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Rethinking What We Once Knew

Alley in MichiganThanks for joining me!

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. – Søren Kierkegaard

Here are a few questions I want to explore:

  • Do we really believe what we say we believe, or are we trying to fit a certain image?
  • Do we search for truth, or begin with an opinion and then try to find information to confirm it?
  • Are we more comforted by, or fearful of the following verse: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke8:17 NIV)?
  • Do other Christians sometimes embarrass us?
  • Do we embarrass other Christians?
  • What things would we like to go back and undo?
  • What things would we like to go back and regain?

You are welcome to explore with me.

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BY FAITH

BY FAITH was first published at Suite101.com on February 28, 2005. It has subsequently been published on other sites, including FaithWriters.com.

Readers of the New Testament are familiar with the list of Biblical heroes and heroines found in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. This chapter describes the noble characteristics and good deeds of these men and women, declaring that both characteristics and deeds were direct results of their remarkable faith. It is, in a sense, an anthology of stories of “faith-in-action.” Often used in sermons and religious teachings, Hebrews 11 has become a favorite source of exhortation for perseverance in good works and holy living.

However, after recently rereading the passage, I began to realize how few similarities there are between those mentioned in the epistle and most modern day, middle-class, suburban, protestant church attendants. Maybe there are exceptions, but the churches I have observed know nothing of the trials and accomplishments described in the subject chapter. This lack of similarity obviously produces a lack of relevance. In order to achieve a meaningful and practical teaching on the subject of faith for those mentioned, a realistic and identifiable set of examples must be used. In other words, the standard must be lowered. Therefore, I have created a more practical, more realistic, and more “modern-middleclass-suburban-protestant” list of heroes and heroines of the faith.

By faith, John did not curse and cause a scene when he saw that his favorite parking place was taken in the church parking lot, but instead, quietly parked somewhere else.

By faith, Amy trusted God to fix her favorite sports car for a reasonable amount of money so she would not be forced to drive that awful 2-year-old sedan to work again.

By faith, Tony stayed awake throughout the entire church service 2 weeks in a row.

By faith, Bob did not despair of life or return to drugs and alcohol when he heard the news that his teenage daughter wanted to get a tattoo.

By faith, Bob’s wife did not kill Bob when she learned that Bob said it was OK for their teenage daughter to get the tattoo, as long as it was on her foot.

By faith, Sheila, who forgot to pick up her new dress at the cleaners, went to church anyway, even though she knew that Rita was going to look more fashionable.

By faith, George did not return the symbolic hand gesture from the driver next to him, which was given because George would not allow the driver to get into the exit lane in front of him.

By faith, Greg gave an extra dollar to the missionary who spoke at church on Sunday night. He would have given more, but Monday was his golf day and he had just enough money to play and buy a bagel and coffee.

By faith, Stephanie paid $75.00 to the Christian bookstore for two really nice looking Christian “witnessing-type” T-shirts, and paid $45.00 for a couple of really hot Christian CD’s, and gave the homeless guy in the parking lot .53 cents on her way to the car.

By faith, Fran and Eric bought their 6-year-old son a new videotape of children’s cartoon Bible stories to watch with his favorite babysitter on his birthday while they went to the church seminar on family relations.

By faith, Fran and Eric promised to spend some quality time with their 6-year-old son one weekend very soon.

By faith, Fran and Eric’s six-year-old son prayed that God would keep him from hating his parents.

By faith, Mark and Helen sat next to Allen, a man of a different race than they, at church on Wednesday night.

By faith, Allen forgave Mark and Helen for ignoring him during the entire service.

By faith, Associate Pastor Reggie did not repeat himself over and over again during Sunday morning’s sermon just to prove to Pastor Harrington that he could preach longer than 20 minutes.

By faith, Pastor Harrington allowed Assistant Pastor Reggie to preach, even though he felt threatened by him.

By faith, Pastor Harrington and Assistant Pastor Reggie pretend to get along.

By faith, Mrs. Belamy (who donated the flowers placed on the table in front of the pulpit) did not get angry when her name was misspelled in the Sunday morning bulletin acknowledgments.

