Who Do We Owe Our Allegiance???

Today I want to look at some words from Brian D. McLaren in his book A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith

Our faith is vain and self-centered if it only brings blessing for us or to us. It also must result in blessing that flows through us to the world…..

If we locate Jesus primarily in light of the story that has unfolded since his time on earth, we will understand him in one way. But if we see him emerging from within a story that had been unfolding through his ancestors, and if we primarily locate him in that story, we might understand him in a very different way. Once I had acknowledged (albeit roughly and crudely) these two very different ways of understanding Jesus, and once I acknowledged that nobody in the Hebrew Scriptures ever talked about original sin, total depravity, “the Fall,” or eternal conscious torment in hell, a suspicion began to grow in me about where the six-lined narrative might possibly have come from. I was able to articulate it a few months later in a conversation with a friend, as I recounted my little exercise in setting up the backward and frontward lines of sight to see Jesus: “What we call the biblical story line isn’t the shape of the story of Adam, Abraham, and their Jewish descendants. It’s the shape of the Greek philosophical narrative that Plato taught! That’s the descent into Plato’s cave of illusion and the ascent into philosophical enlightenment.” 

More and more people are coming to realize that the person of Jesus who we thought we knew was actually made up by others who came many years after him. I have not yet studied much about the thoughts of Plato but I do know that they had a profound affect on Augustine and that Augustine had a profound affect on shaping the fourth century church.  As pointed above when we look at  Hebrew Scripture which was the foundations for our Old Testament we don’t find many of the things that some now consider to be foundational to Christianity. That fact and knowing that Jesus didn’t actually say anything about them causes me to come to one conclusion and that is they are actually derived from human thoughts after the fact.

Yes, I do think that God continues to give us personal revelation even today so why can’t I just believe that all the things that man invented after Jesus was given to them by revelation?  The main reason I can’t is because much of it has nothing to do with the messages Jesus gave us while he was on the earth and they have little or nothing to do with the messages he did give us. I am totally convinced that much of the history of the church was definitely not from Jesus. This includes the Constantine era when the church leaders were corrupted by worldly power. It includes the pre-Reformation period when grace was being sold to build bigger and bigger cathedrals.  It also includes periods like the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the burning of heretics. These action were certainly a result of the lust of power by the people of the times. They were not from Christ.

As Mr. McLaren points out in the book above the emergent church movement is attempting to go back to those things that Jesus did teach and to discard much of the past baggage loaded on the church by succeeding generations. We do not owe allegiance to our ancestors but instead only to Jesus himself. It is time to come to realize the difference between the two.

Finally it is also time to heed the first sentence in the quote above. Our faith should not result in vain and self-centered thoughts focused on self. Our faith must result in blessings that flow through us to the world…


Disappointments about Today’s Christian Establishments…

Before my “literal and inerrant” friend became frustrated and stopped dialoguing with me he often asked the question why I have so much an ambivalence towards today’s churches?  I repeatedly tried to tell him that it isn’t so much ambivalence as it is a disappointment.  I will use this post to explain one of the major reasons for that disappointment. Before I start I need to tell you a little about George Barna. He is as Wikipedia describes him as the founder of  The Barna Group, a market research firm specializing in studying the religious beliefs and behavior of Americans, and the intersection of faith and culture.

Getting back to the reason for my disappointments here are some of the words from a book I am currently reading entitled  Christians and the Common Good  by Charles E. Gutenson. These words explain my disappointment better than I ever could:

One of the major findings of his (George Barna)  research is that for the most part it is almost impossible to tell a Christian, by his actions, from someone who is not religious. In fact he often found that non-Christians are more generous in giving to the poor, are about equally engaged in extra-marital sex, and that Christians are more likely to have had divorces than non-Christians…..  the rampant materialism of our culture is no more apparent than in the parking lots of large churches on Sunday mornings. Quite simply, a major reason for the increasing irrelevance of the church in today’s culture is its inability both to envision and to demand an alternative way of being in the world. Why bother with church when it has come to understand Christian faith as little more than an addendum to an otherwise secular dream of the good life.

The Christian churches of today should be giving us an alternative to being in our own life. As Mr. Gutenson said they seem to be unable to both envision and to demand an alternative way to live. Since most Christian denominations seem incapable, or at least unwilling, to do that they deem themselves irrelevant in many people’s minds. It was totally obvious that the early Christians were living an alternative lifestyle to those around them. They were giving their wealth for the common good of the community. They were living by Jesus’ words to love one another.  What happened since that time? Why has the church not emphatically pointed this out to Christians today. Are they more concerned about attendance numbers than following Jesus’ examples?

