Monday, September 26, 2011

Tom Sawyer Christianity

In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer gets Huck Finn and a group of boys together to form a gang of robbers and murderers. Tom gives the gang members a list of rules that they must follow in order to be a part of the gang. When questioned about some of these rules, Tom says that these rules must be followed because that's what robbers and murderers did in the books that he read. Because it was in the books, that's what robbers and murderers did, therefore that's what the gang was supposed to do. Of course, the rules had nothing to do with reality, and the boys ended up doing what you would expect from a group of young boys: they pretended to rob and kill. No one was harmed, and the gang eventually broke up because it got too hard to get together.

As I read I thought how much this is like a large segment of Christianity today. Folks gather in buildings every Sunday and listen to what essentially is a list of rules that they must follow in order to be in the gang. These rules range from behavior codes regarding dress, music, etc., to principles and steps to follow to be a better _______________. The unfortunate thing is that some in those buildings think they are part of the Body because they made a decision and are following the rules, but are deluded. While determining whether someone really belongs to Christ is way above my pay grade, a good look at the fruit shows a problem.

The rules and the principles and steps are like the rules in Tom Sawyer's gang; they do not correspond to reality. What is real is that Jesus has finished it. He has done everything that needed to be done. Christ has accomplished everything we need. When he said, "It is finished," on the cross, he meant it. He has called us to follow him, and has given us everything we need to do that. Christ did not call us to give assent to a set of propositions about him. He did not tell us to follow a set of rules, to get our act together, or to "get right" with him. He called us into relationship with him.

It is true that a relationship with Jesus will bring about changes in our lives. We are a new creation, and we are called to live as people who are different. Those changes that make us different will come about by the Spirit of God in us, not from following a set of rules or steps. We are not only saved without human effort, we also live in the power of the Spirit, not our own power. We can not get any closer to God by our efforts, we can not please God in our own strength. Everything we do must be done by God's power. Tom Sawyer's gang failed because they were trying to be a gang like Tom had read about, but had no ability to do what those gangs did. How many Christians flounder in their lives, and how many congregations are powerless because they are trying to be what they have read about, but are doing it in their own power.

Tom Sawyer's gang was playing at being a gang. I wonder how many of us who claim Christ are playing at following him. What would it look like if churches were made up of people who were fully committed to following Jesus in the power of the Spirit?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

It's been a wet week here in the sunny South. The temperatures have gone up a little bit here at the start of autumn, but that's pretty normal. Jan and I spent Friday night and all day Saturday representing World Vision at the Women of Faith conference in Charlotte. It was a good experience, and no, I wasn't the only male there. In our community, we've been working through Micah 6:8 and what that means for us, beginning with our relationships. We've had some good discussion on a topic that I believe is important to our mission as followers of Jesus.

Here is a taste of some of the good offerings out there this past week:

Jo Hilder on the poor.

Wayward Son begins a series on distorted images of God.
Arthur Sido thinks about being pro-life.
Ronnie McBrayer says there is no need to keep jumping.

Keith Giles has a series on Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Part 1 is here.

Chaplain Mike says that prepositions matter.

Have a wonderful week!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Justice, Mercy, and Humility

In our gathering on Sunday, we were looking at Micah 6:8. This verse tells us that the thing that God requires of us is to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God." We talked about how the first priority is to do justice within our relationships. As I thought about the discussion, I thought about the command that Jesus gave us to love one another as he loved us. I believe these two passages are essentially the same.

Jesus calls his followers to love others as he loves us. Think about how Jesus treats us. He always acts justly toward us, he always does what is right for and to us. We many times think of justice as making sure someone gets what they deserve. In the world's system, that is the definition, but even that doesn't happen much of the time. The phrase "do justice" can also be translated "do what is right." Sometimes doing what is right doesn't fit with how most folks normally see justice. Sometimes doing what is right means sacrificing our rights, our opinions, our comfort, our life. But doing what is right is a part of loving others as Jesus loves us.

Doing justice in our relationships will require loving mercy. As we seek to love others as Jesus loves us, there may be conflicts. Relationships are messy. There is no way to escape it. In order to love people we will have times when we have to love mercy in order to do what is right. Think of the mercy that Jesus showed, and continues to show. That is the same mercy we are to love and to extend to those around us. Showing mercy is always right.

The third part of the verse tells us to walk humbly with God. Humility is also a part of doing what is right and loving others. To love as Jesus loves us can not be done with a proud heart. We can not go to another and do what is right, and extend mercy to them if we are putting ourselves and our interests first. We must have the same attitude as Jesus. Although he is the King of Kings, he humbled himself and served those around him while he was here on this earth. We also are called to serve those around us, rather than seek to be served. That takes a humble walk with God.

May God help us to love each other as Jesus loves us by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

It's been some time since the last Weekend Wanderings. The last two weekend were very busy, and I just wasn't able to carve out the time to write. The weather has turned suddenly cooler here in the sunny South. Temperatures have dropped from near ninety on Thursday to around sixty yesterday and today. I'm enjoying the cooler weather and the fact that the grass is now not growing as fast and won't need to be mowed as often.

Dan Edelen writes about fear.
Donald Miller writes about pain.
David Zimmerman writes about a relationship with God.


Dan Kimball reviews (sort of) Scot McKnight's new book.
Alan Knox on working with not-yet-believers.

Jeremy Statton on serving God.

Arthur Sido on loving our wives.

And, last but certainly not least, two good posts from Ronnie McBrayer. Here and here.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Bit of Wisdom From Janis Joplin

Really? Janis Joplin? I can explain. This evening, I was listening to the radio on the way home and heard the Joplin version of "Me and Bobby McGee," and a line in that song started the wheels turning. Now I know some of you are thinking I need to get my wheels checked, that they might be just a little bit out of alignment. Bear with me here. I believe that all truth is God's truth and that truth can be found in some unlikely places.