By faith, the Ladies of the Church group forgave Mrs. Belamy for refusing to buy flowers for the next Sunday’s service.

By faith, the recently fired pastor of Main Street Presbyterian Church believed that God would lead him to a new pastorate.

By faith, the session of Main Street Presbyterian Church believed that God would restore the $30,000.00 missing from the church’s general account.

What more shall I say? There is not enough time to mention the many suburban, middle-class, Protestant Christians who attend church weekly, pay their tithes faithfully, smile regularly, drink moderately, prepare their taxes honestly, and drive safely. Since we are surrounded by such a great fog of witnesses, should we not also persevere in faith?

A Married Couple’s Prayer

{The following was first published on Suite101.com}

Husband: Dear Lord, thank you for this opportunity to come together with my wife and pray. We know you are a loving and kind God, and you desire to hear us. Please accept the prayers we offer, and answer us.

Wife: Yes Lord, I do indeed thank you for this wonderful time of prayer. And thank you for my husband. Please bless him and guide him. And thank you, Lord, for our family. Please help the children to grow in mind, body and spirit. And help me, dear Lord, to continue to nurture them and care for their needs, as well as the needs of our household.

Husband: Yes, Lord, help my wife with our children and her household duties. Help her to do a good job. And I agree with my wife in praying for guidance. Please guide me in all things.

Wife: Lord, I agree with my husband’s prayer, and I too ask for your help with my household duties. Please help me to continue to do a good job, because I think I am doing a darn good job already. And please do guide my husband. Guide him in how he might help with some of the duties at home. Guide him and lead him in the ways that he is obviously unaware. Show him, in your wisdom, how he might help with the children once in a while, and how he might wash a dish every now and then.

Husband: Oh yes dear God, I pray for more free time so that I can help with things around the home. You know how hard it is to work so many hours a week in order to provide for my family. I appreciate my wife and her hard work, and you know, Lord, that I meant nothing bad by asking you to help her do a good job. But as usual Lord, my wife took it wrong. Please show her how much I appreciate what she does, and teach her to appreciate what I do also.

Wife: Oh dear Lord, please, please, please forgive me for not realizing how much my husband appreciates me. Forgive me for not noticing. I must have missed the, “Thank you dear for washing my clothes,” or the “How about going out to dinner so you won’t have to cook tonight?” Help me with my hearing God, because I did not hear my loving and appreciative husband say those things … EVER! I know it must be my hearing, because any truly appreciative husband would occasionally compliment his wife. Please Lord … open my poor deaf ears to my husband’s constant praise of my housekeeping. And please let my husband know that I do appreciate him. I appreciate the fact that he works at a medium pay job so that I ONLY HAVE TO WORK PART TIME instead of full time to supplement our income.

Husband: Lord, I do wish my wife did not have to work. I ask you to help me get a better paying position. But at the same time, dear Lord, I want to thank you that I have a very good job and that my wife is able to spend the majority of her time at home so that she can keep up with her soap-operas and game shows. And Lord, please help my wife with her memory. I am sure she forgot that just yesterday I said, “You look very nice today dear and the house is so clean. How do you do it?”

Wife: Thank you, O Holy Father for giving me a good enough memory to remember yesterday. But God, my husband is right. I do need help remembering all those other days. It seems my mind lost recollection of any compliments for at least two weeks prior to yesterday’s feeble attempt at flattery, probably given so that I would let him go bowling with his friends. And for him to say that I looked nice yesterday is to imply that I did not look nice any of those other days. I am sorry Lord that I am such an ugly beast in my husband’s eyes.

Husband: Lord, you know that I consider my wife attractive. I am sorry that I fail to verbally communicate that fact to her more often. Yet, you know Lord, that I show her in many other ways. Please let her see the positive, instead of just the negative aspects of our marriage. Let her see our marriage as a cup of water that is half full, not half empty.

Wife: Dear God, please forgive me for not being the great optimistic philosopher that my husband wants me to be. It is just that I do see our marriage as A HALF CUP OF WATER. I feel that I am the one who is responsible for the half that is there. I feel my husband does not contribute to our marriage cup at all. I would like our marriage to be a whole cup of water BUT IT IS JUST A HALF CUP. It doesn’t matter whether it is half empty or half full. IT IS STILL JUST A FREAKING HALF CUP … Lord.

