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Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Death of Christianity

Christ's death was the most life changing, heaven and earth colliding moment of human history since the Creation of man.

Heaven and earth were close,
The fate of all humanity was transformed in an instant, in an eternity.

God, who is with us, who is for us, who is holding us, who is in us, died.

Everything changed,
for us.
God never changes,
for us.
Our reality will never be the same. A door was revealed, an open door. It had been there all the time, but we couldn't see it until God himself came and revealed it. All that happened before and everything that was to happen since made sense in a new way because of his death and resurrection and the new life that He offers to each of us every day.

There is hope for new life.
There is hope in Christ.
There is hope for us to live, really live.

There is hope for love and joy and peace and grace and mercy and forgiveness to be revealed through us, through the Holy Spirit in us reflecting the light that shone from heaven through the cross, through Christ.

There are so many barriers that hinder that light from shining. We talk about shining our light and sharing the Good News. Of all the barriers, there is one that has arguably done the most damage to the Church's ability to share Christ with those who don't know him.


noun \ˌkris-chē-ˈa-nə-tē
1: the religion derived from Jesus Christ, based on the Bible as sacred scripture, and professed by Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies
2: conformity to the Christian religion
3: the practice of Christianity
Being in the presence of the Almighty God has led some to fall on their faces, to shut up, to shine, to sing, to worship, to see, to dance, to live.

Christianity is designed by well-meaning people to draw others to God, to help people relate to God, and to give guidelines, provide a context for worshiping and serving God.

All of that sounds good and sounds helpful, but the one flaw is that it is designed by people.

Christianity is like a painting of Christ or a statue. It is a representation of Christ created by one for the benefit of another.

And, for as long as there has been a church, there have been those who have preferred enjoying the statue over knowing the Almighty God of the universe.

We tend to talk about different things. We either talk about the creators of the statue or we talk about the Creator of the Universe. "The founding pastor of our church was such a godly man. He was there when my son was sick. He was such a dynamic speaker, such a strong man."

We either talk about how the statue was carved out of a lump of stone or how our hearts were transformed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. "We started with just a few families and then started meeting at the lodge and finally bought our own property and built this beautiful church."

We either talk about how the statue makes us feel or how God makes us feel. "When I come to church, I feel so loved, so accepted. I never feel better than when the team leads us in singing."

When times are hard, we either look to the statue or we look to God. "Why didn't someone from the church call? The sermons just don't connect with me. The music team just sounds flat. The programs don't meet our family's needs. Maybe we should visit some other statues."

Christianity must die

The statue must fall. Christianity must be undone. We cannot let anything detract from God, not even our beloved religion.

The system is broken. It doesn't work. It has never worked. It is just what we do. We create systems to replace relationships. We know that something is important and we don't want it to get messed up, so we create a system to protect it, provide it, or pass it down.

It didn't work. It doesn't work. It never works.

Christianity can't protect Christ, can't provide Christ, and can't pass down Christ to future generations.

At best it can protect an idea, provide a doctrine and pass down a beautiful building. But, it isn't worth the sacrifice. We lose more than we gain.

The system robs us of relationships. The system replaces relationships with programs. The system replaces intimacy with bureaucracy.

The best hope for the message of Christ to move forward is for Christians, those who know and love God, to know and love those around them.

Christ describes it this way, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Christianity must die, so that people are not distracted from Christ. The statue must be torn down, so that when people reject the model, they don't think that they are rejecting God.

We must trust. Trust Christ to not let the church die. Trust ourselves to keep loving God without having a structure to protect us. Trust our children to not lose faith and forget the God who loves them.

Let the Bible be our structure, not a building. Let the relationships that we have provide for us not the programs that we design. Let the presence of God in our lives pass on our faith to our children.

God died, but He is not dead.

Now it is time for Christianity to die. Death is not the end. It will be a new beginning.

Friday, May 10, 2013

When Knowing Hurts: The Case for Saying No to Knowledge

Friends of ours went to Las Vegas and vowed never to take their kids there. "The images. They're unavoidable. And, once they get in your head, you can't get them out, so we don't want our kids to even see them."

Makes sense.

We worried when our kids switched from a small private school to a public school. What would they be exposed to? What would they see and hear and be asked to do?