I am not knowledgeable enough about church history to know where this change started. But I know from Mr. Barna’s surveys that it is pretty much complete today.  That is the major disappointment I have with today’s Christian establishments.  I have spent the last five years or so looking for any denominations who run counter to the Barna statistics. In that time I have only found scant evidence of any church establishment offering, let alone encouraging an alternative life style.   There are a very few out there but  they are rare indeed. Many seem to be more interested in proclaiming that we are all poor miserable sinners and therefore incapable of anything good. Putting Christians in this mindset enables them to follow the secular world in both their words and actions without a guilty conscience.

So, to close this post I am not ambivalent to today’s Christian establishments as much as I am just totally disappointed in them ignoring the words of Jesus to take up our own crosses and to love each other as God loves each and every one of us. If we really care for each other we should let our light shine in our lives so that it is obvious to others that we are followers of Jesus Christ. Sadly I find that to generally not be the case.

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees…

When it comes to the Bible some Christians seem to fall to the concept of  “can’t see the forest for the trees”.  That is they concentrate so much on the words they totally miss the underlying messages. Some, at the drop of a pin, can quote chapter and verse for many of the sayings in the bible. I am definitely not one of those people. Yes, I have read the New Testament many times and when prompted I can cite some of my favorite verses but I spend the majority of my time looking for and trying to follow the messages contained in the words. I do not idolize the words themselves or the document that contains them.

When I was an information technology engineer more than a decade ago we had a famous saying and that was “drowning in data but starved for information”.  Given today’s technology it is not difficult to accumulate massive amounts of data but turning that data into truly useful information is where the value come in. That is where the true talents shine; I can say I had some successes in that area of my career.

I am currently reading a book by Richard Stearns entitled The Hole in the Gospel. This book is mainly about the forest/tree syndrome. Jesus’ opening words to his three-year ministry are contained in Luke 4:16. It is always available on the right side bar of this blog but I will repeat them here

Luke 4:16-20 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It is interesting that as his first words he chose to talk about the poor, prisoners, handicapped, and the oppressed. But these are not  by any means the last words he said in this area.  The Gospels are overflowing with this message.  I believe that Jesus was years ahead of all of us in that he gave his mission statement up front and center at the very beginning of his ministry. This is the Christian forest.  Here is a quote from the above referenced book:

The Gospel Jesus described in Luke 4 is indeed something solid. If there is a hole in our gospel, in our understanding of the nature of God’s call upon us, His followers, it is not because Scripture is unclear about those issues. Rather it is because we have chosen to pay little attention to God’s unmistakable message  to bring the whole gospel to the whole world….

Don’t spend your life obsessed with the words of the Bible. They are just words. Make it your every effort to glean the underlying messages. There are a couple of saying that help me do that:

Keep your eyes on the prize

Just give them Jesus, everything else is just small stuff

Helping “The Least of These”…

I spend a lot of time on this blog trying to convince you that Jesus intended us to help each other out. Especially those less fortunate than us. I have mentioned that I volunteer to do the cooking a couple of days a week at a soup kitchen. That is one way that I attempt to do what Jesus says. But I don’t think I have ever tried to give you any advice on other ways you can help with the homeless and financially challenged. I will attempt to fill that void, at least a little bit, via this post.

  • One of the least productive ways of doing this is by giving money to those who beg for it at local intersections.  It is widely known that almost half of the homelessness is complicated by drug addictions. When we give money directly to those unfortunate souls we are likely inadvertently supporting their drug habit instead of helping them with a hand up.
  • Instead of giving them money offer to take them to a local restaurant for  lunch or to a grocery story for food for their families. That way you know where the money you give is going.
  • Another very efficient way is to contribute to those agencies who support the less fortunate with a place to sleep or a hot meal. There are usually several of these types of places in even the smallest towns.  The one I support with both my time and money is Backstreet Missions in Bloomington Indiana. They support homeless men in one shelter and battered women with children in another. They also serve about four hundred meals a week to the less fortunate in the community.  There are literally thousands of these type agencies throughout the U.S. Most of them do this through no government or religious denominational support.
  • Another way to support “the least of these” is to support the concept of healthcare for all. Over half the bankruptcies in the U.S. are related to people drowning in medical expense debt. That condition is a major contributor to being homeless or very financially challenged. It greatly saddens me that many Christian denominations today that are aligned with radical right politics seem to be against the idea of healthcare for all. The very concept of being against universal healthcare seems very unChristian to me.
  • One of the ways that the children of the financially challenged break the strangle hold of poverty is through Pell Grants. These are annual scholarships given to kids whose families earn less than $25,000/year. Unfortunately, due to the Republican party’s insistence and President Obama’s signing off on it, the latest round of budget cuts just signed into law pretty much gutted these college scholarships. You can help the financially challenged by calling your congressperson and telling them to re-instate the Pell Grants.
In the coming weeks I will try to offer you additional ways that you can help the poor and homeless. If you have time many agencies can use your help. If you don’t have time (but we all have the same twenty-four hours a day 🙂 ) then you can help by contributing your money to their operations. The last few years has resulted in a dramatic increase in the needs in this area at the same time that donations are decreasing. Agencies who support Jesus’ work in this are really struggling to meet the needs.

