Easter: My Personal Doubt Killer

caravaggio-thomas

The death of Christ definitely made no sense to those who lived through it. Even today it is a very strange to think that such a foundational religious figure could go out in such an awful way. Even stranger is the way that such a death is not seen as a shameful thing his followers prefer not to speak of, but rather a great victory.

Mausoleum_Muhammad

Muhammad’s Mausoleum

When you look at most respected religious leaders they tend to die in their twilight years as respected and honored leaders. Most died peacefully and surrounded by their devoted followers. Moses got to assemble all the tribes of his people together for a farewell address then he climbed to the top of Mount Nebo and died overlooking his people entering the land of promise. Gautama Buddha died at the ripe old age of 80 surrounded by his followers after reaching the state of Parinirvana. Muhammad lived to be 63 years old and died with his head resting on the lap of his wife Aisha. His death bed is now a beautifully adorned mausoleum.

There might be some pain involved in passing, but most religious leaders tended to go out old, respected, and in a state of peace with some reassurance that they had succeeded. This is not so with Christ. Christ died a criminal, tortured, humiliated, killed, and buried in a sealed tomb. He died alone, hanging nailed to a cross with murderers. His death was humiliating, and left his body broken, and defiled. His death seemed to come too soon, he died just barely into his 30’s with none of his devoted followers (except for maybe John) remaining with him during his suffering.  Jewish onlookers would have taken Christ’s death as a sign of God’s rejection of his so called son of God, and Christ himself experienced the spiritual pain that comes from being completely separated from God when we hear him cry “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!”

This looks, by all accounts this looks like the end of the life of a man who was a complete failure. No “kingdom of God” was built that anyone could see. The temple, as far as everyone could tell was still there, and man was no closer to his maker than he had been yesterday. Christ’s people had abandoned him, his followers had ran in terror, and his heavenly father had given him up to the powers of death and sin that he had come to defeat. If this was the end I guarantee you that we would have never heard of this rebellious first century Palestinian Jew.

Luckily this is not where the story ends.

The cross without the resurrection is just sin taking another victim. A cross with a resurrection is the greatest triumph this world has ever seen. Sin is vanquished, justice is served, death defeated, and a new covenant and the kingdom of God have arrived. It is without a doubt the biggest surprise ending in history.

But how do we know that the resurrection is not a fabrication?  How can we be sure that we are not  following a bunch of swindlers and liars who fabricated a resurrection? Is there any reason to believe the resurrection?

The resurrection is absolutely necessary for Christianity to hold any merit. Without an empty tomb and a risen savior we are forced to see Christ as nothing but some strange spiritual guru who pissed off all the wrong people. Without a resurrection Christ was just some nice guy who died for nothing. Even Paul was aware of this:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:14

So why do I feel safe believing in the resurrection? I’m going to give an answer to that that might seem strange at first, but hopefully it will make sense eventually. My answer is that Easter is just too strange for me to believe it is a lie. What I mean by this? Well if one was going to fabricate the resurrection of their savior, I really doubt they would have bothered to include some of the strange details that are included in the post-resurrection Christ accounts.

One strange detail that jumps out right away is that no one recognized the risen Christ. If I wanted to JesusKneelstoaWomanconvince you that I had seen someone risen from the dead the first thing I’d want to establish would be that I could recognize him when I see him. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus and is not recognized right away, he appears to the mourning Mary Magdalene and is confused for a gardener, he appears over and over and everyone always has to do a double take to realize it’s him. Thomas, one of the twelve men who had been in Jesus’ inner circle, had to touch his wounds before he would believe it was actually him. This is a very strange detail if you wanted to describe the triumphant risen son of God, and yet it’s the strangeness of this detail that make it more real for me.

Speaking of Jesus appearing to women, that’s a weird twist of events in and of itself. If you wanted to make up a victorious resurrection myth would you have the risen son of God appear to a bunch of women who didn’t even recognize him at first?  Maybe the strangeness of this isn’t clear to modern readers, but the fact that the risen savior was first seen by women was a big deal in first century Palestine.  Anyone writing this with the goal of fictionalizing an epic narrative probably would have had Christ appear before his loyal male followers, or appearing on top of the synagogue in full glory for all the world to see, or really anything more than some women in mourning. Defying expectations seems to be on a list of Christ’s favorite past times, and similar to how low class shepherds were the ones to first welcome him into this world as he slept in a barn so to was the resurrected Lord greeted first by common women (one of the lowest classes of the day).

Another strange detail is that no one bothered to dig up the body. Obviously I believe there was no body to be found, but surely skeptics were everywhere. The disciples were making radical claims that he had risen from the dead and it’s clear from Acts and other early church  and secular accounts that they caused quite a fuss by doing so. Jews and Roman authorities alike were not fond of early Christianity and when you read some of the extreme persecutions that the early church went thorough it’s amazing that Christianity lived long enough to reach the 2nd century.  Yet it seems like this entire movement could have easily been nipped in the bud. All the Romans had to do was open the tomb and produce a body. Surely if there was a body to produce it would have been easier to dig up a dead jew than put in all the work in manpower it would have taken to try to dismantle the early church.

