December 2011


Creation of Adam, hands in detail

In today’s evangelism, work (or effort) is erroneously equated with earning. I suspect it’s rooted in a very old misapplication of Paul’s teaching that ends up overriding Jesus’ teaching. But I think we can straighten it out.

When a farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, or waters the earth, is he earning a crop? Has he overstepped his bounds or robbed God of His glory? No, he’s just doing his part to make it come about, working with God who makes it grow, which brings glory to God rather than steals it. And they share the rewards.

Should the farmer do nothing? The Bible calls that laziness. If the farmer were to apply the phrase “by myself I can do nothing” the way many churches misapply it today, he’d reap what he sows and have a whole crop of nothing. He’d be paralyzed. Dis-abled. I’ve heard church pros insist that, through the cross, God did everything for us and there’s literally nothing left for us to do but to accept, claim, and trust our saved “position in Christ.”

By making every work-related noun and verb synonymous with “earn,” we become terrified blobs who can’t even move, much less obey, for fear of “works salvation.”

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Blobs?

There are several popular analogies to describe this “position” in Christ. One is the slab of marble where God is the Master Craftsman who chisels and carves away at us to conform us to His image while we slabs sit passively in “surrender,” waiting to see the beautiful statue of Himself He comes up with. Thus, according to many, it’s never about what we do; it’s only about what God does. (more…)

 
English: An artificial Christmas tree.

Image via Wikipedia

I stumbled upon this interesting article in Relevant magazine about Christian Christmas traditions that aren’t originally Christian. It sort of follows up my last post. Apparently, we’ve borrowed these pre-Christ traditions and incorporated them into our celebration of Christ.

1. The Christmas tree

2. Mistletoe

3. Gift giving

4. Dec. 25th

5. Redemption

I like the way the article finishes:

We call it Christmas and have named it after our Savior, but let’s not be so arrogant as to suggest the holiday is exclusively ours. A better perspective is to admit we have co-opted the season, along with many of its traditions, for the purpose of pointing toward Bethlehem.

Christmas is the story of the Incarnation—of the insertion of Christ into the dust of humanity, of the infusion of grace into something worldly and pagan. In the process, mankind was redeemed. If so, then our theft of these solstice traditions is no crime against history. Instead, it’s yet another picture—a beautiful, generous, peaceful, evergreen metaphor—of redemption.”

 
The binding of the UK edition of Star over Bet...

I’d like to propose that we Christians quit having hissy-fits when people say something other than “Merry Christmas.” I’m always sadly amused (if that makes sense) when I see on Facebook, in obnoxious all-capital letters, stuff like this:  PUT CHRIST BACK IN CHRISTMAS!!!!! RESPECT OUR FAITH!!! JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!!!!!

Good grief, can anyone really take Christ out of Christmas? Is Christian faith so shallow that all it takes to knock us on our butts is a greeting like “Happy Holidays”?

What insecurity! What immaturity! Who cares what other people say? If you’re rooted in Christ, a simple holiday wish isn’t going to be your undoing. If you can’t even take a generic greeting graciously, how on earth will you “bless those who curse you, do good to those who mistreat you”? A secure, quiet, assured spirit is the mark of Christ in you; that’s what love, peace, and joy are. If that isn’t there, Christ isn’t there.

I propose that we wish our non-Christian friends, neighbors, and even perfect strangers Merry Christmas and smile sincerely when they wish us Happy Holidays. In fact, I say we should say, “Thank you.”

What a concept.

Question mark

Image via Wikipedia

We must understand the nature and purpose of grace. Christians are all over the map, embroiled in all sorts of debates because we fail to comprehend that grace isn’t a one-time thing; it is God’s ongoing action in our lives. As Dallas Willard says, it works like fuel to enable us to do something.

We also fail to understand that salvation isn’t a one-time decision; it’s a process, a journey, a course designed by God. The definition of salvation is, simply, life with God. The result is “new life from above.” That new-life course is fueled by grace to obey because grace and obedience go hand in hand. If we treat either one as a stand-alone, we suffer the consequences in this life and the afterlife.

Jesus explains very clearly that no one enters the kingdom of heaven unless they’re born twice. First, physically, i.e., by “water,” then spiritually, by Spirit. (Jhn. 3:5) No one considers the moment of physical birth to be the whole life. It’s simply the beginning. So also, the moment of spiritual birth isn’t the whole new life with God, i.e., salvation. It’s merely the beginning. (more…)

English: grapes or vine

Image via Wikipedia

The original disciples weren’t a race of super-beings and didn’t have anything that you and I don’t have. They simply learned from the Master who holds the plan, shares His wisdom, and makes Himself accessible to the world.

Pastors have their hands full overseeing church programs to tend their flocks as best they can. They work hard for many long hours a day, usually sacrificing their own families and needs in the course of their duties. Many fine ministers and churches are simply overwhelmed.

So what can we do about it? First, we can recognize that churches shouldn’t be forced to take up the slack that individual members should take. Overwhelmed churches struggle because we tend to treat them, rather than Jesus, as the primary providers of spiritual leadership, so we bankrupt them of resources. Then everybody ends up in the quicksand.

Second, even in churches with different services geared toward different age groups, it’s often just a different presentation of the same wrong message. The style of service isn’t what needs to change; it’s the content and message. The best answer is to restore to our churches the missing gospel of the kingdom, love for God, self, and neighbor, and personal discipleship to Jesus. That’s what calling him “Lord” is all about.

We need more than stories or facts about Jesus. We need more than confessions of him as King of kings and Lord of all. We need more than “belief” in his death and resurrection. What we need is why these matter, and, more specifically, how it leads to changed lives. In and of themselves, they don’t transform, but they’re the beginning.

With few exceptions, there’s currently no system in place to guide maturing Christians beyond spiritual infancy into Jesus’ gate. Surely, there’s a place for them in God’s church family! The Way is the gospel message and the Sermon on the Mount. The Christian community needs help to implement it, and pastors need to know that it’s okay to care for their own souls—heart, mind, body, and behavior. Then we’d be truly following Jesus, and the term “lordship” would actually be relevant.