Who is Discipling You? October 27, 2018 No Comments

The truth is, that whether we are Christians or not, but especially if we are Christians, we are being discipled and formed in some way. As Christians, we should be discipled and formed through the scriptures, relationships and Jesus. The reality is that today, in the United States most people are discipled by their cable news station and formed by their social media feed. The reality is that most Christians in the US spend more time with their television and social media focused on politics and the news than they do in prayer, study of the bible and with other Christians. This is deeply problematic in so many ways and is idolatry. Add to the idolatry the reality that most news stations are deeply biased (Fox, MSNBC etc), sensationalized (CNN) or too short (ABC, NBC, CBS) to give us full and accurate information. Even if they were accurate, truth is ultimately only found in Jesus. I find Christians have ignored the scriptures for their politics whether conservative, liberal, or something in between. We are called to worship and imitate Jesus, not a political party, figure or ideology. The other day I was on the social media page of a Christian who had more pictures of a political figure on their page than their own children! The reality is that both major parties have beliefs that are consistent with and directly contrary to the scriptures and the life and ministry of Jesus. I have found that more Christians perspectives and mood to be shaped by politics rather than Jesus. This is idol worship, heresy and an insult to what Jesus did on the cross. Who is shaping and forming you? Who are you imitating? If the answer is not Jesus, you might want to drop the name ‘Christian’ from your biography.

Many, many questions September 22, 2018 No Comments

Recently, when I was in India training pastors, I had a young man come to me and quiz me on theology. He must have asked at least several hundred questions. They were on all the controversial items from politics to end times and biblical interpretation. He clearly had a more narrow view and also seemed to be testing me out. In Christiendom, we do not always know what to do with questions and doubts. We do not know how to say ‘I don’t know’ and often feel tempted to provide the ‘right’ answer for the individual to whom we are speaking. This is a great danger. Questions and doubts are healthy. Theology is a journey. We will never have it perfectly right, but the pursuit of God and the dialogue is a great and humbling joy.

Just Jesus August 19, 2018 No Comments

In our church, we are preaching through the book of Romans and today we came to Romans 14. My colleague, Dan Bellinger did a fantastic job with this passage. As I have reflected on his message, the old hymn, Just Give Me Jesus comes to mind. The chorus, ‘you can have the whole world, just give me Jesus’ was fitting for his sermon and Romans 14. It seems so obvious and so cliche that we forget easily, especially when applying to our daily life. The world and the life we lead is more often complex than not, yet the only thing that matters is Jesus. Jesus should be first, center and all in our life and our faith. So often our desires, traditions, doctrine and practice get in the way of what really matters, Jesus. So often these things replace or are put in front of Jesus. Romans 14 admonishes that as they argued about meat and sabbath, pointing out that what matters is not the observance, but the spirit, heart and focus of the observance. Is it really about Jesus or is it about something else.

It often turns out that when it comes to life, faith and theology, the answers are quite simple and obvious. Living those things out on the other hand is the hard work and even harder prayer of the whole journey we know as life.

Cracker Jacks Theology May 18, 2018 No Comments

I confess that I am both a theological nerd and a theological cynic. I have no problem with people that think differently than I do and while I love a good theological dialogue, I never feel the need to get into a fight over theology. The diversity of thought within Christianity is a gift, especially when the theology is formed based on scripture. Believe it or not, its possible for two opposing theologies being both formed utilizing scripture. None of this bothers me, even though I have my own, often times strong opinions. I try not to get caught up in the small things, but the things that really matter than that we can all agree on.

The thing that concerns me greatly about theology is what I call cracker jacks theology. These are things that sound theological ideas and even Biblical, but are not in any way. These pithy sayings that mask as theology send a terrible message about God. They can be found on bumper stickers, posters and t-shirts. They are used by people in the midst of difficult and painful situations for which we have no response, yet they cause more damage than simply saying nothing. 

Cracker Jacks theology is dangerous. It is not Biblical and it sends a message about God that is inconsistent, untrue and often portrays God in anything but a loving way. People often mean well and do not know better, but that does not take away the danger or challenge that comes with this kind of thinking about God. The best test for whether or not something is cracker jacks theology is the scripture. If there is not clarity there, it is also wise the play the theology out. What does this thought ultimately say about God and humanity? What does this particular idea or though mean when it comes to other situations and circumstances?

Beware of cracker jacks theology. What we believe and say about God matters.