Critics of this opinion usually point to two counter theories. The first being that Christ’s tomb was lost or that he was buried in a mass grave. I think it’s safe to reject the mass grave theory since the gospel authors were wise enough to mention the name of the tomb giver, Joseph of Arimathea as a means to show that the tomb was not unknown of. People weren’t unclear about where Christ was buried, Joseph and Nicodemus were listed by name almost as witnesses to the tomb. I just don’t think the mass grave theory holds up.

Modern critics have tried a different approach and argued that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, but the disciples probably stormed the tomb and stole the body to fuel their fantasy. One problem right away I see with this is that this theory is the notion that the disciples would even bother attempting to do something like this. Peter was too afraid to admit that he knew Christ during the trial, and yet after his Lord is dead he would risk raiding his tomb? If Peter would not defend Christ when he was alive, why on earth would he risk doing so when he knew him to be dead. These twelve men that abandoned Christ in his time of need are expected to come together and pull an Oceans 11 heist on a body just to keep their story alive? For what purpose?

There is no reason for the disciples of Christ to continue this charade after their leader was killed. I’m pretty sure, had they not seen the resurrected Lord, these men would have gone back to their old lives and tried to forget the wasted years they spent following the now dead prophet. Until Peter was told by the resurrected Christ to become a “fisher of men” he seems to have done just that. None of the accounts we have of the disciples makes me fell like they were the type to devote their lives to a cause they knew was lost. Heck, they had a hard time devoting their lives to a cause even before their leader was brutally killed. The Bible rarely skims over the flaws of it’s “heroes” and if there is anything I know about the disciples it’s that they were often afraid, skeptical, confused, and in need of constant reassurance. I believe fully that these men knew in their heart that they had seen the risen son of God.

As far as history and tradition can tell us, each of the disciples died in a rather harsh way. Some were crucified, others burned, some beheaded… the only one we know of who lived to an old age was John, and he died deserted on the island of Patmos after several attempts at killing him failed. These people would rather die than deny the resurrection, could this be said of a bunch of grave robbers who wanted to continue a delusion or scam?  I have a hard time believing so. Many early Christians from both church and secular accounts faced death instead of denying what happend on Easter Sunday, if nothing else we can say that these men and women genuinely believed with everything they had.

Easter is very strange. No one saw it coming, no one predicted victory in death, and yet in spite of all of this victory still came. This strange twist of fate that people to this day have a hard time wrapping their mind around, is an event that eye witnesses refused to deny. It was a truth that those who believed were willing to give every fiber of their being in defense of. It was and is a truth that, as strange as it may seem, has stood the test of time and the voices of criticism. It is my personal doubt killer and the most beautiful event in history.

Happy Easter everyone!

Good Friday: Grace Is Not Cheap

Tauberbischofsheimer+altar+scene+the+crucifixion+of+Christ+detail-1600x1200-10826

 

Today is Good Friday.

It’s a day that when Christ was beaten, despised, denied, abandoned, and broken by the world he came to save. It still stands today as man kind’s ultimate rejection of God.

This is the day when the world took their greatest gift and murdered it in cold blood to the roar of applause.

This is the day when God allowed himself to be mocked and shamed by those whom he loved.

This is the day when the father turned his face away, a day when the prayers of his son went unanswered.

This is a very dark day, and yet it is good.

It is the most painful and gut wrenching good imaginable, but it is still good.

This is the day of “not my will but yours be done.”

This is the day when God took the sins of the world upon himself and endured the full wrath of sin and death on our part.

This is the day when God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whomever would believe in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

This is the day when all man’s crimes were paid for.

Best of all, though no one saw it coming, this was not the end of the story. Sunday is only two days away.

As we celebrate the fact that we have been given loving grace and mercy by our father in heaven, let us never forget that grace was not cheap. Let us not forget that in the most unexpected turn of events, God humbled himself, suffered, and died, on our part. As we seek to serve God, let us not forget that he first served us through the horrific beauty of Christ’s sacrifice. This grace came at a greater cost than any of us could ever comprehend.

 

The Gay Marriage Debate: An Indecisive Post About Why I Choose To Shut Up And Listen

urlSo with the Prop 8 bill being taken to the Supreme Court yesterday, it seems like a everyone has an opinion about whether gay people should be allowed to marry. Now I’m generally of the opinion that the government doesn’t need to play morality police and as long as you aren’t directly hurting someone else Uncle Sam doesn’t need to get involved.  This makes the legal aspect of it easy for me, but where it get’s difficult for me (and where I think it really matters) is whether or not gay marriage should or should not be endorsed by the Christian faith.

