Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

“…but some doubted.” What Does Jesus Do With Christians Who Doubt?

doubt_diceDoubt was a dirty word in the church circles I came from.  Prayers for healing, prosperity, good grades at school, or a job promotion at work could all be derailed by simply doubting it would happen.

James 1:6 got thrown around a lot

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Yep, doubt became a good excuse to use when prayers didn’t get answered; “I’m sure he must be harboring doubt in his heart, that’s why he isn’t healed yet”

Doubt also becomes a useful tool in churches to keep people in line.  Encourage true believing at the cost of critical thought and leaders can get away with a lot of nonsense before people finally have enough.

But what did Jesus do with doubters?

When Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead he then prepared his disciples to launch into the largest spiritual movement the world has ever seen.

His Great Commission!

Surely there could be no room for doubters?  Weak links in the chain would throw the whole plan off.  Wouldn’t Jesus “lovingly” ask those disciples who were not “fully onboard” to step out of leadership until they had been restored?

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28: 16-20

Some doubted!

They just saw Jesus raised from the dead and yet they still harbored some thoughts of doubt.

Why?

Because they are human!

And it’s OK!  But what Jesus does next is what is truly mind blowing.

He gives the same commission to “Go” both to those that worshiped him and those who doubted!  He makes NO distinction between the two!

* Jesus didn’t have a loyalty test!

* Jesus didn’t have a patriotism test!

* Jesus didn’t have them sign a “What We Believe” Statement of Faith!

He gave the Great Commission to disciples… who doubted!

Yes, Jesus was a pretty secure church leader :)

He treats worshipers and doubters the same.

Why?

Because Christ knows two years down the road those self same worshipers today will be struggling with doubts tomorrow.

It’s all part of being human!

And they will need the help from those in the group who doubted earlier to take them out for a beer and tell them everything is going to be “OK”!

When Jesus told Peter that he was going to deny him three times Peter insisted that wasn’t going to happen. (Luke 22:31)

He was a worshiper, not a doubter!

But Jesus encourages him that once he has returned he should strengthen his brothers.  Once he overcomes his internal struggles and doubts he should help others struggling with the same.

Its the Jesus Way!

Following Christ is a journey.  And during a healthy faith  journey the worshipers become the doubters… and then the worshipers again.

Its what keeps the worship time really worship!

Jesus knows that and so he commissions worshipers and doubters alike!

Walking the Camino de Santiago: Gabriel & I are off to do The Way of St. James

CaminoMapOSB

It’s official!

The airline tickets have been bought.

In April my son and I will travel to Spain to walk the 500 mile Camino de Santiago

If you are unfamiliar, the Camino de Santiago is a spiritual pilgrimage in northern Spain that Catholic Christians have made for more the 1200 years. Supposedly the body of James the Apostle of Jesus is interned at the cathedral in Santiago.  In the last few years though interest in the walk from the French Pyrenees to Santiago has grown among non-Catholic Christians as well as others that are looking for a time away to reflect on their relationship with God and / or their life.

Three years ago as my son Gabriel & I were preparing to walk across England I saw a movie called The Way starring Martin Sheen.  Sheen plays a doctor who receives a phone call that his estranged son has died while walking the Camino.  He travels to Europe to recover the remains but ends up walking the Way of St. James in his son’s stead…and rediscovering his own life in the process.

When I saw the film I knew I had to walk the Camino de Santiago!

So while we were walking the Coast to Coast in 2012 I was planning that if it was a success, we would make the Camino the next walk.

It was…and we are!

Even my wife Tammy realized that after the incredible time Gabriel and I had on our Coast to Coast adventure, walking the Camino de Santiago was now a forgone conclusion.

But these things are always a pipe dream until you begin the put the money down …oh, and also when you get your Annual Leave Request Form signed and approved from your boss at work! :)

There is nothing like the feeling of pressing the “Confirm Purchase” button when buying plane tickets to make you feel like your pipe dream has just become a reality!

(Truth be told, the time between my receiving my signed Leave Form and buying my plane tickets was about 30 minutes!)

We land in Madrid on April 1, travel to the little town of St Jean on April 2nd and begin our journey on April 3rd…Good Friday!

I am so looking forward to this time both with God and my son while we journey together for a month.  When I finally arrive at the cathedral in Santiago and the official asks me if my reason for walking the Way of St. James was “religious”.

I will simply reply, “Yes”

(But now I have 7 months to learn Spanish)

Buen Camino!

