CAN I GET A WITNESS? (AND A BOOK RECOMMENDATION)

By God’s grace in Christ I am a follower of Jesus. The Lord is central to my life here and for all eternity. And as weak a follower as I might be, I trust that I belong to my God.

I want to be a witness for Christ. I want my life to reflect the goodness of God to all God’s creation. The word ‘witness’ originally meant ‘martyr’ and though I have not given my life (literally,) I do want to shed my ego, my selfishness, pride and such to be a more loving example of what following Christ means.

The church as the body of Christ, made up of people wanting to be like Christ in loving and just ways, is a witness too. Like Jesus we want to be loving, compassionate, and just as we care deeply for all people especially the brokenhearted. We want to be fair. We’d like our next generations to grow up with a sense of goodness and love. And we want them to be provided for. I understand all of that.

But something has happened. We have lost our way. We want to be #1. We want our nation to be #1. We want to be strong and make America great. And in the process we have dealt unfairly with the poor, the people of color and the immigrants at our border. Oh, I understand we don’t want too many of ‘them’ coming to America but my own great grandparents came here for the same reasons as others have for coming.

And what grieves me deeply is that we are losing our witness for Christ. Riots in the streets. Lawlessness. Violence. And the example that we are following as Christians is a leader who is lacking in Christian virtue. He is speaking to the basest qualities of our natures. He is a man without a moral compass. His arsenal contains vitriol and incendiary language for those who oppose to him. He is selfish and causes many Christians to take up the sword against those opposed to him and against each other. This can’t be.

Our leader is pharisaical. He aligns himself with religious purposes but inside is full of selfishness. He claims to be pro life but only so he can win the evangelical vote. That is a tarnished witness on the part of evangelicals who side with him on that issue. I am pro life too but pro life for everyone affected by poverty and hunger, oppression and racism and I am pro life for people in other countries that our leader calls ‘shitholes’. That’s not right. It’s not what Christ would do or say.

Some call our leader a ‘Cyrus’ after a pagan that instituted policies on behalf of the Israelites. But as a Christian I cannot be racist, unjust, unloving, and claim that being pro life aligns me with God’s will.

In the world, in our neighborhoods and even inside ourselves our witness is being erased to the point that we even begin to think that what our leaders are doing is all good.  When Germany rose to power in the 30’s the churches for the most part sided with Hitler for strengthening the economy and making Germany a world power to the extreme of rationalizing a take over of the neighboring world at that time. We cannot go in that direction.

We are disciples of Jesus, not of any political leader. We take our cues from Jesus. We are not some kind of exclusive club that determines its membership by allegiance to the current leader. As Christians we don’t make policies. We live by what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments; loving God and loving our neighbor. We are not doing that. We are hating each other, mocking, marginalizing and making it very difficult for others to see Christ in who we are or what we do.

There are serious problems within our country. The prophets of the Old Testament were not afraid to point them out in Israel and ask for forgiveness from God. Jesus saw how law and order along with a lack of love had replaced God and he pointed it out and called for repentance and love. His first words were, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’

And no we don’t condone the violence we see in the streets but we don’t condone the injustice that leads to such violence and we don’t condone the language and actions that come from the leader of this country.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that when Christ calls someone, he bids that person to come and die. Not make others suffer and die.

The greatest witness we have for Christ is to love one another, to love the least. Even within our churches today there is such a lack of love and respect as evidenced by churches splitting over politics. This can’t be. Let us speak our minds but let us speak the truth in love.

And finally I need to point out a remedy I see for people on the conservative side. Listen, the Democrats are not going to destroy America in four years. So I say, with a degree of seriousness, get rid of the current leader and then in four years choose someone who reflects the goodness of this land, who represents the best of who we are and not the worst. I know that these words won’t please my democrat friends but it’s my practical solution. And then in 2024 let there be a good contest for the soul of this nation.  

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

And finally, the content of this blog in no way reflects the opinion of the leadership of Eagle Bend Community Church in Colorado.


