Tag Archives: Theology

Playground Christianity

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NLT)

St.-Johns-Wood-Adventure-Playground-London-Hurtwood-1968I am one who believes that God can and does reveal truth in all things. Something need not be “Christian” for God to use it for the revelation of truth. Over the years, I have been finding truth in the unlikeliest of places. I have found God’s truth at a Krishna temple in India, I have found it in films, in novels, in Walt Disney World (I mean, who wouldn’t), and I have found it in other faiths, old and young alike.

One such place that I have found some truth is in a book by James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy. James Redfield was brought up in a Methodist Church that he described as being “loving and community-oriented”; however, he now is an influential person in the New Age movement. He was no doubt influenced by his Christian upbringing, but he also studied Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Zen while a student at Auburn University.

Though he spent more than 15 years as a therapist for abused children, he left that and, since he published the worldwide bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, he has become an bestselling New Age author, lecturer, screenwriter, and film producer. The book itself follows the protagonist, never actually named in the book, on a truth-seeking, soul searching adventure in Peru following the loss of a job and other personal crises that arise in his/her life.

In the film version of the book, there is a quote between the protagonist and someone else. While I don’t remember the quote exactly, word for word, I remember the gist of it, “When people have the true God-experience, the debate over whose religion is right or wrong fades away.” That quote truly struck me as provocative and something worthwhile writing about.

First, let me be clear that I DO NOT endorse the theology behind The Celestine Prophecy. As a New Age theology, it is quite simplistic with many glaring holes, inaccuracies of other religious beliefs and is, in many regards, without much substance in terms of a cohesive theology. Its mish-mashing of different theological ideas from different religions is intriguing, but often falls short and does a disservice to all the religions involved. But that does not mean that truth cannot be found within it.

Now, on to my point. One thing I have noticed in Christianity, is that some Christian circles are filled with some of the most insecure people ever. For instance, if one was secure in their faith in Christ and in God, why would they feel the need to demonize others who disagree with them or other religions that are not in line with theirs? If one were not operating out of fear and insecurity, there would be no need to participate in the whole, “My God is bigger than your god” debate.

Yes, there are times that one must defend their faith and their religious beliefs, especially when others are mischaracterizing them. Yes, one should stand up for their faith when others are pressuring him or her to deny it. Yes, one should represent their faith well and should teach people what they believe to be correct and theologically sound. However, one need not go on a crusade against other ideologies, other religions, or other people who differ from him or her.

Christians who aggressively attack other belief systems than their own, who pass out tracts warning people of a religious group that they’re going to be damned to hell, or go on long diatribes online as to why they think someone else has it so wrong, are practicing what I like to call, “Playground Christianity.” They’re acting like elementary-aged bullies on the playground fighting over whose daddy is bigger and can be the other’s dad up. It’s silly and it completely misses the heart of Christ’s message: LOVE.

The “true God experience”, as I see it and certainly as Redfield sees it as evidenced in his book, is the experience of God’s wild, untamable, unconditional LOVE. When one is enveloped and filled by that LOVE, one cannot help being transformed by it either. LOVE begets more love. God’s love transforms us to be creatures of love, to be agents of love, to be bearers of love. When one has the true God experience, when one truly knows and enters a relationship with God, the debate over who’s right or wrong, who’s holier and who’s not, and any other nonsensical comparison fades away. All that remains is LOVE. This doesn’t mean that LOVE doesn’t hold others accountable to truth and justice; however, there is no room for pettiness or divisiveness in LOVE.  I would like to invite you to search God out, to have that true God experience in the context of a community of believers, and let go of anything that counters God’s LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (John 13:34-35 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love and transform me into an agent of love. Amen.

The Plan

Read John 9:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NRSV)

VME-The-PlanWe, as human beings, have a very difficult time dealing with the unknown. We absolutely desire to be in control and nothing seems more “out of control”, then uncertainty and the great unknown. Recently, two different communities that I serve experienced unexpected and tragic events that left everyone in the dark, confused, in shock, and wondering why such an incident could ever happen. It is in such moments, especially when we are caught off guard, that we begin to ask the question, “Why?”

