English: Compass

English: Compass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faith that needs repeated revival or recommitment should probably be examined to find out why it’s so short-lived. (I’m assuming the reason for rededication is a relationship with God that’s flagging in some way; so there may be other reasons that don’t apply here.)

When I worked as a geospatial analyst, the engineering department had a saying for solving design problems: “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting. If you want different results, you need a different system.”

Today’s widely-taught faith system, presented as something God “does” to us, is a big reason it often flags. The believer is subsequently told that he/she isn’t dedicated enough, or hasn’t prayed enough, doesn’t believe enough, has failed God again, and must once and for all swear commitment to the Lord. I’ve heard it a million times, as do multitudes of diligent, sincere Christians who recommit over and over only to get the same disappointing results.

Some even give up on faith and God altogether.

It’s caused by a simple lack of vision, a solid purpose and plan, a means to carry it out, and therefore, a lack of correctly aimed intention. Who can follow through on something they’re unaware of? So when we’re spiritually starved like this, we can pretend to be filled for only so long before the reality becomes evident: faith that limps along or crashes in the sand.

Yet it’s easily remedied if we read and listen carefully to the words of Jesus, his original disciples, and the earliest “people of the Way.” An entire book is needed to adequately address the manifold wisdom of his kind of faith, but we can review the foundational components.

In A Nutshell

The correct vision: Jesus’ rich view and model of new life in God’s kingdom through partnership with Him—God with man. Without this preliminary vision shift, people can’t pursue abundant strength, peace of mind, and love. To use biblical terms, they can’t “enter” into the world Jesus presents or put confidence in him for everyday living. They remain “blind,” stumbling, or conflicted, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing.

This is why Jesus’ gospel message is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” God’s kingdom around us stands ready to guide, enable, heal, and support.

A solid purpose: learn to love ourselves and others the way Jesus loves us. The idea is to become united in spirit and purpose with him and with one another. To live this new life is the assembling of the great Body, or, the marriage of Jews and Gentiles who become the bride wedded to the Bridegroom to rule and serve with him. God planned this objective even before He created the world.

The plan and means: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For example, willfully indulged anger is the first faith-killer he tackles. Turning away from it enables us to increasingly implement (obey) the remaining parts of his plan—get rid of spiritual adultery/divorce, sworn behavior, score-keeping, outer appearance/image, and hypocrisy, in that order. (More info in my series 6 Steps to Un-sabotage Yourself in Every Relationship.)

When we follow his prescribed instructions, the unavoidable result is transformation and spiritual formation in Christ. The best part is that God hasn’t given commands and left us with no ability, or way, to do what He says. Neither will He do it for us since that would rob us of our roles with Him. God is gracious enough to give us some responsibility and to let us participate!

That’s something we can sink our teeth into, put long-term confidence in, and not be stuck with flagging faith that needs frequent re-starts.

 

St. Augustine arguing with donatists.

St. Augustine arguing with donatists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do Christian leaders and laypeople alike suffer moral collapses that rival the rest of the world? Why do we often remain powerless, confused, belligerent, stressed out, or discouraged? Why are we so quick to shrug and say, “Well, we do live in a fallen world” as if God left us with no means or responsibility to change?

The reasons are numerous and complex, but we can simplify one of them: We’ve overlooked Jesus’ warning about the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

Academic, political, military, or religious debate and conflict nearly always begin in the higher institutions of learning or upper echelons of society. By the time it filters down to ordinary folk, we’re confused and torn in different directions. Far from anything new, it was this way in Old and New Testament times, and in every time period since.

Tangled

A fairly recent example is from the early part of last century. In a backlash against the emerging Modernist school of thought, a large segment of the Protestant leadership in America declared Five Fundamentals to be essential to Christian faith. Accordingly, to be a Christian and thus saved, a person must check off all five items on a mental checklist, i.e., “believe”:

1.) The inerrancy of Scripture. 2.) The virgin birth of Jesus. 3.) Jesus’ death as atonement. 4.) Jesus’ bodily resurrection. 5.) The historical fact of his miracles. Prestigious seminaries debated this for years, so it was hardly a unified view, and still isn’t; but proponents came to be known as Fundamentalists.