A LETTER ABOUT LOVE AND RECONCILIATION

Some churches I know are deeply divided over the issue of gay people of faith being included in the life of the church and particularly with regard to gay marriage.

I want to suggest a way to some peaceful, loving reconciliation in this matter. Church folks need to learn how to listen with love to the stories of people on both sides of this topic. Some of my straight friends get defensive for the same reason they don’t like Jehovah Witness folks coming to their door. The former are afraid they won’t be able to answer and will be pushed into a corner or made to look ignorant of their own faith. That’s why all this works better in small group gatherings.

This topic needs a voice.

I propose a Reconciliation Team within the churches that can bring different sides together. This team needs to be diverse to allow for diverse opinions. We need never to be afraid to hear brothers and sisters who differ from us on Scripture, Theology, or Life Choices.

It’s like the Jerusalem Council that met regarding the Gentiles. (See Acts 15) The earliest Christians differed on Bible matters, commandments, and loving flexibility as regards the Gentiles who wanted to become Christians. The Council compromised and decided that new converts did not need to keep the Mosaic Law of Circumcision. And this was a significant decision because it was the stipulation for the Covenant people with their God. (See Genesis 17) And many people did not believe that law could be nullified. But it was. See, changes do come.

Christian Ethicist David Gushee has written a book called, CHANGING OUR MINDS in which he suggests several ideas for churches confronted by this matter of gay inclusion and marriage.

One of his suggestions is that we STOP JUDGING PEOPLE. (See Romans 14 and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) Judgment does not come from love. It comes from not seeing the log in one’s own eye. It’s looking down on another. It would be like telling people in the northeast they are sinning because they eat Lobster and Pork. Oh, no. Let’s not go down that road.

The other suggestion he makes is for a church to go through a deliberate time of dialogue and discernment where we have the conversation about homosexuality and the will of God. Such conversation will impact many areas of faithful life.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that we should speak the truth in love. Speaking and listening to what we understand as God’s truth and doing so in ‘regard for the other’ is what that means.

Some churches have made conscientious decisions about homosexuality according to their best prayerful understanding of God’s will. Whichever conclusion they come to is not without consequences. And the leadership of the church needs to reach out to people who by their own conscience have a different belief. But I sincerely believe that no decision by any leadership can be made without lots of input and conversation. And resources are readily available.

Right now Christ’s body is torn asunder and needs a loving spirit and intention to bring healing. The church is for everyone. Maybe I should say the Kingdom of God has come for everyone. No one is disposable.

WHERE DOES IT HURT?

Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovaré, a great ministry/organization focused on Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he draws an analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. His writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon who specialised in treating leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain. Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s be attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success (just to name a few methods of denial).

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12. ‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

Maybe the question isn’t ‘What do you believe?’ but rather the one we often ask our children, “Where does it hurt?”

THE TIME HAS COME TODAY

The church and individual Christians, including yours truly, has for too long lived by law, exclusion, judgment, and even punishment. The time is right and the opportunity is now for inclusive love, barrier breaking and yoke removing love. The love of Christ knows no limits, sets no boundaries.

 

“God’s love is meteoric

His loyalty astronomic

His purpose titanic

His verdicts oceanic

Yet in his largeness

Nothing gets lost

No human, not even a mouse

slips through the cracks.” Psalm 36:5-6 MESSAGE VERSION

 

ONLY LOVE CAN LEAD THE WAY TO CHRIST

SYMPATHIES FOR SUTHERLAND SPRINGS …..AND SECONDLY

First of all. The church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas has left good folks dead, families and friends in unspeakable grief and a nation once again in mourning. Flags are again at half-staff. Many churches are on lock down and people are scratching their heads again, wondering ‘why?’

May the Christ who innocently suffered and died and who understands so completely such grief come to the side of the mourners and bring those who died into his eternal bosom of peace. This is first and foremost on our hearts.

But there is a concurrent and redundant issue. Mr. Trump proclaims this a mental health problem and the man as deranged. This, according to his expert knowledge. Who can question him? I can. Any person on the one hand who slaughters innocent men and women and children in church is in some sense ‘deranged’. On the other hand the man’s mental status did not prevent him from knowing how to secure and use a powerful semi automatic weapon to take these precious lives.