Jesus Christ – Lord and Savior

To me the title of this post is the perfect blend of words.  We must acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord and we must also acknowledge that he is our Savior. Those two conditions are very different so lets study them some here.

  • Jesus Christ is my Savior — Jesus was very clear that one of the reasons he came was to die for our sins. That is something that I have trouble really understanding but I take him at his words. Accepting Jesus as our savior is a leap of faith that requires not much else. It is big admission but after that it is more or less a passive thing.
  • Jesus Christ is my Lord — This is something entirely different. Jesus is my ultimate mentor. He is my master; I will obey him and seek to emulate him. I seek to learn as much from him as I can.  This is anything but a passive event. It requires a life long commitment to carry out.

Many today seem to latch onto the Savior side of Jesus but then totally fail to understand his lordship. To me these two sides to Jesus are intrinsically linked. It is impossible to separate them. Let’s everyday show the Lord’s love in our lives. We are his ambassadors while we are on earth. What we do, or maybe even more importantly don’t do, reflect on him.

It’s Sad…. But Joyful…

For a number of weeks now I have been looking for stories about Christians doing good in the world. When I brought up the new category entitled Let’s Show the World I thought finding Christians reaching out to the world would be an easy thing. It is sad for me to say but I found the opposite to be the case. After hours of searching the internet I was only able to find one story that fit the bill for this category and it was five years old! I was able to find that most Christian denominations have some philanthropic type divisions linked to them but most lack specific instances of showing the world. I also have found that when it comes to resources these divisions account only for a very very small percentage of the spending of most of those denominations.

Joyfully I have found a couple of organizations that do fit this category but they are very insistent that they do not affiliate themselves with any religious organization. How sad it is to see that the division, and often times corresponding animosity, that occurs in Christianity causes people who are trying to show the Lord’s love in their lives to separate themselves from religious organizations.

The two most prominent organizations to “show the world” are


www.randomactsof kindness.org

These sites contain hundreds of stories and blog posts that maintain the brother’s keeper mentality. I very much encourage you to browse the sites for those uplifting stories. So, to populate the “Let’s show the world” category on this blog I will from time to time pull some stories from these sites.

Let’s Show the World….

Some say I am too negative on this site and there is probably some truth to that. So with this post I am starting a new category called “Let’s show the world”. These posts will be about positive things we can do to make Jesus Christ more visible in the world today. They will also include stories about churches  and other Christian organizations who are presently showing the world the true light of Jesus Christ through their works and actions.  So, let’s get on with it.

In light of my recent post about billionaires giving away their fortunes, wouldn’t it be great if we Christians did more to show the world what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? I realize that our faith is a very personal matter between us and Jesus but He did tell us to go out into the world and make more  disciples and to teach them to obey his commands.  In today’s world the best way to get a message across is to lead by example. If we “walk-the-walk” as well as “talk-the-talk” it becomes a much more powerful message to those who are stuck in this material world.

Certainly not all of us Christians are millionaires or billionaires (but I imagine we are well represented in those groups also) but shouldn’t we all lead by example?  Let’s flood the food banks and soup kitchens with Christians volunteering to help. Lets be on the top at sending a few dollars to help with the dire problems in Haiti and the other similar spots in the world.  Let’s make sure that the poorest in this world have at least something to eat.  In other words let’s show the world that we really do care for “the least of these”. I know that there are some Christians already doing some of this but lets turn the volume way up so that no one can miss it.   I know we are not supposed to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing but I think God would forgive us if we did this as a group and not to bring attention to our individual selves.

All the statistics show that almost no one can tell a Christian from a secularist by their actions.  That needs to change and each one of us can do our part. Let’s show the world what it means to be a Christian.

How about it Christian Billionaires??

RJ’s Comment

  • Wouldn’t it be great if Christian billionaires got together to make a similar pledge except in Jesus’ name and for even more?
  • How about 90%?
  • For that matter why not Christian millionaires too?

Wouldn’t that send a message to the secular world?