We talked with our kids about not being too curious. "You may hear some things that you can guess are inappropriate, but you aren't sure what they mean. Don't ask. If you really want to know, come home and ask us. It may feel embarrassing but we would rather talk to you about embarrassing things and tell you the truth, the accurate truth, than have a friend tell you."

We are all so curious about things that seem to be off limits. "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," as they say.

I grew up very curious. Mostly it was a good trait, but it also got me in trouble.

As I watched sitcoms, I was always trying to figure out the double entendres, meant to conceal adult content from us kids who were watching.

My mind became accustomed to deciphering these, and eventually I would read them into comments that weren't meant to be inappropriate at all.

Like when your grandma is talking about salad dressing and says, "I don't want it on the side. I like it on top." And, I want to say, "TMI, Grandma, TMI!"

The Cool Kids

It always seemed like the cool kids had inside jokes and understood sex, drugs, alcohol and the like before the rest of us. So, there was a tendency to think that knowing more about immoral or inappropriate things was what made someone popular.

Unfortunately, that may be true to a degree... even among adults.

The lie behind this is an age-old one. Knowing is better than not knowing. It is better to be exposed to everything, so that we can make an informed choice.

It takes so many different forms, it would be impossible to list them all. Someone is tempted to watch a PG, PG-13, R, or X rated movie.

The old motto, "Try it, you'll like it" whether it be alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, or other drugs. Whatever is out of reach is desirable.

I say it is age-old because it sounds like Adam and Eve, doesn't it? As the story goes, God tells them to enjoy the fruit of any tree in the garden except one, the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil".

Why would it be knowledge that is off limits? Don't we equate "more knowledge" and "better"?

The Truth

Paul shows us the underlying truth in Romans 1-2

The Gospel is unfolding, being revealed. It is alive and penetrating. It brings life and healing and hope and peace and joy.

The Gospel, the good news of Jesus' life and His death and the open door that we have to be with God, is revealed when people, like you and I, allow God to love others through us. (1:17)

Our lives become a window through which others can see God at work in all of our lives.

If we shut down. If we become closed to God. If we allow bitterness, sinfulness, or judgment to overshadow our lives. If we stop the Gospel from doing what it will always do, reveal itself, then we are fighting against God Himself.

Paul talks about suppressing the truth, suppressing the Gospel, suppressing Christ by our wickedness, our sinfulness. (1:18)

All those things that seem so enlightened, so compelling, so desirous, so eye-opening, that increased knowledge but was sinful has become a barrier and has actually led to the truth being suppressed.

It sounds contradictory.

More knowledge, in this case, suppresses the truth.

Romans 1:21-22 - for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

I love the way that is translated, "Claiming to be wise, they became fools."

Isn't that what we all do at times. We get so tied up in wanting... needing to know so that we can be wise, only to realize that we have become the fool.

Information doesn't make us wise. Only obedience to Christ brings wisdom. And, obedience to Christ leads away from some knowledge. Not all knowledge. But definitely some knowledge.

Following God's will for our lives will not stop us from enjoying the things of this world. It will allow us to enjoy life more fully.

Do we really believe that? Sometimes, I do, but often I don't.

The lie is so compelling. I continue to believe that the more I know the better off I am. I justify it by thinking that I am limited by what I don't know and can always choose to ignore something I do know.

But in reality, some images, some experiences, some knowledge you can't easily shake. It sticks even when you don't want to. How do you un-see or un-feel or un-do something? You can't.

Obedience to Christ is revealing and experiencing sin suppresses the truth.

Our identity is in Christ, formed through obedience to Christ, and not formed by gaining knowledge of things that hinder and hurt us.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Time to Judge: a Biblical Perspective on Judging Others

There's a great song by the Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" based on a great poem in the Bible. Thanks to the Byrds, many people memorized part of the Bible without even knowing it, including me.

"A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep..."

A time to judge isn't mentioned, but maybe it should be.

We are surrounded by a culture that preaches tolerance. We are told not to judge others. We are told not to be prejudice.

The church is often accused of being the most intolerant and judgmental group.

There is a biblical precedent for us to follow. There is a balanced approach. There is hope.

First, I agree that as a people, we need to see ourselves as part of a group that includes not excludes others. The more we can embrace one another as one of "Us" and not push one another away as one of "Them" the more this world will witness the love of God penetrating into our society.

