Archives For Things Spiritual

The Nature of God

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.

Pleasant Hill….

June 21, 2014

One of the most peaceful places I have found on this earth is at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village near Lexington KY. It is a recreated village from the 1800s.  One of the concepts I have adopted from my Quaker friends is the idea of “centering down”. That is to clear your mind of all the clutter of daily activity in order to listen for the messages of our creator.  I find Pleasant Hill an outstanding place to do just that.  I don’t mind the idea of melding the best of two religions together to come closer to God. Pleasant Hill is peaceful beyond description. I have spent several days staying at one of the rooms in the village just taking in the ambiance.

If you are ever in the central Kentucky area stop by for a visit. You will remember your time there for the rest of your life.

(As usual click on any of the images below to get a bigger picture)

 

This is part 2 of my series based on a post by Stephen Mattson on the seven misconceptions of Christianity.

Everyone Believes the Same Thing

Beyond a basic belief of Jesus being divine, Christians hardly agree on anything. Common practices such as baptisms, communions, confession and even worship styles are hotly debated, and Christians are divided into hundreds of denominations, thousands of churches and endless communities—each passionate about their own opinions.

Christianity is made up of different cultures, ethnicities, doctrines, traditions, practices, theologians and practices—one of the most diverse religions in the entire world.

Conformity and uniformity are uncommon, and Christianity is distinguished by its variety.

There are presently over 39,000 different versions of Christianity in the world today. Except for maybe the Quakers one thing we seem to be very good at as Christians is to exclude anyone from our individual groups who might not agree with all we think is important about God. As Stephen mentions above we all have endless passions about our own opinions.

Christianity takes on different forms depending on our local cultures, traditions, and practices. Our various theologians debate, some say argue, constantly with each other about who sees the real God. Of course none of us will actually be able to see God in all his glory; it is simply impossible. Conformity is indeed a rare thing in the Christian church.

As Christians we all seem to be able to recognize at least to some degree the divinity of Christ but that seems to be where our consensus ends.

Some take the Bible as literal and total truth and without question. They say the earth is only 6,000 years old because that is how the ancestry of the Old Testament works out. They say that all the science that proves otherwise is just God trying to trick us.  Many who have this opinion hold that document even above Jesus himself. They say that Jesus’ words are no more important than any others in their Bible as they all come from God’s lips.

Some take the Bible as more of a historical text to help us understand where our roots are.

Some say that the Bible is the total message from God to us. Others say it is a starting point and many other revelations have occurred since those days.

Some say God continues to teach us things about how we are to live on this earth. Much of that  revelation is corporate wisdom given us by scientific knowledge, but some is also personal in nature.

Some say baptism requires total immersion, other say only sprinkling of water. Some say baptism itself is only ritualistic in nature and unnecessary.

Some believe in confession of sins to a clerical authority, others believe we answer to God alone.

Some say our life here is really unimportant and that getting to heaven is the most important thing. Others say our main objective is to make His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Some say declaring we are Christians via an altar call is all that is required.  Others say how we act as Christians is what really counts.

We all believe different things and that is ok as long as we can respect that others might see things a different way. After all the only thing we are really trying to do is understand an infinitely wise God who is really way way beyond our understanding.

I am going to spend the next seven summer Sundays talking about one post from a fellow blogger. That blogger is Stephen Mattson. He is one of my favorite writers over at Red Letter Christians. He is a relatively young man who has wisdom way beyond his years. He is also able to express himself in plain and simple yet very effective words. I certainly admire him for that. The post I will be critiquing is entitled “7 Misconceptions about Christianity”. I believe these seven things are so endemic of what has happened to Christ’s church over my lifetime.  It has strayed from the basic teachings of Jesus into areas he would probably be ashamed of.

The first misconception is

Christianity is political.

Here are Stephen’s words to start us out.

While it’s true that many Christians are deeply involved in politics and use their faith as a guide to make decisions about legislation and voting, Christianity is ultimately about following God—not a political agenda.

Unfortunately, many believers get so caught up in political advocacy, government causes and campaigning that they forget about God. People often manipulate their faith to conform to a particular cause. But Christianity is bigger than any political doctrine or state authority—it’s about following Jesus.

Christianity is ultimately about following God—not a political agenda.

The old saying of not mixing religion and politics is indeed a double-sided sword so to speak. There is nothing wrong with letting your spiritual beliefs guide you in the political realm. In fact it should do just that.  But the other side of the sword is when you let you political belief bleed into and pollute your religious life. This side of the sword has taken on a very sharp edge in our country in recent years.

Too many Christians are caught up in political advocacy and let it drown out the basic beliefs of Christianity. They equate their politics to be the same as their religion. They let a single political issue control all the other issues. Too many take their eyes off Jesus and have let their politics be a golden calf in their lives.

Christianity is much much bigger than any political doctrine When Jesus brought the new covenant with him into this world he made it very clear that we are to be our brother’s keeper and to love each other, even our enemies. It seems much of this covenant has been for the most part lost on those bogged down in the quicksand of their politics. They let those who have a completely different agenda pull them around as if they have a ring in their nose. That very fact disgraces Christianity for far too many people.

Christianity is ultimately about following God – not a political agenda. There is simply no political party in this world that aligns with our dictated Christian agenda.  We must pick and choose among them the things that do align and disregard the rest.  Being a faithful Christian is MUCH more important than being a faithful Republican or Democrat! The comparison is not even close!!!

Fear vs. Love….

May 25, 2014

A theology based on this fear seldom inspires great acts of compassion and service. When we live in constant fear of divine rejection, we focus all our attention on securing our survival. Sadly, this self-absorption only leads us further from love. Fear and love are incompatible. Fear indicates our distrust of the one who claims to love us. A child trembles when a parent threatens, “If you don’t behave, I’ll send you away.” A wife is terrorized when a husband warns, “If you leave me, I’ll kill you.” Human beings cower when God commands, “Serve me, or I’ll damn you to hell.”

Where fear is encouraged, love withers. Human beings cower when God commands, “Serve me, or I’ll damn you to hell.” Where fear is encouraged, love withers.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-10-13). If God Is Love

I will admit up front that Philip Gulley is one of my favorite authors. His Quaker roots and belief align with my current worldview.  There are some branches of Christianity that base their doctrine and dogma on the fear of God.  I at one time found this theology to be somewhat enticing to bringing people to Christianity.  Fear is one of the strongest emotions in humanity.  Much of what our current political parties do is based on fear. They use it because they know how powerful it is.

As cited by Mr. Gulley above fear and love are in reality almost opposites when it comes to human emotions. It is inconceivable that a God who says he loves us with one breath would then condemn us to an eternity of torment with the next one simply because we might be too ornery to accept his love. I have thrown away the concept of fearing God for the idea that God loves us with agape love and will eventually, in his own time, take every one of us into his arms.