Tag Archives: Christian Church

I WILL BE

Read 2 Samuel 7:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
God said to Moses, “I [WILL BE] WHO I [WILL BE].” (Exodus 3:14)

foZt7gKLimited. If there is one word I can come up with when thinking about human beings, it is “limited.” We are limited in our perceptions, limited in our abilities, limited in our vision, and limited in just about every other aspect of our being. This is not a negative judgment, but rather an observation. In our minds, we love to imagine ourselves as being limitless. We watch TV shows and movies about superheroes who seem to be unlimited in their abilities, heroes who can literally fly to the moon and back in a single bound.

Yet, our reality is far different from the ideal we hold in our heads. The truth is that, as much as we would love to not have limits or bounds, we are totally limited. We are limited in our physical abilities, our psychological abilities, and we are limited emotionally as well. While all of this seems pretty pessimistic, and I am sure you are wondering what kind of point I could possibly be leading up to in this dour opening to a reflection, the truth is that this is not pessimistic. In fact, it is neither pessimistic or optimistic; rather, this is realistic.

What’s more, not only are we naturally limited in our capabilities but we limit ourselves in ways we should not be limited. While this is the case in a wide range of things, and across a wide range of people, I want to focus on Christians. While we are called to be a people of faith, we limit ourselves by our fear. We allow our fears to take over in our lives and we make them our lord rather than following our true Lord and Savior. We limit our understanding and conception of God as well. We build up church institutions, create polity to govern and control them, raise up church buildings, and fill those buildings with people. Over time, the people get so caught up in the institution, the polity, the buildings and their own little cloistered community that they end up limiting God to their own time, place and context.

In other words, they try and box God in. That’s not to say that God is actually boxed in or that God is actually limited; rather, it is people’s perceptions of God that are limited. This is nothing new, David wanted to box God in when he wanted to build God a house. God’s response to David was this: “Do I need you to build me a house? Am I not the God who created the world and all that is in it? Am I not the God who wandered with my people through the wilderness without any temple or house to live in? Do I really need a home? No, David! You will not build me a house.”

God WILL NOT be boxed in. Up on Sinai, when Moses asked who he should tell had sent him to free the Hebrews, God responded by saying “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them that I AM has sent you to them.” That phrase, “I AM WHO I AM”, can in Hebrew also be translated as “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” God’s message to Moses, and to us as well, is that GOD IS. That God is with us, that God is always present with us. I AM WHO I AM. On top of that God is also reminding us, perhaps even warning us, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.

We cannot box God in. We cannot contain God and we can not have control over who God is or how God will manifest in the lives of others. Are you boxing God in? If so, in what ways? I challenge you to ask yourself those questions. Wrestle with them, for God wants you to trade in your perceptions for the reality and the universality of God’s presence and God’s love. GOD WILL NOT BE BOXED IN. The only house God wants to reside in is our hearts. I pray that, if you haven’t already, you open your hearts to the GOD. I pray that you are filled with the great I AM WHO I AM and that you are opened to the limitless possibilities of a God who WILL BE WHO GOD WILL BE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Boxes are square or rectangular, have a beginning, an end, and are not infinite or eternal. God is not a box; rather, God is a circle of which has no beginning, no end and is both infinite and eternal.

PRAYER
Lord, help me not to limit who you are in my life or in my world. You are the great I AM, as well as the great I WILL BE. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” (Romans 8:7 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryEWORKS OF THE FLESH: Enmity. I just got done watching the film, “Selma”, which was about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The film starts off with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, where four innocent Christian girls were literally blown to bits by a bomb planted by four Ku Klux Klansmen. This evil, tragic, and horrific event caused an outrage in the public that aided the cause of Dr. King and those seeking equal voting rights for the black community. Segregation laws and and other local laws often prevented those who were black from being able to vote, though they technically had the right.