Biblical Inerrancy Part 3: Defending The Truth?

magnifying-glass-162886_640Historically we Christians have a hankering to want to defend things.  In the Middle Ages we thought the Holy Land really was Holy and killed many “infidels” defending it.  In more modern times we, thankfully, have put our literal swords away but frequently engage in political battles to “defend” Christian America and other Christian countries  from abortionists, homosexuals, and secular humanists.

But the clarion call of defense which probably resonates the strongest among the church is the one which calls on the defense of Biblical Inerrancy.  For example did you know you can go to Defending Inerrancy website and sign the following petition:

“I affirm that the Bible alone, and in its entirety, is the infallible written Word of God in the original text and is, therefore, inerrant in all that it affirms or denies on whatever topic it addresses.”

Now who the petition is actually petitioning is a bit unclear.  God?  The President?  Liberal Christians?  Rachel Maddow?   Whatever governing authority is petitioned is besides the point because the main goal is this:
you can join your fellow Christians in defending the Bible from the infidels.

I am so glad this group doesn’t have swords!

 

Today’s Bible

The Bible that we have today fluctuated a bit for the first 400 years after Christ with different voices expressing certain books being added and subtracted at various times.  Over the years what we now have as The Bible coalesced and by the 5th century the complete list of books viewed as canon was generally accepted.

What’s interesting to note is that in the 5th century the Bible was considered inspired by God and essential to the Christian faith but would not have been considered “inerrant” in the way today’s defenders would hold.

And why is that?

Because it was the Pope, Christ’s representative on Earth, who was infallible and inerrant, not the Bible.

Of course when the Protestant Reformation occurred the Pope was ousted so a new “plumline”,  a new “true North” was needed.  The Bible quickly became the new Pope.  The new Christ’s representative on Earth.

Sola Scriptura was born!

The Bible was no longer the inspired “word”…it was now The Word of God!

Tyndale_Bible_-_Gospel_of_JohnDefending Truth

In those very self same scriptures however Jesus never calls his followers to defend anything.  We are called to share with others the Good News that God loves you, he is for you, and he is inviting you into a new way of life; a life rooted in compassion and mercy.  One of the closest “calls” for a “defense” is in one of Peter’s letters:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15

You want to defend something? Defend against the hopelessness that permeates mankind! Be ready at all times to give the reason why you have hope!    And even then make sure you do it with a gentleness and respect.

You see, when we get into defense mode, we immediately assume a warlike stance.  We may say the words of love, but in truth Christians who are defending things lose almost all the forms of gentleness and respect.

We win a battle and lose people’s hearts in the process.

And as I’ve mentioned before, Jesus doesn’t need me to defend him.  That has all the logic of me telling Chuck Norris to stand back when faced by thugs.  You know, “Stay in the car Chuck, I’ll take care of this.”

Yeah…um…right….

Remember, God is our Father!  The parent defends the child not the other way around.

Oh Yeah…don’t forget the Fear!

The above petition by Defending Inerrancy notes the following:

STANDING UP FOR THE BIBLE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

This is why the Defending Inerrancy initiative was created. We’ve already lost a growing list of evangelical scholars over the issue of inerrancy. Now we are trying to reach the latest generation of Christian leaders before it is too late. Would you please consider signing our petition and taking a stand for biblical inerrancy.

Before it’s too late? Too late for what?  Somehow God’s eternal plan is going to be thrown off course by liberal theologians?

A word of advice;

Anytime someone tries to get you to do something for God or your faith by appealing to your fear…run!  Run fast!

I’ll end this post by affirming my belief in what the scriptures say of itself:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Tim 3:16

Paul the Apostle seemed to think this was a pretty good way to view scripture and I am in full agreement

My Top 10 Favorite Robin Williams Films…And Why I’ll Miss Him

Robin Williams has died!robin_williams01_website_image_jwce_standard

It’s not uncommon to wake up in the morning to discover that a famous celebrity passed away. Often the discovery is followed by a “what a shame” before heading out the door for work and largely forgetting about it.

Not so with Robin Williams!

Throughout the day I mused over the inspiration and joy his films have brought to me throughout my life.

Yes, my life

It feels like I grew up with Robin Williams and his movies have always been with me.