I personally don’t care what the government says is right or wrong, but God is another matter entirely. If YHWH is as opposed to gay marriage as some Christians would lead you to believe, then I’d have to side with God. He is, after all, God. We don’t get to vote on an absolute moral truth, and popular opinion does not add to or take away from the validity of a divine reality. The problem I come across is not that I am afraid to pick a side because of some public backlash. I’m a pro-life, anti-war, pro-gun, and anti-death-penalty Christian so I’m used to controversy and backlash. My problem is that I legitimately don’t know what the answer is. Honestly I’m surprised there don’t seem to be more people in my shoes.

Yes there are OT holiness codes that seem to prohibit same-sex intercourse, but anyone who knows the first thing about historical context knows that these laws are not applied today. These were a part of a holiness code whose purpose was to keep the Israelites separate and distinct from the pagan worship practices that surrounded them. I’m wearing a mixed fabric shirt right now, and earlier today I’m pretty sure I shaved in an inappropriate way. I’ve also eaten shrimp and probably at some point sat in a chair after a woman on her period (though I don’t like to think about that). My point is that Christianity has long since abandoned the laws of the OT as our guide for righteousness. We instead cling to the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that comes from Christ through the events of the death and resurrection. We have abandoned legalism (or at least we should have) long ago and I don’t think these hold up.

Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction seems to be a popular passage about homosexuality, but upon re-reading it I just can’t get myself to read it that way. For starters I think the bigger problem in Sodom was the mob’s willingness to gang-rape visitors than it was that the visitors happened to be males. Rape is bad, we can all agree with that. Plus in Ezekiel the sins of Sodom are listed and they have nothing to do with homosexuality.

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

– Ezekiel 16:49

Now Jesus himself is never recorded as mentioning anything about homosexuality (how easy this would be if he did) but that isn’t to say the subject was never brought up in the NT. In Romans and other Pauline epistles a modern-day reader might be able to read certain passages and find verses that seem to condemn homosexuality.  Here once again I have to throw my hands up in the air and confess I don’t know. I don’t think these passages are as crystal clear as a lot of people try make them out to be.  Monogamous homosexual couples just weren’t a normal thing in Paul’s day, at least not as common as the extra-marital homosexual affairs that Rome was full of. In the context of Paul’s day people probably envisioned any homosexual behavior as a form of extramarital erotic excess. It wasn’t uncommon for wealthy men to have wives and young male sexual servants. Sex was quick and loose in a lot of the Roman empire, but monogamous gay marriage was not at all common. When we try to look through Paul’s eyes instead of our own, we can see that what he was addressing in these letters was probably not the same issue we are addressing today.

Much to my frustration, I just don’t think scripture adequately addresses gay marriage. The Biblical authors probably never even thought to address the concept of monogamous homosexual marriage. To the OT writers homosexuality was a pagan practice and to the NT writers it was a freaky extramarital hedonistic thing. Neither had the same problem or view of homosexuality that we are faced with today, and neither really give much in the way of practical application.

urlI’ve stressed enough the problem I have with outright declaring monogamous homosexual marriage a sin, so why don’t I just join the “marriage equality” side and be done with it. Well though the Bible doesn’t address gay marriage in a way that I find satisfying enough for me to condemn it, it also fails to address it in a way that I find satisfying enough to outright embrace it. There are no positive portrayals of homosexuality found in scripture, and while that is probably a product of the time these writings were written in, it does not make my decision easy. I don’t want to disqualify something just because the Bible doesn’t openly praise it (if that were the case I couldn’t drive a car since the Bible says nothing about them) but I feel like too many people who find the anti-gay marriage arguments lacking quickly run and jump over into the pro-gay marriage camp. This is a decision that will have long-lasting consequences no matter who is wrong or who is right. When the scriptures say nothing that doesn’t really mean that the thing in question is moral or amoral, it simply means it was not addressed.

So while I’m busy being a “hypocritical fence sitter” as some have called me, what do I do when the problem comes up? To put it bluntly, I shut up and listen.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

– James 1:19-20

Let the gay christians speak. Let those people that will be effected by the church’s stance speak for themselves. I can’t help but feel like this entire debate bing waged in the church is predominantly a bunch of straight men who don’t understand homosexuality. I’d count myself as one of those. So I choose to reserve my judgements and let those who deserve to speak speak for themselves.

At the end of the day my opinion in this debate is just that, my opinion. The ultimate truth behind this moral quandary does not change based on which side of the coin I land on. My “vote” doesn’t count, and wherever I land it won’t really have an impact on me at all. At most my opinion might help others figure out where they stand, but that’s about as far as it goes for me.

The people who really need to be involved in this debate, the ones who have a voice that matters and a stake in this game, are those LGBTQ Christians out there seeking answers. If you are gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or some other variation then I think that you are the ones who really deserve to have an opinion in this fight that matters. I’m not going to marry another person of the same-sex, but some of you might be considering that option some day and it will be up to you to figure out and make peace with God in regards to that. It’s the LGBTQ Christians who will have to face these challenges and it is the job of their straight brothers and sisters to love and support them as they embark on this spiritual journey.