When looking back on the civil rights movement, and even looking at the racial divide in the country today, I can’t help but think of the word enmity. Enmity is a state of being actively hostile and/or opposed to someone or some group. Looking at our government, some politicians, its laws, and a system that favors some over others, it is easy to see that in many cases our system has embodied enmity. Sure, it has improved over the years and a lot of change to it has occurred rather quickly. With that said, many of the changes have been peripheral and not systemic. We have changed it so that all people of all colors can vote; however, in order to be a candidate one must have a ton of money and financial backing in order to have even a remote chance of winning. As a result, such candidates are often far removed from the poor and disenfranchised and are more representative of the privileged (even if they, themselves, don’t intend to be).

The church is notorious for being filled with enmity. While one can see how enmity could creep up into any government, where the rich rule and the poor are ruled, it is hard to imagine how enmity could possibly show its ugly head; however, enmity has unfortunately found a breeding ground in  the body of Christ. Like a cancer it has spread from person to person, from group to group, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. The enmity found in Christians have led them to love some and hate others within the church. White Christians have hated and lynched black Christians. Straight Christians have hated and degraded LGTBQ Christians. One committee within a church has found itself opposed to and at odds with another committee. And so it goes on and on like a cancer, spreading and killing the souls of many.

Christ calls us to be rid of enmity. We may not always agree with people, we may not understand them or even want to understand others who are different than us; however, that does not give us an excuse to be hostile and actively opposed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christ is our Lord, and we cannot serve two masters. We will either love the one and hate the other or vice versa. We cannot love Christ and enmity. To bear enmity against anyone is to also bear enmity against God, their creator. So be rid of enmity. Drop your hatred. Let go of your bitterness and let God fill you with eternal, unconditional love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” – Ezra Taft Benson

PRAYER
Lord remove from me any enmity that I may possess within me. Fill me with your eternal, unconditional love. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #7: Being Rivals or Boastful

Read Matthew 20:20-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NLT)

1304abandonedThe discples had been traveling for days in order to get to their destination. When they arrived at the upper room, they sat down at the table and Jesus began to speak. “Blessed are you, my disciples, for you know just how powerful I am. You love me and recognize that I am the most AMAZING person to have ever walked on earth, let alone water, and so I leave you with these rules. Only you twelve are ordained to do ministry, to lead the flock, and to carry on the life of the church. When you unanimously decide who will succeed you, only my power will transfer onto them, and from them onto their successors. Everone else is to listen mindlessly to you and have blind faith in what you say. If anyone disagrees with you, crush their opposition as harsly as you can.”

Ailment #7: Being Rivals or Boastful. I bet you are puzzled right now! You are probably thinking, “There is no way on God’s green earth that Jesus said the things that he’s written above!” If so, you are right. The above words are NOT Jesus’ words; however, they are the words that the institution of the Church convey to people, both the faithful and the unfaithful alike! Again, the Pope was addressing this to his Curia; however, this is not exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church. This is a church-wide reality. Every denomination is rife with rules, regulations, and stipulations on what is reserved solely for the upper eschalon of the church, for the clergy, and for the lay people. And within the laity, certain people have more “rights and privileges” than others.

Before I go on, I must put this caveat out there. Not all rules, regulations or stipulations are bad. As clergy, I understand why it is important for the church to weed out those who don’t have the gifts and graces for pastoral ministry from those who do. It’s not so much to say that one is called and the other isn’t; however, it is the church’s way of both affirming that all are called and helping to discernt to what each person is called. Not everyone is called to be a bishop, or an elder, or a deacon, or a treasurer, or a committee chair person. Yet, all are called to be ministers in their own right and the church should helping all Christian to discern where their gifts and graces are.

Often times, though, the church gets in it’s own way when it comes to that discernment. Often times, it crushes the Spirit rather than giving it room to move. Often times the church gets caught up in power plays and power struggles and abandons the Spirit altogether. This happens at the denominational level, at the local church level, and at the individual Christian level as well. The only thing that this does is cause rivalry and division in a church that is supposed to be united in its mission to follow and serve Christ.