There is a line in the song that states, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose...." Possibly the writer of this song meant to say that it is only those who have nothing who are truly free, and an argument can be made for that. I see it a bit differently. Those who are truly free have nothing to lose. A major theme through Scripture is freedom. From the Exodus from Egypt and the laws concerning freeing servants and property, to the prophecies of One who will free the captives, the Old Testament is full of freedom.

When we think of freedom, we usually look to the New Testament. Jesus stated that he was the promised liberator of the captives. He told the people that true freedom came from the Son setting them free. Freedom echoes through the epistles, and in Galatians 5:1 we are told that we have been set free for ... freedom. Think about that for a second. Freedom is the reason we have been set free! I would venture to say that God thinks freedom is pretty important.

If we have been made free in Christ, is there anything we have to lose? List all the things the world strives to hold on to: money, possessions, relationships, pleasures, reputation, power, etc.. Because we are alive in Christ, we are dead to those things and they are to have no hold on us anymore. When we think that have to worry about losing those things, we are not thinking according to who we are, and we are not listening to our Shepherd's voice. The Kingdom is described as a great treasure that is worth giving up everything else. The more we realize our freedom as a child of God and a co-heir with Jesus, and the more we live in that reality, the more we realize that because of freedom, we have nothing to lose. Even if we were to "lose" everything, if we are free in Christ we already have everything.

Live in freedom!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

If there is a situation that breaks the heart of God, it is the enslavement of his children. Join World Vision as they pray for an end to this injustice, and for its victims. Go to this link for more information.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

God is Good

The other day, a friend posted on her Facebook page, "God is good, all the time. when it appears that He is not, HE IS GREAT!" This is certainly true. There is never a time when God is not good, and there really is never a time when he is not great. Due to the fact that I like to take good sayings and play with them, I would state it a bit differently.

Many of us know that God is good. "Of course he's good, he's God!" There is nothing in God that is not good. God is holy, and totally perfect. God is good. I can see where that statement can lead people to see God as a being so far above us and so good that we just can't measure up or please him. It is true that God is pure good, and that, in ourselves, we can not measure up to God's goodness. What we sometimes forget in our day-to-day is the fact that Jesus does measure up, and if we are in him, God sees and loves us as he does Jesus. So, I would add something to what my friend posted, the words "to us."

I would write the statement as, "God is good to us all the time. When it appears that he is not, HE IS GREAT TO US!" It is a small difference, with what I believe are huge implications. Think about it. This God who created the universe, who is sovereign, who is so far above sin that we can't even imagine it, this God loves us with a pure, holy, everlasting love. This pure, holy God loves us just as he loves his Son. God is not an angry judge who is looking at us to see where we are screwing up so he can punish us. God is not a Father who withholds things from us to make us toe the line or to get back at us because we have somehow displeased him. Because of what Christ has done, and because we are one with Christ, God is never more pleased with us or less pleased with us than he is with Christ. The Father loves the Son. We are in the Son. The Father loves us.

We are told in Scripture that we have been given a spirit that leads us to call God, "Abba." In today's terms, we could use the name, "Daddy." There is a saying, "Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad." That's the idea behind calling the Creator of all things, "Abba." Think of your concept of the perfect dad. Now multiply that by infinity and you begin to get an idea of Abba.

The God who is good, even great, all the time is the Father who loves us, and is good, even great, to us all the time. Never forget that God loves you. Not only that, God likes you. He is pleased with you. He is good, TO YOU!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sin

Sin is a popular topic in many Christian circles. Some constantly preach against it. Most agree that it is a problem, and it is. I see a problem with the way a lot of Christians see sin and our relationship to sin. Some believe that we are "just sinners saved by grace." Many others believe that there are two natures living in us, and that the one we "feed" the most is the one that is stronger. I believe Scripture shows us a different way of looking at sin.


Sin is the force that ruled us before we came to Christ. We were indeed, sinners before we came to faith. Now though, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). We have become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), we have a new spirit (Rom. 8:16), and the Spirit of God is in us (1 Cor. 3:16). We are God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10), we belong to God (1 Pet. 2:9), and we are dead to sin (Rom. 6:11).


Yes, but we still sin! True, but that doesn't change who we are. Sin is still a force that remains in us, but it is no longer part of our nature. Before we came to Christ, sin told us what to do, and those ways of thinking and seeing the world were ingrained in us. When we become a child of God, sin still dwells in us (Rom. 7:17). It is still there, whispering in our ear and seeking to influence us to act in a way that is incompatible with who we truly are. When we sin, it is not because we are still sinful, but it is because we still sometimes do things according to the old way of thinking.


If I am angry with someone and continue to dwell on that anger and not give it up to God, it is not because I am an angry person, but is because I am acting out of an old script in which I was an angry individual who did not forgive and held on to my anger. I need to realize that kind of anger is not compatible with who I am as a child of God. I need to allow the Spirit to transform my thinking in this area.


When I am proud and think that I am better than others, when I fail to see others as God's image bearers, when I am selfish in my interactions with others, it is not because I am sinful. It is because I fail to see these sinful actions as not fitting with who I am in Christ. Again, I need to have my mind renewed. The same is true when I fail to trust the love and goodness of my Father. Any time I sin, it is because I have not taken my thoughts captive and run them through the filter of my identity as a child of God.

May the Spirit renew and transform our minds so we increasingly live as the new creations we are!

Third Week of Advent: Anticipation

This was first published on December 12, 2012. Jesus, as Israel waited in anticipation for you to come, so we wait. We anticipate your ret...