Now that I’ve gone on and on about all the things I don’t know,  I figured it is time for me to share something I do know.

I know is that no matter who you are, what you have done, what you will do, or who you choose to be…. God loves you. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Shalom.

Let Your Anger Matter: Choose Your Hatred Wisely

Something I will never understand is the strange obsession people have with hating things that don’t matter. Why on earth does everyone care if the Twilight books are popular? Does the fact that Justin Bieber or One Direction is popular at the moment really anger you? I never thought I’d ever be writing about any of this stuff, but something happened the other day that made me realize how toxic this pop-culture hatred can be. People will go out of their way to mention how much they hate these things, even when there is no reason to do so.

I understand that making fun of terrible things can be entertaining. My favorite TV show is Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and the entire premise of that show is making fun of bad movies. I get the appeal. What I don’t get is why people take what should be poking innocent fun and turn it into malicious hatred. Remember when Rebecca Black was popular for that terrible Friday song? It was so bad that it was funny, and for a while I had fun occasionally listening to it and laughing along. At the end of the day though I knew that it was just some young tween girl making a silly youtube video. The sad part of this story is that this girl was cyber bullied to the point of receiving death threats just because she made a lame song. That is just taking things way to far!

So what is my point? My point is everyone’s angry, but no one seems to be angry about the right things.

I remember back around Christmas time I was wearing a purple shirt at a social event. I only remember this because a little kid, probably around five years old, came up to me and with as much spite as a five-year old can muster he said:

“Purple is a gay color!”

Now keep in mind this is a very small child. I might have been bothered if this had come from someone with a little more developed social skills, but kids say stupid things all the time. I got down on his level and I told him:

“Purple is my favorite color. Why do you think purple makes me gay?”

I was pretty certain that this child didn’t actually know what “gay” meant. I’m sure he had heard some homophobic language somewhere (tv, parents, friends, who knows) and had just learned to associate purple with “gay” and “gay” with something undesirable.

“Justin Bieber likes purple, and he’s gay,” was the response I got.

I thought this was pretty funny at the time. I don’t know an awful lot about Justin Bieber, but thanks to this little kid I know that he apparently really likes the color purple. Iurlf nothing else I can say that I like Bieber’s sense of color coordination. Fashion aside, I realized that this kid had gotten it into his head from somewhere that anything associated with Justin Bieber was “gay”, even going so far as to negatively associate colors with him. I wasn’t mad at this as much as I was amused. I was enjoying my conversation with what has to be the cutest hater in the world.

“Why do you not like Justin Bieber?” was my response.

I was honestly curious to see what this little guy was going to say. Celebrity gossip rarely enters my sphere of consciousness, and I was interested to see what this little guy was going to say.

“He’s gay.” squeaked the tiny voice.

“Why don’t you like gay people.” I asked.

The little guy got confused by this. He knew he was supposed to hate Justin Bieber and he knew he was supposed to hate gay people, but he didn’t know why? I stress again that this kid was around five years old. At this age he’s pretty much only capable of being selfish and regurgitating things he’s heard from grown ups or TV. I’m not blaming him or priding myself on outwitting a five-year old. The conversation faded after that, the kid had lost interest in me and I really didn’t care to attempt an intellectual discussion with someone who was probably still learning how to count.

The point I’m bringing up here is that hatred can spread very quickly without us knowing it and the vast majority of the time hatred is aimed at very stupid things that don’t matter at all. I think there must be some part of human nature that makes us secretly love to hate things. Maybe it’s a rival sports team, a crappy band, a celebrity, a political view, a religion (or non-religion), another nationality, another race, the neighbor across the street… you get the idea. People kind of like hating things. We’re tribalistic like that.

I’m not here to say that hatred is bad in and of itself. What I am saying is that I often find myself wondering what this world could be like if we really hated things that deserve hatred. What if instead of every other facebook status, tweet, youtube video, hating on some pop culture trend they instead focused on hating human trafficking and exploitation? I’m aware that from time to time some “Kony 2012” type of thing will get social media attention, but that is always quickly phased out within a month or two by the return of pop-culture bashing. But what if we really and truly devoted our hatred towards doing something about world hunger for instance? I’m not talking about world hunger month, I’m talking about a people who really and truly hate the fact that people are going hungry. What if the world voiced their hatred for the slave trade as much as they voiced their hatred for the next tween sensation?

I really wish I saw more hatred aimed at this:

url

Than this:

url

I truly believe that hatred can come out of love. People that hate bad music, do so because they love good music. People that hate bad books do so because they love good books. People that hate sin do so because they love God. If we really do care about the suffering and oppressed of this world then I suggest we stop getting angry over fickle things and start get angry about injustice and cruelty. Let’s aim our anger at a desire to see a better world, rather than just trying to get better music on the radio.

