Posts Tagged 'Jesus'

Violence Begets Violence–Grace Breaks the Chain

Whatever you sow you will reap.  It is a biblical principle—something even non-Christians understand.  Much of the world refers to this principle as karma.  Many Christians believe that karma is a bad thing—evil as it is associated with eastern religion.  On this matter, I think that Bono, lead singer of U2, has best summed it up when he talks about karma, being broken by grace.  It is grace that breaks the chain of karma. 

We are all born in sin.  Our sin is ultimately what we sow and the wages of sin is death.  That is sowing and reaping, that is karma.  The only thing that changes that is grace.  Through grace we find the actions of Jesus that lead to our salvation.  Grace said that even though we deserved death and hell, Jesus would make the ultimate sacrifice and halt the effects of karma.  Thus, grace gives eternal life. 

So, what does this mean as to how we interact with the world?  Simply we have to find a better way to respond to crisis in the world around us.  It is not enough for us to respond to violence with violence.  We cannot respond to judgment with judgment.  We cannot respond to anger with anger.  We, as children of the most high God, have to break the chain of sowing and reaping.  We have to meet violence with nonviolence.  We have to meet judgment with understanding.  We have to meet anger with love.  We have to lead others the way Jesus lead. 

One of the most amazing things about the life of Jesus is how he responded to those around him.  When he met the women caught in adultery he did not condemn her.  He did not tell her she was evil.  He did not judge her sin.  And he did not excuse it. 

Instead, Jesus told her that as no one was there to condemn her neither would he condemn her.  He did not reinforce the nature of her sin.  Instead, he told her to leave and stop sinning.  He made it plain that she needed to live a better life, but he did it with love and support. 

Where are the followers of Jesus who can respond so well?  I want to be one.

A Church Defined By What It Is or Getting Away From Check List Christianity

            I am tired of hearing Christians define themselves by what they are not or by what they are against.  It has always interested me to see how quickly people are willing to start conversations with the negative points.  I believe it is a mistake to allow ones’ self to be defined by negative moments or negative beliefs.

            Jesus did not spend a lot of time dealing with the things God hates.  He was constantly confronted with people who were sinners and yet, except when He was dealing with the religious leaders who were corrupting the Temple, Jesus always showed mercy to those separated from God.  We never see Jesus on the corner preaching the good news that God is angry with you and you are therefore going to hell.

            Do not get me wrong—I certainly believe in heaven AND hell.  I certainly believe that only those who believe in Jesus are going to be admitted into heaven.  Paul talked about becoming all things to all men.  He was looking at what he knew of the life of Jesus.  Jesus met those who were trapped in their sins by setting them free.  He did not need to spend time telling them what they had done wrong—they certainly knew what their sin was.

            We have been tricked into believing that sinners no longer know they are sinners.  Part of the reason for this is that modern man is so big at flaunting their sin and acting as if God is dead.  What we fail to realize is that man has always been that way.

            God convicts man of his sin.  He speaks in the heart of all men.  We have to remember that God has placed eternity in every man’s heart.  We do not need to convince man of the hole, we have to convince man that only God will fill it.

            We have spent our time being against abortion.  I am not against abortion, we are for life.  We are against homosexuality.  I am not against homosexuality, I am for heterosexual relationships.  We are against Islam.  I am not against Islam, I am for Jesus.  I am not against sickness, I am for health.

            Jesus is not anti-darkness—He is light!  Jesus is not anti-wickedness, he is righteousness!

            I think the reason Jesus never spoke on the issue of homosexuality is that He knew that if men would come into right relationship with God they would not behave in improper ways.  In the presence of God sin flees, not because someone is screaming against sin, but because sin does not exist in the same space as God.

            I think our approach to sin and dwelling on what we are not is the main reason we have a check list Christian culture.  We do not drink, unless we are in Europe where it is acceptable.  We have to wear the right clothes. We have to read the right version.  We have to attend the right services.

            In other words, check list Christianity does not worry so much about what we are as it does about what we look like.  I have known pastors who were adamant that they believed drinking was a sin—at least until we arrived in France and everybody, including the Christians was drinking.

            I am not arguing the finer points of Baptist theology here.  There are many reasons not to drink—but I daresay that no one at the wedding in Canaan was arguing about those finer points.

