Doing church vs. Doing Discipleship

This is a continuation of my personal reflections on the world and where I might fit into it.

 Is doing “church” separate from doing discipleship? Let’s investigate that question. I have always assumed that the two were actually the same but recently I have come across a couple of definitions of church that seem to separate the two practices.

Here is a definition of “church” from Greg Ogden in his book Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ: ” The church is a caring community, a serving, studying, praying, healing community. But what is the fundamental purpose of the church? If it is true that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then fundamentally the church is a worshiping community”.

Is it possible that doing church and doing discipleship are indeed be two different things? Do we have one group of Christians who form our worshipping community and another, for those of us who are so inclined, to reach beyond our door out into the world. My church is certainly strong in worshipping God and they do it very well!

I don’t know if that is common to most Christians or not. I may certainly perceive this wrong and I hope this doesn’t come off as judging, but it seems that my church mainly wants to do the usual things: worship service, Bible studies, church dinners and of course a full menu of committee meetings. But many members just don’t seem to have as strong an interest in the poor and down trodden that I do.

Don’t get me wrong, we do have outreach but never enough for my satisfaction. This year we have done or will do several projects in our community. We are perhaps more engaged than many churches in our area but never enough for me . It is usually only a small core of members actually participate in these activities and they are almost always one-time events, not an on-going thing that requires day-to-day commitments.

My discipleship work takes me around the community and, at least monetarily, around the world. I give my time and financial support to a local homeless shelter, a regional food bank, the Salvation army and a couple of international “feed the poor” organizations and even a Christian organization focused primarily on political issues. In the past it has bothered me that my “church” members don’t seem to share the same commitment in the things that I have passions for.

 I used to get upset about this but I am now learning to chill out somewhat now. That is just the way it is I guess. My pastor keeps telling me that I may not be aware of what others are doing and spending their time on. Maybe they are committed to a day-to-day discipleship activity but I am not aware of it? I know that I am a retired old white guy who now has the time to spend on discipleship things. Maybe, actually probably, I am being too harsh on others who do not share my enthusiasm for such things. I also have more time to read the Bible and as a result I hear Jesus “screaming” that loving your neighbor is where he wants us to be. No one, including me, ever seems to be able to do enough! At least the need never seems to be even remotely quenched.

 In summary, is doing church and doing discipleship the same thing. In a perfect world they would be but given the reality of our times they are not the same today. Christians today are just not that homogeneous anymore (if they ever were). We seem to concentrate on only our personal limited versions of both these topics.

Two Types of Worldviews…

In the next few posts I am going to do some personal reflections. Will they be objective; of course not, after all they are personal to me and where I am in my life right now. If I am nothing else I am compassionate about things I truly believe in! I don’t pretend to have answers to the questions I have but I am constantly seeking wisdom from God’s word, particularly the red letters.

Here is my first observation:

 There seems to be two basic types of worldviews around today.  

  1. I am the master of my fate: I am in control of my life. I am accountable for everything that happens to me. If I run into an obstacle it is up to me and me alone to overcome it. Therefore everything that I accomplish and any wealth I accumulate is mine and mine alone. Do not tax it or take it away from me to give to others who do not deserve it. I alone deserve it and I don’t need to  share it with those who were not as strong as I am. They are failures; I am a success.   They need to pull themselves up like I did.                                                                                        
  2. There but for the grace of God go I (I paraphrase this as “Shit Happens”) – Many things that happen in my life are really out of my control. Prosperity primarily depends on where you were born. How you grew up and the opportunities that were given to you. It is up to those who had better opportunities and therefore prospered to have compassion on those less fortunate than themselves. We must share the prosperity that we have gained. It is not ours alone.

I’m sure that there are people who call themselves Christians in both of these camps. But, I personally am in the second group. For at least the last several years I seem to be constantly thinking about those on the margins of society in the US and around the world. If I had not been born to a lower middle class family in the Midwestern United States I could be spending all my current time just trying to survive from day to day. After all, this is typical with almost half the present world’s population. Instead I have plenty to eat, a nice place to live and not many worries (except for the self made and often self centered kind). We people in the western societies need to be reminded more often just how easy we have it.

I would not even attempt to guess what the percentage of Christians are in each of these groups. But, what does the Bible say about these two worldviews? I think I need to study on this some but I have a general idea that group 2 is closer to the way the Lord intends us to live and I will continue to strive to be in that group.

