Tag Archives: church

Refugees

Matthew 25:34-37.
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Those are the words of Jesus.

Isaiah 58:6-9.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

Those are the words of Isaiah.

Refugees. It’s hard to imagine that this is a polarizing topic among Christians.   But it is.  Some of my Facebook friends — who practice Christianity — claim that this ban on refugees is right and within the bounds of Christian theology and life practice.  Elders, leaders, silent pulpits.

The issue for the American Christian (is that even a category, sadly it is?) is that we don’t trust God.  We won’t speak out on behalf of those who are escaping the very terror that we are trying end. The refugees are the people from Mosul and Aleppo and countless other places where the war on terror is being intensely fought.  We are willing to fight over there, but we are not willing to accept a minuscule risk to our safety here to welcome them? The people who are well vetted, and who have suffered so much to get the chance to come here, we abandon them at the last minute because…? Jesus tells us so?  Huh

Hebrews 13:1-4.
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

We have the opportunity to rescue, help, and bless some of the world’s most oppressed — women, children, families. To be the light of the world.  To show these oppressed the Love of God.  That’s right, to open our hearts and to pour out on these people the love of God which we believe is greater than anything else.  Any nationality.  Any creed.  Any nationalistic, narrowly focused, expression of what’s mine is mine.

All this past week I have read and seen the stories of those who have been turned away at our borders.  I have carried the grief and embarrassment of what our country has done and the vocal silence of Christians, especially conservative evangelicals.  If you, as a Christian persist in telling the most vulnerable to go away, then what are we to make of Jesus’ words?  Of Isaiah’s prophesy?

I was talking with a colleague this week about the craziness in the world.  Our conversation drifted to the refugee situation.  I told her I am a Christian.  We had been very serious in our conversation.  And she simply stopped talking and looked at me.  Silent.  Waiting.

I told her I do not support the US ban on refugees.  It is wrong.  It does not show the love of God.  It does not risk helping the poor and destitute regardless of my circumstances. And I said, if other Christians disagree, well then, on this issue I will say this: You are a hypocrite.

Losing Faith

Imagine your nature is such that all you are designed to do is to love God. Everything that you are and everything that you can be is simply transcended by this idea. Then imagine finding that this completely eludes you and that everything you hope for is completely misaligned with this idea, and you find your own existences is still the fulfillment of your own desires and cravings. In The New Seeds of Contemplation, this is essentially what Thomas Merton calls compunction, a feeling of guilt followed by an unhealthy behavior that leads us into more alienating behaviors and takes us away from faith.

I have seen it happen a lot. People have an emotional connection with God, we extol this experiences, and encourage the believer to extend the divine encounter with bible reading, small groups, acts of service, and evangelizing. But the emotional divine connection is elusive, and often believers are left wondering how to obtain it again. And so the church encourages the same activities… Bible reading, evangelizing, small groups. The believer may recover a sense of connection, but many times these methods lead to a complacency and abandonment of the initial hope of a changed life.

When people stop “believing” most times they say it is because they don’t “feel it” anymore. And it is usually followed by a sense that music has become boring, the sermons irrelevant, the service projects a chore and church friends distant. In or words, spiritual loneliness. But so often, this is the experience right on the cusp of something better, and these activities that are unfulfilling are human endeavors to keep you engaged. What God is asking is you abandon your whole self, including your church self, to His will, and to enter into a one-of-a-kind relationship with Him. A relationship exactly suited to who you are created to be.

Having experienced this myself (and continue to experience), this is the path we must go through to arrive at a deep, abounding faith. But many times the church, especially us evangelicals, fail to recognize this critical juncture. Instead of acknowledging that the journey to tranquility goes through the desert, we direct more of the same activities that are leaving so many without a path to a truer experience of God. Is it any wonder churches don’t grow when the constant barrage of “let’s feel good” wears thin?

The truth is, friends, if you are at the point where you want to walk away because you no longer “feel” it, this is the place where God wants you to be, and this is the place where God is asking you to abandon all your conceptions of what church and faith has been, and to walk with Him into the next phase of your relationship.

Your spiritual path must be simplified and redirected. Yes, by all means continue to go to church and engage in His word, but as spiritual seekers, sometimes — and often for long periods of time — the barrenness of faith is real, and His love for us is not built on the gimmicks of lights, sounds, sermons, service and experience. True love, true peace, true engagement is found by those who acknowledge that faith cannot rely on what others have made for us to experience. Faith is my sole and direct engagement with Him.

It is in great praise and thankfulness that I accept this emptiness. The vast love of God’s hope for us when is where we stand at the edge. It is a gift. And any gift from God is better than my own dim understanding of how to experience Him. When the sermons or the music stop resonating, it’s because He is saying, “That is not me. I am something better. I am something richer. Come, let me show you.”

I know, right? It sounds really, really crazy that when so much of Church becomes empty He is actually asking us to walk more closely with Him. He is asking us to abandon a false sense of who He is and to enter into a deeper, genuine relationship with His divine self. Not somebody else’s music or somebody else’s words or somebody else’s service project, but our own concerning Him.

So do this first every day, and be committed to just this. Tell God, in your own voice, that you are seeking Him. Tell Him honestly what your faith feels like. Tell Him honestly where you are struggling. And wait. I can’t tell you for how long. But I assure you He is there with you. And you will not look back on this time as anything other than a great transformation and a great gift to a deeper awareness of His presence.

 

Pessimism Part 2 / Optimism Part 1

Summer comes. Summer goes.  But one thing about summer, it can be more busy than other times of the year.  So this Pessimism Part 2 / Optimism Part 1 has been sitting on the shelf for a while.  Since my last post, I’ve spent a week at the beach with family, started a new role at work, read a lot, reconnected with a bunch of people, gone for a lot of bike rides, and relaxed in some of the nicest weather we’ve had in a long while.  I also reached and crossed over the half century mark.  🙂

So that one little prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner” caused me a lot of angst.  But two things happened that freed me from constantly beating myself up, and being a (almost completely) negative thinker.  This post describes the first step.