Husband: Lord, please help my wife calm down … , and show me what I can do to help my wife appreciate our marriage more.

Wife: Well, Lord, for a start you could tell my husband to spend more time with me and less time watching and listening to sports on TV.

Husband: Lord, you know that I need my relaxation after a hard week of work and that the few hours I spend on sports are minimal compared to the extreme length of time my wife spends on the phone with her mother; not to mention the fact that they are LONG DISTANCE calls. Maybe, Lord, you could show her how much MONEY AND TIME could be saved if those calls were shortened. Then maybe I would have more time to spend with my wife as well as more money to spend on her.

Wife: Yes God, it is true that I spend far too much time on the phone with my mother. Maybe I should get her to move in with us so that we could care for her. Then I could save all of that phone time and money. After all, dearest Lord, we both know how you want your children to care for the elderly and the widowed; especially those who are members of our family.

Husband: Oh dear … oh dear kind and merciful God, please forgive me for my abrupt and unloving words regarding my wife’s phone conversations with her mother. It really is fine that she spends time and money to visit with her mom by phone. And it is not too much to ask of me to give up a small amount of sport watching time to spend with my loving wife. And Lord, please make my wife aware of the fact that my Aunt Edna is also getting up in age and may need a place to stay. If Aunt Edna were to find out that we brought my mother-in-law to live with us, she may want to share the room with her, and then we could …

Wife: Dear God, thank you for enlightening me to the true wisdom of allowing my mother to remain up north, close to my brother. She can be much better cared for where she is. And I pray that you give my husband an equally large amount of wisdom regarding his lovely Aunt Edna. Things are really fine as they are. Thank you Father God.

Husband: Yes Lord. Things are fine just the way they are. Thank you for my family, and I especially thank you for my wife.

Wife: And I too thank you for my family and for my loving husband.

Husband and Wife: AMEN.

“Why seek ye the living among the dead?”

Picture by John Martindale. Used by permission.

{The following is an updated & slightly edited article that was first published as a blog post on OrganicChurchNOLA.wordpress.com on August 5, 2009.}

Several years ago, when part of a home church community, we decided to dedicate one week to pray for direction. Each member of our group agreed to set aside a portion of time during that week to individually seek a specific word from God, and then share it with the others. As I prayed, I asked God to give me a word directly from the scriptures so that I could be assured it was from him. Immediately, the passage from Luke 24:5 popped into my mind: “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” The thought was so sudden and emphatic it shocked me. The fact that I was surprised to have such a quick and obvious answer to prayer should have been conviction enough, but when I considered the implications, I was extremely humbled.

Not wanting to miss, or misapply, what God was specifically saying to me, I went to the original context of the statement. That particular passage in Luke describes women who were looking for Jesus; but they were not looking for a living Jesus. They were looking for the Jesus they saw die on a cross. They were looking for the Jesus they buried. They wanted to honor him by properly preparing his body according to Jewish tradition. They wanted to honor the memory of his life. They were looking to honor a great leader and prophet who was; they were not looking for one who is.

I began to see that we do the same today. We look for the “historical” Jesus: the Jesus who was, not the Jesus who is. We study the things he taught, make pilgrimages to the places he dwelt, and marvel at the stories of his life on earth; we look for the Jesus who was. Now, I believe these things just mentioned are good and profitable, but only in the context of his present life. Paul clearly states in Romans 10: 9 that if we if we confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. It is the LIVING Lord we should be seeking. We need to live what we believe in every aspect of lives. We need to live the living Jesus.

We somehow feel, like the women at the tomb, that we need to honor the memory of Jesus. We want to be his living legacy by carrying on his work. Noble as it sounds, I don’t believe it is what God desires. God doesn’t want us to be Christ’s living legacy, but the living Christ’s body. We, the church, should be acting like a body controlled by a divine living head. Instead, we act like an organization, complete with business plans we call mission statements, CEOs we call senior pastors and marketing strategies we call outreach programs.