This makes me think of the film, “Miracles From Heaven,” which tell the true story of a young girl who has a rare, serious, and terminal illness that causes her to not be able to digest food. This, of course, leaves her in considerable amounts of pain most of the time. Her life, at the age of 9 (or so), was relegated to bed rest in hospital rooms. In the midst of it, her family was seeking answers as to what they could do in order to cure her daughter of this illness. Yet, doctor after docter could not even come up with what the illness was, let alone why it was or how they could cure it. One doctor, who was a renowned specialist at the renowned Children’s Hospital in Boston, was able to put his finger on what the disease was; however, with that said, he was also certain there really was no cure for it. All they could do was try to give the little girl pain medicine to keep her comfortable and wait for illness to take it’s inevitable course.

In the midst of their struggle to help their daughter, they turned to their church for spiritual and emotional support. While all certainly intended to provide that, what the family really got was a bucket load of terrible theology. Some congregation members were asking the mother if there was anything she or her husband did, or if there was anythign the little girl did, to bring this terrible illness down on them. The pastor, thankfully, was not a part of this…and did try to support the family, however, the response of some of the congregation memebers was enough to drive the mother further and further away from her faith. What kind of God would punish an innocent little 9 year old because of the sins of her parents? What kind of God would punish a 9 year old girl, whose not even old enough to be held accountable according to Biblical standards, for her own sins?

While, I will not spoil the rest of the film (and I highly recommend that you go and see it if you are able), I will say that THEOLOGY MATTERS. We often think that our suffering and struggles are a part of GOD’s PLAN. We will try to comfort people who are struggling by telling them that “they’ll be okay,” that “things will work out in the end,” and that “this is all a part of God’s plan” in order to “test them” and “help them grow.” Or, more judgmental people will try and speculate on what sorts of wrong people did to “deserve” the things that have befallen them. Both lines of theology are apalling, egregious, and dangerous. What kind of God causes people to suffer in order to help them grow? What kind of God blinds people, cripples them, puts them into gas chambers, or kills their family members as a part of “the plan?” What kind of God gives us “what we deserve?” Certainly not Grace filled God of Christianity.

Just as Jesus Christ did with his disciples, he is calling us to rethink our theology and to be careful in it. God’s plan is not to hurt, punish, or kill people as some sort of twisted means to an end. That never was God’s plan, nor will it ever be God’s plan. People have articulated it that way, even in the Bible, but only out of ignorance. But overall, the Scripture is consistent in what God’s plan is: to LOVE creation and to be present in relationship with it. That is God’s plan. Things happen, circumstances take us by storm, and life hits us in various ways, but GOD’s LOVE for us and GOD’s PRESENCE with us NEVER changes. God’s plan is to be with us and to be with others through us. That is the plan…and it certainly is a MIRACLE when we acknowledge the plan and LIVE INTO IT.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” – The Joker

PRAYER
Lord, even when things do not go according to plan, you are present with me. Help me to acknowledge that and be a witness to your presence in my life and the lives of others. Amen.

Crooked Paths

Read Isaiah 42:12-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Seek [God’s] will in all you do, and [God] will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:6, NLT)

crooked-pathA couple of months back I was watching a televangelist who just happened to be on at the time I turned the TV. I cannot remember which televangelist it was; however, I distinctly remember his message. He was utilizing Proverbs 3:6 and proclaiming that those who submit to God, those who know God and have a relationship with God, those who faithfully acknowledge God will find that God makes their paths straight (NRSV) for them. In other words, bumpy, crooked, twisted, and labyrinth-like roads are OUR doing. The implication is, of course, that if life is hard, if things aren’t going smoothly, if we feel that our path is an obstacle course, then that means we are NOT submitting to, knowing, or faithfully acknowledging God and God’s direction for our lives.

I vehemently reject that notion! Too often I hear people questioning their faith, as well as God’s love for them, because their road is hard and things aren’t going well. Too often the sick are guilted to think they didn’t faith enough or they didn’t pray hard enough when they aren’t healed. Too often the abused think that God is punishing them, or allowing the abuse to happen, because they haven’t been acknowledging God enough in their lives. Too often the oppressed stay in oppressive situations because they feel that God has placed that on them as “their cross”, only to find out that the cross is never, ever removed.

