sure. They choose to be more like Jesus.  Here is a blog post of a super example about a group of women who went to visit women who are shunned by Church and much of society…justajesusfollower.com/2016/05/09/i-went-to-a-strip-club/

People need to be accepted.  People need love.  We need to come to a point where we are undaunted by what we see in people.  It is too easy to judge.  It gives a feeling of superiority.  But, love does not seek personal superiority.

The love that Jesus taught and lived is unconditional.  He didn’t make a fuss over anyone’s life choices, their actions or how they were esteemed by the religious leaders.  Well, He had no small words for those religious leaders, but they were the ones keeping people under condemnation, rather than leading them to God and His grace.

Jesus  didn’t bring up or make issue of sins/life choices or a lot of things.  Why?  John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world…”. Both Matthew and Mark recorded Jesus saying, “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life…”.

He was not here to create a new religion, but to deny the power of the religion that had been developed.   That religion condemned people.  I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be in the condemnation business, anymore.  To condemn is, essentially, anti-Christ.  I have done it too many times – I may not have usually said judgmental things out loud, but certainly harbored them in my attitudes.  I sometimes avoided certain people, as I was taught that the “world” could only drag me down with them.

Wait…what?  Jesus hung out with “sinners”, right?  Why can’t I?

Well, He is Jesus, after all.  He could do that.  I could never do that.  Or, could I?

His Spirit dwells within me.  This does not give me the license to hang out with just anyone, but whoever is within my sphere of influence or whomever He brings to my path. “They” do not have the power to take me away from Jesus.  “Greater is He Who is in me…”  Because of Him, I have within me His love to share.

I want to keep sharing what I have been learning about love…as we walk together.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Operation Agape’

Love.heart

What do you think of when you hear that word?  You may think how much you love your parents, your spouse or your kids.  Maybe you think of all the mush that is associated with Valentine’s Day.  If you are a tennis fan you may find that love means nothing.

We have all sorts of metaphor’s to describe love.  You know, the “Love is…”, or “Love means…” fluff.  Like, “Love is a warm hug, a litter of sleeping puppies or Sunday afternoon in your favorite chair. Many of us may have also heard these old quotes:

  • Love means never having to say you’re sorry. From Love Story
  • Love is a Many Splendored Thing.  Song by Francis Webster
  • Love is a friendship set to music. – Joseph Campbell
  • Love is real, real is love. –  John Lennon

Ad nauseum.  Or, add nausea.  No offense to the folks who came up with these, but their ideas have become rather greeting card-ish.  Hear stuff like this too much, one’s cookies could be on the way up.

There are a three main directives in scripture, concerning love: Love God, love your neighbor and, the New Commandment, love one another. First, let’s review from Mark 12 (among other references), which has been dubbed, “The Greatest Commandments”:

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Loving God can start when we embrace and believe His absolute, complete, unconditional love for us. When we truly believe His unconditional love, we begin to return with love and desire to do His will.  What we have as convictions are based on a desire to do as our loving Creator wants and has designed us to be.  This is opposed to the legalistic approach, which is more about mandates and behavior modification.  This was never God’s idea or design. What this breeds is a Pharisee-like legal system.  Love breaks law.

Loving our neighbor is something that has been redefined in many circles.  It has been watered down, altered and sometimes overlooked.  Of course, the Greek word for love, agape’, means unconditional love.  Love with no conditions.  None.  This is the love we are supposed to have for others. Only God can truly exercise such perfect and great love.  However, it is up to us to decide to love and His love can work through us.

Then, there is that little addendum…“as yourself”.  Some say this speaks about loving yourself, first.  Others have interpreted this to be, “as you, yourself, are loved.”  Not entirely sure, but the latter sounds closer to home.  It’s like, “God loves me, let me show you how much He loves you, too.”

Then, we have the New Commandment, love one another…John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  In spite of some crossover, this is not quite the same as loving our neighbor.  One another refers to those with whom we have common ground, basically.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ.  One great representation of Him is how we are among one another.  Unfortunately, as being those who allegedly wear the armor of God, we spend a lot of time polishing our armor and fighting each other.  Love is more than covered dish dinners and hugs on Sunday mornings.

More about love in following posts.  Maybe we can get this figured out…as we walk together.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Church Psychoses

When I hear or read what comes out of the mouths of Christians, I have to wonder if something shifted in their minds.  I mean, when you hold these things up against scripture, it is like some Christians have their own brand of nutty behavior.

crazyface

  • One “church” believes that God does not love the whole world, as it says in John 3:16, but that He sent His Son for only those who would follow Him and adhere to certain Biblical standards.
  • One famous “preacher” said that we should keep sinners, or, those people, out of our churches, keep our kids away from them, that they are part of the enemy’s plan to ruin, or devour us.
  • I saw a video of a guy who said that he wished Bruce/Caitlin Jenner would die and go to hell.
  • A pastor I knew believed that pastors can be a covering.  That is, if you obey the pastor instead of what the Lord is telling you, by obeying the pastor, you would be covered.

We can all read and hear the rantings of men like, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham. Men who have had a place of respect and notoriety, men who know just about any verse in the Bible you can pull up.  Yet, we can hear the most un-scriptural things come out of them.  It is a bit disappointing, really.

Perhaps we have a new strain of OCD…Obsessive Christian Demands.  They want to hold all the rules and make everyone follow them.

Maybe we are spiritually bi-polar.  One minute, praising the Name of Jesus, proclaiming His love.  A few moments later, attacking like a voracious hawk on a rat, against someone who doesn’t live like we think they should.  Some of our leadership have inspired this behavior.

The old question goes; Who is crazier?  The leader, or the follower?  Gotta wonder.

What to do, then?  We might hear something we are not sure of.  There is nothing wrong with asking questions and seeking a satisfactory, true or correct answer.  The answers we seek should bear up to the scrutiny of the full counsel of scripture, God’s unconditional love and His grace.  We need to watch how Jesus did things while He was here…how He treated people, how He spoke to people, what he taught, what He said and even how He said it.

We need to do whatever it takes to get a hold of what is right and true.  Even if it takes days, months or more time to get to it.  Then, don’t be afraid to embrace what you have found – unless someone can prove you are in error.  That means, real proof, not just fancy words and circular reasoning.

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” Gal. 1:8

Yeah, curse is a big word, here.  But, the point is, such messages should not be allowed to succeed.

If what we speak, or hear, does not center on God’s love, His grace, His plan for restoration or – I will say it – common sense or logic, we should examine it against scripture.  On that note, I have done enough of pointing out a few of our faux pas.  The next few posts, I will attempt to explain things I have been learning about love and grace…as we walk together.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.