I’ll tell you what I think is deranged in the sense of being disturbed and irrational. Deranged is a country and lawmakers that believe the semi automatic guns somehow fall under the second amendment rights. That’s absurd and unfathomable. Making such weapons available to deranged persons or anyone else who could at any given moment become deranged is beyond my comprehension for a civilized nation that wants her people to be safe.

The President says this isn’t a gun situation. Bull…. This man could not have done the unspeakable horror he did with a pistol. The availability of semi automatic weapons poses a grave danger to our way of life and if congress won’t do something about it, maybe a national referendum would give the people of this country a hand in the decision making.

I am a pastor and as such I would want to know that my parishioners didn’t die in vain if their deaths address and change a serious problem in this country. That little Baptist church in Sutherlands and all those congregants have a special place not only in our hearts but also in the future of this country.

Why are these kinds of weapons available? To create a militia that can take on an evil nation? I guess RPGs should be available to the general public. Sorry, I digress.

How long will this go on and how may people will died before we as a nation realize that the availability of these assault rifles, used in most of the mass killings, needs to be abolished?

May God grant wisdom and grace to our nation because He may just hold us all accountable for these little ones whose lives have been so cruelly taken from those who love them so much.

 

 

 

For Skeptics and Believers: What draws me to Christianity

At the outset I admit, without being trite, that it’s Jesus who attracts me to the Christian faith. The most attractive quality of Jesus is the way he shows us the character of God that is loving, and forgiving. God, through Jesus, has told me I am loved and God has told that nothing can separate me from God’s love. Not even my own stupidity, negligence or sin. God in Christ pursues me until he brings me back into God’s wonderful embrace. This is for me the essence of Christianity in my being and worked out through my life and the community of faithful believers.

It’s difficult to imagine that Jesus is just an imaginary figure created to satisfy the human need for a god or a crutch in life’s hard times. The character of Jesus is not the sort you would, on your own, invent. I will admit that the church has been guilty over the years of producing a version of Christ that takes the form of power but those powers are hard pressed to find the Jesus they affirm from the scriptures of the New Testament particularly the Gospels.

There we find Jesus, the wisest and most loving teacher who ever lived, instructing his followers to ‘love one another’, to ‘love their enemies and bless those who curse them.’ In Christ we discover a religious master who seeks all who feel lost and left out and find themselves as society’s outcasts. His harshest condemnations are reserved for the proud, the self-confident and judgmental.

Jesus taught his followers to engage the world through ‘weakness’ not ‘strength’. He said they should take up a cross and be willing to die for one another and that behind such ‘foolish’ talk was the love of the Father, God. That kind of teaching goes against the grain of our ego but aligns itself with the Creator. And Jesus not only teaches these principles. He lives them, taking upon him, servant-hood even to the point of death.

I am currently watching all the political posturing of the possible candidates for the office of President and all I witness is self-aggrandizement, judgementalism, pride and power. Maybe I need to look harder and elsewhere.

A skeptical view of Christianity usually addresses the failures of the church, the institutional and individual sins and while it could be made abundantly clear that the church has done more good on this earth than any other institution let’s admit that the church has had its share of failure and sin.

Skepticism does have its place for they wonder if the church didn’t invent this Jesus within the pages of history of the course of the first few centuries C.E. And skeptics do well to question Jesus role today especially in matters of evil, suffering and injustice. These are valid queries into Christianity as long as those asking are willing to do the appropriate searching into the person and work of Jesus. And those of us willing to believe them must be willing to bear a healthy investigation.

To dismiss Christianity because of perceived contradictions in the Bible is not sufficient because most skeptics have seldom read the Bible. And contradictions that might be found are to my mind evidence of the veracity of the witness accounts. Eyewitness accounts rarely find total congruence. We would be even more suspicious if they did.