Righteous anger is an extension of Godly love, so evaluate what makes you angry. What do you spend your time hating? Is it sin in your life? Is it injustice? Is it cruelty?

Is it worth it?

Want to get angry about something that matters:

End Times and New Beginnings: An Incredibly Short Post

Yesterday I let my youth decide what book of the Bible we would be studying next. I should have know before I started that the anser would be a near unanimous vote for Revelation.  So in preparing for this study I came across this image and I thought I would share it. I think it speaks for itself.

URmop

God is good, and his mercies are new every morning. May God Bless.

 

Christianity With A Side of Zen: Six Zen Teachings Christianity Should Re-Learn

The other day I found myself under a great deal of stress. A storm on monday had rained down some baseball sized hail on my old car that I was just about to sale. My windows are all cracked, my exterior is dented, and my roof has a hole in it… It was not a great way to kick off the week.  On top of that my frantic mind was already having to deal with the pressures that come from handling school, work, ministry, and social pressures.  I’m the type of guy who has a mini-panic attack at least once a week, usually over things that are entirely out of my control. It’s a problem, and I’ve gotten a lot better at it than I was in the past.

Anyways I just happened to stumble upon a book about Zen on this most stressful day. I typically don’t care much for Eastern philosophy (I find it too circular and vague) but while reading I started to draw some connections to my faith. Some of the things proposed in this book could easily be translated into Christianity, and some of them when I really thought about it, were already a part of my faith. I had simply forgotten about them or failed to see them on first glance.

Now I’m not trying to suggest (as some have) that Jesus was somehow influenced by Buddhist teachings. I’m also not advocating “Zen-Christianity” which downplays Christ to a mere wisdom teacher who was no more “divine” than Joe the Plumber. What I am doing is simply bringing to light some often forgotten Christian teachings, and doing so through Zen.

1) Just Look at What’s There:

“Shoshin” is the Buddhist concept of the beginners mind. This is a mental attitude that allows for one to be open and eager to learn. If a person has a beginner’s mind then they will not come in with a bunch of preconceived notions or beliefs already set. In this way they will get a richer and fuller experience since they are not stumbling over how to make everything fit into the worldview they have already adopted. I think if one really wants to experience Christ it would be wise to leave as much theological baggage behind as possible.

Have you ever noticed that people tend to be able to twist the Bible to say just about anything they want it to say? I once knew a guy who was very big into gun’s and after many searches he had compiled a list of scriptures that he believed proved that the Bible followed his anti-gun control political beliefs. Now I really don’t have much an opinion about this gun control debate, but I’m pretty confident that the authors of the Bible weren’t writing with the intention of having some guy thousands of years down the road quote them to defend his right to own a boom-stick.  This is a silly example, but far too often Christians (myself included) will approach scripture already knowing what we want it to say. We want Jesus, or Paul, or Moses, to agree with us and we’ll nit pick up a storm to try to make them. The problem here is that in doing so we are not worshiping God or letting the words of scripture penetrate us and grow us, instead we are molding the Bible into our own image and worshiping it as our own.Wrong-way-to-read-the-Bible

If the way we read the Bible always backs up what we already believe we aren’t going to grow at all. Jesus’ teachings aren’t really going to help you if all you do is try to figure out how to turn him into a puppet that sides with you. There are so many doctrines, ideas, beliefs, and desires blocking our view when we read scripture that sometimes it can be hard to see what the authors might actually be saying. I can tell you with complete confidence that Jesus was not a Calvinist or an Armenianist, nor was he Catholic or Protestant. Jesus wasn’t any of these things because these are all lenses through which we view Christ. We have so much theological baggage tied to us that we have a hard time putting it all aside and seeing the Christ for who he was.

Christ was not amazed by our theological exegetical or hermeneutical skills, in fact what he really wanted from his followers was nothing more than a simple child like faith:

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matthew 18:2-4

How often we tend to forget that the savior of the world spent his time with simple shepherds, fishermen, and street people. In trying to rationalize, compartmentalized, dissect, and study Christ we must be very careful that we don’t miss Christ in the process. This is not an attack on academics or Biblical studies, as much as it is a call not to miss the big picture.

Let Jesus be Jesus and try to experience him and his words with new eyes. Let him teach you, mold you, and make you into the person he wants you to be instead of the other way around.

2) Meditate (Spend Time Experiencing God)

Meditation is something most people attribute to Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, but taking some time out of your day to escape the world and sit in silence is something I think most Christians would benefit from. Before I go any further I’d like for you to take a moment and consider when the last time you actually just walked with God. I’m not talking about your “Christian walk” but a more literal walk. When is the last time you opened up some time in your day to let God speak to you. Maybe it’s been a while. Don’t worry if you can’t remember the last time you did this, sitting in silence is not something that a lot of Christians make a regular practice of.

urlBy proposing this I am not really trying to come up with some East meets West hybrid religion, instead I’m just suggesting we open ourselves up more to experiencing God in the silence. In the 46th Psalm we are told to “Be still and know that I am God” and when Elijah was in the mountains he learned that God was not found in the fire, the wind, nor the earthquakes, but rather the silence. One of the first things Jesus does in Mark 1:35 is go off to be alone with God and frequently we get the image of Christ finding a nice quiet place to be with the Father. Finding God in the stillness isn’t something that is new, but it is something that I think Christianity could use some more of.