While I do not deny that there is truth to the Proverb, I think that it has been hijacked by those who want to say what it doesn’t. When we look at the Bible, we do simply DO NOT see a God who ALWAYS gives the faithful a straight path. Let’s look at the Exodus. They submitted to God, went out on a limb and followed the seemingly nutty prophet Moses straight out of Egypt with the hopes they would arrive safely, and relatively quickly, to the land of promise. Instead of God taking them the direct route (approx. 372 miles or about a week’s journey, give or take), God led them on a 40 year journey zig-zagging, backtracking, and back again through the wilderness. Yes, the people fell in and out of faith during that journey, but it started off crazy. They cross the depths of a sea instead of going a few miles North to go through shallow water. They go South, through mountainous terrain instead of North, which was the direction of the Promised Land. So, yeah, they were a little frustrated when an entire generation of people died off before they reached what should have been only a week away.

Beyond the Exodus, let’s look at Esther. Was her path straight? How about Jeremiah? How about Daniel? How about Job? Was Job’s path straight? How about Jesus? Look at his life. He invested himself in God and in the people he came to serve. Did that lead to a coronation, to adoration and a straight path to being revered? Nope. His path was anything but straight. It led to being second guessed by his family, misunderstood by his disciples, betrayed by one of his own, rejected by the people he had invested in, arrested by his enemies, and beaten, tortured, and killed by the world he came to save. That doesn’t sound like a straight, “easy peasy lemon squeezy” path to me. Should our theology imply that Moses, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel, Job, John the Baptist, and Jesus didn’t submit, faithfully acknowledge or follow God well enough? Should we imply that they failed in their faith? Of course not!

Do not be seduced by such conveniently simple, and extremely dangerous, theologies. God never promised us easy, straight paths. What God did promise is that God would never abandon or forsake us on this bumpy journey. God would never forget us or leave us alone. Even if we aren’t always faithful, God always is!!! If we are faithful, then our faith will make us aware of God’s presence. The aforementioned proverb is pointing to that. If we acknowledge God, then our faith in God will show us the way God is leading us. It will make God’s way clear to us. Let us not be seduced by shortcutting around hard-earned understanding with bad theology, let us rather wrestle with God and grow in our faith. Then the path will be made known to us, whether it is easy or not.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

PRAYER

Lord, I have faith that you are with me and I trust that you are guiding me. Make your way clear to me and I will follow. Amen.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

TheFourGospels“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head; one to watch and one to pray, and two to bear my soul away.” There is nothing quite like children’s nursery rhymes, is there? Especially religious ones that point to a God that all little children had better fear. I grew up reciting this rhyme as young boy, subconsciously digesting it’s grim and rather creepy message. This rhyme basically says that you had better be in line with the four Gospels if you would like God’s protection when you sleep, and it doesn’t hesitate to remind you that you could die in your sleep. So if you would like angels to guard you and/or carry your soul to heaven, you had better be blessed by the Gospels. That’s rather funny being that the word gospel literally means “good news” and is the “good news” of Jesus Christ, not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

It is amazing to me that so many people claim to be Christian in this country and, yet, few people are literate to what the Gospels actually say. We recite quaint little rhymes, we remember the Sunday School stories taught to us at young ages, and we even watch movies that are, when you think of it, only loosely based on the Gospels; however, most people do not pick up the Gospels and read them for themselves. And, when people do pick up the Gospels and read it, they read it as if they are a cohesive, singular story that were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who were sitting side by side and consulting with each other on what they remember the Lord saying and doing. Here’s an example. Tell yourself what you know about Jesus’ birth. You will probably think of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, being forced to sleep in a manger because there was no room at the inn, and being visited by 3 wise men who brought gifts, as well as by shepherds who got a full choral performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir of angels.

