Tag Archives: Christian

By Our Love

Read Jeremiah 2:12-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.” (James 1:23-25)

CrackedLandAs a child growing up in the Christian church, I was always taught that Christianity was about love.  One of the first hymns a child learns in the church is “Jesus Loves Me,” and there other hymns that children learn that promote that image of a loving God and a loving Church. Hymns like “Jesus Loves the Little Children” making lasting impressions on the young child about God’s character, as well as the character of the God-loving church.

And,honestly, that image doesn’t get lost among adult hymns either. One such hymn that comes to mind is the hymn, “They Will Know We Are Christian by Our Love.” In that hymn, Carol Arends writes, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord and we pray that all unity will one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love.”

The hymn goes on to speak about Christians working side-by-side and walking with each other hand-in-hand. These are the images of Christians that we put forward to our children, to each other, and to the world at large. Yet, is that how we, as Christians, truly live? Do we treat each other with dignity and lay down our pride? Do we see the value in each person we come across and hold them in the same regard as we hold ourselves? Do we accept each other with the love of God in our hearts, or do we judge others without giving God a chance to shine through?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. If we are claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ and yet behave in a way that is contrary to the character of Christ, we do far more than just push people away from us; rather, we end up pushing people further away from Christ. People looking in at the church often find themselves saying, “I don’t want any part of that.” In the end, instead of being vessels for God’s hope, healing and wholeness, we end up being like cracked cisterns who have abandoned the fountain of Living Water.

Throughout Scripture, God has invited people into a deeper relationship with God through living in a right relationship with each other. The latter part is essential to the former. We cannot be in right relationship with God, we cannot be drinking from the fountain of Living Water, if we are not loving others as God has first loved us. That is why Jesus said that loving thy neighbor (including your enemies) as oneself is likened to loving God with all of our beings.

Today’s challenge is to look openly and honestly at yourself. Are you living in a way that is pleasing to God or in a way that pushes others further from God. Are you bearing the Christian spirit that you claim to possess? Of course, none of us are perfect and none of us will perfectly live into the image of Christ. We all, myself included, have room to grow; however, until we are honest with ourselves and open to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, we will always stop short of growing. God wishes for you, for me and for all of humanity to continue to grow into reflectors of God’s love. No doubt, by the grace of God, we will be brought from where we are to where God wants us to be! Remember, they will know we are Christian by our love!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Actions speak louder than words.

PRAYER

Lord, continue to work in me, continue to mold me, and continue to bring me from where I am to where you want me to be. 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.

The Public Servant

Read Matthew 6:1-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

il_fullxfull.252262749There once was a public servant who spent his entire life serving the public who continually voted him in. He was a decorated war hero who enlisted in the Army when he was eighteen. Following his military service, he put himself through college, then law school, and became a prosecutor who cracked down on criminals in his city. After years of service, he entered into the political arena and was elected to hold many different positions, including the mayor of his city.

One day, the mayor pulled up to city hall and found a car parked in such a way that his reserved parking spot was blocked. The mayor just couldn’t believe it! How could someone park in his spot! Didn’t they know who he was? Didn’t they know that he was the mayor, that he had spent his entire life serving the public, that he had earned that spot and was entitled to have it?

In a rage, the mayor called the chief of police directly and demanded that he take care of the situation!  “Get one of your boys down here and tow that car!” The mayor demanded. The chief of police, not wanting to stoke the mayor’s anger any further, immediately sent an officer to tow the car. Even upon the car being removed and getting his spot back, the mayor was seething over the incident.

Walking into the city hall, the mayor saw a woman sobbing profusely with a woman with another man sitting and sobbing next to her. “What’s going on,” the mayor asked?  The city clerk responded, that woman works here. She just found out that her son got into a car accident on the way to school and died. She called her husband who just came about ten minutes ago. He parked outside, ran in and as been with her since.” The mayor’s heart sunk. He just realized that the car he had towed belonged to the poor husband who had just lost his son and came to be with his wife.