Consider your prayer life, do you make time for God in your every day life?  When you pray do you set aside time to let God move in you and speak to you, or do you spout off a list of requests before bed each night and before meals? There’s nothing wrong with bringing concerns before God, but I think we would all benefit if we, like those before us, took time away from our distracting and busy lives every day to just be with God and enjoy his presence.

3) Keep It Simple

Zen teachings are not very complicated, though many people could easily make them out to be. Simplicity is a term that could not often be applied to Christian theology. We ask a lot of complicated questions and we want very detailed answers. We aren’t just satisfied with “abstain from sexual sin” because we want a very detailed list of what we can and cannot do. We aren’t satisfied with “turn the other cheek” because we want to know every loophole and exception that exists. When we really get down to it we want Law, and Christ instead gave us freedom. We have been freed from the bounds of sin and law by Christ, but we still want to have a legalistic system of do’s and dont’s. In the gospels people tried constantly to trick Jesus into legalistic loopholes, condemning him for healing on the sabbath or for letting his disciples eat wheat when it was not the proper time. Jesus dismissed these trivialities and brought about a new perspective, one that focuses on the heart.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

– Matthew 22:36-40

Let’s be clear that the Bible doesn’t spell everything out for us. There’s no passage that’s
going to directly address birth control, stem cell research, cloning, nuclear bombs, high-fructose corn syrup, internet piracy, or tax evasion. But we have a pretty simple way of formulating Christian opinions about just about anything. Are we Loving God and Loving people? Are you seeking to honor God in the way you act and treat others, or are you trying to get away with as much as possible while still not breaking any rules?For those of us who have been forgiven and made clean through Christ, we have the Holy spirit as our guide to help us make difficult calls. What really makes a different is a heart change. If your heart’s end goal is

still self-centered and seeking to get away with as much as possible then I think it is time to re-examine yourself. If your heat is truly focused on loving God and others before yourself then he will make your path straight. You don’t have to logic yourself in or out of every situation, God will guide you if you let him. Coming into proper relationship with God and allowing Christ to be your center puts you in a much greater state to make moral judgements than memorizing a strict list of do’s and dont’s. Paul in Romans 3:19-20 states that laws and moral codes cannot make a man righteous, but instead they can only make him aware of his own shortcomings. Righteousness comes through Christ and we now belong to a new covenant based in forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love. Let us live as if we truly believe this.  Let us stop waving around complex moral codes as weapons like the Pharisees of old used to do, build themselves up and taring others down. Let us love God and Love people and let the scriptures guide us and help us as we seek to do this.

4) Be Mindful (Take Time To Appreciate God’s Gifts) 

url-3When is the last time you were truly grateful for all the wonderful things God has blessed you with? Have you ever stopped and thought about how your very existence makes you extremely fortunate. Consider how many parings of people it took throughout history to make sure you were born. Consider how many different children could had there been a different combination of seed and egg? The overwhelming number of people that could have been, were never born. Yet here you are, reading these words I type. Your won the lottery a million times over simply by the fact that you have been born. You get the privilege of experiencing the wonder of life and all that it has in store, the good and bad. How blessed you are.

Today is an amazing gift that you have been given and there are any number of beautiful and wonderful things all around you. Every day is a new beginning and a new opportunity to experience so many wonderful things. There is a world full of amazing, unique, and beautiful people that are only here for a short while, and yet you get to live with them and love with them. There are millions of things to do, to see, to study, to learn, and to achieve. There is new music to listen to, new friends to make, new foods to try, new places to wander, new things to discover, and new mysteries to uncover. Your mind itself is an amazing place to wander. You can study yourself, create art, think big new thoughts, or most amazingly of all have a chat with your maker.

This world is so vast, so massive, so beautiful, and so full that I often wonder how anyone ever finds the time to be bored. Gifts are everywhere and yet we refuse to see them. Try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness and take some time to be mindful of what is around you. Realize all that you have, all that you are,  all that you could be, and all that you have been given.  Be grateful.

5) Be Open (Don’t Let Doctrine Imprison You)

url-1The other day I was speaking with one of my professors about the nature of miracles. He was of the opinion that the “miracles” of the Bible (if they occurred at all) could all be naturally explained. This professor is very strongly involved in the sciences, specifically physics and chemistry. Because my professor saw such beauty in the natural laws of the universe he was of the opinion that a perfect God would not violate the laws he set up just to prove a point to us. This debate was really just a friendly discussion, but at the end the professor told me that “In order to hold to what I believe is true, I just can’t accept your arguments.”