As a child…Mork & Mindy

As a rebel teen… Good Morning Vietnam

As a college student… Dead Poets Society

As a husband and father… Hook

I remember watching Robin Williams the first time he played the lovable alien Mork on Happy Days.  Mork was battling the Fonz with only the “cool” of Fonzie able to ultimately win in the end.  My brothers and I thought he was about the funniest guy we’d ever seen.  ABC executives thought the same thing and Mork & Mindy, and Robin Williams incredible career, was born!

Because we didn’t have VHS back then my brothers and I would audio tape Mork & Mindy so we could listen to William’s antics on long road trip vacations. I was honed on Robin Williams humor…

Of course from Mork & Mindy a long and successful career began.  And whether it was Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society, or Patch Adams, Williams seemed to thrive on roles as the “insider” pushing the envelope, poking at the underbelly of “The Man”, not to tear it down, but instead to lift people up!

He was a rebel… for humanity!

So, with his tragic passing yesterday, I thought I would share my personal Top 10 Robin Williams movies.

My favorites…the ones that made me a fan!

Note: I didn’t include animated films and I have not seen Awakenings or One Hour Photo both of which I’m told are wonderful movies!

 

“My” Top 10 Favorite Robin Williams Films

10) Good Will Hunting - A great movie and the sole Oscar win for Williams. But if I’m honest, it never “clicked” for me like it has for others.  A fine film never the less

9) Patch Adams - Williams plays real life doctor Hunter “Patch” Adams using humor to cure patients and fight the system

8) Bicentennial Man - Based on the short story by Issac Asimov, Williams plays Andrew Martin, a household robot who over the course of 200 years discovers what it is like to be human.

7)  Jumanji - Williams gets trapped within a magical game.  He’s helped out by a couple children who share his adventures through time and other worlds.

6) RV - OK, this movie was panned by the critics but I can’t help myself…it just makes me smile.  Williams is trying to keep his job and his family together by going on a long road trip in an RV.  The regular encounters with Jeff Daniels is worth watching the film for but as they are all heading to Boulder Colorado,its a sentimental favorite for me.

5) Hook - Williams plays Peter Pan!  The kid who never grows up…but he has and now has to save his children from Dustin Hoffman a.k.a. Captain Hook by finding his “happy thought’ and learning to fly again.  This movie is magical for me!

4) What Dream May Come - Tammy particularly likes this movie.  Williams travels to Heaven and has to save his wife from hell with the help of his children.  Beautiful film!

3) Good Morning Vietnam- I think I saw this film 2 or 3 times at the cinema when it first came out.  I love it!  Williams is in rare form playing a disc jockey in the Vietnam War trying to bring some humor and joy to the troops while, again, sticking it to The Man.  (You see a pattern here?)

2) The Birdcage- Williams plays a gay nightclub owner who has to pretend for an evening to be straight while meeting his son’s future in-laws;  a conservative Republican played by Gene Hackman.  Tammy and I have watched this movie ad nauseam.  Nathan Lane as Williams partner and Hank Azaria as the “maid” steal the show.

1) Dead Poets Society - Is there a film which personifies who we see Robin Williams as more than when he played English teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society.  Every teacher wants to be John Keating and every student hopes they will get a teacher like him.  Once again Williams is teaching people what it means to be human…again while sticking it to The Man!  I think I must watch this one again this week.

Honorable Mention

Insomnia- One of the rare times Williams plays the bad guy.  In this Christopher Nolan film he is co-starred with Al Pacino.  Those three names in a movie make it a must see.

There it is…my personal Robin Williams filmography!

And now rest well Mr. Williams…we’ll see you on the other side!

Biblical Inerrancy Part 2: My Thoughts on Michael Gungor’s Thoughts

gungor

Just when I began writing on Biblical Inerrancy last week the blog-o-sphere began heating up with the news that Michael Gungor had been getting raked over the coals because of comments he made questioning the literal understanding of some of the Bible’s more..uh… science stretching sections.

In fact as soon as the news started flying of Gungor’s “heresy” the Dove award winning band was uninvited from an upcoming concert at a Baptist church.   (I was thinking what you were thinking, “what were the words ‘Gungor’ and ‘Baptist’ doing in the same sentence to begin with?”)

But the Gungor “controversy” highlights a much more interesting issue; an issue that will be at the forefront of Christianity in the coming years.  And it’s this:

“What is our Belief really supposed to be… and does our Belief  help establish Christ’s Kingdom on Earth?”

Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes

When Jesus walked the earth,  1st Century Judaism was represented by a number of different sects such as the Essenses, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  Interestingly enough these sects all had the same sacred scriptures yet somehow came to different beliefs and understandings regarding them.

Which meant they were human…

The Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels…the Sadducees didn’t.  The Essenes believed in a much more monastic and communal lifestyle in order to be in God’s will…the other groups didn’t.  Add to that the Jews believed God was to be worshiped one way and their Samaritan cousins were convinced that same God was supposed to be worshiped another way.

However whenever Jesus was asked which of these “beliefs” was the correct belief to hold he always seemed to overshoot the question with an answer that hinted that what God actually cared about what completely outside their religious understanding.  The answer also seemed to announce a paradigm shift in where God was taking his people.

In John 4 when the Samaritan woman asked Jesus if they were supposed worship in Jerusalem (what the Jews believed) or on a particular mountain (what the Samaritans believed) Jesus responded:

“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4: 21, 23-24

These two groups used to fight, argue, and malign the other’s faith over the issue of where God was supposed to be worshiped.  This “belief” was  was extremely important in each group’s eyes.  If they were wrong on where we are supposed to worship God then it becomes a slippery slope calling into question the foundations of their faith and religion.

In their eyes this was what was essential and important!

And yet, as the Samaritan woman at the well discovered, following Christ and going where God was taking his people would mean laying aside the “beliefs” of the “tribe”.

Michael Gungor, who came from a fundamentalist background himself, is experiencing the joy of leaving the “tribe” to enter a kingdom.

He’s emulating generations of previous believers who dropped their nets, their tools, and their identity to run after the One who simply says;

“Follow Me”

Gungor is, unfortunately, also facing the persecution that comes from leaving a tribe.  Tribal mentality is an insecure mentality.  When one of its own walks away it heightens the fear and anxiety in the rest of the clan.  In a pre-enlightenment culture poor Gungor would have been tortured and killed for his heresy.

Fortunately, these days he must stoically suffer the wail of fundamentalist bloggers and canceled concerts at certain churches…but hey…its progress!

 

Real Bible Inerrancy

In the coming years I see real Bible Inerrancy as this;  ”Is our belief shaping us into the image of Christ?”  Is our belief creating a world where the prayer of Jesus, that God’s Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, is realised.

Whether someone believes

* Jonah lived in a whale’s belly for 3 days

* Noah really did build an ark and was saved by a flood

* Adam and Eve were literal people

has little bearing on whether they are kind and loving to their neighbour.

The things that Jesus said were important!

For the record…I do believe in these Old Testament events.  I happen to believe in Adam and Eve as well as Noah.  I realise that science makes them suspect and I appreciate that.   But having said that, my faith also doesn’t rest on the affirmation of 3000 year old events that none of us can really know anyhow!

What my faith does rest on is the Way Jesus taught that proclaims an alternative way of ordering society.  A Way which rooted in unconditional love, mercy, and forgivness.

To be truly guilty of Biblical Inerrancy you have to live a life at odds with the Way that Jesus taught.

And here is the issue an episode like Gungor’s comments and subsequent fallout highlights:

Fundamentalist Christianity doesn’t advance the Kingdom of God so much as it simply adds members to its tribe.

In many ways Fundamentalist Christianity works in opposition to the Way of Jesus.  It focuses on creedal conformity rather than conforming to Christ.

In fact following in the Way doesn’t make “sinners” angry…it makes religious people angry.

Gungor is following in the Way of Jesus and people in the “tribe” are getting angry.

And that’s a “literal Biblical” event if I ever saw one! :)

I’ll leave you with a quote from Michael Gungor himself.  In his personal blog he gives a word of encouragement to those still caught in the huddle of the tribe:

But listen, huddle people… I’m for you. I really am. And I’m with you. I was raised in the huddle. Some of the best people I know are in the huddle. But you don’t need to be so afraid. You don’t need to repress your intellectual ability to ask questions and seek truth in order to stay in the shadow of the huddle. Because, let me tell you something, there is light outside. In fact, God is both inside and outside of your huddle.

Peace,

Steve

Biblical Inerrancy Part 1: The Scriptures Are God Breathed…But So Are You!

bible2“Do you believe the the Bible is inerrant?” a

person asked me recently.

Wow,” I thought, “that’s a tough one.

Authoritative?  Yes

God inspired? Yes

The “word of God” (small w) that reveals “the Word of God” (Big W)?

Absolutely!