As Christians, we spend day after day trying to do the right things. We go to church, we serve others (to the best of our abilities), we work tirelessly on building a legacy of faith for our children and their children. We come to expect things to be done a certain way, and we feel entitled to have it done the way we want because we have worked hard and earned it! We may find ourselves getting angry when we perceive that things aren’t “the way they should be” or that “we aren’t getting the respect we deserve.”

But why is it that we are doing what we do? Are we doing it to garner attention for ourselves? Are we “serving” so that, in the end, we might be served? Do we as Christians, as followers of Jesus the Christ, really believe that we’ve earned our keep and that we deserve or are entitled to preferential treatment? If so, Jesus says that we will get our reward.

We will garner attention and throw hissy fits when we don’t. We will look good to all of the right people, and we will trample the insignificant under our feet. Yet, if that is what we are doing, let us also be aware that we are trampling the very heart of God under our feet. Let us not wake up one day and come to realization, as the mayor above did, that we are no longer the person we envisioned ourselves as being; rather, let us join Christ in turning our own standards upside down. Let us start to see that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Let us realize that we are never done serving and that God has called us to be agents of GRACE not benefactors of entitlement. Let your sense of entitlement go, in all areas of your life, and be filled with the Grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’. – Erma Bombeck

PRAYER

Lord, let me not ask what you, and others can do for me, but what I can do for you and for others. Amen.

 

Growing in Grace

Read Matthew 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:8)

vbc_gig_screenWhen I was in my later teens, I went through a period of trying to identify who I was as person. I knew who my parents told me I was, I knew who the church thought I was, I knew what society expected me to be; however, I needed, as do all young people, to discover who I was.

For many years, the church was a place I found my identity in; yet, as I was going through this period of change, the church became less and less so. I got tattoos, pierced my ears, and started to change from the little boy everyone knew me as, into something different. And of course, different is not always a welcome thing. I remember the looks I got when I first walked into church with my newly inked skin. I was proud of them, clearly some of my fellow church members were not. It’s not that anyone said anything nasty to me, but I could just tell by the way they looked at me.

So, to make a long story short, I walked away from my Christian faith for many years. That does not mean I stopped believing in God, or in a higher power, but I sought for that connection in other things. I started to have a negative perception of the church as a whole as a result of my previous experiences. That was sad, looking back, because most of my childhood years in the church are fond memories for me.

Thankfully, the story does not end there. While some of the reactions I got from some of the members of my church were negative, there were other people in the church who did not look at me, or treat me any differently. The pastor of my church at the time, kept on embracing me and treating me with the same respect and dignity as he always had. He patiently answered questions, invited me to be a part of different ministries in the church, all the while allowing me to find out who I was as a person.

One of my Sunday School teachers was another person who kept on loving me despite my changes, as did some of the other church members and, of course, my parents. Despite my walking away from my Christian faith, I could not walk away from the impression those people, and others, left on me. Despite my focusing on the negative that happened, I still could not wipe away the miraculous positive reinforcement that those people had on my life.

And those experiences, in part, inform who I am today as a pastor and spiritual leader. I have come to learn over the years that even just a little grace goes a long, long way. It’s like a mustard seed, that starts off as the smallest of things but grows into a giant tree, sheltering the birds of the air from the desert sun. Grace is the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven. At firsts it looks small, distant and hard to enter, but as you journey closer to it you realize it is a door wide open, and all who enter it will be changed forever.

As Christians, we are called not only to receive grace, but to be bearers of it. In fact, if we are to grow at all as Christians, we are to grow in grace. It is so easy for us to fall into legalism and judgmentalism, for that is the way of this world; however, though we live in this world, we are called to transcend it. We are called by God to extend grace to all, even to those whom we feel don’t deserve it. After all, who are we to judge who deserves God’s grace. Let us err on the side of grace and extend that grace to all people, no matter how different they might be. You just never know who’s life God will touch as a result of that grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If we are to err, and err we shall, then let us err on the side of grace.” – Rev. Alec C. Park

PRAYER

Lord, help me to extend my grace to all people. Soften my heart that I may bear witness to the undeserved grace you have given to me. Amen.