What is the meaning of life? – Part 2

We humans are constantly on the epic journey to find the meaning of life. It drives some of us quite crazy. Let’s look at some of the idols we Americans frequently put in place in our lives:

  • We must have a bigger and bigger home to make our life meaningful — I must admit that I am a regular watcher of the TV show “House Hunters”. On the show is typically a family of mom, dad and often times a small child or sometimes two. The couple almost always says that their current house of 2,000 sq ft is simply too small now that they have a child. They now need at least 3,000 sq ft! The show then follows them around trying to find the dream house. I guess they never listened to grandma, or grandpa tells stories about how they raised 6 kids in a house of less than 1,000 sq ft. And of course they must also have granite countertops and, of course, stainless appliances in the kitchen; nothing else is simply good enough. Constantly seeking more and more is the driving factor in their lives.
  • The CEO’s of American corporations are now typically making more in a day than some of their employees make in a year. It wasn’t that long ago where heads of companies typically made about 20- 40 times the lowest wage earner in their company. Most CEO’s have such inflated egos that they think they are worth the increased amount. After all being so superior to others is the driving factor in their lives and the more money the more superior.
  • Some families spend up to $100/week playing the various State lotteries trying to hit it big. They are convinced that if they just had enough money that their lives would have meaning. I recently watched a documentary entitled “The Curse of the Lottery”. In that show there was example after example of people winning the “big one” and then within three years they were broke and their life was spinning down the proverbial drain! How can that be?? After all they won the big one!! Why didn’t it give their life meaning?

Postscript:  Here is the latest story on winning the “big one” .   http://buzz.yahoo.com/buzzlog/92967?fp=1

  

I could go on and on with examples but I’m sure you get the idea. Finding things of this world that will give our lives meaning simply don’t exist. I don’t quote Old Testament scripture often (I dwell in the New Covenant, not so much the old one :)) but here is a very appropriate verse for this post:

Eccl 5:10 NIV

Whoever loves money never has money enough;

Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.

This too is meaningless.

 
So if you are looking to money and the things that it buys to be the meaning of life you better look elsewhere cause that ain’t it. Next time I will give you the secret about the TRUE meaning of life. I suspect many of you have already discovered it, or at least given the nature of this blog know where I am going.

What is the meaning of Life??

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All humans seem to innately seek the meaning of life. It is built into the core of our existence. It is one of the crucial things that make us human. My Basset Hound Beulah is quite intent just to get her ears rubbed on a regular basis and to make our daily trek out to the mailbox. (All of you who might have a Basset know that you must keep them on a leash constantly or they will get utterly lost tracking a scent that totally envelopes their attention; i.e. The ever present leash even to the mailbox . Too bad we humans aren’t put on a leash when we get too focused on something that is not good for us :). We humans just aren’t the way our pets are. We need to know why we exist!

Many, especially us Westerners, spend our lives seeking things of the world to give us meaning. Before I understood where the source of this fulfillment really comes from I  spent an outrageously amount of time seeking the meaning of life. At one point I was totally immersed into the psychology thing. I read book after book of such titles as “I’m Ok – Your OK”. I became an Eric Berne freak. I couldn’t get enough of him or Maslow, or a number of other authors in the field of psychology. After a number of years I came to the same conclusion that the character played by Bob Newhart had in the TV series “Newhart”. “Psychology is a croak!” It just didn’t give me the sustainable answers I was looking for. I apologize to all you psychologists out there. I’m sure you do a mountain of good to those who really need it. But, I didn’t really need it!

 But at least I didn’t take the path that many do and get into drugs or such things. I fortunately also didn’t have a mid-life crisis where I sold everything to get a motorcycle and a young chick on my arm. (My wife would have killed me if I had tried that!) I was way to shy for that sort of thing anyway, thank the Lord. And I also didn’t literally go up the mountain to seek the ultimate wisdom of some other guru.

 God built this “why we exist” urge in us for a reason. But it took me years to discover it. Many today are in the same vicious cycle that I was. For some it is vocational success; for others it is money; for others it is something else. It is almost always about “stuff”

 I will spend the next few posts talking about idols that we futilely try to put in place to seek the meaning of life.

When we Christians shun our responsibilities….

Jesus clearly told us to be our brother’s keeper but somewhere along the way we Christians unapologetically shunned that responsibility. During the first three centuries Christians were very much their brother’s keeper. They often pooled their resources so that those most needy were taken care of. They not only cared for their own there is even documented evidence showing that they took care of those not even Christians.  But, of course, this is what Jesus did so they were just following his lead.

The vast majority of Christian congregations today spend about 95% of what they gather on themselves or their organization’s hierarchy leaving little for kingdom of God work particularly in the brother’s keeper area.  When that happened the moral goodness, which I believe to be also a gift from God to all humanity, dictated that the kingdoms of the world take over that task. Some do a much better job of it than others. The government of Sudan seems to totally reject the “brother’s keeper” mentality.  Many thousands die daily of starvation and political genocide. Whereas, thank the Lord, the government of the United States has generally taken up this task in our absence, at least to a partial degree. Or at least one of our political parties carries that mantle. 

