Thoughts too long for a Facebook status message.

Swallowing Camels

After the healthcare legislation passed, Christian satirist @Xianity commented:

Then Thursday, CNN.com reported on Sam Harris’ criticism of religion:

Religion has convinced us that there’s something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There’s concerns about what God wants, there’s concerns about what’s going to happen in the afterlife.

And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it’s the greatest problem of the 21st century.

Both reminded me of Jesus’ own words:

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

And this more extreme version a little later:

Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.

Then they will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?”

And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.

His brother James summed it this way:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

It’s easy to get so caught up in rules and regulations to help us do the latter that we completely forget to do the former.  We strain out gnats while we’re swallowing camels.

Filed under Spirituality

God is Working Outside the Church

Ed posed a few very thought-provoking questions yesterday.  Jeff responded with an amazing, easy-to-read post to which I have absolutely nothing to add.  I just wanted to link to it and say, “Wow.”

Filed under Spirituality

Jesus is Not the Light of the World

I didn’t get very far in my Bible reading this morning before this verse stopped me.  Jesus says, “But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.

The part that stopped me was the “while I am here” — the obvious implication being that he’s no longer the light of the world.

Then who is?

Anyone who believes in him and follows him: You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14).

That wasn’t what caused me to come write for the first time in almost a year, though (and have to look up my password, upgrade the blog, go through several plugin updates, etc.).  What caused me to write was the realization of what a poor job of this I do — not so much in everyday life in the obvious opportunities I get to “shine,” but in all those other opportunities that aren’t so obvious.  Those situations where I know I’ll never interact with this person again or where they’ll never know who I am.  I’m not as careful in those situations.

And the truth is, there’s almost always no harm done.  I’m (usually) not acting in a way that has a negative effect.

But what would happen if we all started trying to have a positive effect in every one of those opportunities, though?  I’m not talking about signing our emails with a Bible verse or an empty exhortation to “Have a Blessed Day!” but really being a true light in that person’s day.

That’s what stopped me today and made me write: the realization of just how many opportunities like that I throw away every day and what an amazing difference it would make if we all took advantage of them.  A few every day from a handful of people probably wouldn’t make much difference, but millions of them every day…

It’s almost like he planned it that way.

Filed under Spirituality

The Atheist Who Came to Dinner

This past Sunday, John Avant, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA, shared his preaching time with his good friend Lauren Sandler.  Lauren is the author of Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, so she would seem to be a perfect fit.

What would seem to make her a very imperfect fit for the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church residing solidly in the Bible Belt, though, is that she’s a Jewish Atheist from New York City.  (New York City?)

It was exactly what church should be, though.

The only reason I’m posting this instead of linking to it directly is because First West doesn’t currently have a link to let you listen to the interview online, and I think it’s too great for anyone to miss.  If you can subscribe to podcasts, definitely subscribe to their podcast either directly or with iTunes — not only for this interview but for the great series they have going right now.

Otherwise, you can listen here.

Filed under Spirituality

KJV: The Only Inerrant Word

As my wife said, “I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am”:

A lot of these points of contention would have been clarified if the author would have used only one version of the Bible, instead of using several (per)versions to make the Bible say what she wanted. Her points are well-taken, even in this modern world, but if DeMoss is going to have us living according to God’s standards for women, she needs to stick with the KJV and not “wrest scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Wow.  Really?  More interested in what the KJV has to say than what the Bible has to say?

The publishing of the KJV was an awesome landmark in Christianity, and the scholars whose work led to it are sobering, motivating studies in true Christian commitment.  But we’ve had 500 years to develop translations that are not only more accurate reflections of the original Word, but are immeasurably easier to understand.

The longer we try to make the Bible of 1611, with its Queen’s English, apply to our lives, the closer we get to the situation that made the KJV so important in the first place: the vast majority of the people simply weren’t able to read or understand the Latin texts.  How many can read the KJV today and truly get the meaning that God wanted to convey?  If that wasn’t God’s desire 500 years ago, how could it be his desire now?