I Am You

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

I Am YouOne of my all time favorite music bands is a band called Demon Hunter. Now I am sure that, judging from the name, you can probably tell that they are Heavy Metal band. If so, you are absolutely correct. I am also sure that, judging by the name, some of you might be questioning why someone like would be listening to a band with that kind of a name. Well, the truth be told, I listen to all sorts of music from classical to heavy metal, from Christian to secular music. In fact, sometimes I find a deeper spirit-filled theology (whether it was on purpose or accidental) in secular music than I do in Christian music.

With all of that said, Demon Hunter is actually a Christian heavy metal band who writes music that really speak to me as a person who knows what it is like to struggle in life. I know what it means to be depressed, to feel hopeless, to feel like the world might be literally crushing me, to feel like I am at wits end, and to feel like no one truly understands me. The lyrics that Ryan Clark write for Demon Hunter are ones that reach out to people who struggle in life, it is their ministry to do so and God certainly has blessed them, and those listening to them, as a result of doing that ministry.

There is a song that they write called, I AM YOU. In this song, Ryan writes, “A new voice for the broken souls in a world awaiting its death—I am you—an everlasting well of life for the hopeless and the wrecked I am the dying self, the narrow path, the calm that conquered the storm—I am you—the cross-hairs on the head of shame, the negation to conform.” For the longest time, I interpreted this to mean that Ryan, the singer, was saying that he was like anyone else and that he, too, has struggled in his life. I am certain that, in part, he is saying that.

This time around, however, I began to see the song in a whole new light. I began to hear God’s voice in it. After all, is it not true that God is a new voice for the broken souls? Is it not true that God is an everlasting well of life for the hopeless and the wrecked? Did Jesus not embody the dying self, the narrow path, the calm that conquered the storm? Did Jesus not set the cross-hairs on the head of shame, and represented the negation to conform? To Moses, God revealed Godself as I AM. In Jesus, God revealed to the world, I AM YOU.

What a wonderfully powerful notion that God is one of us. That God knows what it means to struggle. After all, which one of us has not struggled in this life? Which one of us have remained completely unscathed from childhood to whatever age we are at now? Which one of us has lived a perfect, paradise-like existence without any pain, loss or suffering? I am imagining the answer to be: NONE OF US.

Then how powerful of a message it is for us to receive that God is one of us and knows how to conquer the struggles we face everyday. It is a wonderful message that God is not above us or somewhere out there watching us from afar but, rather, God is with us…God is in us. When we truly embrace that, we will recognize that God is not only with us, but God is with us wherever we go. Once we realize that truth, we will see that when we are in the lives of others…when We reach out to others with compassion and say, “It’s okay, I AM YOU”, we are showing such people that God is with them too…you are giving them the good news of God’s presence and of God’s hope, healing and wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” – Anne Frank

PRAYER

Lord, fill me with your Good News and send me out to bring it to others. Amen.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Read Mark 13; Revelation 22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matthew 10:7, NRSV)

It's the End of the World As We Know ItHave you ever heard the song by R.E.M., “The End of the World As We Know It”? I was just listening to that song today and reflecting on the message of it. In the song, Michael Stipe goes through a complete list of cliché things that people say are going to happen when the world comes to an end. Intermingled with that list is also some social commentary of how the world, typically thinks of itself. Stipe sings, “Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed.”

Then when the list has been had, Stipe sings that “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Come again? You feel fine that the world is coming to an end? Some Christians make it their living to “warn” people of the impending doom that will befall the earth in the last days. Many people spend their lives speculating what the end will be like, when it will happen and the devastation that will be wrought. And now that we are in the year 2012, many people are worried that the Mayans might well have predicted the end.

Yet, Michael Stipe is singing that he feels fine about this? Now, I am not going to put words into Michael’s mouth; however, I was reflecting on the lyrics of this song and what they mean to me. When we watch television, or read the news online, we often see apocalyptic images spreading around the world like wild fire. Tensions are high, people are afraid, and soothsayers are ever active in predicting the end. Yet, as Christians, we ought to know that God does not wish destruction upon the earth.

Yes, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to talking about the end times and yes, Jesus talked about such times too; however the point was not to scare people as much as it was to give people hope. While the language is that of GOd reigning justice down, Revelation and other texts like it are more pointing to the destruction the earth has wrought on itself and the consequences of such destruction. Just look at the war riddled world and you can easily see images of Revelation.

