Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

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Truly Unconditional Love

August 19, 2014

Hello friends,

It’s been a while. As in more than 3 years a while. If anyone bothers to visit when I publish this post I’ll be amazed. But I have something to say. I might have several somethings to say, we’ll have to see. Today it comes from the story of Vicky Beeching’s coming out. Yup, I’m going there.

There has been a lot of discussion around this. I think it shakes people in ways other Christians who have come out didn’t because she has been a part of so many different people’s regular worship. And this means that her coming out is personal for a lot of people because worship is so personal for so many people.

The backlash is incredible. So much hate masquerading as concern for her soul, her relationship with God. It hurts me. It hurts me more than if it were directed at me, I think. My cousin, who I will say is a liberal conservative Christian responded to a rather disheartening post with an incredibly profound comment. She said:

         “I have been wrong about so many things i was convinced i was right on in my life. Then i felt like God spoke to me pretty clearly that He really didn’t care too much about all the things i was wrong about, because more than likely, I’m still way off. He told me that He loved that i spent time being with Him and talking to Him; that relationship is the ENTIRE reason he sent Jesus. At this point, I would rather be wrong about what the Bible says on homosexuality, knowing that I have put every ounce of my effort into loving people with no strings attached. So if I felt that God spoke that to me, why would His desire for relationship with Vicky Beeching be any different? I think maybe He is a little less concerned about what she is getting right, and more rejoicing over her continued relationship with Him. I realize many opinions differ from mine, that is just where I am currently at.”

I love this. It’s exactly where I am at, although at the end of the day we may end up with different theologies the premise is identical. I can only speak to the relationship I know I have with God. I value the Bible. I value God’s Word. When I came out to myself, a weird idea to be sure, my relationship with God became stronger, better, more intimate than it had ever been before. I truly believe my realizing I am gay, my accepting my sexuality, was the direct result of God interceding on my behalf. I was blind, I was in such deep denial that he had to push his way through. And when he got through he wrapped me up in such intense love, such insane acceptance, that there wasn’t room for me to doubt myself. There was so much love from God for me that I could not have hated myself, nor could anyone else’s hate pierce that love. 

Over the years I have grown to truly believe that homosexuality does not go against God’s will. But more importantly because of the journey I took I am absolutely, positively, certain that God does not call us to judge for him. Our job, no matter what the “sin” may be, is to love. Love without question. Love without hesitation. Love with everything we have, even if we are utterly convinced that a person is wrong. 

God loves us all. Yes, God desires we grow closer to him. He desires that we do our best to live in such a way that we are living according to his will. But God desires relationship with us above all else. Who am I to judge another person and what relationship they have with God? I cannot know what is going on between you and God. I cannot know how the supposed “sin” in your life is affecting that relationship. It isn’t my place. It’s God’s. This doesn’t mean that we are changing what we view as sin. It doesn’t mean I am compromising on any of the things I believe. It means that I am loving. It means that I am letting God do his job, and I will do mine. It means that I refuse to be the person who tries to get in the way of the relationship another person has with God.

If there is one thing I can ask of a Christian it is this. I don’t ask, nor do I want, you to change your theology. I ask that you trust your relationship with God. I ask that you trust my relationship with God. He’s a good guy. He knows what he’s doing. If someday he convicts me that I am wrong, I hope that I will listen. But until that day I know that he loves and accepts me for who I am. You cannot change this, and I am certain he does not want you to. Love. It isn’t compromising your beliefs, it is trusting your almighty God to do his part and you do yours. 

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Lunch With Fred Phelps

February 23, 2011

On Sunday our sermon was titled “Lunch With Fred Phelps”. I go to a church that proudly proclaims that we are a liberal, Christian, church. The exact opposite of anything that Fred Phelps is. In fact, I think the people at my church are more likely to hate Mr. Phelps than the average American. The point was that it isn’t our job to change people. It is not our job to tell people they are wrong and make them change. It is our job, our responsibility as Christ-followers to love people exactly as the are. We should have lunch with Fred Phelps and not tell him how wrong he is or condemn him, but just to enjoy a meal together. Putting “love your enemies” into this context makes it even more obvious how difficult this command from Jesus really is.

