Tag Archives: Christians

Non-Essential Liberty

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)

The local gathering of Jesus’ followers to which Wendy and I belong has been growing steadily in the years since I began regularly joining for worship and serving in the community. What has been interesting is that the growth is largely coming from other local and regional churches and gatherings who have been slowly fading and even shutting down. The result is that among our community of believers we have a growing, yet increasingly diverse, population who bring with them a host of different traditions, beliefs, customs, and worship practices.

What I’ve observed among the leadership and staff of our community is that the attitude has not been a black and white “This is our way and we don’t do it your way” type of attitude. Rather, I’ve observed an open attitude asking “What can we learn from the richness of all these other traditions?” The result has been a fascinating and unique experience. A traditionally “mainline” church operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit typically found in gatherings labeled “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal.” A contemporary-style worship service that incorporates pieces of ancient liturgy and generally follows the ancient church calendar. A gathering that most casual observers would label “modern evangelical” and yet during the week many in our community pray the ancient, Divine Hours. During Lent you’ll find members of our community journeying through the Stations of the Cross. The whole thing has been less “either, or” and more “both, and.”

As I read today’s chapter this morning it struck me that Paul wrote to a fledgling gathering of believers in Corinth who were experiencing their own melting pot of diverse backgrounds and belief systems. The Christian faith came out of a typically rigid, black-and-white religious system of Judaism. Yet in Corinth there would have been believers who had come from pagan backgrounds and  knew nothing of Judaic traditions or beliefs. There would have been intellectual Greeks who were mostly steeped in philosophy and had little practical understanding of any religion. The result was a clash among the local gathering of Corinthian believers. Good Jews were horrified at the notion that the meat on their table may have been once sacrificed in a pagan temple. The former pagans and those who weren’t raised in the Jewish tradition couldn’t quite understand why, on Earth, it was that big of a deal.

Paul’s wisdom was the adoption of a “both, and” spirit rooted in Jesus’ law of love. Those who rolled their eyes at fellow believers from Jewish tradition (who couldn’t handle the idea of meat sacrificed to idols) were to respect their brothers and sisters who were. If the Abrahams are coming over for dinner do the hospitable thing and keep it kosher. Those of Jewish tradition were to respect that not everyone was raised in their life-long, black-and-white religious traditions. It’s not the same for them. Take off the Jr. Holy Spirit badge. Let it go. Take one for the team. Love one another in the diversity of our consciences and convictions.

I believe St. Augustine nicely summed up what Paul was getting at a few centuries later: “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity (i.e. love).” Whether or not you care that your rib-eye had been butchered in the Temple of Apollo is a matter of individual conscience. It’s a non-essential. Love and respect those believers in your midst who come from different backgrounds and may not believe the same way you do.

This morning I’m grateful for the diverse group of believers with whom Wendy and I regularly worship. From the “frozen chosen” believers from mainline backgrounds to the former Roman Catholics and all the different forms of baggage they carry to the Charismatics who spiritually bring in da noise and da funk. I admittedly don’t always understand, nor fully appreciate where they’re all coming from. We just shrug our shoulders, keep an open mind and spirit, and love, love, love, love, love. When it comes to stuff like this I always want to live, learn, love, and operate in “non-essential liberty.”

“Holy Huddle”

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NIV)

For my entire life’s journey I have belonged to a local church. I’ve actually belonged to many churches of different sizes and denominational affiliations. One of the patterns of behavior I have noticed among believers is referred to by some as “the holy huddle.”

The “holy huddle” is a group of Jesus’ followers who huddle together in life to the general exclusion of anyone else. The huddle worships together, socializes with one another, spends free time together, gathers on holidays, vacations together, and pretty much keep to themselves.

I have, at different times of life, been part of holy huddles. I get the allure of it and understand why it’s easy to fall comfortably into the pattern. We all like socializing with people with whom we share common thoughts, opinions, and socio-economic status. Followers of Jesus also tend to desire the avoidance of both temptation and conflict. As a young man, hanging out almost exclusively with members of my youth group meant being around an environment of positive peer pressure. That’s not a bad thing.

I’m reminded this morning, however, that the “holy huddle” was never God’s paradigm. Yes, those who follow Jesus are encouraged to meet together regularly. Yes, we need to be in relationship with our fellow believers to encourage, comfort, confess, and build one another up. This is not, however, to the exclusion of those outside our spiritual sphere.