I heard someone (I’ll call him Ted) mention Philippians 4:13, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Ted said that every time he recited this verse, amazing things happened.  And when he didn’t, or when he didn’t pray it sincerely, things didn’t go as well.   He told me that when he played football this prayer gave him the strength to be a hard hitting, aggressive linebacker, and his team would usually win.

So I asked Ted what happened when other people on the opposing teams prayed this verse as well? Or if he applied it to taking tests?  Or driving in hazardous weather?  Or…?  He admitted that he mostly prayed Philippians 4:13 when he played sports.   Especially in games. Ted’s answers were vague on the outcomes related to insincerity or intensity of the prayer.

A lot of people have used this verse as a personal best, and so I had to admit, this little prayer seemed to be exactly what I needed. So I tried it in place of the sinner’s prayer…  and my results were at best inconclusive.  It just didn’t seem to work.  Or make sense.  And if this was the formula to success, wouldn’t it be explicitly stated somewhere in the Bible?  And then it dawned on me, “Had I read the scripture?” (the answer was no, I had not… a little lesson to explore another time).

So some exegesis (that’s studying God’s word in context) revealed something to me very different from they way I had heard Ted and many others use this verse.  In fact, Paul’s context here was that he was telling the Philippians that he had been through some bad times and some good times, he’d been hungry and full, he had nothing and everything.  And through it all, Christ sustained him.  It was not about what would happen, but about what had happened.  And what would continue to happen.

This started the change in my thinking.  I saw that Christ was with me in good times and bad time, in plenty and need, in up and down.  And through it all, Christ sustained me.   It wasn’t about what I was achieving, but who was sustaining me. Who was with me. In all of my circumstances.  A subtle, yet very, very important shift in praying happened…

“Lord Jesus, through whom all things were created, sustain me.“

Stuck

Every so often, I feel like I get stuck.  Church is kind of so-so.  My Christian friends seem to be a little too busy for deep conversations.  I pray, but it’s a quick message to God while walking between buildings at work, “Sure hope this meeting goes well, Lord.  I want to be like you. Oh, and make sure my son gets… or I have… or my boss…”

Life just happens and faith can so easily become part of the less important things I do. And that can send me into a tailspin of guilt and “must do” and “should do” activity.  Which, of course, makes faith feel a little more automated and routine.

But I have learned a little trick, if you will, to get me unstuck.  It takes a little while, and I have to first recognize that I am stuck, and then I have to remind myself of what to do next.  But also let me say that I am sure there are a bazillion ways to get unstuck, this is just what works for me.

I have several favorite bible verses, but one that I turn to is this:  “This is how we have come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us” 1John 3:16 MSG.  Very close to John 3:16, I know, but different in that this verse is in the middle of a whole chapter on how we come to know what love is.  It’s the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  It’s the price He paid on my behalf.  It’s the cost.  And in juxtaposition to cost is worth.  You don’t accept the high cost of something unless it is worth something of great value.

The high cost – the price of His life – was accepted because He valued me so much.  My worth was equated with the Son’s life.

And that’s what I do.  I reflect on that.  I am worthy.  So much so, that God’s love is shown to me right there on the cross.  And as I think and reflect and praise that very idea, I see that my own worth is all tied up in the cross.  My own sense of value and own sense of self is right there on the cross because my ultimate sense of value comes in being assured of just how much the Creator values me.

As I reflect on the worth he places on me, I gradually see I am not really stuck.  Just in need of a little reminder that I am worthy.  Because for me being stuck is really about being unsure of my value, which leads to feelings of being stuck.

As I let that worth sink in, I remind myself that this also allows me to be called His child.  “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it – we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” 1John3:1 MSG.

Worthy to be called his child.  Let that really sink in.

Unstuck.

Family

Sunday can be the best day of the week.  Sleeping a little later than normal, being lazy around the house, reading, cooking or tinkering with a little project.  But what really makes Sunday different is church.

Church is that guaranteed, once-a-week reminder that the Creator still exists and the Creator still wants to be engaged with me.  It’s a chance to reset and regroup before the week gets going. So on Sundays, I sing with gusto (I love to sing, not too sure how on key I am…), pay attention to the sermon (and even take notes), and chatter and meet and greet people as much as I can (not too much into the fellowship hall thing).

But still, there are days and weeks when sermon series don’t do much for me, when my mind wanders to things at work, where particular worship leaders choose songs that bore me, and seeing so-and-so can be painful or awkward.  Or any combination thereof in small or large measure.

In other words, going to church can sometimes be a big disappointment, and it can be full of the politics of daily living.  Some of my friends up and leave church when it gets a little mundane or something happens that makes them uncomfortable.  But for me, I look at church and see it as a microcosm of the rest of the world.  Not something to be escaped, but something to live in.

So even when going to church is a little tough, I remind myself that I did something about three years ago that completely changed my perspective and helped me a lot – I joined my church. It was a totally voluntary act. There were no strings attached, except…

I made a covenant, I signed a book, and my brothers and sisters in Christ formally welcomed me to the community.  I committed to be their brother.  To pray for them.  To be relied upon.  To be faithful.  To be my best and to grow away from my worst. To be human.  To be a disciple.  To give cheerfully.  To love.  To forgive.  To welcome.  And they did the same for me. Willingly.

When I go to church on Sunday, I go not only to worship God, but also to be among my brothers and my sisters, the people with whom I made a covenant to be their brother, with God as our Father.

It’s this sense of church that makes everything else seem moot: we’re a part of His family.