After church L. and I were talking about love and I made the observation that I can totally be respectful and caring toward my enemies, but the true agape love- the love that comes from someplace that has nothing to do with worth or earning it- that I don’t know how to do. I can be the nicest person in the world, but being nice is not the same as loving someone. Love affects our actions, but our actions can be loving without the reason being love. I am completely and utterly incapable of true agape love on my own. But that’s the point. That’s the beauty of it. We can’t. We aren’t expected to. Our role is to allow God to work in our lives to create that love for others inside us. My job is to make room for God to take over until I start to see everyone through God’s eyes and not my own. Because the only being capable of true agape love is God. And the only way we can even begin to experience it is by allowing ourselves to be transformed by God. On my own the best I can do is show respect and kindness. But this is not what God has called me to. God has called me, and you, to a standard that requires submitting ourselves fully to him.

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The Infallible Word

January 24, 2011

The Bible is the basis of so much of the Christian faith. We establish our beliefs and practices based more on what the Bible says than any other tradition or cultural factors. And while I don’t disagree with this, I do wonder if perhaps we place too much importance on the precise words of the Bible.

Over 2000 years ago stories were gathered and recorded. Stories from the Israelites. There’s a lot of good stories gathered, and a lot of really important stories for learning about and recognizing God’s presence in the world. But what’s missing? What stories got lost before being recorded? What stories were deemed unimportant by those writing down the history and traditions of the Israelites? We don’t know, and we won’t ever know probably. Do they matter? Do they change who God is? Do they change how we relate to God? I am going to say absolutely not. If they did then they would be there. God is all knowing and all powerful and if there was some essential piece to understanding who God is missing from our only tool for learning about him then I have no doubt it would never have been missing.

In the New Testament we have all sorts of references to other letters written by Paul and other Epistle writers. We know there is at least one other “Gospel book” and probably many more. Why aren’t they included? What did these letters and recordings of Jesus’ ministry while on earth have that those included in the Bible don’t? What didn’t we get passed on that might help us better understand Jesus and therefore God? I don’t know, and we probably won’t ever know.

What’s my point? It’s really rather simple. When we view the Bible, these 66 “books” that have survived the years to be passed along to us thousands of years later, we need to recognize not only that they were written for a specific people in a specific time and specific place, but also that we don’t have the whole story. I think there’s a reason for that too. Beyond the reality of losing things over the span of thousands and thousands of years. I think God doesn’t want us to have all the stories and letters and records. Because although I believe in the complete infallibility of the Bible I do not believe that the writers themselves were infallible. In other words- Paul might have given bad advice to someone, probably many times. Paul might have misinterpreted something, Peter might have written a letter in hasty response and said something he didn’t mean to say. The message of the Bible is beyond questioning, but those who wrote it, those who contributed their words to the Word, were not, are not.

I think that the problem we face today is based in fear. We fear that if we admit that something might be a little bit wrong. If we admit that Paul might have given a bad sermon on occassion, or that Peter had a temper, or that stories from the Old Testament might not tell the whole story; then we are saying the Bible might not be completely true. Then we face the problem of defending our belief and trust and faith in the God of the Bible, YHWH.

But that’s the thing. It’s scary to think about, but faith isn’t based on proof or science or lack of science or solid foundation. Faith is the trust that God is who he says he is. And we learn who he is through the message of the Bible, but we also learn who he is through his revelation in our lives today. I don’t think saying that the Bible isn’t literally, 100% word for word, beyond error takes away from the complete infallibility of the Word. In fact, I would argue that admitting that fallible human beings are responsible for the written form of God’s revelation actually strengthen faith rather than weaken it. The Bible was never intended to be the final word on faith. It was never intended to be the ultimate means to relationship with God.

The Bible is intended to reveal to us the nature of God. It serves to show us who God is so that we can recognize his presence in our lives here and now. The Bible gives us the basis for relationship, but it does not ultimately give us that relationship. The living, breathing, real presence of God in our lives and world today does that.

 

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Burning the Quran

September 9, 2010

Perhaps you, like many Americans, have heard about the tiny church planning to burn Qurans on Saturday. Perhaps you have not. For the past day I have been debating whether to write about this or not, mainly because I agree with the general consensus that the church is seeking attention and so I don’t want to go giving them that attention in any way. But this has been outweighed by something I feel is more important- talking about what it means to live as a Christian in relation to people who hold different religious beliefs.

