Not a Strategy, the Cornerstone.

This past Sunday there was a great article about Evangelicals in the paper. Being one myself it caught my eye and I read it with great interest. You can read it here. It gives a balanced portrayal of why evangelicals often get such a bad wrap in many circles while noting that many actually do a significant amount of good in the world. I think it was an article I would write if I was a journalist of a world famous newspaper. But I’m not so I’m happy to read such things for free.

I gravitated towards the comments section not because I care much for this section typically but because I wanted to see what people’s thoughts were on my faith and way of life. Predictably their was a whole grab bag of negative and postive thoughts. Some were interesting and thought-provoking. Many were worthless polemical dreck. One theme that stuck out to me though was the confusion from many about why Evangelicals couldn’t just do nice things apart from Jesus, religion etc. People need help, it feels nice to help, why get all messy with the Bible? Added to this was the generalization that Christians “only” do good works to further proselytizing efforts. I feel like a few short comments are warranted.

Jesus is not my strategy. He is not a gimmick, a selling point or a product that I am trying to purvey. He is the central cornerstone of  my life. His life,  example and existence informs everything that I believe and every action I decide (or don’t decide) to do. Having Jesus exist outside any good works I may do is simply not an option. I don’t tell people about Jesus because it makes me feel good, I do it because it just comes up. I will applaud good works wherever I see them and I will call out bigotry, hatred, homophobia, stupidity, sexism or anything else that is contrary to God’s incredible love for humanity.

I imagine that first sentence in my last paragraph lost a lot of you but if your still reading know this: I’m not asking, forcing, persuading, or trying to manipulate you into a false sense of religious security. I am living my life  for someone, something incredibly bigger then myself. In fact it is bigger than all of us. I have no idea what that will look for you. I do know that if Jesus is not in the picture it will be less than what it can be. We have been created to do good works not to glory in ourselves and our goodness but to exalt and proclaim Jesus.

One more personal example. This summer I have worked at a Christian camp for boys and girls ages 7-15. In my position of leadership I have been the one that my counselors have come to when they have a camper with an issue, serious or otherwise. I have talked to kids dealing with homesickness, bullying, and trouble in their home life. Just last week I spent 45 minutes consoling a boy who was literally cowering in the darkness because he was exhausted and scared of his cabin mates and any potential judgement they might dole out to him. It took every ounce of my patience and energy to console this camper enough for him to go to bed.

It should be noted that I would console a camper, child, person, human being regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, appearance, religion, political leaning or sexual orientation. I have no idea if this kid was a christian or if and when he will ever become one. But the important question is really “Does God love them?” Then I better do my best to mimic that the best I can. God is the cornerstone of my life and I hope it will be evident to whoever I come across.

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A short manifesto on belief in times of fake-rapture.

Christianity made the news again. Fantastic.

Yesterday came and went like so many have previously and I didn’t even get out of my shift at work. I have balanced trying to be funny about this “rapture” nonsense with being utterly infuriated about how this continues the status quo of society in general.

I think the thing I hate the most is that this episode (re)confirms non-religious folk’s worst fears and thoughts on religion. For the people who will never think about entering a church this just dug the hole that much deeper.

I have talked to a reasonably large amount of people about faith, Christianity and religion. People tyipcally have a wide array of reasons why “organized religion” just doesn’t do it for them. But the thing that I see as a pattern is that while they are intrigued by this Jesus fellow they are unequivocally disgusted with his followers. They have a point. However I also feel that the nonreligious people I have talked to take great pleasure in building up straw men versions of what they think religious people are and take great pleasure in knocking them down. I hope this next part dispels this behavior, if only a little.

It can be difficult to explain what my faith is without devolving into cliché or stereotype but here goes. I believe some very specific things for very specific reasons. I like to think most of my beliefs (and the behaviors that derive from those beliefs) are wholly rooted in the Bible. The troubling thing about this rapture business is that is a actual belief all mainstream Christians have. We don’t predict it and I don’t know what it will look like but all agree: Jesus is coming back. This may seem utterly absurd to many but again the point is that this isn’t some nice story or hoax. It’s a world view rooted in a scripture of great importance to billions.

Perhaps the thing that is most depressing is that what gets lost in all this talk of this or that religion is the person of Jesus. A holy man, the son of god, perfect; sent to earth not to conquer empires or wealth, but to die, all for the souls of people, billions of which utterly reject him today.

If you hate church you probably have a good reason. If a Christian has judged you or treated you wrongly you have good reason to be suspicious. But that doesn’t change what Jesus did. For you and for all of us. I invite you if possible to ignore the rapture predictors of the world and to seriously consider Jesus. Read the New Testament, its not that long I promise. Think about it, process it and then perhaps make a decision. My faith and belief are indeed real and true for me and my hope and prayer is that others would seriously consider the claims of Jesus above anything else.

