Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

 

Christians have become quite prolific at naming their enemies. We know well, and talk regularly in our churches and with our friends about the issues we face and struggle with. Ironically though, one of the greatest challenges that the church in the information age faces is staring at us every time we discuss our challenges with each other without ever being named. We may be our own greatest barrier to discovering unity and truth.

Although feeling this struggle subconsciously for some time, I couldn’t name it and work against it until I found insight in one of the least likely of places: a book about fantasy football. Fantasy sports have been a hobby since I was a little boy picking Paul Coffey in front of my parents’ fire place in our four person Kramer family hockey pool. I was looking for beach reading, and instead was stuck with the profound insight that is “confirmatory bias”. “We believe what we believe, and now more than ever, those beliefs are easy to cement. In the age of information, ignoring the other side is the easiest thing we do all day”, wrote C.D. Carter[1]. It was a chapter meant to help fantasy football players better think about how they read and process information about players and games. Instead I was floored by the implications of confirmation bias for the believer.

The lifestyles of many believers are insular. Our friends are church people. We read Christian living books and novels. We listen to Christian music. Our pastors are careful to read the right commentaries and make sure not to rock the boat too much. Our conferences feature speakers from our own particular flavour of faith. We follow the right voices in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. Never has the ability to interact with the breadth of opinion and information existed, and never have we so purposefully worked to make sure we hear almost exclusively the ones that agree with what we already believe to be true.

We have a great deal to learn from those with whom we disagree most. If we are truly right, we have nothing to fear from interacting honestly with those we differ with. If there’s any chance at all we could be wrong, then we have that much more reason to seek out those with different perspectives from our own as we seek after truth. If we take Jesus at his word that he is indeed “the truth” than the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of God. Rather than circling the wagons when faced with a contrary opinion, we need to open our arms to the possibility of being drawn more closely to God: whether through the confirmation of our current beliefs or the beginning of finding something better.

David McRaney in a blog post about confirmatory bias wrote, “You seek out safe havens for your ideology, friends and coworkers of like mind and attitude, media outlets guaranteed to play nice. Whenever your opinions or beliefs are so intertwined with your self-image you couldn’t pull them away without damaging your core concepts of self, you avoid situations which may cause harm to those beliefs.”[2] This wasn’t written with people of faith as its subject, but if we have any measure of self-awareness this should hit us in the gut with a solid “oof”. When we hold so tightly to our beliefs as they are that we can’t change our minds without an identity crisis we have ceased to find our identity in Christ, and rather find it in our dogma.

We need to make space in our lives – personally and corporately – for contrarian thought. I’ve come to live by the general rule, “If I already agree with it, it’s not worth my time exploring.” After all, what is learning, other than the process of discovering where we are currently wrong? So let’s read books that are not in the church library, let’s listen to speakers other than from Christian conferences, let’s talk to people openly and vulnerably from outside of our churches – not as the people with all the answers, but rather, the one’s who are boldly seeking them out where they may be found through the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Just because we listen to an idea, doesn’t mean we have to accept it as true. Our minds, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, are best used as sieves not sponges. We do not have to, nor should we ever desire to, embrace all ideas as equally true and valuable. There is such thing as a dumb idea. If we are to have a voice in our culture of diversity though, we must be people who seek out truth wherever it may be found, interacting honestly with a multitude of voices, rather than being seen as people who are sheltered from it. We do a disservice to ourselves and our young people in the information age to try to learn and play only where things are seemingly safe while we constantly tread in deep waters.

We need to listen to hear and learn, not just rebut. It is healthy for us to hear divergent opinions in our study conferences. It is healthy for us to study books in our care groups that we may not agree with. It is healthy for us to listen to other perspectives, not with the aim of learning how to apologetically debate the issues, but rather humbly learning to understand things well from other perspectives so that we may continue to learn and grow.

Humans do not have to be sponges by nature – just mindlessly sucking up and incorporating everything they encounter. God has blessed us with amazing minds with the ability to think and reason. God has blessed his people with the gift of the Holy Spirit, “to guide you into all truth”, as the gospel of John puts it. Let’s live in faith, holding to God’s promise, and listen and learn so we can continually grow into the faith we profess.

[1] Carter, C.D. (2014-05-29). How To Think Like A Daily Fantasy Football Winner: Applying psychological lessons from the poker table and Wall Street to capture a competitive edge in the daily fantasy sports marketplace (Kindle Locations 892-894).

[2] David McRaney – http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias

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I was at some denominational meetings in March, and throughout them I felt a discomfort. It wasn’t just the fault of church chairs or the brown colored water we usually pass off as coffee. There was something about out conversations about ministry together that left me feeling unsettled. I wasn’t until a few weeks later that things came together in my mind and heart around what made me feel as I did. These thoughts on ministry and the church were birthed from those rumblings.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Be missional,” he told him, and Matthew got up and developed a missional ecclesiology.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be relevant must deny themselves and take up their cross and start an intergenerational ministry.”