All not some. Impartiality not favoritism.

Though, we all make judgments all the time. It is a necessary social skill. We judge others based on appearance, based on their ability to communicate, based on our relationship to them, based on their position of perceived power.

It is right and good and helpful to judge in some ways. I will not begin to address the plethora of examples that exist when judging others is wrong. I will only address one general principal and then focus on how to judge others when we are given the responsibility to do so. 

A Biblical Perspective on Judging Others

If we see the Bible as a guide to teach us how to model our lives, then judging others is part of our responsibility. Part of our responsibility is to...

Judge others as an expression of God's love.

Let me say that again to let it sink in...

Judge others as an expression of God's love.

Here's the explanation and please let me know what you think in the comments. Let's work through this together.

Matthew 7:1-5- Do not judge, so that you may not be judgedFor with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you getWhy do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Jesus is pretty clear, "Do not judge so that you may not be judged."

But, then, he seems to suggest that we will all judge. "For with the judgment you make you will be judged."

In other words, He is expecting us to judge others and it is the way we judge others that we need to be concerned about.

"And the measure you give will be the measure you get", so we need to choose a measure that is appropriate for judging.

And, we need to "first take the log out of [our] own eye, and then [we] will see clearly to take the speck out of [our] neighbor’s eye."

So, we need to be humble. We need to examine ourselves and deal with our own sin. Then, still humbled, we can assist our neighbor with the speck of sin that is causing them pain and if left uncared for could cause them disease or loss of sight.

Humbly, out of concern for our neighbor, we can offer to help them by judging them in love.

Romans 2 faces the same question from another angle.

Romans 2:1-6 - Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds.

First, God judges "in accordance with the truth." End of story. He is the only one who knows the whole truth, everything.

We judge based on partial truth at best. At worst, we judge based on gossip and lies and manipulation.

Second, we, too will be judged. Again, this reminds us to be humble and use a measure that we would choose for our own judgment.

Third, we will be judged based on our deeds. We will be judged based on our actions, our words, our lives.

For those of you who are accustomed to the Gospel, salvation through faith by grace, this may seem contradictory. But, it is not. We will be judged based on our deeds and it will be found that

There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 
    there is no one who has understanding,
        there is no one who seeks God. - Romans 3:10-11

We all need grace and mercy. This is the measure that we must use when judging others.

This may lead us to decide: "Forget it! I am just not going to judge anyone ever!"

Judging Is Loving

1 Corinthians specifically addresses when we must judge. If we are to love, then we must judge. To not judge, is to not love.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 - I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the worldBut now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

We are not to avoid immoral people, in order to do so, we would have to "go out of the world." That would preclude us from bringing God's love to the world.

We are to avoid spending time with immoral people who "[bear] the name brother or sister", who claim to be followers of Christ.

We are not to judge "those outside".

We are only to judge those "inside". We are to "drive out the wicked person from among [us]."

This is key. We are not to judge the world, it's actions, it's laws, it's immorality, it's sin, it's customs, it's traditions, it's anything. We are not to judge.

What good would it do anyway?

If someone does not know Christ and is not thinking about Christ, why would he or she care what God thinks about their actions.

Ask them. They don't care.

The opportunity we have is to show them the love of Christ through our words and actions. We are to be Christ's ambassadors, to bring light to the darkness, be salt of the earth, fishers of men and women. Whatever picture works for you. That is our responsibility and privilege.

We are not to judge those in the world. We are to love them.

Now, about those who call themselves brother or sister.

We must judge them. Why?

God's judgment is always for the same purpose. Look back at Romans 2:4 - "Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"

God's judgment and his kindness and his wrath and everything else that God does "is meant to lead [us] to repentance." When we judge others without love, without grace, without mercy, we are demonstrating that we despise his kindness.

We despise his kindness to us, forgetting how He has forgiven our sin.

We despise his kindness to others, forgetting that God's judgment is designed to lead them to repentance.

Matthew 18 concludes that if we attempt to address sin in the life of someone we love and are rejected, and then we bring a couple of elders and are rejected again, and then make the situation public to the whole church and still are rejected, then we are to treat the person as if they were an unbeliever.

In other words, if we humble ourselves, judge someone else in love, hoping to lead them to repentance for their benefit, and we do everything that the love of Christ compels us to do and they choose not to repent --- then we treat them as if they are not a brother or sister, not part of the church.