Neil Cole writes, “In many of the churches in the West, ministry is done for Jesus, but not by Jesus-and therein lies a big difference.” (pg.54) Can you imagine what would happen if we stopped doing things for him and began allowing him to do things through us? Can you imagine if we lived life in total awareness of and surrender to the living Christ? Can you imagine?

Works Cited

Cole, Neil. ORGANIC CHURCH: GROWING FAITH WHERE LIFE HAPPENS. San Francisco : Josey-Bass, 2005.

WHAT IF?

PICTURE BY JOHN MARTINDALE – Used by Permission

(Originally published on December 17, 2012 at everystreetnola.wordpress.com)

What if Job had written a book before he went through his satanic attack? Do you think he would he have sounded like a “health and wealth” or “name it and claim it” preacher?

What if John the Baptist chose to keep all of his followers instead of pointing them to Jesus? Do you think he would have had the first “mega-church” in history?

What if Peter had not been confronted by the servant girl, and therefore never denied Christ? Do you think he would have continued in his pride without ever experiencing the grace of God?

What if persecution had not forced Christians out of Jerusalem? Would the Gospel have spread beyond the original Jerusalem fellowship?

What if Phillip stayed at the revival in Samaria where he was used to initiate such a great and powerful move of God? What if he considered the Ethiopian eunuch to be an insignificant waste of time?

What if Peter and John had silver and gold to give the crippled beggar at the temple gate? Do you think the beggar would have been healed?

What if you or I were to write a book before a full life experience, gain a large and loyal following, never face confrontation or persecution, become proud of what we do for God and comfortable where we are serving Him, never having a financial burden or want for any material thing? Do you think we would look like the Church of the Bible?

The Biggest Heretic I Know

Picture by John Martindale – used by permission

Heresy is one of those words that carry with it a multitude of negative images and feelings. Synonyms for heresy can range from extreme words like “blasphemy” to milder ones like “error.” However, when communicating with, or about, someone with whom I disagreed on a religious matter, “heresy” was always my word of choice. You see, my way of thinking was simple: If you disagree with me about an important spiritual matter, since know I’m right, I must label you and your opinion with the strongest words possible. You are either one of us (correct-thinking, in-God’s-kingdom, one-of-the-chosen) people or you are an enemy of the truth.

That is the way I lived for many years. I thought through all religious matters, researched almost all possible opinions, and came to a conclusion which seemed pretty obvious to me. My convictions were certain, and the subjects with which I dealt were far too important to be questioned or (God-forbid) denied. If you disagreed with me, you were a heretic.

Then, as I began to grow some form of humility, I began to do something that didn’t come naturally. It is called “listening.” In doing so, another phenomenon occurred called “hearing.” What a surprise to find out that other people’s opinions had value. So … I began to change, in some ways. While my opinions changed from time to time, so did my certainties. I was still sure of everything I believed, and if anyone disagreed with my new belief, I would consider that person a heretic.

It soon became obvious to me that many of my old beliefs were “heresies” and that the biggest heretic I knew was the five-year-ago ME. In fact, I began to see that EVERY five years, I could look back to a heretical ME. But things were still OK, because in my mind I was merely growing in my understanding of the truth and that my present theology was obviously the correct one.

Then came the ultimate blow to my pride. It showed up in form of other people who not only disagreed with me, but whose lifestyles were an affront to my moral worldview and whose philosophies were dramatically opposed to my well thought out and growing theology. While I wanted to dismiss them as heretics, these unwelcomed challenges to my faith placed me at odds with a Biblical principle that could not be denied. Matthew 7:16 records Jesus stating, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” That was the killer. The people of whom I write produced more good fruit, did more loving things, and displayed more “Christian” kindness than I ever had. I had to realize that something was dramatically wrong with my “right-or-wrong” “us-and-them” “in-or-out” theology.

So here I am. I am still very confident in many things that matter to me, like God’s love, Biblical inspiration, and the reality of the resurrected Jesus. Yet, I know there are many things that need to be questioned, and I’m OK with unresolved answers. I am looking forward to asking many of those questions, and it’s my hope that many of you will join me in the search for the answers. Just be ready to live without them.