So what is hopeful about this? The hope is that redemption is not only on its way; however, it is here. As we approach Advent, we often reenact the “coming” of Jesus and, in Revelation, we look forward to the “second coming” of Jesus. But, what we fail to realize, is that Jesus has already come again…in us! All four Gospels tell of Jesus talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe. The Holy Spirit that dwells in us is ever working in changing the world around us. But, in case you didn’t get the memo directly, we are to be ACTIVE players in that.

Rather than pretending to be awaiting for the first coming and rather than anxiously awaiting the second coming, perhaps we Christians should be actively living the coming of Christ in us! If more Christians lived out their Christianity in ways that made a difference to those around them, and less worried about event that are completely out of our control, then perhaps we would usher in the end of the world as we know it. Perhaps, instead of a world of suffering, pain and chaos, we could usher in a world of hope, healing and wholeness. Perhaps instead of a broken world, we could help usher in a world of togetherness, of community, and of LOVE. And if that is what it means to usher in the end, how can we not feel fine about it? This is what it means to be Christian: to usher in the end of the world as we know it. It’s time to get to it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To be made in the image of God means that we are made in the image of love.

PRAYER

Lord, I am your servant. Help me to usher in the end of the world as we know it through your love. Amen.

What Did Jesus Do?

What Did Jesus Do?

Read Matthew 5 (through chapter 7 if you have time); 25:31-46; Luke 4:16-21; 6:17-49

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)

What Did Jesus Do?Who is Jesus Christ? Is he a prophet who lived in Palestine over 2,000 years ago? Is he the messiah as promised throughout the Torah and the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures?  Is he the true King of Israel, in the line of David? Is he the Son of God, born of a virgin? Is he the Word of God made flesh, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? Is Jesus God?  These questions and more are answered in various ways by various different Christians, and depending on where you find yourself in your faith, you may or may not find yourself shouting “heresy” at the answers that different Christians might put forth.

What’s more, not only are there questions regarding Jesus’ divine identity; however, there are questions regarding Jesus’ personality and his mission as well. There are those who would claim Jesus to be a peace-loving guy, while others would claim that Jesus was a no-nonsense guy who flung tables around in order to “cleanse” the temple of corruption.  There are those who would show that Jesus was compassionate and all-accepting, and others who would show that Jesus had little to no tolerance for those who he saw as opposing God.  So, who is this Jesus Christ?

The fact of the matter is that Jesus cannot be easily pinned down. While doctrine states that Jesus was truly divine, it also says that he was truly human as well.  And the range of emotions and actions that come from Jesus in the four Gospels alone is enough to be a thorn in the side to anyone who wants Jesus to completely fit their mold.  We, as Christians, run into problems when we get caught up in debates about who Jesus is all the while ignoring the mission of Christ that was clearly outlined in the Gospels.

But, perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Rather than trying to get the edge on who Jesus is, perhaps we should focus our search for answers around the question of what Jesus did. We should be asking ourselves, what did Jesus do?  Jesus did teach people, he did heal people, he did accept those who had been rejected. Jesus did stand against religious dogma, he did show compassion to those who were on the fringes of society, and he did preach the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom, which he saw as being ushered in by God through himself and those who followed him. For Jesus, ushering in the Kingdom of God (through bringing hope, healing, and wholeness) was HIS mission. Nothing shows this more than Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus’ mission statement in Luke, and Jesus’ stark illustration given to his disciples (in Matthew 25) of king who separates the sheep from the goats.

When we ask the question of what Jesus did, it gives us a clearer understanding of what we should be doing. If we are to be imitators of Christ, and/or allow Christ to live through us, then we should be engaging and investing in the same mission that Jesus is engaged and invested in. We should be working to usher in the Kingdom of God, bringing hope, healing and wholeness to those of whom God has put all around us. If we invest ourselves in Christ’s mission, then I believe we will find that the answers we have come to through our intellect will fade away and be transcended by the answers that will have risen up out of our faith.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” – John Wesley

PRAYER

Lord, help me to keep my focus on your mission and use me to usher in your Kingdom to my community. Amen.