Separating Culture and Church

            We live in a culture that sees a benefit in the individual over the group—at least it has been true until recently.  We seem to be going through a cultural shift that wants us to give up our individual approach to life and live for the group.

            We are also a nation that seems to believe that the Age of Enlightenment was a Christian movement.  The Declaration of Independence, that great American founding document, reeks of Enlightenment, yet it is most often used as proof of our Christian founding. 

            Therein lays the problem I see us facing today.  No where does the Bible declare that we have a right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.  In fact, the opposite is true.  The calling of the Christian is to “lay down your life and follow me.”  One down.  Early Christians found themselves in prison, often with a death sentence over them.  Two down.

            As to the pursuit of happiness, that has never been considered a Christian principle—at least not before we got to this modern me first Christian generation.

            Not willing to stop here, I must look deeper into this “Christian” document.  The declaration does talk about ideas such as endowed by our Creator, giving the illusion of a Christian foundation.  Unfortunately, it later clears up the misunderstanding by naming that Creator as “the laws of nature and of Nature’s God.”  This sounds a lot like something more mystical than the God of the Christian Church.

            While we are busy tipping over sacred cows, let’s look at the concept that America has a special place in God’s heart and is inherently good.  This, to me, is the core of what is wrong with the American church.  We are looking to convert the lost to an American understanding of everything, including God.  Yet, God exists outside of time and space.  He is not a citizen of any one country.  He did not design the world on a model of America—in fact, America is late to the game, both our language and our culture.

            It is always a mistake to take our culture and try to fit the Gospel into it.  Our job is to take the Gospel and fit our culture into it.  Anything that does not fit must be discarded as not part of the true Gospel.

            We are not God’s special children, except that all men and women are created in the image of God and that makes us all special.  We are not immune from the problems of the world system—the last year has shown that to be true.  We are in need of God’s grace and love, before and after our conversion to Christianity.

            The only way we will become what we were created and called to be is to move away from the American approach to life and begin to live a truly Jesus centered approach to life.  I am not claiming to be there, I am merely looking at what seems to be obvious to me.  We are not living in a way that Jesus would be approve when we are living for ourselves without a thought to the world around us.

            We are also not living like Jesus would have when we are more loyal to our country than to our God.

The Gospel According To Harley Davidson

            You might not have been taught the price our Founding Fathers paid to be free.  You might not remember the price paid by the first century church to set the body of Christ into motion in a manner in keeping with the calling God had placed on the body.  That might be because you have been listening to the new Gospel with its new pricing program.

We suddenly live in a place where we do not want to pay a price for anything.  We want it and we want it now.  It would be okay if this were an indictment against the secular side of America.  Unfortunately, it is also an indictment against the spiritual side of America.

            If we were founding America it would look more like Disney World than the country we love—one price gets you into everything, except the food is specially priced just to make sure we got you one more time.

            How do we move forward?  What can stop the slid into meaninglessness?

            There is really only one way—we have to get back to the basics.  We have to realize that we are not special; we are merely some of those called by God to a higher life, a life of giving and sacrifice instead of a life of taking and no pain.

            This also means that we have to quit talking the talk and start walking the walk.  We must find a way to live in the same manner as the Apostle Paul.  He counted all as loss.  The only thing that matter to Paul was the furtherance of the Gospel.  He could live in wealth and he could live in poverty—the moment does not matter, only eternity.

            We have to get past the pettiness of our culture and get back to real life.  That is one of the problems I see with the spiritual state of our world and especially our country.  We spend our time catering to the pettiness, how do we get more people to show up in the Church.  We spend our time trying to figure out how to get more people to raise their hand while nobody is looking. 

            In college we rewrote the lyrics to a famous hymn:  “Raise your hand, raise your hand for Jesus, put it down before anyone looks.  Praise God now you’re saved, your name is in the book.”  That sums up the current Gospel message.

            God wants you to have a Harley; He must because he gave me one.  No, wait, I am more special.

            We need to get back to living our life remembering that one day we will stand in front of God and give account for everything.  God might be love, but love is not syrup on your French Toast; love is justice.  Love is demanding of those to whom it is given.

            That might be a good thing to keep in mind the next time we are in the Harley shop thinking about living the good life.