Now I’m not saying that Christians do nothing in this area. Indeed some of the best humanitarian agencies in this area are Christian based. But, their total contributions is almost miniscule compared to the need. Having religious institutions take over all the care for the poor is probably now beyond the realm of possibilities so I guess we must depend on our governments to do that for us. They are instituted by God so I suppose you could say it is now their duty. To even suggest as some do that since we Christians won’t do it our governments should stay out of it also is a total affront to the teachings of Jesus. It is indeed a sad day that many Evangelical Christians seem to be saying that very thing today. Shame on us for shunning this compassionate responsibility!

Taking America back for God — Part 3

In the last post I brought forth the proposition that God loves all of humanity and does not particularly bless one world government more than another. I also pointed out that many today think that if we could just turn the US into a Christian theocracy everything would be wonderful. I pointed out that we have had Christian theocracies in the past and they were no more like Jesus (i.e.. The kingdom of God) than those pagan governments around them. And many times even worse!

This post I will spend some time talking about how I believe that a follower of Jesus should interact with kingdoms of this world (the United States in particular). Jesus made it clear that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. To me that means keeping the two somewhat separate but that does not mean Christians should have total indifference to world kingdoms?

In the early centuries of the Christian phenomenon government officials were actually told to find another profession after they converted to the “Way”. The same went for soldiers. But, I don’t think that meant that we Christians were meant to stay out of the politics of this world entirely. Obviously Jesus said leave to Caesar what is Creaser’s and to God what is God’s. I earlier stated that I don’t think Jesus was political but you should not infer that he was not interested in things that are handled in the political sphere. John Howard Yoder in his book the Politics of Jesus does a good job of pointing this out. The problems we Christians get into today is that we latch on to some kingdom issues in politics and then somehow buy the whole package of that political party. For some it is abortion and therefore the Republican party. For others it is issues such as healthcare or safety net issues and therefore it is the Democratic party. We have to be very aware of such allegiances of accepting the bad with the good. It reflects poorly on the Kingdom of God and possibly drives many away. We should not be strict Republicans or Democrats but should instead back Kingdom related issues in whichever party they occur. As Jim Wallis and Sojourners bumper sticker says “God is NOT a Republican, or a Democrat”.

 But Jesus also indicated that where Caesar conflicted with God, God must win out for all Christians. In my mind it is kind of tricky just how involved we Christians should be in political affairs. The two extremes seem to be to stay out of it entirely or to reach for a Christian Theocracy. The optimum point is obviously somewhere between these two extremes. I don’t know personally where the ideal point is so I tend to try to stay closer to the non-involvement end but where safety net issues are concerned I tend to be very active.

Greg Boyd’s post on his blog entitled “The Patriot’s Bible – Really” is very insightful in this area. That is why it is in the “inspiring” block on the right side of this blog”. Just click on that link to see the text. One ironic point that Dr. Boyd made is that the early Christians were persecuted for being unpatriotic. They would not bow to Caesar or other such things. That seems to be the opposite of today where so many Christians are thoroughly attached to world kingdoms and not so much to the Kingdom of God. At least that is how I see it.

The book “The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Pastor Boyd did a lot in shaping my thoughts in this area. I would highly recommend the book to anyone. But, if you are one to believe that Jesus particularly blesses America then be prepared to have that myth thoroughly destroyed by his biblical insight. To some it will be uncomfortable reading but well worth it if your current worldview eventually gives way to the kingdom of God view.

Taking America back for God — Part 2

Last time I pointed out a couple of reasons why I believe that the phrase Taking America back for God to be erroneous statement. This time I will expand my thoughts on this topic and talk about allegiances.

Does God recognize governments and give some more blessings than others? — Except for Israel of course there is little evidence of that in Jesus’ words. And even for Israel, in my mind, refers to the people who have a relationship with God and not the political nation either then or now. God infinitely loves all his children no matter what their nationality or politics is. He loves that child who died of starvation within the last 30 seconds in an African country just as much as he loves you or your children. I don’t think Jesus is much on national identities. After all he even associated with Samaritans! That was a definite political no-no in his days.

 Christian Theocracies – We have had Christian Theocracies at various times in world history but we never see them end up acting Christ like. In fact they usually ended up looking pretty much like all the other pagan nations around them. We waste a lot of our energy as Christians today in the United States trying to establish a political kingdom that is Christ like. Jesus rejected that idea when he was walking this earth so I don’t think he would condone it now. Not even for the United States of America.

Where should our allegiances be?