Today’s challenge for you, individually, is for you to reflect on the following questions. Have you been giving room for the Spirit to move, or have you been crushing the spirit under petty and oppressive rules, regulations and/or stipulations. Have you been claiming the power of God, or boasting in your own powers and abilities? Are you following Christ or are you following yourself? Are you helping to discern the Spiritual gifts and graces of others, or are you deceiving them to think that they NEED you in order to be followers of Christ? These may be tough and painful questions to ask yourself; however, they are questions each of us, as Christians, should be asking of ourselves. Like Jesus, we should be empowering people with the spirit, not hoarding what isn’t ours to hoard anyway. Remember you are empowered by the Spirit to empower others through the Spirit and that in this empowerment, not false power, lies the LIFE of the church!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” – Aristotle

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to give up whatever power I think I may have, in order to be empowered by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

In Search for the Essentials

Read Matthew 22:34-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” (John 13:35)

DiscipleTattooWhen it comes to how Christians should treat each other regarding theological and doctrinal differences, there is a seventeenth century quote that says, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity (meaning love).” Yet, it seems as if that is much easier said than done in Christianity, or any religion for that matter. People tend to invest themselves in their religions, and they identify themselves by their beliefs, and so doctrines and theologies become awfully personal.

As such, attacks against one’s beliefs often ends up getting translated as an attack against oneself. I have, no doubt, been both on the receiving and the giving ends of those attacks. If we are honest, most of us have been. Sometimes when one questions someone’s beliefs, he or she is not meaning to “attack” at all; however, it gets interpreted that way because of the personal nature of faith. Yet, there are many times that one just vehemently disagrees with the beliefs of another, often feeling that their beliefs are threatened the opposing beliefs of another, and so they react in ways that are both spiritually damaging and ungodly.

Sometimes it isn’t even beliefs that called into question, but personal practices or forms of expression. For instance, I have been questioned before because I have eight tattoos. I have been asked, “What would Jesus think of you having those tattoos? Surely, you must know that Jesus was a good Jewish boy and he would not have condoned your marking your body up like that.” What does one say to such a comment? It is true that Jesus would not have been down at the tattoo parlor getting WWJD and fish symbols tattooed to his body; however, it is also true that Jesus wouldn’t have been eating shrimp. He wouldn’t have eaten pork. He wouldn’t be wearing clothing with mixed fibers (e.g. shirts made with cotton and polyester). Yet, the majority of Christians have no problem eating and wearing such things.

Of course, I could go on quoting Jesus on what defiles a person, or perhaps quoting Paul on how Christians are free to do all things in Christ, though not all things are beneficial. But that is beyond the point. How do we, as people of faith, live into the quote above? First off, what are the essentials? It seems that there are no groups of Christians that can agree on just what the essentials are. One group will hold the Apostles Creed as the essentials; however, other groups might dispute one or more of the Apostle’s Creed as essential. What’s more, even if they accept the Apostle’s Creed as essential, they might interpret its parts differently than others, leading to conflict. If people can’t agree on what is essential, then it is impossible to move beyond to what is non-essential.

Where is charity in all of this? Where is love? Thankfully for us Christians, Jesus answered what is MOST important for all people of faith, and I will extend this decree to all people of faith…and not just Christians. What is most important, what is essential, is this: that you LOVE God with all of your being, and that you LOVE your neighbor as yourself. For Jesus, those two commands summed up all of the laws of Judaism and were what was essential to that religion. As such, that is what is essential for Christians as well, and be hard pressed not to see that as essential for all people, regardless of faith. If we all were more unified in our LOVE of God, as opposed to our LOVE of OUR IDEA OF GOD, and if we were all unified in our LOVE OF NEIGHBOR, then we would find out that the non-essentials would fade away and that CHARITY would rule the day. This is what we, as beings created in the image of God, are called to do…to LOVE and to never cease in that LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” Paul of Tarsus, (1 Corinthians 4:5)

PRAYER

Lord, give me the grace to be graceful and give me peace enough in my own beliefs so that I do not feel threatened by the beliefs of others.  In you, I am secure. Fill me with your love so that I may, in turn, love others. Amen.

