Archives For Things Spiritual

The Nature of God

2014-09-20_08-08-101) Christ is perfect but “Christianity” is not. Don’t mistake Christian Culture as God, they aren’t the same thing. Churches, pastors, theologians, and other believers will inevitably fail you, but Jesus never will.

2) It’s OK to change your beliefs. You’ll never have Christianity fully figured out. You won’t have an answer for everything. Theology is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress. Life, relationships, and experiences form, shape, and change the way you see, experience, and understand God. The disciples didn’t understand God much of the time, and you probably won’t either.

3) Christianity Isn’t Easy. It doesn’t magically fix things, make you more popular, wealthy, or healthier. In reality, it’s not a form of escapism but a lifelong process of dedication, service, sacrifice, and humbly loving others. It’s very, very, very hard, and not for the faint of heart.

4) Christianity Is Complex. Nobody believes the same thing. There are hundreds of denominations. Doctrines, practices, and traditions are as varied as the people that represent them. This diversity of faith should be appreciated and celebrated. The goal of Christianity isn’t conformity, but an honest and intimate relationship with God.

5) Christianity is ultimately about loving God and loving others. It should never be co-opted by a political movement, a religious institution, gaining power, obtaining control, spreading influence, enforcing laws, or becoming rich and famous. It’s about a relationship with God—never let anything supersede this

5 Things You Should Know Before Becoming A Christian.

I am going to do something here that I don’t often do and that is to reblog an entire post from a blogging friend. This one’s name is Stephen Mattson. He is near the top of my blog reading list as he seems to have just the right words to express what I am feeling about so many issues. He is a trained and practicing theologian but I won’t hold that against him. :)

My big complaint is that too many people try to make Christianity a sit back and wait religion but Christ told us he was about anything but that. This list should be read and practiced by all of us who are just approaching it or have been in it for a while.  At times in my life I have almost succumbed to number one.  I took a serious look at Christianity as it seems to be practiced today and found it to be anything but perfect.  That almost turned me away but as Stephen says the institution of Christianity might seem to fail you but Jesus and his words won’t.  That is what keeps me coming back to the well.

 

 

This Sunday post is going to take a personal drift.  Some of my antagonists over the years say that I have a smug attitude about Christianity and that I proclaim to be the only one who has all the answers. I hope these views are an exception rather than a rule for most who read my Sunday posts. But just in case I want to tell you what I think about that view of my words.

First of all it hurts me that anyone would take that as my message about being a follower of Christ. If you are one to have that opinion I would encourage you to look at my 5+ years worth of posts over at RedLetterLiving.  It should be clear from those posts that I don’t think I have all the answers. As a matter of fact I’m not even sure I have any answers but just have many unanswered questions that just don’t seem to be answerable by current day religious establishments.

I approach my spirituality with my intellect fully in-tact. That is I don’t just take what some say is the truth as the truth. I check out other opinions. I am not seminary trained but only self-educated. In some ways that is an advantage but in other I probably don’t know what I don’t know about many theological issues.

When I talk about spiritual issues here I am not trying to convince anyone that I am correct and I certainly not trying to convince anyone they are wrong.  We all are seeking the same thing via our spiritual search. Some take different paths and that is OK. I am not trying to force anyone down my path. I am just offering my current view on spiritual matters and yes that view has evolved over the years.

I was a serious student of theology for about a dozen years and at the end of that period I became convinced that for the most part “Theology is a crock”. Most of the theologians of our time don’t have anymore of an idea of these things than any of us do. They either parrot what they have been told or go off on a tangent, but not too much of a tangent for fear of being called a heretic. I know no more than anyone else about the true image of God. I can, only like them, speculate what I imagine it to be.

But because I often speculate in a different mode than many I sometimes raise eyebrows. I don’t want anyone who reads my Sunday posts to think that I am trying to convince you that I got it figured out because I am sure that like everyone else I don’t. During my studies I have found three authors that I am most aligned with. They shape many of my feelings about these issues. They are Philip Gulley, Shane Claiborne, and Greg Boyd.  If you feel like it check them out. While I don’t try to convince others that I have it right I do try to convince everyone to take it upon themselves to learn as much about God as they can. If you do I pray that you will then love him as I do. And that is why I post here on Sundays.