But inerrant?  Infalliable?  Without any error or bias possible?  When people are involved?  Whew!

I responded that I believe what the Bible says about itself including 2 Tim 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

Unfortunately my biblical response was not biblical enough for my inquisitor.

“Steve, if you don’t believe the Bible is inerrant we can ‘t even discuss the matter anymore. We would just be talking apples and oranges.”

And that was that…

But the more I contemplated the question, “Do you believe the Bible to be inerrant?” I came to the realization “the question” was just not a very good question.

 

The Wrong Question

Biblical inerrancy is a hot topic.  In fact here is a whole ministry industry rising up of “watchmen” prepared to defend the “truth” that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.

It is a loaded question however with demarcation lines and camps formed based on how one responds to the litmus test, “Do you believe the Bible is inerrant?”

When Jesus was asked direct questions (like I was) he often gave some fuzzy answers.  I think what we perceive as fuzzy answers by Christ though are in fact great responses to really bad questions.

Consider:

The Bible is a collection of 66 books written over 1500 years by at least 40 authors.  The books include historical accounts, poetry, proverbs, personal letters, church letters, prophecy, and apocalyptic writings.

Now, the largest book in the Bible,  clocking in at a whopping 150 chapters,  is The Psalms; a book of songs and poetry. 

If you had just read a book of poetry and someone then asked you if that book of poetry was infallible, how would you respond?

See what I mean?

…the question is just a bad question.

Did the poem inspire you?

Did the poem transform you?

Did the poem connect you to God?

These questions make sense.  These questions draw out an answer consummate with the experience one would encounter with the text.

Is the poem inerrant?  Not so much.

When was the last time you you watched a sunset, visited an art gallery, or toured an ancient cathedral and thought, “Wow, this is inerrant.”

The way some Christians regard the Bible is the way John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the movie Dead Poets Society cautioned his students in regards to the way they approached poetry.  At one point in the film after opening a textbook by J. Evans Pritchard, Keating begins plotting the poems of Shakespeare and Byron on a graph according to the rhyme, meter and cold logic of Mr. Pritchard for all the students to see.

The kids are bored and uninspired!

dead-poets-society-still

Keating then stops abruptly, drops the chalk, and addresses the students :

Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard.

We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry.

I mean, how can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? I like Byron, I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it…

Armies of academics going forward, measuring poetry. No, we will not have that here. No more of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. Now in my class you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world…we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race…

…And the human race is filled with passion.

I realize of course that many portions of the Bible are literal accounts of real historical events. (I’m totally down with that) But can Christians of good conscience have differing opinions on whether a passage is literal, metaphorical, or part of a larger archetype that God is trying to communicate without the body of Christ tearing itself apart over it?

Can we not call a person we share the Lord’s Table with a heretic because the way they perceive an event that happened 4000 years ago may be slightly different to yours?

Can we?

 

The Bible is “God-Breathed” but so are you!

One of the arguments for those that make Biblical inerrancy a foundation of their faith is the idea that because Paul refers to the scriptures as “God Breathed” than it must follow that the Bible is infallible as God is infallible.

The fault with that logic is that the scriptures are not the only thing that the Bible mentions as being “God Breathed”:

 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

God took stuff of Earth, mixed it with stuff of Heaven, breathed his Life into man and created a being capable of bearing his image.

Beautiful!

However, I don’t know about you but my being “God Breathed” has not conferred upon me inerrancy nor infallibility…at least not according to my wife.

bible-Sunlight

But consider something else: our “God Breathed” nature does seem to give us the same attributes the scriptures are described to possess in 2 Tim 3:16.

Isn’t it interesting that people…us… are called to teach one another the nature of God’s Kingdom, to bring loving correction at times, and to train ourselves and others in the things that bring righteousness and life to the world.

The Bible is, in fact,  a lot like us. It’s:

* Wonderful and weird

* Merciful and violent

* Exciting and boring

* Inspiring and terrifying

Yet through it all the Spirit of God weaves through the Bible revealing the nature and person of God, first through the prophets, and then later, clearly and fully through his son Jesus.

So is the Bible inerrant and infallible?

Sure…

…if we are! :)

Peace,

Steve

Fear: Do You Live Your Life Afraid?

fear (1)There was a very good reason that whenever Jesus or an angel suddenly showed up in the Bible the first words out of their mouth seemed to always be “Don’t be afraid!”

Most people, whether they admit it or not, live in fear.