Oddly, nothing of morality, conformation, Christ-likeness, or the at-hand kingdom of heaven made the list of essentials for well-being and eternal new life. Neither did the two fundamentals that Christ himself gave: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. (more…)

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus ...

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus College with Jesus Green to the left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, we looked at a surprising debate over Jesus’ sense of humor, noting that he said to take heart and to be of good cheer.

Today, I thought it would help to add that “take heart” doesn’t mean “buck up.” We can’t just tell ourselves, “I’m going to be of good cheer because Jesus says I must.”

That’s a little like trying to put a puzzle together without the corner pieces. No one can do what Jesus says to do without first having four foundational pieces he assumes are in place when he gives any command:

  • Vision
  • A plan
  • A way to implement the plan
  • Will (or heart) and desire

Vision

If there were a single most-enabling factor for a transformed, joyful life, it would be vision. We can’t do much of anything without a clear picture of God, His kingdom, and what He’s up to with humanity. We also need to see ourselves the way God sees us—who we are, where we fit with Him, where we’re going, and why:

  1. We’re created in God’s image to rule and serve the Earth with Him.

  2. We’re to learn to do it safely and wisely, without arrogance, ignorance, or ill will. Loving God with all our heart, and loving neighbors as ourselves is Christianity 101.

  3. We learn by stepping into the kingdom of heaven, God’s world without end for Jews and Gentiles alike. 

  4. We increasingly bring our own little kingdoms—i.e., personhood, life, and will—into God’s larger kingdom. Our kingdoms are the current arenas in which we practice God’s Word, where the “bride” prepares herself.

  5. Our future thus comes full circle to (re)inherit the Earth and reign with Jesus.

I love the way Dallas Willard puts it: “Jesus brings us into a world without fear…and invites us to live now in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good.”

You can read more in my articles A Vision of Purpose and A Badly Needed, Clearer Gospel. (more…)

lol on a candy heart

I’m amazed at how many Christians think that humor is inappropriate and that Jesus was mostly a man of sorrows. I read an online Relevant Magazine article by James Martin, S.J., entitled “Jesus Was Funnier Than We Think.”  I loved it, and so did many others, but some of the reader comments had me scratching my head.

One said that there’s nothing funny at all about Jesus, that humor and joy aren’t related. Others said that because there’s no Scripture that specifically states, “Jesus had a sense of humor,” it’s a stretch of truth to suppose that he did. Roman oppression was just too serious and Jesus had his hands full taking on the sins of the world. Apparently, he couldn’t even crack a smile.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Jesus did stand-up schtick, but he definitely did use tongue-in-cheek wit and sarcasm regularly. Some of it was aimed at the often-obtuse disciples, but most of it was aimed at the Pharisees.

Be of Good Cheer

I guess it all depends on one’s definition of funny and humorous, and how it relates to joy, laughter, and song. I’ve read of some Christians leaving a church that was too happy and not teaching the serious issues, which I can understand. We want a strong God who can relate to and handle the tough side of life. (more…)

Square Peg in a Round Hole - geograph.org.uk -...

Square Peg in a Round Hole

I just read this cool article entitled Our Changing Spiritual Relationship Status. It brings up a point that I make in my book about Christians being confused about how they fit with God. We’re often told that, by default, we humans can’t relate to the divine at all. I especially love this quote from the article:

Having said all this, I believe there was another reason for the incarnation. As much as it helps us relate to God, something even more profound took place. In Jesus we find God eating food and sleeping on the ground. God entered through a tunnel and left through a tomb—same as us. God sat at the barren table of poverty and drank the cup of our suffering. He didn’t just come so we could relate better to Him, He came so He could relate to us.”

My thought is that if we have so much trouble relating to the divine, how will we ever develop a deep, abiding love instead of a shallow or mandatory love, not to mention imitate it? What are your thoughts?

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.”