2014-09-04_19-56-10“Now, just suppose, for a change they preach to you about the Lord and not about the other fellow’s church, for every religion is good. There is none of it bad.  We are all trying to arrive at the same place according to our own conscience and teachings. It don’t matter which road you take.” – Will Rogers March 11, 1923

Since Will Rogers is a hero of mine, of course I get a daily dose of his Facebook page. Here is one that strikes me as typical of his wisdom. Will was not particularly a religious person, his mom wanted him to be a Methodist minister but as he said he slipped and became an entertainer instead. He wasn’t much of a church goer but he didn’t put down except maybe on a few rare slips those who were.

Religious establishments, or at least the ones I know much about,  seem to go to an extreme to pronounce that the god of Allah is not the same as the Christian god. Each different group of religious people seems to insist that their god is the true one and everyone else is praying to a pagan one. After ten years of theological self-study I kind of think that Will got it about right almost a hundred years ago. Of course the religious pundits of today say otherwise.

We all latch onto one version of God and therefore proclaim that one the true god. Then we proceed to fashion words based on what we want from our particular god. For many Muslims that includes going to prayer five times a day and always praying toward Mecca. It is also about praising Allah and keeping others away from him.  For Some Jews it is about obeying thousands of different rules and eating only very strictly prepared foods. They think that is what their god demands of them.  Many of us Christians believe in a something-for-nothing god who only thinks of us a poor miserable human beings but will take us to heaven anyway provided we say the right words and believe what we are told. For them nothing else is required. And then there are other Christians who believe the exact opposite.  Got to love us Christians as we are all over the map on just what God wants from us.

We all spend way too much time convincing ourselves that “our “version of God is the only true one. We pick and choose various words from our particular religious documents to back up that feeling while ignoring everything else that doesn’t align with our chosen beliefs. We ALL do this to one level or another.

But in the end there has to be only one God in the universe and I kind of think she is almost laughing at our absurd efforts to split her into so many different parts. But she is probably also crying because of the same thing. As Will says all religions are good at some level but they all got it wrong at others. The sooner we all realize that the sooner we can quit fighting and killing each other to defend our version of God against their version.

Enough said…

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“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

Being that I am now a big fan of streaming video I get advertisements such as the picture above on a regular basis. When I first looked at the picture the resemblance between the person in the picture and the traditional western depiction of Jesus slammed me. Then I thought of the quote I used earlier from Mark Driscoll (also above).

Here is a little bit of what Wikipedia says about Mr. Driscoll and his congregation.

Mark A. Driscoll (born October 11, 1970) is an evangelical Christian pastor and author, and current preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch in Seattle, Washington. In 1996, Driscoll co-founded Mars Hill Church, which as of 2014 has grown to 14,000 members in five states and fifteen locations…

On March 29, 2014, four former Mars Hill elders including Kyle Firstenberg, Dave Kraft, and co-founder Lief Moi created a blog titled “Repentant Pastor” and posted online “confessions and apologies” related to their leadership roles in Mars Hill. In a joint statement, they wrote, “we recognize and confess that Mars Hill has hurt many people within the Mars Hill community, as well as those outside the community….” Salon summarized the statements, writing that the former leaders emphasized their failures to “rein Driscoll in” and their complicity with Driscoll’s “autocratic” management style. Firstenberg wrote that while the church appeared to flourish, employees lived in constant stress, and “success was to be attained regardless of human and moral cost.” Lief Moi described his own behavior at Mars Hill as “driven by narcissism and anti-social tendencies.”

SOURCE: Mark Driscoll pastor – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

It seems that Mr. Driscoll is in trouble with the leaders of his church for some crude things he has been saying and doing.  To me it appears that he is simply a case of a guy with too much testosterone even for an American which is a lot.

For Too Many….

August 24, 2014

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?

Are You Brave Enough???

August 17, 2014

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.