At the time I saw nothing wrong with this. The professor knew what he believed and he respected what I believed. He was considerate enough to entertain the notion that I could be right, but he ultimately rejected my doctrine to remain consistent. The problem here that I didn’t realize until just now is that the professor is imprisoned to his own doctrine so much that he is willing to reject what is out there for the sake of consistency.

Granted I’m sure I have been guilty of this as well. I am not exactly an open mind who is willing to turn on a dime, but perhaps when dealing with God we shouldn’t be so slow to consider possibilities. God is much bigger than I think any of us could possibly give him credit for, and I feel utterly confident that I am somehow so special that I have a perfect and complete understanding of God.

Now I firmly believe God is good. I believe God is not unknowable and that he does reveal himself and his nature through his creation and through Christ and the Holy Spirit. I’m mot advocating an unknowable God, but I am advocating a God that is a lot bigger than the human brain can fathom.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

– Isaiah 55:8-9

I truly believe we can have a relationship with the creator of the universe. I believe God is love and that the scriptures in the Bible do reveal parts of his loving nature and character. I also think we will never be able to fully encapsulate God in our doctrines. Doctrines are our human endeavor to find consistency and Theology is merely just human logic being applied to the almost impossible task of wrapping our brains around God. We shouldn’t, however get so caught up in our doctrines and theology that we put limitations on God and start dictating what we believe he can and cannot do. Let’s try to remember that we worship a God who is much bigger than we can imagine. If we are worshiping a God that is small enough to be fully grasped by the human mind is a God that mankind could have easily made up. Why do you think God requires faith? It’s not because he gets a kick out of making people put their logic aside, but rather it is because human logic has it’s limits. Be open and be in wonder of God, don’t try to force him to live in your tiny doctrines of human comprehension. Don’t let your theology become your idol.

6) Get A Sense Of Humor 

I have a pretty dry sense of humor, so maybe this won’t seem as funny to you guys as it is to me, but one time I was teaching a lesson on Hosea and I came across this image:

Hosea 2

I thought it was hilarious. It’s a clever little joke about one of the book’s major themes (Hosea’s cheating wife was like Israel’s abandonment of God) and so I worked it into my lesson. No one thought it was funny. It wasn’t a matter of the joke falling flat, but rather that no one thought I should be making fun of Hosea’s situation. I wasn’t trying to make any real statement here, I just wanted to bring some humor into the study.

Maybe this is predominately a Baptist problem, but I get the feeling that I’m not alone in saying that Christians could learn to laugh at ourselves a little better. Being in ministry, two of my favorite Church jokes are:

Q: “If you take a Baptist fishing, how do you keep him from drinking all your beer?”

A: “Bring another Baptist.”

Q: “How many Baptists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

A: “One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.”

Would you believe that I offended people with these jokes? You don’t get much more tame than that. Now I know I’m cheesy as all get out, but I’d never have thought before I got into Ministry just how easily offended people in churches can get. Have you ever heard of a Buddhist getting offended? When was the last time Buddhists boycotted a business or got angry and went on the news to fuss about how offended they were about something. I can’t think of a time.

File:Buddha_Beipu

This is actually Budai, not Buddha.

Buddhists and Zen religions seem to have a good sense of humor about things. I’m pretty sure when most people think of the Buddha they think of the laughing fat man. While this isn’t really accurate, it does say something about humor.

Look at icons in Christian art and see how long it takes for you to find a picture of someone smiling. Christians don’t smile much in their art and honestly I’d like to see this change. Christianity deals a lot in suffering, which is reflected a lot in our art, but it also deals in joy and happiness.

We don’t have to take everything so seriously, and perhaps a part of turning the other cheek could involve maybe not getting so up tight about every little joke that comes our way. The Christian life is a joyous and fun existence. I think it might be a good idea to develop a sense of humor to show this. The passage that comes to my mind is at the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians which reads:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

– Philippians 4:4-8

Basically, lets focus on the positive and lighten up a bit. There are times to be serious, but there are also times for thanksgiving and laughter. I’m pretty sure God didn’t create laughter so that we could squirm uneasily at jokes and become offended whenever we happen to be the butt of one.

As the author of Proverbs said, “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

Why I Love the Broken Hypocritical Church

 “I have powerful and tender feelings for Christ’s broken church, wobbling along these 2000 years, still bumbling and stumbling and confessing and promising to do better. What a silly bunch of dreamers we are. Ridiculous, really. We stand together in our collective absurdity, somehow managing to catch – in the rich depth of our liturgy – truths that are beyond our understanding but accessible to our simple hearts.”