In today’s chapter, Paul makes a very clear distinction that is important for any of us who follow Jesus. When Paul had told the believers in the city of Corinth that they were not to associate with immoral people, he was not talking about non-believers in their community. He was referring specifically to those individuals in their local gathering who claimed to follow Jesus but also considered God’s forgiveness as a license for doing whatever they wanted. These people boasted that they could do whatever they wanted morally because Jesus’ forgiveness covered it all, and they encouraged others to join them in their “freedom.”

This morning I’m reminded that I can’t make a difference in my world if I’m not living in it and fostering relationship with those who are not in my holy huddle. Jesus washed His followers feet and encouraged them to do the same. The word picture is both clear and powerful: “Your whole body is clean,” Jesus said, “but your feet get dirty when you’re out walking in a dusty, dirty world. So, you’ll need to wash each other’s feet on occasion.”

My feet will never be dirty if I confine my journey within the “purity” of my holy huddle.

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Conflict and the Narrative

Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.
John 16:2b (NRSV)

Stories are boring if there is no conflict.

In 8th grade, Mrs. McLaren taught me that conflict in stories and literature can, in general, be broken down into a handful of categories:

Person vs. Self (think A Beautiful Mind)
Person vs. Person (think Kramer vs. Kramer)
Person vs. Nature (think Tom Hanks in Castaway)
Person vs. God/fate (think Michael Corleone in The Godfather)
Person vs. Supernatural (think of any ghost story)
Person vs. Technology (think The Matrix)
Person vs. Society (think Fahrenheit 451)

The epic stories, whatever mix of narrative they employ, are stories of good versus evil. Good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and I have encountered many people along my journey who seem to forget that even the Jesus story is a story of good versus evil. Jesus regularly came in conflict with demonic power. He spoke clearly of the enemy who was arranging circumstances that would lead to His death. In todays chapter, Jesus’ even told His followers to expect that others will try to kill them and think they are worshipping God.

The tactics of evil do not change much over time. I have come to believe that we, as human beings, are lemmings by our sinful nature. As such, our enemy uses common tactics across generations. Despite our desire to think ourselves progressive and enlightened, we have, I fear, learned very little from history. Getting people to commit deathly acts as “worship” of God is evil 101. In Jesus’ day the Jews were trying to kill Jesus and His followers thinking they were doing God a favor. Later the Christians would kill the Jews and muslims thinking they were doing God a favor. Today, ISIS and their ilk are killing Jews, Christians, and any who refuse to accept Allah.

How fascinating to think that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God of Abraham. What goes around, comes around.

[sigh]

Today, I am reminded that in each chapter of my personal narrative I may encounter different types of conflict from conflict with others, to conflict with myself, conflict with fate, conflict with society, et al. As I live out my role in the Great Story, I must not forget that this is a story of good versus evil. I do not want to be caught unaware, but rather desire to be ever mindful of how my words and actions are contributing to the grand narrative. In my story, as it dovetails into the Great Story, I want to be an agent of Love, Life, Light and redemption.

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Breaking Social Boundaries

source: krayker via Flickr
source: krayker via Flickr

…and [Peter] said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Acts 10:28 (NSRV)

In high school, people were separated by social sub-cultures: jocks, nerds, burnouts, toughs, bookworms, and etc. There was also separation by ethnicity in my high school which, at the time, was the most racially and ethnically diverse school in the district with whites, blacks, asians, and hispanics. Then there were separation by world-views. Christian kids hung tight, as did partiers, smokers, drugees, and so on. You get the picture.

I’ve observed along my life journey that adults are typically children who learn to mask, obfuscate, deny, normalize, and justify our childishness.

The cultural realities faced by the early followers of Jesus was like an extremely bad case of high school. Romans, Greeks, Africans, and Judeans all had their separate and unequal cultures. Pagans and Jews had their separate groups. Within sub-cultures like the Jews you had sub-groups dedicated to religious, political, and ethnic bents. The region around Jerusalem was a melting pot turned powder keg. You belonged to your sub-culture, you hung with your homeys, and you kept to yourselves.

And, Jesus was about to radically change all of that. The seeds had been sown. Jesus had led the way. In a misogynistic, self-righteous, ethnic Jewish culture Jesus broke social norms by speaking with a Samaritan woman at a well and extended gracious kindness and forgiveness to prostitutes. In a culture of political silos, Jesus was publicly seen with both Jews and Romans, the religious and the secular, the rich and the poor. Jesus called twelve men from a diverse panacea of political views including liberal Roman sympathizers, Jewish zealots, Jewish conservatives. They came from diverse socio-economic strata of the day.