The Beauty of Christianity

Christine Amanpour has a special that is airing on CNN.  It is about winning the hearts and minds of the next generation of Muslims.  In the special she asks a very interesting question that highlights the difference between Christianity and Islam.  She looks at the parent of a young Muslim being raised in Gaza and asks, “How do you teach them not to hate.”

I haven’t actually seen the program, only the advertisement which CNN International is running ad nausea.  Every time the question is asked I turn to the television and answer—I talk to the television, it relieves a lot of tension and is very fun—“It is easy, you don’t teach them not to hate, you simply don’t teach them to hate.”  This is the core difference between the violence that is being foster by Islam and the love of Christianity.

Mohammed conquered the world with an army and the sword.  Jesus has ruled His world with twelve uneducated souls and love.  When a couple of His uneducated souls wanted to call down fire from heaven Jesus refused permission—His mission was love not control.   When John reported to Jesus that others, who were not follow with the disciples, were casting out demons in Your name, Jesus’ response was simple.  It gives great insight into His thinking and the love with which He approached His mission, “He who is not against us is for us.”

Jesus’ mission was one of inclusion rather than exclusion.  He came to seek and save that which was lost.  He was not seeking to control the world, but show the world the love that God has for His greatest creation, man.

The mission of the Christian Church, Jesus’ body on this earth, is to love people without any strings attached.  Christian Churches start schools, hospitals, even programs to feed and cloth the poor for one reason—to show the lost how much God loves them.

I work with people around the world who show this love without strings.  In Cologne, Germany a Church has set up “stores” to provide the poor with good cheap clothing and furniture.  For one Euro a person can get a full hot meal with a drink.  If you don’t have a Euro, the meal is free.  The whole purpose of the outreach is to provide hope to the hopeless, to minister the love of God in a community that seldom sees love of any kind.

I work with another man in Greece who feeds the refugees coming in from Northern Africa.  They are mostly Muslims and no one, not even their own people are doing anything to reach them.  This man provides free food and fellowship to them.  What is his purpose?  He is personally showing the love of Jesus to a people who desperately need to see that love more than they need to hear about it.

This is exactly what Jesus did when He went about doing good, preaching the Gospel of the Good News to the poor.  Jesus went further than merely preaching the Good News of the Gospel to the poor, however, He also met their needs.  Their needs included healing the sick, the blind, the deaf, the lame, virtually anyone who a need that could be met by love was introduced to love through the preaching of the Gospel and the healing of the sick.

These were not acts of people coming to God, these were acts of God coming to people—meeting them where they were and then giving them hope.

So, to get back to the original thought of how do we teach the children not to hate, that is a question that is not asked in Christian circles.

Fortunately for us, the answer is not complicated.  Hate, just like love, is passed down from generation to generation.  It is not a question of teaching children not to hate—it is a question of not teaching children to hate.

It will take a change of heart.  Just like Martin Luther King, Jr.  and Gandhi, Islam must make a decision that changes comes through love and tolerance, not through continuing to pass hate and anger on from generation to generation.

That is not likely to happen you say, and you are likely right.  That is one of the reasons that Christians have the moral standing order to bring the Gospel of the Good News to the world through missions of love, hope, and compassion.

The world will not change by itself.  Hate will not disappear by itself, there are too many people making too much money nurturing the culture of hate. 

Hate will only disappear when love has come and the Good News of the Gospel is preached and lived throughout the world.

You are the best hope for destroying the legacy of hate.

The Church’s Missing Work Ethic, saved by faith proven by works

I am sick of reading stories about how we can get rich.  I am sick of hearing accounts of how much God is blessing us, without any mention of the shallow nature of the American Church as an institution.  I am not looking to blame anyone, but I think we have to get beyond our narcissistic, Facebook/Twitter theology and get back to the basics of the Bible.

             It seems that Christians in the early Church lived by a different standard than we live by today.  They were not so caught up in the trite statements and what can only be termed Christian voodoo.  There were no formulas for success.  There were not three things God wants us to learn as we sit and perform our Christian duty of Church attendance.

             There was more to this Church that a meeting.  There was more to this Church than what was in it for me.  It is a good thing there was more to the first Church than our modern model. 