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Thoughts on Easter

I have no business writing a blog at the moment. I have a five-lesson “mini-unit” to complete for Tuesday and in about 40 minutes I’m going to my uncle’s for Easter dinner. However there is just something about holidays that get my religious juices flowing and so I wanted to write down something that is hopefully coherent rather than just having it bouncing around in my brain. When you are inspired to write or share something it is a shame not to.

Organized religion is failing in Western culture. People no longer take much pride in belonging to a church or greater group. Instead, at least in the West, we have combined our cultural value of individualism with a take-what-you-like spiritualism. I’ll take what works for me and you’ll take yours and we will be content. I don’t mean to disregard this trend or come off as judgmental for those who have found real fulfillment by this path but theres no other way to put this: I utterly reject it.

In the realm of the spiritual, going alone will never truly work. Finding something that no one except yourself will truly understand is at a root level somewhat selfish I feel. And here is my main point: why are we rejecting the best truth that exists in our world for something that we are fashioning from our own hands and mind?

I’m not saying that church is the answer. Many people have had a profoundly negative experience with church. I haven’t, but I respect where people are coming from. Many churches, many Christians do not get it right very often and some, unfortunately almost never do. But I think one important thing to take away from today is to step back and ignore what so many “Christians” have done and instead marvel at what Christ did. 

I won’t recount the story here but the greatest thing about Christianity is not that when you start following Jesus everything becomes perfect. It’s that the God of the universe is willing to meet you exactly where you are and provide what you really need and the very core level of who you are. What we celebrate on Easter demonstrates this perfectly. Are you tired of hearing about all the silly, crazy, spiteful, harsh, un-Christ-like things Christians do? I invite you to read what Jesus said and start changing the stereotype yourself. Going alone may provide brief respite but it will never change that deep clanging gong inside your soul. Only Jesus will. Other people can help along the journey.

Happy Easter. My church sang this song this morning and I thought it was phenomenal. You can listen to it here. I hope you get something positive from it. Blessings.

Messing up the Message

Social networking has hit our culture in remarkable and pervasive ways. Millions of people across the globe are active members of one site or another. From Facebook to Twitter people are using the sites for a huge and varied number of applications. This blog post, when I publish it, will be posted immediately to my facebook and twitter feeds allowing people to read my entire blog at the click of a button. No doubt social networking has done a number of interesting things to society. My motivation for this entry however is how Christians aren’t quite getting it.

For evangelical Christians such as myself it has always been pretty hip to show how hardcore you are for Jesus. Jesus freaks if you will. Whatever this may have meant in the past, for most Christians today this entails how loudly you can blare online how down you are with Jesus. We advertise how much we have been praying, or how great the latest Christian conference we have been to was. We post Bible verses by themselves. We post “Halleujah, Jesus reigns!!!!!!!!” We state how great our prayer and devotion time this morning was. None of these posts are bad in themselves. But lacking relational context with the people viewing them they only serve to widen the divide between people who know Jesus and those who don’t. Put more simply, regardless of their intention, posts like this do little more than reaffirm an “us vs. them” mentality that pushes non-Christians away from faith in Jesus, not towards. We tell ourselves (and are taught growing up) that its totally cool if people think you are weird and crazy and perhaps even bad because you are living for Jesus, not for people.  The problem with all this is not the acts themselves but the way people perceive them.

I’m a Christian. I love God and Jesus and going to Church. I really do think knowing Jesus is the best way to live. However I do not think expressing this with exclamation points in phrase form will result in ANYONE from America coming to these realizations. However that is what Christians do EVERYDAY!

50 years ago a well-placed Bible verse might really convict the random passer-by of a church. Today in a post-Christian, post-modern culture most people, especially young ones, will see something related to God online and simply say, “I’m glad I’m not one of the crazies.”  This has also been my experience. Most of my young adult life I have spent trying to figure how that yes “I’m crazy for Jesus but I’m not crazy.” It is HARD. And most people will stereotype you regardless, unless of course you get to know them well. Most Christians know that to effectively evangelize you generally need to build a relationship with a person. But how often do we actually practice it in America?

Christianity and church is not a social club. The point of going to church is not to thank God that you’re not a sinner like the Pharisees. It is to be overwhelmingly grateful that you are saved by the God of the universe and that you have the privilege and purpose to tell others about Jesus when you have the opportunity. Out of context Facebook posts declaring how much you love tithing isn’t going to cut it. We need to not just be radical in the fervency of our Facebook postings but in living them out with love toward and for his creation and humanity. We need to invest in relationships so that when people do find out we are Christians they are not put off but that they desire to know more.