You’re afraid

* someone will hurt you

* someone will hurt your family

* someone will take something that belongs to you

We often live as if life were some cosmic game of Musical Chairs.  We know the music will stop at some point and there are never enough chairs to sit in when it happens.  Thus our journey through life, rather than being one of wonder and joy, instead takes on a form of apprehensive, and preemptive, nervousness; always eyeing a chair that we can nab when the music does stop before someone else gets it.

For Example: The Girl With The Porcelain Doll

I saw a news report yesterday about a neighborhood in California where a number of beautiful porcelain dolls showed up on the doorsteps of some of the houses in the community.  What seemed to concern everyone was that the dolls in some way resembled the little girl who lived at the particular house.

The news clip showed police investigating, frightened parents protecting their kids, and the news host commenting that authorities where confused to whether this was a prank or the work of a “sexual predator”.

Are they kidding? Like the motivation could only be one of those two possibilities!

My immediate thought was “Why is everyone’s first reaction that this is something bad? That the assumed motivation is malevolence?  I bet someone was just being thoughtful and kind.”  

I was right…

In the following news clip on Morning Joe Mika Brzezinski explains that it eventually discovered that the perpetrator was an old woman from a local church who was cleaning out her doll collection.  She thought she’d surprise the girls with an anonymous gift of a doll.

Fear!

I’m not suggesting their are not bad people out there.  I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be wise.  But I am suggesting that Jesus was right when he said we don’t need to live in fear!

Fear will steal your life and keep it from being filled with innocence, wonder, and awe.

So don’t be afraid!

Peace,

Steve

When Someone Uses The Term “True Christian”……Run!

truechrist“Well of course you would believe that…if you were a true Christian”.

Have you ever heard that term?

True Christian?

Recently some of my Beyond the Pale posts have been geared toward making people aware of warning signs to be on the look out for when engaging in your faith.

Someone using the term “true Christian” is one of those warning signs.

Religious people like to use that term.  It helps clarify “us” as opposed to “them”  and keep clear what side God is on.  It’s a form of “team jersey” so to speak…

For example in a recent Charisma News article columnist Matt Barber uses the term to qualify who he believes to be a true Christian,

Let’s see if we can make this abundantly clear. Christians, true Christians—regenerate, Bible-believing Christians who strive their level best to maintain fidelity to the word of God and honor His commands—will not—indeed cannot—participate in, approve of, facilitate or encourage certain behaviors deemed by the Holy Scriptures to be immoral or sinful.

The Coming Christian Revolt

Of course it stands to reason that a guy that would distinguish true Christians from regular Christians would also entitle an article The Coming Christian Revolt!  

Pharisees Play Book

When Christians engage in this kind of language they take a page right from the Pharisee Handbook.  That religious group was constantly dogging Jesus’ steps testing to see if he was true to their beliefs and practices.  Like Mr. Barber’s criteria above they were looking to see if Jesus:

* maintained fidelity to the Scriptures

* facilitated or approved of behavior deemed immoral

* would be on their side when the “revolt” occurred

Jesus failed their criteria and tests on all accounts…

He frequently sidelined or ignored scripture in order to reveal God’s mercy and compassion.  How many times did Jesus say “the scriptures say one thing but I say another”?

Many times…

pharisee

Jesus even addresses the issue of the Pharisee’s spiritual test head on at one point:

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine and you say, ‘He has a demon. The Son of Man (Jesus) came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Yet wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Luke 7: 33-35

Jesus is saying that John came and passed the Pharisee’s morality test, but because he refused to join their team they smeared his name.  Jesus came in a different way and instead flunked their morality test. (Interesting to note that Luke says wisdom was proved right in both ways)  Jesus enjoyed good food and wine, hung out with corrupt officials and was a friend to those that the religious leaders had labeled sexually and morally corrupt.

Note Jesus wasn’t just witnessing to these people, he was their friend!

What really drove the religious leaders crazy was God in Heaven affirming Jesus’ “Way” and not theirs.  There is possibly no jealousy stronger than religious jealousy.

In the Pharisee’s eyes though he was not a true believer.

In today’s vernacular Jesus wouldn’t be considered a true Christian.

The Pharisees were so sure they had God on their side and were the arbiter’s of his will and yet when God himself showed up and stood before them, they rejected him, denounced him, and ultimately crucified him.

It scares me knowing if Jesus came back in the same manner today the same thing would happen with pastors and ministry leaders leading the charge.