  • Let us always remember that we are in this world but not of it. Our citizenship is in heaven so lets focus our attention there while trying to live our lives here and now as Jesus taught us to do. Our time on earth is a probationary period to see if we are sheep or goats.
  • Is it wrong to think that God had a hand in some of our successes such as our freedom of religion and our somewhat thriving democracy? Of course we should thank God for that help but we must also acknowledge our dark periods as well. These were times when we gave our nation over to Satan.
  • Is it wrong to ask that “God Bless America”? Of course not, but along with this prayer should be that God bless Iran, Afghanistan, Soviet Union……….
  • God bless all humanity, even our political enemies and help us to recognize that every human being on the earth are our potential brothers and sisters in the heavenly realm.  
     

Next time I will talk more about Jesus and politics and summarize this discussion. As usual I welcome any comments you wish to post as long as they remain civil.

Taking America back for God

The title of this series of posts is a popular mantra for a fringe wing of one of our political parties in the United States but is it really true in reality?? I am going to break down my opinions of this topic in next three postings on this blog.

 Using the word “back” implies that the United States was once a country that followed kingdom of God principles. I am a life long avid reader of US history. I love my country and we have done some great things but I don’t recall a single period of time that the country was ever aligned to any degree with the kingdom of God. And it was definitely not established by people who called themselves Christians. There was only one of the ten most important founders of the US who even called himself a Christian. Many were deists; that is people who believed in some divine inspiration but not particularly Jesus.

I personally don’t see how any worldly government can be aligned with Jesus’ teachings. Yes, Jesus is the epitome of the Kingdom of God. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If it is not aligned with the teachings and words of Jesus then it is NOT about the kingdom of God! Unfortunately, for every bright period in our history there are usually corresponding dark periods. We often speak out against some African nations for the genocide that they are presently doing but don’t recognize the genocide that we did against the Native Americans who were here thousands of years before we were. We passed Social Security in the 1930’s that put a much needed safety mat under our senior citizens but at the same time we were calling our African American citizens less than human and lynching many without any criminal reprisals. And then there was the Civil Rights movement; how many Christian churches were camped on the segregation side of that issue. I could go on and on but I am sure you see the point.

Now on to a secind point in this arena. Was Jesus political? That is was he concerned about the Romans not having public prayers or not allowing the ten commandments to be publically displayed. The Jewish nation, whom Jesus was a citizen, was fully expecting the Messiah to come and put in place a political solution for all their problems. They were convinced that the Messiah would defeat the Romans who were currently running rough shod over them. Clearly Jesus had something else in mind. He made it absolutely clear that he was not at all interested in a political solution. He did not come to establish a dominant government that would rule “over” all people. Instead he had in mind a kingdom that  would  serve everyone including Israel’s enemies. The Jews didn’t that all like then and I am afraid many Christians today don’t at all like that idea now. Jesus did not come to form a perfect political government and he certainly isn’t looking to us to make it so either.

On my next posting I will put out two additional points on this topic. In the mean time feel free to comment with your own list or rebuttal of mine. God bless us all; not just America

Being a political “Social Conservative” and a Christian??

I am going to keep this post very short but I would like to hear anyone’s views on whether being a Christian and a social conservative are compatible. I am only talking about social conservatives not fiscal or conservatism in general. If Jesus were here today would He be labeled a social conservative? I personally can’t begin to imagine that but would like to hear from anyone who thinks it is a possibility.

Election/Predestination

We just finished an adult Bible study series at my church on election/predestination today. Boy, was that an interesting one! We certainly don’t shy away from the difficult topics. That is one of the things I like best about my pastor. It turns out that my pastor and I are pretty much aligned on this topic. I assure you that isn’t always the case. I will have to think and study this some more and then maybe do a series on predesitnation here some day. I just wanted to make a quick post here to maybe get you (and myself) thinking a little about it.
Much of the discussion today centered around free will. If God does indeed give us free will then how much of our actions are predestined by him? As you know if you follow this blog at all, I am one of those who believe strongly in the concept of free will ordained by God. Without free will there cannot be love and as we saw on the recent study on this blog Jesus was almost totally about love. Love very much depends on free will. If we program our computer to type (or say) “I love you” everyday then does the computer actually love you? Of course it doesn’t, it is just putting out what you programmed it to do. It doesn’t have any feelings; it is just a computer (robot). The same goes for us. If we are predestined (programmed) by God then we have no say in what our actions are! God did not make robots but instead gave us free will to make our own decisions. Sometimes, and maybe most times, we screw it up and make the wrong decisions but that is part of free will isn’t it? Our free will along with allowing us to make mistakes also allows us to truly love God and our fellow man.
Sometimes I think we think too much about this sort of thing. It is infinitely complicated for us but of course quite simple for our infinite God.