Yet, I bet you didn’t realize that Mary and Joseph only get put in a manger in Luke, not Matthew. And the Wise Men are only mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke, not to mention the author of Matthew (we don’t actually know his real name, as he never actually gave it) never numbered the wise men to three. What’s more the shepherds only show up in Luke and not in Matthew. Let me also point this out, the birth narrative is ONLY found in Matthew and Luke. It is absent in Mark and John. Is your head spinning yet? What do we make of this? Should we question the accuracy of the Gospels?

The answer, in short, is absolutely not! If the authors were looking to write a 21st century, scientific, history textbook, then we should definitely question their accuracy; however, that is not what they were writing. They were writing a Gospel which combines loosely recorded historical figures and events that are combined with narratives woven around what were the known sayings, teachings and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, who they witnessed and experienced as the Christ. To simplify this a bit, what the authors were writing was a THEOLOGY on WHO JESUS IS and WHY THAT IS GOOD NEWS. That is what these authors were concerned with, reporting the GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST to their communities.

My challenge to you is for you to read the Gospels. Read them in the order they were written Mark (ca. 68-70 CE), Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), Luke (ca. 80-90 CE), and John (ca. 90-100 CE). Read them separately, taking each one on its own terms. Get a feel for what truths each author would like to convey to you about Jesus, the Christ, the son of God. Let them inform you, rather than you trying to inform them, and be amazed at the dynamic, living, and powerful Christ that will meet you in the process. There are no books in the world more influential that the Gospels and there is a reason for that. Read them as they are and be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“While facts are beholden to truth, truth is not beholden to fact.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, speak the truth of your good news to my heart so that I may see you as you wish to be revealed to me, through the faithful witness of others as well as through my own experience. Amen.

What’s Good About That News?

Read Matthew 23; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 4:16-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.'” (Luke 17:1-2, NRSV)

What's Good About This News?It’s Tuesday night, October 30, and my family and I were huddled around our kerosene lamp playing Yahtzee, as we still have no power (I am typing this on my iPhone, which has limited and sketchy connectivity) or heat. As we were getting ready to play Yahtzee, our phone rang. My youngest jumped up to answer it, in hopes it was her grandmother calling to wish her a happy birthday. But when she answered the phone, it was a pre-recorded evangelical message from some Christian group.

“Has God given up on America?” It asked. “Come and worship and tell us about your beliefs…”, to which my wife then took the phone and hung it up.

I couldn’t believe it. It was a message targeting people who had just gotten hit with the storm of the century in order to evangelize them, promote their church, and “bring the good news.” But let me ask this, what kind of good news is that?” To people who are dealing with their lives being washed away by a super-storm, how is worshipping at a church going to help them out?

It’s this kind of theological positioning that Jesus himself stood against when the Pharisees were accusing him of working on the Sabbath. It is this kind of stuff that Jesus railed against in his stated woes against the religious leaders of his day and age. There is nothing good about the kind of news that takes advantage of people’s vulnerabilities and fears in order to manipulate and generate a “conversion” response.

Jesus taught us in Matthew 25 and in Luke 4 that his mission was to bring real good news to people. For instance, food is good news for the hungry, water for the thirsty, clothes for the naked, etc. Jesus didn’t hand the blind a scroll with his name and some scripture written on it; rather, he gave them sight. When the woman who committed adultery came to him, he didn’t hand her the Torah, the local synagogue address, while asking her what she believed and whether God had given up on her and Israel; rather, he offered her hope and forgiveness, even despite the fact that she never technically repented.

We, as Christians, have to be careful not to misrepresent the “Good News” and, therefore, misrepresent Christ. Imagine if all the money spent on that phone-calling campaign were given to agencies that are helping families devastated by the hurricane, just imagine what difference that could’ve made. Perhaps that would’ve spread the “good news” as opposed to spreading the erroneous fear of God “giving up” on everyone. Again, what’s good about that news? Remember, Jesus is calling us to be agents of God’s hope, healing and wholeness…not false prophets of the world’s doom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If there is one thing we learn through scripture, even in the tumultuous events of Revelation, God never gives up on people.

PRAYER
Lord, guide me as I seek to represent you, and make me a witness of the hope, healing and wholeness that comes through you. Allow my love-filled actions to bear your good news for those in need. Amen.