– Gordon Atkinson (Author of “The Tertium Squid” Blog)

There’s an old joke I’ve heard many times in church and that it goes something like this. A man goes up to the pastor of a Church with a check list and asks him all sorts of questions. He asks about the sermon style and length, the childcare available, the friendliness of the congregation, the music style, the version of the Bible used, whether there are pews or chairs, and so on and so forth. After about the tenth or so question the pastor asks what this is all about. The man tells him that he is new to the area and wants to find the perfect church. Jokingly the pastor replies “Son there’s no such thing as a perfect church, and if you find one don’t join it cause you’ll screw it up.”

It’s an old cheesy joke, but the point is pretty clear. Churches are people and people are messed up. Coming from a person in career ministry I know better than most people that church life takes patience, people skills, and a thick skin. You will never please everyone and you will get yelled out, talked about, and worn out if you don’t learn quickly to love very broken people.

The number one complaint I hear from people who don’t want to go to church is that the church is full of hypocrites. What I don’t understand is what exactly people were expecting?

No where in Christianity will you find the idea that the Church is perfect, or anything more than a bunch of broken people clinging to a savior. We suck at Christianity, and honestly we are always going to suck at it. That’s kind of the reason we need Jesus. You don’t go to a hospital and complain about all the sick people, so why would you go to a church and complain about hypocrites. I’m a sinner saved by grace who still falls into sin on a daily basis, I’m a hypocrite. This isn’t me justifying my sin, but admitting that I need a savior and I need grace and mercy…. which is like Christianity 101.

They Like Jesus

A pretty good read on the subject if anyone is interested.

We aren’t perfect people, if we were we wouldn’t be Christians because we wouldn’t need Jesus. What we are is a body of sinful souls who have found forgiveness. We are nothing but thirsty people in a desert who found water and want to share it with the world. Every single Christian you will ever meet is deeply flawed. Don’t believe me, spend a significant amount of time with anyone and see how long their perfect persona lasts. We are all seeking righteousness and trying to do better, but if perfection is what you are looking for we can’t give you that, at least not on this side of eternity. 

What I can offer you, (and what any Church body should offer you) is a family. It’s a broken family that doesn’t always get along, but a family none the less. It’s a brotherhood of believers who are trying to make it through this crazy game of life, who realize we all screw up, and who hopefully will be there to pick you up when you fall and help point you back to the one who loves to forgive sinners.

The church is a place where broken people get to come and find love and forgiveness. The Church is a place where sinners help each other find the one who can make them clean again and use them to do amazing things. The church is a diverse body that is all united by one love for a God who first loved us.

I’ve heard amazing stories about people who, when their life fell apart, had a church family to catch them when they fall. I’ve seen a community of believers come together to support brothers and sisters in amazing ways though sickness, death, financial struggles, marital problems, and all the ups and downs life offers us. I’ve seen amazing discipleship and real brotherhood and sisterhood that strengthens and bonds. I’ve seen wonderful things come form a church that truly cares. I sincerely hope this is your Church experience.

Unfortunately I’ve also seen churches that fail to be churches when there members are in need. I’ve seen people shunned from churches because of sins that were brought out in the open and I’ve seen members up and leave over disputes they didn’t care to resolve in the church. If this sounds more like your church than the one I described earlier then here is my advice, I want you to be the church member you wish everyone else was. I want you to be the supportive, positive, encouraging, and loving brother you want to see in the church. We have too many dead and dying churches that are abandoned by people who want something better. You won’t find a perfect church, but you can work at building up the one you are currently at.  

Look, we aren’t going to get this Christianity thing down perfect any time soon. Luckily God is patient with us, slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Perhaps we could adopt a similar attitude towards our brothers and sisters?

My challenge for you is to learn to love the church. Love the sinner, love the hypocrite, and love the broken person. Jesus loved you although you were all three, why can’t we try a little harder to do the same for our brothers and sisters.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.

– 2 Corinthians 2:5-8

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

– Galatians 6:1-2

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

– Ephesians 4:31-32

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

– 1 Peter 2:9-10

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

– Colossians 3:14-16

No church is going to live up to the above commands perfectly, and neither will you, but that’s ok. Jesus is a friend of sinners and hypocrites are just the type of people he wants to see in church. Christ didn’t take the sins of the world on himself so that he could start a church of perfect little angels on earth. He knew full well that his Church was going to be made up of hypocrites, liars, thieves, perverts, drunkards, slandering, selfish people who failed to keep his commands. He knew full well that his church would be far from perfect:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Mark 2:17

And though we do tend to do a horrible job of representing Christ he still loves us. A trend that bothers me in modern-day Christianity is the idea that we don’t need the Church or “Organized Religion” as it is so often called. I really don’t believe you can love Jesus and hate his Church. If you can’t stand hypocrisy, and sinners make you cringe, I’d first suggest you take some time to examine yourself and make sure you aren’t a pot calling the kettle black. Next I’d suggest you try to look at this rag-tag bunch of misfits we call the Christian church in a different light. Because whether or not you want to claim it, if you are a believer you are a part of the church.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

-Ephesians 2:19-22