That Bearded Guy Up There…..

Many of us Christians never seem to give up our childhood views of just who God is. We think of him as that white bearded guy up in heaven. True, we do add some things to this vision as we get older we see him as that guy who spends his day saying “You go to heaven; you go to hell”.  We often view Jesus in the same childhood comprehension. Jesus is that long-haired, brown-bearded guy who sits around all day playing with sheep and always has children gathered around him.

When we grow in wisdom of him and finally come to see God as the light within each of us then we discover that one of the reasons Jesus came was to teach us how to live as God intended.  As we study Jesus’ words the real Jesus emerges and our childhood images fade into the background. Many churches today are stuck in the childhood Jesus mode and as a result never take the Christian life seriously. As cited in the Lord’s Prayer he intends us to do our part in making his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Contrary to what many current church denominations believe our task is not to just make an altar-call and then sit back and wait to go to heaven! While we are on this earth we have a many other daily, even hourly, responsibilities.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood  behind me.  – 1 Corinthians 13:11

God never intends us to remain as children in our knowledge of him. He expects us to study his word and get to know him better as we become men and women. Yes our trust in Jesus should remain childlike but our knowledge of him and his purpose for coming to us should grow as we age.  When we fixate on one or even a few particular verses found in the Bible and ignore all the others we have a very limited view of God.  That is definitely not what he intends.

A New Direction…. Again….

In recent days I have been getting frustrated by the progress I have made into the parallel studies of the Roman empire and the Christian church. It is not that I am not learning things it is just that it is taking longer than I originally anticipated. My wife claims that I always underestimate these sort of things and maybe I do 🙂  I certainly like to blog on Red Letter Living as it keeps me centered on what is important in life. Having to put off posting here because I am not ready to do it intelligently is frustrating to me.

So I have decided to put this study on the back burner for now. I am not putting the study of the study off but only the blogging about it. When I think I have enough background knowledge on the subject then I will start blogging about it. Until then I have decided to do some blogging about what Jesus says about our personal and corporate responsibilities toward the poor. This topic has been on my mind lately due to some interactions over at my other blog at  RJ’s Corner. I have been in a some discussions with some Christians who give the usual response about Jesus saying we will always have the poor so there is nothing we can do about it. Of course to me that is very much taking his words out of context.  I will expand on those thoughts in this new study and back it up with red letters.

So, come back soon for a new direction on this blog. They say that religion and politics don’t mix but when some Christians vote based on a warped sense of Jesus’ words that does harm to Christianity as a whole. Let’s investigate just what Jesus said in quite a bit of detail about this issue. I’m sure there is nothing I could say here that will influence the way some people vote in the coming election but if I can just nudge them a little maybe their attitudes will change for a future one.

If God is Love – Part 4

This is the fourth post in the series on a book by Philip Gulley entitle If God Is Love. Here is the quote for this one.

This wrestling with our theology, though absolutely necessary to spiritual growth, often puts our lives out of joint. On several occasions, I thought, “Remind me again why I wanted to question and challenge the beliefs I was taught.” The answer, as with all change, is because what had once satisfied no longer filled me with joy and peace. This spiritual dissatisfaction is a divine gift. God loves us too much to let us remain less than what we can be. Life is designed to challenge our inadequate beliefs and behaviors. Fortunately, God also guides and directs us in new ways. I discovered different answers to questions I’d thought forever settled.

These words have had a profound effect on me the last few years. I was, in so many words, asked to leave my church of eight years because I had grown spiritually enough to know that some of the things they were teaching were simply not what Jesus intended. That discovery, and the sharing of it with some others did put my life out of joint. But as mentioned above this spiritual dissatisfaction was really a divine gift. I no longer found it necessary to believe that Jesus expected nothing from me while I am on this earth. I can now take his constant mantra about being my brother’s keeper more literally than before.  God just loves us too much to let us remain less than what we can be.

God gives us challenges throughout our lives. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, we simply ignore them and go on as we had before. But when we accept the challenge we grow in ways we never expected. Painful as it was at the time, throwing away the “poor worthless sinner” excuse for doing nothing in the life  has made it much more rewarding than remaining in that dulled state of existence I was in while a member of that congregation.

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.