Ever since the church first sensed an inkling about 50 years ago that it may be on the outs with greater society, it has done everything that it can to try to re-introduce itself to the West. We have seen – and maybe been a part of – movements like fundamentalism, born again, Jesus freaks, big tent evangelism, What Would Jesus Do, friendship evangelism, emergence, missional movements, and a constant grasping for relevance. The most recent name tag for our lost identity seems to be intergenerational ministry. If we can just get the kids to talk to grown-ups, maybe even their parents, then the problems we sense with the shallow and innocuous faith evident in our churches will certainly be rectified so we can get on with the business of introducing people to Jesus. More than likely though, it’s likely just another bout with amnesia that has us struggling to know ourselves and experiencing crisis over forgetting the name of our beloved. If this name tag doesn’t stick though, it won’t be long before the next travelling book tour makes its way through the Christian publishing marketplace to rename our problem.

At the root of our problems is a lack of a path to real, deep, and transmittable spiritual growth. Even if we examine ourselves deeply enough to realize a lack of discipleship is the root cause of our trouble, how many of us or our churches could really explain what discipleship looks like? Church history has many examples of roads to growth that the early followers of Jesus encouraged new followers to traverse in order to grow in their faith and grow into functional members of the church. Unfortunately, our evangelical anabaptist heritage has left us almost devoid of roads to go down. We are surrounded with biographies, we are over-run with programs for kids, tweens, youth, young adults, seniors, offer small group experiences and Sunday school classes. Often though, these programs lead to the aging out of their members. Until we can define what a disciple is, how one is made, and what growth looks like, we’re likely to continue churning out Christians without a Christ-like identity.

Until we can look ourselves and our issues in the face and realize it’s Jesus we’re looking for we’re going to keep on nervously fumbling with the spiritual change in our pockets trying to look like we know what we’re doing. Discipleship is the lifelong process of coming to know Jesus and then to continually be formed more closely into his image as we humble ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Discipleship can start at any age, so we need plans and processes that can incorporate people into the life of Christ and his church however they may come. A forty year old single father with no church background who decides to follow Jesus won’t have the history of Sunday School to fall back on in conversation. Where does he begin? The high school kid who called Jesus Lord at age four and is now reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics doesn’t likely need an evening explaining how Jesus loves him and forgives all his sin. Where does he fit? People are more complex than our programs.

What we need are not age driven programs, but growth plans based on spiritual maturity giving people starting points and stepping stones to work from as they come to the church seeking to know Jesus and follow him faithfully. It’s going to take actually getting to know people, and letting them into our lives to let them know us. Until then we likely will just keep putting new name tags for Jebus on church ministries instead of introducing people to the life changing person of Jesus.

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Much has been made in recent times of the church’s need to understand embrace the strengths and ministry directions needed to include introverts. Much of Western church culture has been formed on the ideal of the extroverted pastor and church member. As an openly recognized and admitted introvert this has felt like welcome acceptance and vindication. All this being said though, I’ve been thinking lately if just the ecclesiology of the church being readjusted to include space for the quiet and thoughtful goes far enough. What if our very understanding of the gospel itself has become so culturally bound to an extroverted relational way of understanding that we need to re-evaluate that as well? Is there room in our understanding and explanation of the gospel to make it meaningful for those who are introverted and task oriented rather than naturally relational?

The common way of explaining and understanding the gospel in Western Christianity often sounds something like this:

God is love and the parts of the trinity began in perfect relationship with each other. Out of love and God’s relational nature, he created humans in his image to be included in this love relationship with him. Humans at some point broke off this relationship through sin and God sought to reconcile that relationship through covenant relationships. Humans continually failed God and lacked the ability to  reconcile things through their works, and as such God reached out to humanity in Jesus – coming in person to live amongst us. He came and lived out love and the message of forgiveness and reconciliation for creation with their creator. The greatest love of all was shown in Jesus willing death at the hands of those created in his image to in some way reconcile them with God. We now have hope for healed relationships with God and the rest of creation in this life and a life to come after death or when Jesus returns.
Now given this may not explain every denomination ‘s particulars and I’ve attempted to leave the details as broad as possible to include as many in the thoughts as possible, but I think this is a fair portrayal of the story. Relationship is good, tasks are insufficient at best and evil at worst.