Well Worth the Investment

Read Deuteronomy 11:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105)

IstheBibleReliableOne of the things I have noticed in the past several years of ministry, is that most people don’t know much about their own faith heritage. I certainly cannot speak for other faiths outside of Christianity, but within the Christian faith, there seems to be more people who DON’T even really know WHAT they believe, let alone why they believe it. To add to that, most people don’t even know the Bible that they claim their faith is based in.

As a Christian educator and, in particular, as someone who has taught many confirmation classes, I have made it a priority to encourage, promote and provide opportunity for Christian education. In confirmation class, I developed a curriculum in which the confirmands had to learn Christian history, become acquainted with doctrine and its historical and theological development, gain working knowledge of the way our church operates, and begin to think theologically for themselves. While, no doubt, this sounds like a lot for someone at the age of confirmation…my students will attest that the process was immensely rewarding for them as they grew in ways they didn’t know they could.

John Wesley believed in the vital importance of “attending to the ordinances of God.” In other words, in order to maintain our spiritual well-being, including spiritual growth, people need to actively participate in their faith. It is important for a Christian to be actively a part of the Christian community (aka church). It is important for a Christian to participate in the sacraments. It is important for a Christian to maintain a consistent prayer life. It is also vitally important for a Christian to study his or her Bible. And, of course, anyone who has read the Bible knows that it teaches us of the vital importance to serve others and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The fact of the matter is that many people do not invest themselves in their faith. When it comes to their faith, most people only know what they have heard from others and have no real or personal understanding of why it is they believe what say they believe. They take what they hear at face value without ever really taking the time to probe into it. As a result, many people find themselves stagnating in their faith, rather than seeing themselves grow and transform. For many people faith is just another one of those “religious” words.

Today’s challenge…and to be honest, this is a challenge for the rest of our lives…is for us to begin to take our faith more seriously. We should be seeking to devote time to reading and getting to know Scripture. We should be seeking to join Bible and/or book studies to enhance our understanding. We should be seeking to participate in all of the ordinances of God so that we not only claim to believe, but that we also know WHAT we believe and WHY we believe it.

It is such conviction that will lead us to live out our beliefs. If we are merely claiming to believe something, then their is no REAL reason for us to carry it out beyond our mental assent. If we do not know WHAT we believe, there is no way we can act upon our beliefs. If we don’t know WHY we believe, then we will not have the conviction it takes to act upon those beliefs. So, take the challenge and find ways to grow in your faith. Seek to gain an understanding of what you believe and why you believe it, study the Bible and it’s historical contexts, and actively participate in the life and mission of the Christian community! Invest in your faith and you’ll find it was well worth the investment!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Belief is so much more than mere mental assent.

PRAYER

Lord, spark a passion for investing in my faith and grounding myself in what I believe so that I may live in a way that reflects that faith. Amen.

 

What’s Religion Got to Do with It?

Read Micah 6:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then [Jesus] turned to His critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer Him.” (Mark 3:4, NLT)

I-praise-you-oh-God-christianity-30793563-1658-1387If I were to ask what Christianity is, I would no doubt get a variety of answers starting with, Christianity is a major world religion. That answer would be followed by a host of other answers such as Christianity is a religion that is based around Jesus the Christ. Some might respond that Christianity is a religion that teaches about God’s unconditional love, about God’s forgiveness and about Grace. One might say that Christianity is a religion centered around Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and a religion that celebrates a new life through Christ’s resurrection from the tomb.

Regardless of what answers one might come up with in order to address what Christianity is, they would all most certainly be centered around “religion.” Yet, did Jesus come to establish a new religion. There is no doubt that Jesus was a Jewish teacher who lived and breathed his Jewish faith; however, was it religion that Jesus was focused on?

Let us look at what Jesus did and taught. Jesus taught about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus taught about recognizing and valuing the image of God in all humanity. Jesus not only taught those things, but lived them out and modeled them for the people he taught, often times at the expense of getting in trouble because he was going against what his “religion” told him he should do. In reality, Jesus was much less about religion and more about relationships.