Jesus is now gone, and His followers are falling back into their high school sub-cultures. In today’s chapter, God intervenes by making an introduction between the conservative, religiously self-righteous Peter and the “unclean” Roman foreigner, Cornelius. God makes a radical, paradigm shifting demand of Peter, the appointed leader of Jesus’ followers: stop considering any person unclean (e.g. less than, lower than, other) or profane (e.g. meaningless, not worth my time).

This morning I’m having a serious heart-to-heart with God. Who is my Cornelius? Have I slipped back into high school mode hanging with my homeys and steering clear of those who look differently, were raised different, believe differently, have different political views, come from different social strata? Lord, have mercy on me. Forgive me for my mindless, thoughtless, unintentional way I treat others as unclean and/or profane.

Yesterday is gone, but I have today before me. Help me cross and erase social boundaries in my thoughts, words, and actions.

“To Infinity and Beyond”

He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
Psalm 103:12 (NLT)

According to God’s Message the following statements are true:

  • Committing one small sin makes you just as guilty as committing a million of them.
  • No sin is better or worse than any other.
  • If we confess our sin and turn away from them, God’s forgiveness is absolute.
  • In forgiving us, God removes our sin in infinite measure (see verse above).

I live in a small town known for it’s conservative world-view. I’ve learned that some people have very good memories when it comes to my moral failures. Unlike God, they remember my sins and are slow to forget. Ironically, those who claim to be the most devout Christians are also those most likely to cling to their memories of my sins and to treat me with on-going suspicion.

I’ve come to learn that the journey of faith is not only about believing in God, but also believing the truth regarding how God sees us. It can be difficult to embrace the reality that God has graciously and completely forgiven us when those who claim to be fellow believers insist on reminding us of our shortcomings and refuse to let go of their own personal judgments. I’ve learned that this shame effect is even more intense when those who cling to the memory of our past are family members or close companions. For some, the judgment of others shackles them to a sense of shame and keeps them from experiencing the reality of the abundant Life and freedom Jesus promises.

I am reminded this morning that in choosing to follow Jesus I also choose to acknowledge, accept, and embrace the reality of who I am in Jesus. I am a sinner saved by grace. My sins are washed away by the flood of His grace. God does not see the sin of those who believe, receive and follow. In the parlance of the great theologian, Buzz Lightyear, our sins have been removed “to infinity and beyond.”

God, help me this day to see myself reflected in your eyes and to live in the freedom of your forgiveness. Give me the grace to refuse bowing to my reflection in the judgmental gaze of those who desire to perpetually remind me of those things you’ve chosen to forget.

A Little Christmas Perspective

Coat of Arms of North Korea
Coat of Arms of North Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 10

Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:24 (NLT)

I live in the land of the First Amendment. We have rights and we’re not afraid to use them. We have freedom and we’re happy to exercise it (often to excess). Human rights and freedom are good things. They are blessed things. But, I’ve come to believe over time that our rights and our freedoms tend, on the whole, to breed self-centric thoughts, actions and motivations. I sometimes scratch my receding hair line and wonder where it is ultimately leading us.

This morning over our morning coffee and tea Wendy and I read an editorial from the Wall Street Journal by Melanie Kirkpatrick about believers in North Korea, where religion is banned altogether. There are no freedoms there and the average human has no rights in the eyes of the state. Christians are executed, their families imprisoned and persecuted. “Church” for believers in North Korea could literally be sitting silently in proximity of another believer:

North Korean Christians necessarily worship in secret. Many of the congregations are small family units consisting of just a husband and wife and, when they are old enough to keep a secret, their children. Other times a handful of Christians form a kind of congregation in motion. A worker for Open Doors explains how it works: “A Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it is dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough.”

And yet, as history has proven time and time and time again, our faith flourishes in the midst of persecution (and slowly recedes over time with freedom and license):

Yet despite this repression, something is happening that many characterize as nothing short of a miracle: Christianity appears to be growing in North Korea. Open Doors International, which tracks the persecution of Christians world-wide, puts the number of Christians in North Korea at between 200,000 and 400,000.

Today is Christmas Eve day. I’m looking forward to feasting with family, to gifts given and received, and to time with those I love. This afternoon Wendy and I will drive down the street and openly join thousands of others to worship and celebrate our Savior’s birth. Half a world away, our spiritual family members may secretly and fearfully sit on a park bench with one another. They will not make eye contact. They will not speak to one another. There will be no feast, no gifts given, and no open worship. They will simply sit together on opposite sides of a bench and silently join hearts in celebrating our Savior’s birth.

I get the sense that in terms of God’s economy they are spiritually the richer for it. Nevertheless, I will pray for them and think of them as I worship, and feast, and receive, and make merry. They put all that I will experience today and tomorrow in much needed perspective.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”