I am very firmly a Christian- I believe that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and rose again so that through him we can overcome sin. I also believe that anyone who does not believe this is not going to heaven. But in all of this, I do not think I have the ultimate hold on what is true. I do not doubt what I believe, but neither do many other people who hold different beliefs, how can we both be right? Ultimately that is the beauty and challenge of faith, truly believing something that you cannot fully prove in this lifetime.

Since I believe that any one who is not a Christian will not be going to heaven it is my responsibility as a Christ follower to do everything I can to show them the truth as I believe it. So how can I live in harmony and peace with Muslims or Jews or Hindus or any of the other theistic religions? There are a fair number of Christians who will say that we cannot live in peace and harmony with people of other faiths because we are ultimately condemning them to hell if we do. But I don’t agree with this.

When I talk to a dedicated Muslim or Jew I realize that as much as I believe what I believe they believe what they believe just as strongly. Am I going to become a Muslim though? I don’t foresee any reason that would ever happen. So why should I expect someone who is living a different faith with the same integrity and passion and intelligence as I live mine to change what they believe? I don’t think I should. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t talk about what I believe within the proper context, but it does mean that I should show these people the same respect I would hope to receive from them, and even more importantly the same respect I have for another Christian.

When I heard about the burning of the Quran I wasn’t concerned about the safety of the troops over seas, or the other people abroad who could be put in danger. I also wasn’t worried about the extremist groups using this as a rallying cry. Although these are all very valid concerns. When I heard about the burning of the Quran I immediately thought about how sad it would make me to have someone burn the Bible. Yes, it would make me angry too, but mostly it would make me sad. I would be saddened that they were unable to see the value of the book, saddened that we had done something so horrible that they felt the only way to show how they feel about us, and thus about God, is to burn our sacred text.

Don’t burn the Quran, not because it will insight violence or be used to stir up the masses. Don’t burn the Quran because someone might get hurt. That’s not a reason to not do something if that something really needs to be done. The reason this church, and all Christians, should not burn or disrespect the Quran is because it is the sacred text of a group of people who have beliefs and faith that to them is just as valid and real and true as our Christian beliefs and faith is to us. And for that reason if none other we should desire to hold the Quran in high regard as a way to show that we respect the differences. As a way to say that we recognize that your beliefs should be given the same regard as ours.

Burning the Quran doesn’t prove that Christians are better or more correct. The only thing burning the Islamic Sacred Text would achieve is to show how stupid and ignorant and hateful Christians and Americans can be.

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Church at Starbucks

August 12, 2010

I had an interview at Starbucks last week and then visited a church up in Michigan on Sunday. How are these two things related? It’s quite simple really- Starbucks has a better philosophy of church than most churches I have been to.

One of the very first things I was told during my interview was that Starbucks strives to be the “third place”- you have work or school, and home. Starbucks wants you to think of it as another place that is an integral part of your life. For some people, the closest the get to community outside of work, is at Starbucks getting their coffee or meeting up with people. It’s really sort of sad, but this is the way it is, and Starbucks is doing what they can to encourage this mentality among consumers, because it’s good for business. When people feel a connection to a specific place (ie: Starbucks or church) they are more likely to commit to that place. The best way people make connections to places is via relationships. Starbucks recognizes this and puts it to use to positively impact business.

It seems churches are missing this very obvious thing. When you ask someone about their church they are most likely to tell you it’s name, where it’s located, about the pastor/preaching/style of worship, and about the programs. None of these things are church, and none of these things are what people are seeking in life. A lot of people make snap judgments about a church based on one or more of these factors, but none of these things are what is going to keep people connected, because at the heart of church is community and fellowship and CONNECTION.

In this world the greatest thing churches have to offer non-Christians is connection. Church is community, it is people “doing life together”, it is not worship, programs, pastors, or bad coffee. We cannot do evangelism with programs or worship, we must do evangelism by connecting with people.

And this is where the church should be far surpassing Starbucks, but we are not. Starbucks is not set up to seek authentic, deep relationships. The connections are brief, and remain shallow within that setting. It’s inevitable. Sadly, the church seems to take this same approach. We are too scared to be authentic as a whole, we are too worried about keeping up appearances, about maintaining the right friendships, about our kids being exposed to only good things, to commit to connecting with everyone around us. We only connect to those like us, the other people are relegated to superficial relationships. Which we can get at Starbucks without feeling guilty or having to give 10% of our money.