Should this be harder? – Thoughts from a Convinced Quaker

At the bottom of this post is a link to a heartfelt post by a convinced Quaker. A convinced Quaker is one who has come from outside the sect. In this person’s case it evidently was from Catholicism. This post struck me deeply as I saw myself in much of Laura’s writing. For those not going to the original post here are a couple of quotes that I want to comment on:

“Hard” was life before I learned about Quakerism. “Hard” was wondering how to handle a violent situation in a compassionate manner and thinking I was the only person in the world who had grappled with such an issue. “Hard” was feeling completely alone amongst friends, unable to shake the conviction that something was wrong with spending hundreds of dollars on entertainment and thinking I was doomed to be a social outcast forever because I felt that way. “Hard” was taking every word that came out of my mouth seriously,  really thinking about speaking the truth and speaking kindness, and believing that I was peculiar and alone for being so serious about everything.

“Hard” was trying to live up to the light in me without even knowing that the light was there.  Without knowing that others were on the same path as me, that there was a meeting of people who sought the same things I sought, who could comfort and support me in my time of need. Without knowing there was a long, rich tradition of writing about the very questions I had. Without a weekly meeting to be enveloped and nourished in corporate worship. Those days were very hard indeed, and I don’t want to go back to them.

I, like this convinced Quaker, have struggled with some of my feelings about violence in all its forms, extravagant spending on “entertainment” , Christian organizations that spend almost all their resources on themselves, and other such things.  It seemed like the Christian organizations I was in for some time were more focused on a future life in heaven than one here or earth. So, to my total disappointment these types of matters did not come up very frequently.

One of the foundational concept of Quakerism is “living up to the light” this comes from the words of Jesus at Matt 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Quakers believe that everyone has light from God shining in their lives. Some never allow it to even get to the surface but it is there none the less. I have come to be very much aligned with the concept of the light within each of us. It should be our task everyday of our lives to let the Lord’s light shine in our lives so that others can realize what being a Christian is really all about. It is not about hunkering down in our churches waiting for the end.  It is about living day-to-day. Living my life in a Christian organization that did not follow through on that very basic concept was indeed a very hard thing.

Should this be harder? – QuakerQuaker.

The Holy Spirit – Part 2 Jesus’ words

The 16th Chapter of the John comes to mind most frequently when we think of Jesus giving us the Holy Spirit. Here it is:

John 16:12-15 NIV

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

Jesus spoke these words just before he was turned over for crucifixion. This was probably the last time he had alone with the original eleven apostles. He clearly says that the apostles could not understand many of the things Jesus wants to tell them. The way these words are framed it appears that the “Spirit of truth” is very subservient to Jesus and not an equal member of the Trinity as commonly shown today. It sounds like the Holy Spirit is just a mouthpiece for Jesus. Putting that aside we come to another aspect of the Holy Spirit that needs to be addressed. Most think that the Holy Spirit is just that, a spirit and not a being. Of course being portrayed as a dove just re-enforces that idea. But Jesus, and the apostles in the book of Acts, clearly refers to the Holy Spirit as “him”. This would seem to indicate that he is a being.

To raise another basic question was the mission of the Holy Spirit only to come to the Apostles or is he meant to be our counselor as well? That is, is the Holy Spirit around today to guide us through our lives with the lessons that Jesus said we were not yet ready for? Could we still be learning things that we were not yet ready to learn even in the future?  Of course, we will investigate this much more in the coming posts when we study what the book of Acts says about him.

Let’s look at a couple of other places in the Gospel text that talk about the Holy Spirit.

Luke 12:8-12

“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Matt 12:30-32

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 

It looks like these two sets of verses probably reported the same incident but with some different words and possible meanings. Of course Matthew was there to hear these words from Jesus. Luke’s version was probably relayed to him via a third source so maybe that may be the cause of the variation. I can only guess whether Luke’s source was an eyewitness. But I am getting off track here. This reference to the Holy Spirit is much different than the first one I cited. Is Jesus talking about two different entities? I just don’t know. The only way I can reconcile these stories is to take where Jesus calls the spirit “the Spirit of Truth” and say he is talking about “truth” here then maybe this makes sense. But then “truth” is not a person as Jesus clearly stated in the first verse?  Taking that aside, he might be saying that if you deny the truth you are denying the Holy Spirit. One of the study Bibles I use refer to this as someone who would attribute to Satan the miracles done by Christ. In many of today’s Christian denominations we espouse that no matter what your sin is Jesus forgives you. These verses seem to say that at least for this sin you are not forgiven.