Lets face it, Jesus wouldn’t be considered a true Christian…

In the following video clip Greg Boyd highlights one of these “tests” the Pharisees used to determine whether Jesus was true or not.  (Thanks Brook P. for sharing this today)

So be wary of anyone who distinguishes true Christians from any others…and if, on the off chance you find yourself being accused of not being a true Christian, take heart in the fact that you are likely sharing a seat with Jesus.

 

Being Delivered From “Finding The Will of God”

Freedom-breaking-chainsThe Paralysis of Analysis!  That term coined to describe someone who is frozen in a particular situation because they can never come to a definitive decision as there is always another “angle” to consider.

Christianity has it’s own Paralysis of Analysis.  It’s called Finding the Will of God! 

What does God want me to do?  What does he want me to be?  Who does he want me to marry?  What university should I go to?  Or does he even want me to go to university?  Should I become a missionary?  Should I become a pastor?  Do I need to quit my job…or find a new one?

Should I stay…or should I go?

You get the picture.

Having been in charismatic circles for almost 40 years now I can’t tell you how many revival meetings I have gone to were I have watched thousands of people race to the front alter hoping the man or woman of God will have some “Word from the Lord” that will help them divine some sense of purpose and direction in their lives.

We Christians like to decry astrology and fortune telling but we have recreated our own elaborate oracle system in attempt to discern when the gods favor rests upon us.

magic

Sometimes it feels like we are using a cosmic “Magic 8 Ball”

The “Free Will” part is we get to choose

Believe it or not, sometimes I think God doesn’t care what we choose…just choose!

Twenty five years ago I started my work in Christian ministry by attending a 6 month program in Melbourne Australia with Youth with A Mission.  At the end of 3 months our group of 23 was to divide into 3 teams with one going to India, one going to Malaysia, and one staying to journey around Australia.

We were instructed to pray about where God wanted us to go and we were further encouraged not to discuss it with others lest we decide to go to a particular location because a friend was and not because God had led us there.

I wanted to go to Malaysia… but was that what God wanted?  Could the fact that “I” wanted to go be a sign that God didn’t want me to?  Or was it a sign that he did?  Maybe God wants me to “deny myself” and go where I don’t want to go.  And even more important, what if I go to Malaysia but God intended me to meet my future wife on the Australia trip?

It’s a typical 23 year old single male in ministry’s prayer:

“Lord If I don’t hear you right on this someone else might end up marrying my wife…the girl you intended for me.”

Oh, Lord what is your “will”? It’s so confusing…

In the midst of this angst a leader at the base but who was not part of our training program asked if I decided yet what outreach trip I was going on.  I conveyed to this leader all the conflicted emotions and agendas I was struggling with just trying to “hear God’s voice on it.”

Suddenly without any religiosity or spiritual jargon the lady popped my religious bubble by saying, “Steve, if you want to go to Malaysia, go to Malaysia. God probably doesn’t care which one you choose as he’ll bless you on any of them. Its an 8 week outreach not a lifetime commitment.” 

God might want me to make the decision.  Oh sweet relief…

I went to Malaysia! (And had a fantastic time!) In fact it was in Malaysia that I picked up a book on China that ultimately led me to Hong Kong a few months later where, surprise, I did meet my future wife!

It’s a Free Range not a Cattle Drive

Many Christians today have become so used to being driven by a leader’s vision that our life in Christ has started to resemble a cattle drive.  We are herded in a uniform direction and we become accustomed to thinking that is how God leads us.

cattle-drive 

But Jesus is referred to as the “Good Shepherd” not the “Good Cowboy”. He doesn’t “drive” or “herd” us, no, our Good  Shepherd lets his sheep graze and roam free;  We go where we want listening to our Master’s voice for pastures of new life or when our wandering could lead to trouble.

 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand

John 10:27-28

Interestingly enough Paul the Apostle seemed to choose himself where he moved and preached the Gospel only occasionally being guided from above.  Jesus told him to stay longer in Corinth (Acts 18:9), warned him about entering Asia (Acts 16:6),  and was given a prophetic warning about entering Jerusalem (Acts 21: 11)…which Paul then ultimately chose to ignore (Acts 21:13)

But other than these few occurrences Paul spent years traveling and preaching where he felt he should go!