The Theology of Change April 24, 2018 No Comments

I do not know a single person who always loves change of all types. Sure, I say I enjoy change, but the truth is that I really only enjoy change I create, see coming, like, control, or benefit from. Its hard to enjoy change that is unexpected, painful, disrupting and full of conflict. The church, the holders of the theology of Jesus in the world today struggles more so with change than perhaps any institution, organization or group in history.  Its ironic, because the nature of life, faith, the world, being a Christian, following Jesus and being a disciple is riddled with constant change. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to become more like Jesus. This is the essence of discipleship. To become more like Jesus, we have to change. To be a church that reaches the world, we must change. Change is not ideal, but it is not optional, especially for Christians and the Christian church. They say the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. I suppose there are probably even people, few of them, who have been able to avoid taxes. I would actually add a third item to that list, change. Change is a guarantee. It is a part of life. It is a part of discipleship. 

The hope and prayer I offer is that we can experience, lead and embrace change at a pace that stretches us, but does not break us. 

Above all else, we must remember who is in charge and we must look to the one that never changes, God.

The Theology Around Suicide February 26, 2018 No Comments

Recently I have been in a situation where I have had to talk a lot about suicide and the theology around it. Its not something we should have to be talking about, but the world is not as it should be. There is a theological view within Christianity that claims that anyone who commits suicide goes to hell no matter what. It is a view that rose in part out of the catholic church and gets little discussion today even though many teach and hold this view.

The basis for this view is in the incorrect interpretation of two different passages, one that appears in three of the four gospels and one that appears in Pauls letters. The Gospel passage talks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Of course this is not a word that we know much about, but at its core, it is a direct affront, accusation and rejection of God. It is to claim that God is not real or to embrace satan instead of God. Some have decided that rather than take this view and interpretation, to view suicide as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. There is no real textual or scholarly basis to this however.

The other passage talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. Again, this is interpreted by some as suicide being the ultimate act against God, the way to grieve the Holy Spirit. While this is less of a stretch, it is a stretch nonetheless. What this does refer to however, is the rejection of God when we come face to face with God whether in life, death or both. This is the only way we can end up spending eternity without God. Now, CS Lewis notes that he could not understand how someone could come face to face with God in death and reject the power and love of God, but that some clearly do.

The idea that God would abandon any of his children in the midst of the darkest moment of their life, regardless of their belief, lifestyle or church attendance is contrary to the whole of scripture and the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is in our moments of deepest pain that God is with us.

The truth is that we can never be sure of anyones salvation but our own. The only thing we can do is life in hope, trust of God and live in love, sharing the good news of Gods unconditional love and grace with everyone we encounter in word and deed.

As for suicide, any idea that engaging in this act of desperation warrants the automatic and eternal rejection of God in every case is pure rubbish.

Theology of People September 19, 2017 No Comments

People and the relationships we have with them are one of the greatest gifts that God will ever give us. I have shared this at almost every funeral that I have performed for more than a decade. We often lose sight of that and neglect that in the midst of busyness, conflict, fear, and a focus on what is not going right or what we do not have rather than focusing on what is going well and what we do have.

We must remember that people are created in the image of God, all of them. Christian and not. One of the implications of this is that every human being, in one way or another bears the image of Jesus to others and to the world. It also means that all people have great value, that to be created in the image of God is a high honor and a unique aspect of being human. Another application is that we are all children of God. Those who have embraced this identity, or come to know Jesus or have been baptized have fully accepted and live in this identity. All this to say, that human beings are the most valuable creatures in all of creation.

This means that how we look at and treat people matters. We cannot perfect this, but we often fail to even try or notice how we see and treat others. We often focus on their flaws and judge them while ignoring our own. Our primary goal should be to see people as God sees them, beautiful, important, loved yet imperfect. Our ideal approach is to seek to understand people rather than to judge them or be understood by them. We must assume a positive, or as one of my mentors said, ‘assume a yes in everyone.’ We must assume the best in people if we really want to see and value them, if we really want to treat them with the love that God calls us to.

It also turns out that we can disagree with people, dislike things about them and still value and love them. It turns out that we can have different personalities, views, strengths and weaknesses and still love and value each other, better yet, have a healthy deep relationship with one another.

That is the ideal that God seeks in us and the only way it becomes a reality is if we take that seriously and let it begin with me.

Theology of Fear August 19, 2017 No Comments

We live in a fear based culture without question. The church has become a fear based organization much like the culture. Fear is not a Biblical value. It may seem like one, but the number of times the Bible (and Jesus) tell us not to fear is hard to count. Sure, the Bible references the fear of the Lord (and that is primarily meant to say respect), but that is not what I am talking about nor is that the issue.