I walked into the church in Michigan on Sunday smiled at people as I walked past, and was “warmly greeted” by the designated greeters, and no one else. I had coffee after church and had no one come talk to me. I walk into Starbucks and am “warmly greeted” by the employees. Who proceed to ask me about my day or make other conversation as they get my drink ready. And if I should happen to be a regular, they know my name and my drink order and even if they don’t actually feel this way, act excited to see me. Come on churches, we can do better than this. We MUST do better than this or church will be happening more at Starbucks than in the places designated as such.

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A scolding

June 23, 2010

And now this indictment, you Christians! If you refuse to obediently listen, and if you refuse to honor me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, in worship, then I’ll put you under a curse. I’ll exchange all your blessings for curses. In fact, the curses are already at work because you’re not serious about honoring me. Yes, and the curse will extend to your children. I’m going to plaster your faces with rotting garbage, garbage thrown out from your feasts. That’s what you have to look forward to!

“Maybe that will wake you up. Maybe then you’ll realize that I’m indicting you in order to put new life into my covenant with the followers of Christ, the covenant of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. My covenant with Levi was to give life and peace. I kept my covenant with him, and he honored me. He stood in reverent awe before me. He taught the truth and did not lie. He walked with me in peace and uprightness. He kept many out of the ditch, kept them on the road.

“It’s the job of Christians to teach the truth. People are supposed to look to them for guidance. The Christian is the messenger of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. But you Christians have abandoned the way of Christ-followers. Your teaching has messed up many lives. You have corrupted the covenant of the Son of God. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says so. And so I am showing you up for who you are. Everyone will be disgusted with you and avoid you because you don’t live the way I told you to live, and you don’t teach my revelation truly and impartially.”

Don’t we all come from one Father? Aren’t we all created by the same God? So why can’t we get along? Why do we desecrate the covenant of our ancestors that binds us together?

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My Christian Bubble

June 16, 2010

Church. Christian school. Christian friends. Christian entertainment. Christian bubble.

Homes. Workplaces. Tax collectors and sinners. The culturally shunned. Ministry.

There are a lot of people in our churches today that spend most of their time in the workplace with non-Christians, who socialize more with people the church typically shuns and deems unworthy, but many of these people live two separate lives- church and everything else. We have made a huge mistake in the church, at least the denominations I’m a part of. We have created a mentality that the best way to live as a Christian is to surround ourselves with Christian things and to separate our faith from the necessary “evil”. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t “evangelizing”. The problem is, we are functioning like our role is to be perfect little Christians walking through life in this bubble that “protects” us from evil. So instead of connecting with our co-workers, instead of building relationships with the people we spend the majority of our time with, we are creating this separation- we talk to you, we go through life together, but we keep ourselves clean by remaining in our bubble. We can’t get too close until you come over to “our side”. So I’ll tell you about my church, I’ll tell you about God, but we can’t really be friends for real until you become a Christian. But this is not how Jesus did it.

Jesus went through life “doing life” with those who were the “most sinful”, he spent his time ministering to the people who would never be permitted inside the walls of the temple, he didn’t create a bubble around himself, he bent down and washed the feet of the person who would that night betray him to his death. Instead of turning his face away from the most likely scantily clad adulterous woman he embraced her fully. And even as he shared life with all these sinful people in the sinful and fallen and corrupt world he did not sin.

I don’t think we are intentionally creating a bubble for ourselves. The problem is we know we are only human, we know that if we surround ourselves with temptation we will fall into temptation. I think this is a valid concern, but it is only valid because we are lazy. If my relationship with God is strong and focused on following him, and if I know how to hear his voice and how to look for his presence in various situations, and if I don’t need to look up specific Bible verses to know what to do but have studied enough to know God’s heart, then I have nothing to worry about or fear in truly opening up my heart and life to people and situations where I might face temptation. But this relationship takes work, I need to spend time and put effort into it. And we are too content to pray and read our Bibles for 1 hour a day to be willing to make our relationship with God what it truly needs to be in order to be able to effectively remove our bubble.

I’m guilty of it, and I’m working to change it, but I’m still lazy and it takes a lot of effort to get going. But the problem is, by intentionally keeping a bubble around me I am like the hovering parent who is still there when her son starts college, calling the school to excuse him from class, or talking to future employers to try and get him a job. As long as my bubble (hovering-parent) is there, I can never succeed in life.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Anne Lamott