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The Nature of God

For Too Many….

August 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

NYC - Wrapup (6)

For far too many of us the image of being religious is the above.  This picture was taken on a busy Saturday night in Times Square NYC recently. Too many look at religion as some grim-faced old man telling us that we need to quit having any fun and get ready for the wrath of God. They didn’t take this old guy seriously anymore than take most current religious establishments seriously.

In some ways religion has earned this moniker. Too many  spend too much time worrying about God’s wrath rather than focusing on his love. Too many worry about the afterlife than they do living out God’s command to be our brother’s keeper.  Too many young people are just turned off by the religion of past generations.  They think their lives here on earth are what matter. In some ways I agree with them but in other ways not.  As is typical of many things moderation is the best choice. A little of everything on your plate gives you the most fruitful life.

The guy in the image above and so many like him are doing more harm than good by showing an image of God that is primarily man-made and for the most part disgusting. If God so loved the world why would he condemn most of us to an eternal agony as this grumpy old man preaches?

Instead of helping the poor, feeding the hungry, tending to the sick, sheltering the homeless, fighting injustice, speaking for the voiceless, sacrificially giving, and wholeheartedly loving our neighbors and enemies, churches have become co-opted by secular values and empty content.

Emulating Christ is not for the faint of heart, and following his commands will probably mean becoming a church that embraces conflict, discomfort, work, pain, suffering, and truth. This is the messiness of Christianity — following God through the Pilgrim’s Progress of life, forsaking the riches of this world for the treasure of a Divine relationship. Are we brave enough to embrace this?

SOURCE:  Have Churches Become Too Shallow? | Stephen Mattson.

I make no pretenses about my admiration for Red Letter Christians blogger Stephen Mattson. He inspires me to ramp up my following of Jesus Christ and to point out to others where they can do the same. He has the words that I often lack to fully express my feelings about my spirituality. The words above are about how some churches have become too shallow in their practices. They make church more like a country club than a place to help us in our spiritual lives.

Of course all churches and all Christians including me to one degree or another have been co-opted by secular values. Just placing our country’s flag behind the altar is a beginning stage. We need to remember that Jesus was not an American but a middle eastern Jew. He doesn’t value an American over other people in the world. We need to understand that to be a follower of Jesus we need to be a citizen of the world and all the people living in it.

The one thing that many of the bloggers over at RedLetterChristians see churches shying away from is conflict. They want everyone to love them so they play down the hard message of Jesus in favor of a supposedly blessed life. It takes guts to walk in Jesus’ sandals. He did things that made many first century citizens very uncomfortable. He took head on the religious establishment of his day to try to lovingly show them a better path. We need to do the same thing today not out of a sense of superiority but of one of servitude. Are we brave enough to embrace this?

Yes, ministry can be brutal. One of the most sobering statistics I found in my research is that for every twenty pastors who enter the ministry only one will retire from ministry.

I had no idea how many pastors struggled with depression and frustration regarding their ministry roles. You write that 80 percent of pastors (and 84 percent of their spouses) are discouraged in their ministry roles, that 40 percent say they have seriously considered leaving the pastorate in the past three months, and that 70 percent say they don’t have a single close friend. Those are some really astounding and sobering numbers. And yet, this reality is so rarely talked about—in church, at conferences, in books. Why do you think that is, and why is it important that we change that? Why must we talk about failure, (or the sense of failure), among ministers?

SOURCE:  Pastors and the “F-Word”: A Conversation with J.R. Briggs.

I think there are a lot of pastors out there that would love to tell their parishioners the truth but are afraid of the consequences.  Many churches and denominations directly hire and pay their pastors. For the most part they expect the pastor to preach what they currently believe to be truth.  They aren’t looking for someone to come in and teach them a “new truth”.

The more I studied theology in the past twenty years the more I realized that there are vast differences between one Christian denomination and another. And within those denominations are churches that are even more scattered across the theological landscape.  Getting back to the topic of pastors, they risk their jobs by studying outside their groups theology. If they say the wrong things they may very well be shown the door.

When I was a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church I became a pretty close friend of the pastor. Being that I did not restrict my studies to only Lutheran practices I read very widely. One of the books that deeply influenced me was Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution. This book spent a lot of time looking at the words of Jesus and his messages to us. I was so impressed by the book to buy a copy for the pastor. I gave it to him and was anxiously awaiting his thoughts. A couple of weeks later I asked him about the book and he made a snide comment about the author and would not go into further explanation. After a while it became obvious to me that he did not bother to read more than a short snippet. I simply couldn’t understand how he couldn’t have been influenced by the messages in the book.

What I learned from this encounter is that many clergy simply will not go outside their hierarchy when it come to their studies. They simply will not read things that might disagree with their current practices. I guess the reason for that is because they fear for their jobs.  It is certainly depressing to see the statistics above. Pastors should be free to give us a dose of their wisdom without fear for their jobs.