Filed under Spirituality

Barney Baptist

Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

As Southern Baptists, we absolutely live for that first part.  Everything we do is focused on getting people baptized, and without rest we preach that we are sent by God to make that happen.  It’s seemingly all we do, and yet we continue to fall farther and farther behind.

Because of that, we’re constantly analyzing why that is and what we can do about it.  The two solutions I hear most often is that we need to teach people “strategies for sharing their faith” and that we need to “work harder.”  I don’t think those are wrong — they absolutely produce results — but, at least in my life, I’ve realized that they only address surface-level symptoms of a fundamental problem.

For me, the real answer is the second part of that very same sentence: teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  I see so much emphasis on “getting them saved” and motivating us to “go and tell,” but so little on making us the kind of people for whom exhortations like that would be completely unnecessary.  If we were living our lives as God wanted us to live them, those things would be a very natural result, not something we had to beg and plead for.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Instead, this is the impression I have of how we commission our people to go and tell:

That’s definitely not what we think we’re doing, but I think it’s how many of us feel.  Our only qualifications are that we love Andy God and we want to do something for him.  Other than that, we’re being forced into a role that we accept very begrudgingly (if at all) because we don’t feel at all adequate for it.

That’s not how God planned it.  We’ve all been given gifts by the Spirit for use in his ministry, so we’re completely equipped for what he wants us to do.  But we have to remember that it’s his ministry that we’re carrying out, not our own.

Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Paul said, “Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve totally missed all of that.  In my own life, the talk of needing to work harder and of my own personal responsibility to help people connect to God has led to me trying to do this not in the power of the Spirit, but in my own power.  That’s a death spiral.  The harder I work, the worse results I have.  The worse results I have, the harder I work.  The harder I work, the worse results I have…

I need to completely change my focus.  Rather than focusing on what I’ve been called to do, I need to focus on who has called me to do it.  As I do that, everything else begins to fall into place.  “Shazam,” as Gomer would say.

I also have to remember that making disciples is much more than just “getting them saved.”  The more we can help people become completely devoted followers of Christ, the more the “getting them saved” begins to take care of itself.  I need to focus on discipleship at least as much as I focus on going and telling — if not much more.

Filed under Spirituality

I’m no Ferarri, but even if I were…

Ferrari Scaglietti 612

From the beginning, God has always been able to do things in and with my life.  Either by his design or by his desire, though, the magnitude of those things has always correlated very closely with my willingness to change myself to be more like who he wants me to be.  And not surprisingly, those changes become harder and harder to make as they cut closer and closer to the very foundation of who I am.

What is surprising to me, though, is how unwilling I can be to make those changes.  Not that I outright refuse to do what he wants me to, but rather I am one of the world’s great rationalizers — finding “good” reasons to do something just a little differently than he wants me to do it.

It’s surprising to me because I have for years acknowledged that the success that I have had was not based on my performance at all — so much so that I took the name of my consulting company from Ephesians 3:20:

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think

However, it’s not surprising to me because I have had a very difficult time translating that from something I know to be true intellectually to something I know to be true deep in my soul — moving it from head knowledge to heart knowledge.  I can tell by the way I act that — while it is definitely becoming more of a truth to me every day — it’s still largely something I think rather than something I believe, and there’s a huge difference between the two.

The picture at the top of this post is a Ferrari Scaglietti 612. I have it on my desktop to try to remind me constantly that my ability to accomplish things that have an eternal value has very little to do with me.

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson called it one of the most astonishing cars made the year he tested it, but as amazing as it is, it won’t even start without gas in it.  Even the Bugatti Veyron, the world’s fastest street-legal car, won’t do much for you without fuel.

To think that I can accomplish the things that I want to accomplish without the one who makes it happen is as inane as the guy who buys a Veyron thinking that the 6 MPG in city driving is a non-issue because gas is really optional anyway.

Filed under Spirituality