             Think of how poorly the first Church would have done if they had been serving the God of the Universe for what was in it for them.  Hebrews 11 and the lives of the Apostles were both a testimony to what was in it for “me.”

             Here is what the writer of Hebrews lists as some of what God promises for His people:  “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, torments;”   Hardly the stuff the American Church promises to King’s Kids. 

             Now, do not get me wrong, I think God does take care of His people.  The problem is not with God, it is with our expectations.  We are living through the longest peace time prosperity in world history.  Even with all our economic woes and the wars that are going on the peace and prosperity are amazing.

             We have allowed that to make us lazy and assume that our peace and prosperity are rewards from God for living in a godly nation.  Yet, we murder over a million children every year.

             I think one of the reasons we find ourselves in this place is that we have become too preoccupied with the faith part of our walk and not the works part of our walk.

             I know, I know, Luther says it is faith and faith alone that saves us.  I am not talking about that.  Sure it is through faith that we are saved.  We have to remember, however, that being saved is only the beginning.  We, unfortunately, have made it the end as well as the beginning.

             The Gospel was never meant as a get to heaven and then sit back approach to God.  God has never been an eat, drink, and be merry kind of God.  He created the world and yearns to have the world return to Him.

             Salvation is a great start to a relationship with God.  If we stop there we run the risk of being spiritually retarded, stunted in our spiritual growth.  There is no maturity in merely being beings that are destined for heaven.

             Jesus never rested on His coming kingdom; He went about healing all who were sick, setting the captives free, feeding the hungry, ministering to the poor.  He spent his entire earthly ministry doing the one thing we Protestants consider unnecessary, His ministry was a ministry of works.

             I think that is what is missing from the modern American Church, the works portion of our faith.  Before you write me off as a heretic, let’s look at what James has to say about this very thing.  If we read James literally, then we have to question what we have been taught that Luther believed.  (Sorry, for you purist out there, this is the NASB version.)

 14What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  15If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,   16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  17Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  18But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  19You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.  20But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?  21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;  23and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.  24You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.  25In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

             It seems to me that we might be missing something.  If salvation is the end of everything, then how did James get into our canonized Bible?  Whose mistake was that?  So, what is the solution?  I believe it is simple; we read the Bible for ourselves and listening to the advice of others, determine what God is saying to us.  Our relationship with God is with a living being and there should be communication, at least in our hearts.

             We can no longer count of the government to do our good works for us.  The moral foundation of our country is gone.  We can no longer count on someone else to do our good works for us.  And, most importantly, we can no longer assume that faith and faith alone will bring us to maturity in Christ.  James is clear “so also faith without works is dead.

             I do not know about you, but I believe in serving that which is living, not that which is dead.  So, I am pledging to have works with my faith so that it lives.

Faith and Karma

 

            Do not write me off because I am using the word karma.  I know that we often think of karma as some eastern religion concept.  The truth of the matter is that we live in a world filled with karma.  Karma is that what you sow you reap.  Karma is that what you give away you get back.  Karma is a world where you do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Karma is like begets like. 

 

            What all this means is that we cannot escape the rule of karma, except through faith in Jesus.  We live in a world where karma is the rule, yet our Christian faith breaks the back of karma in the instant where we become Christians.  It is the one moment in history where karma is not the rule of the day.

 

            Faith halts karma.  A moment of faith happens and breaks the cycle of karma.  Instead of getting what we deserve, instead of sowing what we reap, God reaches out and gives us what he has planned for us rather than what karma demands for us.

 

            Faithful moments break the rule of karma.  Jesus, during his worldly ministry, reached out and broke the chains of karma on the blind, the lame, and the lost.  He reached out and broke the karma that was destroying prostitutes.

 

            I think it is time the church got back in the business of breaking karma.  Instead of rebuking the idea, we have to embrace the idea that karma is the rule of this world and only the eternal kingdom can break the power of karma.

 

            Let’s vow to use the power that has been given us to do more than merely maintain the status quo.  Let’s vow to do more than build our kingdom.  Let’s vow to really build his kingdom, that way, no matter what comes we are ready because everything about our lives is dedicated to the concept that there is a God who reaches through karma and brings deliverance.

 

            He changes karma, not for fun, but for real.

 

            Let’s vow to be karma breakers in the lives of those around us—everyday.


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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