This is a sad part of current day Christianity…

I want to bring over a slightly edited archive post from one of my other blogs at RedLetterLiving.net for this Sunday’s post. It is from March 13.
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I’m not sure who brought up the concept but it is about how churches are actually more like clubhouses than anything else. They are buildings that are built almost exclusively for their members comfort. Yes that comfort does bring in some to hear the message but that seems to be very secondary at best.

I had a recent round of comments on this topic and it stirred up some heated words. It seems that calling a church a country club strikes the nerve of many Christians.  I think the ounce of truth in it is the reason.  Everyone wants to think that their church is somehow different from the others. They want to think that  what they give in weekly donations is for the greater good of God. But, facts simply don’t bear that belief out.  The majority of what they give stays within the church’s hierarchy.

When I was giving regularly to the small church I once belonged to I never deemed that the money I gave actually went to God’s work here or earth.  Being a regular member on the church board I realized that 99+% of what I gave ended up paying the mortgage, utilities and the pastor’s salary.  Did I feel guilty about that? No, not really. I know that this small church was struggling, and still struggles after almost ten years, to keep the doors open.  There is nothing wrong with needing a clubhouse.

But what is wrong is when we fail to recognize the fact that we are really not doing much in the community besides holding down a property.  We try to rationalize that giving a few families a turkey and canned goods during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays somehow meets our community obligations.  Being a church is supposed to be about showing God’s blessing throughout our communities. It is supposed to be about others and not ourselves.  When we finally acknowledge that fact and diligently plan on making  community support happen is when we turn the corner from clubhouse to church.  Sadly too many small churches fail to ever reach that point in their congregation’s life.

I am often accused of painting with too broad a brush in these types of posts so I want to  recognize that there are many churches out there that are very much valuable contributors to their communities. They run soup kitchens and food banks in the areas.  They open their doors on cold and windy nights for those who are homeless. In other words they act like they are followers of Jesus Christ. I celebrate every one of those churches.  But at the same time even those churches must be constantly tracking their allocations of funds.  It is impossible to give too much to your community instead of yourself.

Everyone needs a clubhouse that you can go to weekly. Where everyone know your name as the old Cheers TV show used to say. That is a valuable part of Christian fellowship but we must constantly remind ourselves that is supposed to be very much secondary to being our brother’s keeper and helping God’s kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.

A One Sided Coin….

July 27, 2014

2014-07-17_09-23-14We’re okay with accepting Jesus as our Savior, but we’re not so sure we want to follow him as our Lord because that might make things a little uncomfortable for us. Perhaps like many things in life it may not be what we want, but it’s exactly what we need. What I find heartbreaking is when pastors, priests and ministers don’t want to talk to their congregations about what Jesus actually taught because it might offend people who have relatives in the military. They’re often afraid to say anything that will result in a decrease in attendance or offering and maybe even cost them their jobs but is worrying about numbers, and what people think, really what Jesus had in mind for his church?

SOURCE:  American Jesus | Stephen Jarnick | Red Letter Christians.

Its pretty easy to latch onto a message that proclaims “I am going to give you this wonderful and very expensive gift and I don’t expect anything in return”. However some of us follow-up those words with “What’s the catch?”  We realize that “something for nothing” is most often just nothing. Yes, Jesus gave us a gift but he does expect something in return.

For us Christians it is easy to proclaim that Jesus as our savior. He didn’t put any immediate conditions on that other than just believing it. But he made it clear there are two sides to the Christian coin. The other side is to accept him as our Lord and to do what he told us to do.  The two top commands by far are to love God and to love each other and that means even our enemies. He also made it very clear that he wants us to be our brother’s keeper and by his definition our brothers are everyone else.

If you really read the words of Jesus in your bible it should be very clear that he was a pacifist who celebrated peace makers and not warriors. Too many people seem to ignore that basic fact. The American Jesus is sometimes morphed into something much different from the Jesus of history.

“God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny he has laid out for us.” – Joel Osteen

“In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” – Mark Driscoll

From the above words also taken from the source article it is obvious that some religious leaders of our day have invented a Jesus to meet their personal agendas. Some others are just too afraid that if they give us the real Jesus that we will leave in droves. In reality the opposite is likely true and is actually happening in some circles, predominately the Emergent church movement.  Christianity is a two-sided coin and we should never forget for that fact. Faith without works is a dead faith as  James the brother of Jesus said twenty centuries ago.

This is the last post of my blog series around Stephen Mattson’s post about the misconceptions about Christianity.

 Christianity is Illogical and Anti-Science

Christianity is often stereotyped as being anti-science, anti-academic and anti-intellectual. The reality is that many Christians embrace science and the exciting discoveries that it includes.

Additionally, many believers aren’t opposed to doctrines that heavily involve scientific data and research: evolution, global warming, healthcare research and environmentalism.