It seems we can take one of two paths and as Christians, the path we are called to is narrow, hard and counter cultural. It is the path of following and imitating Jesus.

The first path is the path of fear. Fear motivates us to worry, to criticize, to judge, to hate and so much more. Fear is often rooted in lack of knowledge, whether of self or something external. Ironically, fear and ignorance together often lead to arrogance. This path often leads to judgement and hatred. You combine this with a focus on being religious and it is downright toxic and contradictory to what Jesus has for us.

The Jesus path is the path of trust. Trust of God. Trust allows us to grow, to see the best, to be a people of hope rather than a people of fear. It allows us to focus on understanding rather than being understood. The path of trust creates a sense of teachability and often increases self-knowledge, eventually blotting out ignorance. This path leads to a perspective of grace and love rather than judgment and criticism. This perspective is rooted not in religion, but in relationship with Jesus, it is truly the path of faith.

We each have a choice as to which path we will choose in our lives as we approach our own life, our family, the church and the world. Its not an easy choice and the path of Jesus is not easy. Narrow is the gate…

As for me, I pray that by the grace and help of God that I will always choose the Jesus path.

Temptation to be Relevant July 20, 2017 No Comments

In 1989, Henri Nouwen penned the book, In the Name of Jesus. It was a book on Christian leadership, one that was relevant before, when and after it was written. It is quite relevant today. Nouwen works through three temptations that Christian leaders face. They are also temptations that Jesus faced. Nouwen offers a response for each temptation. It is a short, but powerful and rich book that every Christian leader, pastor or even follower of Jesus should read. I once had one of my doctoral professors tell me that he reads this book once a year. A good and important discipline that I have tried to practice myself. The first of the three temptations that Nouwen raises is the temptation to be relevant.

This temptation is one of the most challenge and real temptations facing pastors and leaders in the Christian church in North American today. Churches as a whole in North America struggle with this temptation as well. To assume, however, that relevance is all bad is not accurate. While it is in fact a very real temptation, it is not in of itself evil. That said, relevance should not be our primary focus or priority. The truth is always relevant, it does not need our help. The Scriptures will always be relevant, they do not need us. Jesus is relevant to all people, all cultures and all situations, he does not need us to be relevant. Not everyone in the world sees these things as relevant, and as such we as Christians do have an opportunity and call to help others see their relevancy. We can do so without compromising the identity and value of any of these things.

We also recognize that Jesus communicated the Gospel in a way that was understandable, relational and relevant to the people of that culture and of that day. As a church, we also have the obligation to bring the Gospel to our culture and contexts in a relevant and understandable way without changing the content or intent of the Gospel.

At face value, it all seems fairly simple. In reality, it is deeply complicated. So often, churches do not at all consider relevance. On the other side of the spectrum, churches work so hard to be relevant that they are no longer churches. Its a practical theology question that churches and their leaders must have.

Theology of Giving June 20, 2017 No Comments

It has been interesting over the years to see the various theologies of giving that exist in the church. So often, giving is done out of habit, tradition or worse yet emotion instead of a careful, thought out philosophy or theology of giving. I have seen several theologies of giving at play:

Giving out of Obligation: simply put, you give because you feel you have to give. There is no joy, it is simply another obligation.

Giving out of Habit: you have always given, your parents gave, so you give too.

Giving to get Something: this is a bit of the prosperity Gospel. You give to get something in return from the church or from God.

Giving to Feel Good: you give to be able to feel good about yourself and to pat yourself not eh back.

Giving to Avoid Guilt: much like obligation giving, you give because you feel guilty if you do not give. This guilt may come from within or could come from the church.

Giving to Avoid Punishment: in this case, people give so that God will not punish them as if we have to pay the church for God’s love…

Giving to Get God’s Favor: this is almost identical to getting something, but less tangible. Here it is all about having God see you as good because you give.

Giving to gain Power: I have seen this a lot. As a pastor, 90% of the people who tell me what they give, do so for a reason. They want me to know. They are used to their money giving them power.

Giving as a way of Voting: in churches, people vote with their feet and their wallet, so in this case, giving is used as a weapon of sorts to vote your pleasure or displeasure with staff, programs, mission or direction

Giving to be Generous: those who give to be generous simply want to bless others and express love and thankfulness. It is not a call, obligation or tool, it is a gift.

Giving because God calls us to Give: the scripture is clear, we are called to give part of what we have back to God and his church. All we have after all comes from God.