I think a bigger problem is that Christianity has been around for 2000 years and has been put up on our mental if not physical shelves to be disregarded and a dust collector at best. Many people have simply not tried to place their confidence in everything Jesus did or said. And we are part of a society, which is pretty self-absorbed whereby life, the way we decide to live it, is just fine. THAT would be a religion created in our own image, a religion that we take off the shelf every once in a while, blow the dust off and look for the self-help section.

But not so with Jesus. In every aspect of life Jesus claims Lordship and he calls for our devotion not because he is an egomaniacal dictator but because as God he knows what’s best for his creation.

People say that Christianity is a ‘weak’ religion. I say that dying to self takes more ‘guts’ than to live by any other code. And what is so incredibly reassuring about it is that we don’t have to go it alone.

Grace and Peace

george

Christ at the Center

Bonhoeffer has a book by this title and I tag along to him by saying that everything in this creation has come through Christ. Christ is the victim and the victor and he calls us to be his followers. Those folks in South Carolina, centered in Christ, have found the ability to grieve and grief deeply while they witness to God’s love in Christ through forgiveness. Few of us can understand their grief but those of us who do know it realize it that there is anger and sadness in the midst of anything else we are feeling. We are not naive but at the same time we are not unfaithful. We know the weakness of God in Christ and we know the defeat of death through Christ. Those families and faithful ones in Christ through their forgiveness and their celebration of life know weakness and strength.
The church is to experience both. We are to live with Christ and we are to die with Christ knowing all the while that we are in Christ and Christ in us and not even Satan and all his legions can stop God’s children from marching forward.
I pray that the light of AME Zion churches and those who stand with them will know that God’s grace is always sufficient as well as ultimately victorious.
P.S. Hopefully through it all our nation and we as individual believers will be sufficiently humble to hear God.

A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE RESURRECTION

A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE RESURRECTION.

As we prepare for Easter let’s consider what the Resurrection of Jesus means to us today. Take these thoughts with you as you conclude the Lenten Season and prepare for Holy Week.

Jesus is vindicated through his rising from the dead. His words and deeds were proven true. Romans 1:4:  He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness. This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. (CEB)

The earliest writers of church history, some of them even eyewitnesses were not ashamed to announce with clarity what had taken place. It’s only modern ‘sophistication’ that shies away from history because we are just too darn smart for that kind of naiveté.

Thanks to the resurrection of Jesus his death was shown credible giving every evidence that what he said was true, that to die is to live both spiritually and bodily.

All despair is reversed by the resurrection or if Christ is not raised then we of all people on this earth are the most duped and pathetic people ever. (1Cor. 15)

In the resurrection of Christ history has turned a corner. God has kept his covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15) and history heads into the final stretch being carried through by the hope and new life of the Kingdom of God, which was first announced by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Perhaps it’s why we cry out on Easter Sunday, He is Risen Indeed. The resurrection of Jesus is the cosmic D-day when the evil powers have been doomed and now we follow the risen Christ till the final day.

It is the resurrection of Jesus that allows Paul to write that this daily life of ours is sustained by the same power that raised Jesus. Romans 8:11: If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.

 Paul will go on to say that he wants to live his life as well as endure his sufferings through that same power (Philippians 3)

It is the resurrection of Jesus that allows him to stand before the disciples and say that ‘all power and authority in heaven and on earth’ had been given to him and thus could the disciples go out in that power to make disciples, knowing they were given that power by the resurrected Christ. (See Matthew 28)

And the as the church formed together the resurrection became such a cornerstone that Paul would write to the Romans that anyone who would confess Jesus as Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead would be saved. (Romans 10:9) What Paul is saying is that there is every reason to place our confidence in this Jesus as the one true God/Man who can ultimately save this world and our lives.

And finally for right now. The resurrection of the body of Jesus signifies not only his victory over death but the importance of the whole human project to God.

None of this is to judge any other religion but is rather to invite us all to be caught up in the confidence of this Messiah who came to invite all to share in the hope and the thrill of life. We have reason to be realistic and optimistic, thanks be to God.

I am indebted  for some of my thinking and writing to Thomas Oden in his work, Classic Christianity.