To be a Christian is to embrace knowledge, critical thinking, innovation, new ideas and the truths they reveal.

There is a segment of today’s Christianity called fundamentalism that the above label typifies. They stubbornly insist that the Bible is absolutely literal in all regards and is 100% the final and absolute word of God. Many of these folks are very anti-science. They seem to insist that you check your intelligence at the door when you come into their churches. I could go into a long and nuanced response to these beliefs but this particular post is not an appropriate place to do that. If you are interested in the detail browse through my blog over at RedLetterLiving.

A majority, I hope a large one, of us Christians see the Bible as containing God’s words and directions for how to live our lives. To us the Bible itself tells us that Jesus said he would give us more knowledge of life as we are able to understand it.  We think that our continuing scientific discovery is one way that God is making that happen.  I suppose it would have been possible for Jesus to talk about DNA to his first century followers but they certainly would have thought he was insane.  It was not until twenty centuries later that we were ready to receive this type of message.

Francis Collins, who was the leader of the Gnome Project that did the first mapping of human DNA wrote a book entitled The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief about scientific discovery and Christian beliefs. It is well worth the read if you need any convincing that God continues to give us knowledge of the universe.

Sadly there will likely always be a population of Christianity who stick to very illogical and anti-science beliefs. They simply fear the consequences  and perceived uncertainty of believing otherwise. But most Christians do embrace knowledge, critical thinking, and innovation. We take the messages of God seriously both those found in the Bible and those given to us through scientific and other discovery.

The Community is Morally Superior

Christians are sinners just like everybody else. If you’re expecting a perfect utopian environment of honesty, generosity, kindness, respect and inclusive love within Christianity—prepare yourselves for heartbreak.

Churches, Christian organizations, spiritual leaders and the people representing Christianity will eventually fail you.

Christian communities are far from ideal. Many enter churches assuming that everyone is going to be supportive, wonderful and your new best friend—but the reality is harsh.

This is the seventh post on the misconceptions about Christianity as reported by Stephen Mattson. It should be obvious to any of you who have been following this blog series here at RJ’s Corner that Stephen lets us know that as far as he is concerned Christianity is a messy business. Given my life’s experiences I totally agree. The way we humans have put Christ’s church together I’m sure is full of errors and misconceptions. Given that none of us are without sin and that most of us seem to stubbornly cling to a small fragment of Jesus’ words and somehow treat it as the total truth nothing else could have happened. We just can’t seem to get our minds around the total concept of Jesus. Does that mean you should give up on all this Christian stuff because it is so tainted? Absolutely not..

Here are some final words from Stephen to wrap up this post.

Churches, Christian organizations, spiritual leaders and the people—and things—representing Christianity will eventually fail you. It’s going to happen, so prepare yourself for the inevitable letdown.

Becoming a Christian doesn’t make you any better or more valuable than anyone else. Many falsely believe that identifying as a Christian elevates them above the rest of humanity—self-righteously judging, alienating and condemning others.

Ironically, Jesus says being one of His followers requires extreme humility and meekness—not necessarily attractive qualities within today’s society.

Overall, Christianity is filled with many wonderful blessings, and there will be times of happiness, peace and encouragement. But we need to be careful not to stereotype our faith and turn it into something it’s not and was never meant to be. Christianity is complex and doesn’t fit into a neat compartmentalized formula—it’s time we stop treating it like one.

This is part of the continuing series about the misconceptions of Christianity by Stephen Mattson.

Christianity Causes Prosperity

Some treat Christianity as a cash cow, a way to become “blessed,” “rich” and “successful.” But this was never Jesus’ intention.

Becoming a Christian doesn’t guarantee financial, relational, physical, intellectual, emotional or professional gain.

Many have used the allure of “being blessed” and “getting rich” as a way to manipulate and motivate people into following Christ, but in reality faithfully loving God demands giving of yourself—and your possessions.

If you’re looking for peace, prosperity, success, fame, fortune and personal glory—Christianity isn’t for you.

I must admit that the “Prosperity Gospel” totally turns me off.  It is a gross misrepresentation of what it means to be a Christian. Joel Osteen just has it wrong as far as I am concerned. But of course in some ways he is right in that his version of being a Christian has made him exceedingly wealthy at least in monetary term.

We must look at the early Christians to see the purest forms of being a follower of Jesus meant. Whether we Americans want to admit it or not the early Christians, that is those before Constantine hijacked Christianity in order to shore up his kingdom, were much more communistic than capitalistic. When they joined a group of followers of Jesus they typically gave all their wealth to the leaders of the group to be used for everyone.