We treat them like they are of the world.

Which does not mean that we continue to judge them and condemn them and gossip about them.

It means that we no longer judge them. We stop judging them because we are not to judge those of this world.

It means that we love them with the love of Christ. It means that we go out of our way to show them God's love and kindness in hopes that it will lead them to repentance.

Judge others as an expression of God's love.

Judging others this way is obviously difficult and takes much love and time and commitment. It can only be done in relationship. Take heart. It can be done.

By the grace of God, it can be done.
Because this is the will of God, it can be done.

"There is a time to judge and time to withhold judgment."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Future of the Church (and Volleyball)

Volleyball is the most amazing sport I have ever played. The better I got at it, the higher the level of play I was in, the more I loved it. It never lost its shine, as they say.

In the beginning, volleyball is about getting the ball over the net. Picture the 3 or 4 year old standing by the net trying to toss the ball over. Success!

My son, Ethan, at 10 years old, could finally serve the ball from behind the line and get it over the net. Success!

My first coaching gig at a small school, I taught girls who had never played the game. Ouch! Then, finally the ball would go over the net. Success!

In the beginning, volleyball is a lot like ping pong. The ball bounces all over the place until someone hopefully pushes it over the net (before the third hit).

After playing for awhile, something strange happens. The goal is no longer to simply hit the ball over the net. You are trained not to return the ball, at least, not until the third hit.

Bump, Set, Spike.

The better you are at volleyball, the more you rely on your team.
The more important who your teammates are.
The more important communication is.
The more important trust is.

It sounds a lot like church to me.

There are plenty of buildings that are called churches. There are plenty of groups of people that call themselves members of a church.

Some of them are focused on putting the ball over the net. They haven't learned to care for their teammates, to communicate and trust.

But, some places are different.

Church was designed by God to be a place for the love of God to be see-able, touch-able, taste-able.

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Like volleyball, the better you get at it, the more you will love it and value it. It will never lose its shine. Never.

Home church for us has been that kind of church. There is love.

Here's 3 ways you can tell you are part of a church:

1 - No Place to Hide

My 14 year old, Katie, said yesterday that she likes our home church, "You don't have to be perfect. You can just be yourself."

When you know everyone in church, there is no place to hide. When everyone in church fits in a home, life is intimate and shared. Everything is visible. You can either run away or be seen. You can't stay in the church without being known.

Being known, being loved, being accepted for who you are. Welcome to church.

Sin, too, is easy to see. So, we learn quickly not to try to hide it, but to confess it and look for support and guidance and grace. Confronting sin is a natural part of our own introspection and relationships with one another.

2 - Everything is Shared

It is easy to rejoice with those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve because you know every single person from the infant to the eldest. The infant's first words or first steps to the oldest person learning a new hobby are celebrated together. Love lost and hope dashed are mourned together.

In church, you are not forgotten. Your pain is everyone's pain. Your victory is everyone's victory. Everything is shared.

Giving and generosity flow from the growing relationships. When one person or family has a need, the whole church feels it. And, the giving flows outside the church, too. As you feel God's love and see how he provides for you through the church, there is less anxiety about providing for yourself and hording what you have. You are free to give to any one as they have need.

The church frees you to love and share and give.

3 - Equality Among Members

All members are valuable. Not for what they have to offer the church, but for who they are as people created in God's image.

There is no place for politics in the church, no place for personal agendas, no place for power plays, no place for divisiveness or gossip. There are no winners or losers. No competition.

All people in the church are there because they choose to be and want to be a part of the church. Jesus lifted up the littlest child and told the adults to learn from her, to have faith like her. Paul told a young man, Timothy, to set an example for others in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Those who are older are asked to train those who are younger.

Everyone in the church is a gift to the church and can only fully blossom if they are fully engaged in and fully embraced by the church.

Relationships are the Key

The key to it all is our relationships with one another. It comes back to volleyball. The members of our church are important, communication is important and trust is important.

If you don't like the people in your church, can't communicate with them or don't trust them, then you are not part of a church. But you can be. God wants you to be.

Keep looking. Don't give up.

This is the only future for the church. The only way that will make the church relevant for this generation. There is no other plan. Be the church.