I freely admit I have generalized a bit in this post. I welcome thoughts and comments covering any blind spots I may have missed. But my overall point is to start a conversation we need to be having about how we relate to the rest of our culture as opposed to merely demonizing it. This isn’t about pandering to sin but about effectively portraying Christ in our world for HIS glory, not our own.

Let’s not forget the fun…

This entry was inspired by church this past Sunday. During the sermon I kept thinking about how I would like to use my thoughts this summer at camp but realized that’s too far away. So I’m writing it down now while it’s fresh.

My church is doing a sermon series on family and each week identifying a room of a typical house with the bigger point. This week was on the “family room” where generations meet together. The overall point was how important bringing up your kids in the right way is so that they have the best opportunity to live a life of faith as well. The thing that struck me was that many parents err by being too intense about their faith. They are incredibly strict and/or mandate large amounts of prayer or Bible study. Perhaps they have ministry of their own that they focus on too much, to the detriment of their relationship with their kids. Regardless of how the intensity is expressed, the results are similar. The kids don’t feel the vibrancy of Christianity, they just feel restricted. When they leave home their first instinct is to do anything and everything they want that isn’t steeped in religion.  Note these parents aren’t bad, they almost certainly love their kids deeply. But the way they are passing on the faith is flawed.

What many Christians forget it seems is that following Jesus is fun! It is awesome and joyful and no matter how it looks for you it truly is the best way to live. This isn’t to say prayer, Bible study, or rules are bad or inappropriate, they are essential. But if they are given without any notion of freedom, joy or fun you risk falling into legalism and putting your child off from religion permanently.

I’m going to generalize a bit here but it seems like a lot of the more emergent Christian writers today are getting most of their writing fuel from the experience of growing up in an incredibly strict Christian environment and now are trying to come to terms with it. They know Jesus is great and don’t want to reject him outright but they are trying to match up real, true, joyful christianity with their decidedly miserable upbringing where everything involving God was at best a chore and at worst punishment.

One last thought. At my Christian camp that I have worked at many summer previously, there seems to be three main groups of kids. Kids who aren’t from Christian homes and are hostile to the gospel, kids who aren’t from Christians homes and are neutral (i.e. they haven’t thought about religion much) and finally, kids who have grown up in good, solid Christian homes who may even be Christians themselves. Now as you might expect the focus is almost always on the first two groups. Counselors long for the kid who doesn’t know God to get on fire for him in their week at camp. This is logical and good but I think we are mistaken if we ignore the “good” kids too much. Who knows what their home life might be? Camp might be the most fun experience they have involving Jesus in their entire childhood. I’ve had kids essentially tell me this more than once. By showing them that Christianity can be fun, they latch on to it with all their might. We must never forget the Gospel but we also must make sure that in presenting it we don’t neglect how truly good it is. In fact it is the best thing and any kid who doesn’t know that is going to be severely missing out. We can’t force kids to follow God but we can show them how truly good following him is.

Defending Church

It is easy to knock church these days. Organized religion is being seen less and less as a positive thing. At best it is seen as a boring, unimportant, harmless chore for unusually dedicated folk to do to feel better about themselves. At worst it is a unsafe incubator of hate, distrust, scandal and secrets, more worthy of being protested against than a beacon of light to society.

As I sat in my church today I realized how unfair both these extreme views are. I was also reminded how important church is for the Christian who seeks to have a vibrant, growing spiritual life not only with God but the others in their community. Yes, church is easily lampooned but that doesn’t make it any less powerful and important when it is done right.

For me church keeps me focused on the important things in life. It engages me. It reinforces beliefs that I hold. It encourages me. It reminds how I am supposed to (and want to) live. It allows me to see, meet and enjoy the company of other believers. It gives me a place to refresh and renew myself. It gives me a safe place to emotionally open myself up to a God I rarely am open to. Church does so much I am convinced that no Christian should go without it on a regular basis.

I have had a very positive experience with Church my whole life. I realize many others haven’t. Their churches and leaders have not been what they should have been. Instead of love and truth, people have experienced distrust and judgement. Some have even faced serious abuse in church. Others have simply been bored to tears waking up earlier than desired on Sunday mornings. All of these failings are tragic. However, none of this means that all churches are wrong or unnecessary.

If you are a Christian who has never found the right Church I encourage you to start looking again. If you aren’t a Christian and think going to a church would be crazy, I encourage you to give it a try. If you live in the Boston area I’ll  pick you up and drive you. It’s easy to dismiss and disregard church. Finding a good one can be difficult. But for my money there is nothing better for my faith than a building full of dedicated, worshipful people seeking out God’s will for themselves in this world.