Now I am not denying that being a follower of Jesus has its rewards, but they are more emotional and spiritual than anything to do with monetary gain. I kind of disagree with Stephan’s last sentence in that I have found great peace in being a follower; that is a big reward to me. But I do agree with the rest of the items on his list. Personal glory is a very entrancing thing for all of us. We want others to know what we do, at least the good parts, and to give us our share of glory. Christ tells us that seeking glory is not a Christian trait.

Being a follower of Jesus means to love God and to love each other. He made it very clear that those are the primary structures for our faith. Everything else is very secondary at best and much of what we seem to deem important in Christianity today did not even show up on Jesus’ radar.  Joel Osteen’s wealth is certainly toward the top of that very unimportant list.

This is a continuing post based on the Stephen Mattson’s post over at Red Letter Christians on the misconceptions of Christianity.

5. It Solves All Your Problems

Christianity isn’t a magic cure for sickness, broken relationships, abuse and injustice. It’s not meant to be a quick-fix solution to everything that’s wrong in your life or the lives of others.

Unfortunately, many interpret Christianity as a form of escapism, a way to avoid the harsh realities of life. Christ’s message isn’t about avoiding difficulties or preventing them from happening, but confronting them.

Following Jesus means embracing the hardships of humanity and struggling, empathizing, supporting and helping those who are sick, weak, poor, diseased, abandoned and forsaken. In many ways being a Christian causes more problems than it solves—but the hope and promises of Jesus strengthen us for the journey.

When the disciples decided to follow Jesus, instead of making their lives easier and more comfortable, most were persecuted and eventually killed because of their beliefs. Are we prepared for the commitment and burdens that Christianity requires?

Let’s face it, most of us Christians live a pretty good life. At least compared to the original followers of Jesus who for the most part were killed for their beliefs. We got it easy, all we think we have to do is to go to church on an occasional Sunday and to “believe” the right things.  There are more than a few Christian leaders who claim that if you give your life to Jesus then you will prosper beyond even your imagination.  They preach the prosperity gospel. Give a little to God and get much more in return. While that basic concept is true in the spiritual sense they say it is about money and wealthy living.

Others treat Christianity as an escape mechanism. It is a way to get away from their present lives and the ensuing realities. They think that be a Christian is about hunkering down with others who believe as you do and to wait out the inequities of life for a better one in the next.

To me, and I’m sure to Stephen, being a Christian means you love God and you love your brothers. Jesus taught us that our brothers are everyone else who was created by God. We are to love that homeless person sleeping in the park just as much as we love our parents or children, He told us that we are to do what we can to create heaven on earth. Doing that, even in the slightest regard, is not easy and is fraught with problems.

  • It means taking on those who are persecuting others for political or monetary gain.
  • It means seeking justice for the oppressed.
  • It means feeding those who are hungry.
  • It means treating everyone with respect and love as we want them to treat us.
  • It means following the words and commands of Jesus

None of that is easy and no, it doesn’t solve all our problems. In fact if we do it right it will probably add more troubles than we already have. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy but it certainly is VERY rewarding…..

This is part 3 of my series based on a post by Stephen Mattson on the seven misconceptions of Christianity.

 It’s Always Fun and Happy

Christianity can be full of joy, but it can also be really hard.

Following Christ demands sacrifice. It involves giving, helping, volunteering and participating in difficult work. The main tenant of loving others is hardly ever easy, and the Christian life is often filled with trials, pain, suffering, heartbreak and struggles—often requiring large amounts of grace, forgiveness, patience and energy.

It’s not easy, comfortable or effortless—it’s incredibly demanding. But in the end, it’s worth it.

I think the biggest damage done to Christ’s church are those who make it a “something for nothing” religion.  They say  the only reason for Jesus to come to earth was to die for our sins so that if we say we believe the “right” things we will get to heaven after we die.  To many, I pray most, of us Christians that couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus left us a wealth of knowledge as to how he expects us to act as is followers.  If only his death was what it was all about then why didn’t he simply jump from his birth to his crucifixion? Why all the words/instructions in between?

As Stephen says following Christ demands sacrifice. We are all to be our brother’s keeper. We are all to love God and to love each other. Jesus demands it by his words and actions.  To disregard those messages is in my mind to disregard Christ himself!

Although I am not an official member of a meeting I am a Quaker at heart because I believe they look at Jesus’ instructions for what they are. They generally shun creeds and such but live their faith and that is  the important to me.  I am faithfully attempting but often failing to live my life as Jesus taught me. I am trying  to do my part in bringing his kingdom to earth as he intends. I know that some of my Quaker brethren will disagree with my statement that the Quaker faith embodies SPICE. That is Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality but in my mind those words do a very good job of stating the basis for their actions . These five things drive me in my life. I try to live them out as much as I am humanly possible.

Getting even a slight resemblance of heaven on earth takes a lot of effort but that is what we have been instructed to do. Christianity is NOT always fun and happy. It is a lot of work but when we manage to accomplish even a small part it is very fun and happy indeed.