No longer Shackled by Prophetic Words

Tammy and I have had a number of “prophetic words” given to us over the years and I’ve come to learn these “words” can be a doubled edged sword.  On one hand they can give us the “peace” that we are where God wants us but it can also lead us to stay in a bad situation because we haven’t “heard God say leave yet!”

After years in Boulder Colorado where arguably things never ever quite “clicked” for us despite all the prophetic words that led us there in the first place I was still hesitant to return to China when an open door became available because we hadn’t heard God say “leave”.

What if we left and somehow “missed God”?  What if God had something for us to accomplish that we won’t if we go?

I remember the day I made a conscious decision not to be bound by the “What if God…” questions anymore.  The day I decided I was not longer going to shackle myself or my family’s joy, peace, and stability to “prophetic words”, “words of knowledge”, or “a call”.

Oh, sweet relief!  Like chains falling off…

I can point to a myriad of blessings God has shown us since we left Boulder and ultimately returned to Hong Kong.  I can also point to many friends and acquaintances that are in tough or damaging situations but won’t leave because they believe that is where God has them.

message

Over the years I have seen so many poor decisions made simply because someone was convinced it was God’s Will.

Ugh…its hard to watch

Understand I still seek God’s direction and guidance but I refuse to get paralyzed over trying to figure it out all the time.  I think Getty Lee from the rock group RUSH sums it up best in their song Free Will


You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

God gave us free will…but its still our choice to use it!

 

 

What You Have To “Do” To Get God’s Approval?

Ever feel like you need to do something for God?measure up

As a Christian pastor, speaker, and writer I have the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about their faith and their walk with God.

Sad to say I see to many people crippled in their relationship with their Heavenly Father because they have this nagging feeling that “they aren’t doing enough for the Lord”.

Although they would never admit it in these terms the attitude can be “well, considering everything Jesus did for me, I owe God more than what I am currently doing.”

Oh, if only they could know the joy that their just “being his child”  brings to God.  That we don’t have to do anything to earn the favor, acceptance, and the honor to be called his son or daughter.

 

Zero Performance Needed

Jesus, as always, shows us how this happens

Sonship (and daughtership) is, at its root, a declaration.  A statement not from son to father but from father to son which says, “I love you, you are my joy, and you will never be alone.”

It’s not surprising then that God the Father declares his love and pleasure with Jesus at two very distinct points in Christ’s ministry; at the beginning and near the end.

In Matthew chapter 3 we see the first declaration of the father’s love towards Jesus.

 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3: 16-17

Interestingly enough Jesus hasn’t done anything of note at this point.  He hadn’t healed any lepers or restored sight to any any blind.  He hadn’t calmed any storms, forgiven a person of their sins, or preached one sermon yet announcing the coming Kingdom of God.

We have no record of his having done anything for God at this point!

And how do we know this?

Well, probably because no one was following his every footstep, plotting to make him a king, or trying to kill him yet.  Three things he seemed to constantly deal with when his ministry really got going and he was doing stuff for God.

No, when he was baptized by John the Baptist he was just this guy….

…a carpenter

True, he did seem to have a gifted knack for understanding scripture (Luke 2:47-49) but other than that, he was just the local handy man who probably made his neighbours kitchen table or set their door frame.

Jesus had, as Isaiah 53 would predict, nothing that would naturally draw people to him.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

But he had something that transformed him and the way he engaged with the world and it was this;

He walked in the absolute assurance that he was God’s son and that his Father in heaven absolutely adored him.

Father and Son

Jesus knew he didn’t have to do anything to prove himself to God.  He didn’t have to earn his father’s affection.  He knew he already had it before he had done anything…

This is the son that I love and I am very pleased with him.

Jesus experiences the exact same affirmation at the conclusion of his ministry just before he enters Jerusalem for the last time.

Taking Peter, James, and John up a mountainside the disciples witness the Father once again pronounce his love and pleasure

 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Matthew 17: 7-9

At this point Jesus had accomplished great things.  He had healed the sick, cast out devils, showed power over nature, and proclaimed the Kingdom of God had come.

And yet he received the exact same declaration of love and affirmation as when he had done nothing.

Jesus had the impact he did with people because he communicated the total adoration and compassion God had for his children without an added nagging sense of obligation… a sense of burden the Pharisees and religious leaders often did lay on them.

We don’t accomplish great things and then God loves us, no, it’s when we understand how much God loves us that we are empowered to accomplish great things.

It’s really, really important to understand that!

Peace,

Steve