For Jesus, it was important that people were living in right relationship with God and with each other. If religion helped guide people in that direction then it was doing its purpose; however, often times, religion gets caught up on the rules and regulations, on the structure and hierarchy. Often times, religion becomes more about pleasing the system than it does about pleasing God. What’s worse, pleasing the system is sold to people as being “pleasing to God.”

But Jesus, and the prophets who came before him, knew that what was pleasing to God had little to do with religion and EVERYTHING to do with relationships. So, why go to church then? Why should we be involved in a religious institution, one might ask? The reason is because God calls us to be in relationship with one another, to be in a Christian community that will encourage us…and to be in a Christian community that we can be an encouraging presence in. God wishes for us to build each other up, support each other, celebrate our triumphs together and support each other in our weaknesses.

It is in the Christian community where we find spiritual growth and nourishment. It is in the Christian community where we find opportunities to be a part of the work of Christ in the world. It is in the Christian community where we find accountability as well as the grace to learn from our mistakes and grow into the person God is calling us to be. It is within the Christian community, not within the Christian “religion”, that we find that the presence of God is truly with us…it is within that community where we find that we are NOT alone! Remember that while God does wish for us to get hung up on dogma and religious rules and regulations, God very much does want us to be present in a community working toward seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. The challenge today is to find your place in the Christian community. God is calling you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.” – Ben Stein

PRAYER

Lord, work in me and through me to strengthen the relationships I do have as well as to begin to build new ones.  Place me in the midst of your community. Amen.

The Ordinances of God

Read Psalm 119

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7)

OrdinancesFor anyone who doesn’t already know this, I am a huge movie fan. What’s more, I am an avid collector of Biblically inspired films.  The most recent film added to my collection, The Bible miniseries, is perhaps the most epic Biblical film to-date. The series in its whole, runs ten hours long. Unfortunately, while ten hours seems like it would make a long film, it is not enough to accurately represent the entirety of the Holy Bible.

With that said, the series was a huge commercial success. In fact, it seems that anytime something related to the Bible is produced, people by the millions stop what they are doing to watch it. The first installment of the series drew in 13.1 million viewers, beating out American Idol and other shows.  Those are ratings that nobody can scoff at.  Yet, when looking at how many people read the Bible on a weekly basis, polls have shown that only about 37-40% of Americans read the Bible at least once a week (and I think that poll is probably more than generous). If we move beyond that to attending worship, or other spiritual disciplines, we will see even lower numbers.

John Wesley, in the third component of his General Rules, stated that it is vital for Christians to attend “upon all the ordinances of God.” An ordinance is a requirement set forth by an authority; therefore, an ordinance of God would be a requirement set forth by God.  Wesley believed that regular prayer, regularly studying scripture, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and being a part of a Christian community in fellowship with other Christians, all helped to not only bolster the Christian’s faith, but helped them to grow in it as well.

In fact, without those things, we often find ourselves dry, empty and lost. The fact is that, just like any other relationship we have, our relationship with God takes effort and discipline. We cannot grow in our relationships with people if we never see, spend time with, or talk with them. How can we, as Christians, expect to grow in our relationship with God if we don’t attend to all the ordinances of God.

Here is a challenge for us all: attend to all the ordinances of God.  Search the scriptures regularly, pray regularly, partake in communion regularly, regularly fast (this doesn’t have to mean abstaining from food) and be a part of the Christian community…not for the sake of “going to church,” but for the sake of growing in your relationship with God.  Find a community that is actively seeking to live its faith out in the community and join in the work of bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those around you.  It may seem like work at first, as any discipline does (e.g., exercise, education, etc.), but I promise that through it your eyes will open wide to the grace of God that surrounds you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

How can we expect to grow as Christians, how can we expect to grow closer to God, if we spend our days avoiding the spiritual discipline it takes to experience such growth?

PRAYER

Lord, give me the motivation to spiritually discipline myself to attend to your Holy Ordinances! Amen.