Some of my thoughts and struggle with this came to a head a few months ago as I sat in church listening to a friend preaching and heard the message of, “Stop doing and stop trying to do anything to get God’s love. Just let yourself fall in love with the person of Jesus. (loosely quoted)” At that moment instead of feeling at peace and full of joy as the message was intended to do, I felt sad and helpless. I don’t disagree with the message in principle, but I wonder if there isn’t more to it than that. You see, I’m introverted and task oriented: I have little idea what to do with that message. Even in my most loving and intimate relationships everything is processed in the form of lists of things to do, to not do, and to work on getting better at. For me love does. There is always a next step to take, a plan to be made, a thing to do. Love is an action plan made with passion. To not work or seek towards doing something is to not love. This is the filter that everything has been processed through for me for as long as I can remember. Trying to conceive of relating to someone outside the context of task is confusing and borderline terrifying. When the task is clear the anxiety fades and life works. This doesn’t make the love any less real, it’s just a different frame of reference.

So, how can the gospel be explained in a way that is meaningful, and full of life, hope and love in this context?

I hope this gives you some things to ponder as you follow Jesus and share his gospel, and maybe even as you talk and think along with me. I have a number of more thoughts I plan on sharing and getting your input on hopefully in the weeks to come. I believe deeply in community hermeneutics, not just me figuring out alone with a bible in a broom closet. Is there a gospel for the task oriented?

So all the theologizing, reading, discussing, and name calling (not on my part) lately have got me wondering about some of the questions that are at the heart of the matter.  All these matters of who is saved, who gets saved, how they are saved, and saved to what are all fair questions worth consideration but in the end it boils down to us all trying to determine who is with whom and who is on who’s “team”.  I also realize that over the last decade or more it has become far more popular to talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of an “open set” as opposed to a “bound set” when discussing who is or is not a part of the Kingdom (a matter of direction of your life as opposed to a one time decision), but the matter still comes down to who’s on Jesus side in the end.  So these are the questions I have been wrestling with:

– What does it mean to be with Jesus?

– What are the bare minimums to be a part of his kingdom?

– How off do you have to be in belief and action before you are no longer “with him”?

– What beliefs would get God to look at you and say “Ya, thanks but no”?

I also realize that it is not up to me to determine ultimately the matter of final judgment – that is up to God thank God – but I think it is pretty disingenuous for us to act like we should not think about who we are actually working alongside of in this life in the name of Jesus.  Different matters of contention have risen and fallen over the years, some being smoothed over and some causing splits all over who is with Jesus or not.

If someone believes women can/should be pastors is that okay?

What if someone prays to Mary?

What if someone believes in evolution?

What if someone thinks and endorses same-sex sexual relationships?

What if someone verbally believes in the work of the Holy Spirit, but denies his power by the way they live and worship?

What if someone holds a different view of heaven and hell?

What if they only believe one of these?

What if they believe all of these?

How far off can we be and still be followers of Jesus?  I ask these questions not necessarily to say each of these are wrong or right so much as to point out the issues we tend to divide ourselves over and openly wonder: How different from you does someone have to be before you believe you can no longer serve Jesus together even if you both claim to follow Jesus?  Do we let ourselves be more influenced by Jesus words from Luke when he said, “49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” 50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.””, or do we look at Paul’s many admonitions to rebuke false teachers and prophets?

I do not have an answer to it all yet obviously or I would not be asking the questions, but I think this is one of those things you cannot just leave as a mystery because it affects your life and ministry opportunities from moment to moment.  Oh the things we unearth when we begin to wonder.

I may be a city kid that enjoys the comforts, noises and business of civilization but that does not mean that I do not have a taste for the outdoors as well. I grew up the son of a farm kid turned civil servant and thus spent some time out on the farm too and was raised with an appreciation for nature. I still remember going camping as a family in the musty, canvas, tents that would make up our home on the range for a couple weeks each summer – although in full disclosure we did switch to camping in a trailer in my teenage years. The tent was never permanent. It was not particularly water proof. It smelled funny with a combination of dirt, mold and water damage. It did not provide much security. It was home though. It was okay for a while for a change, but ultimately we all longed for the ability to settle down into the four solid walls of our house again.

I feel like I am living in a tent again. I do not have real place to set down roots in a safe, secure, defined environment. Every few days it seems someone else comes by to tell me that I cannot stay in the same place I have been making camp and that I need to move on to different places. Places that are full of trees without much level ground and that seem generally pretty lonely without much other human settlement around. Even if I realize there are other people in the same spot as me it is tough to really connect with them because we all live in our own tents and do not really get to stay in the same spot long enough to stick together. Honestly, it is getting a little tiring.

I guess it is not much different than the spot that God’s people have been finding themselves in for millennia now. The Israelites wandered around living out of tents for a long time until the settled in the promised land, and God himself had only a tent for a dwelling until Solomon built him a temple. Even later after Jesus came, the son of man did not have a place to lay his head. Should it really be much of a wonder when it feels like I do not have a really solid place to make camp right now?

It seems like the city that the neo-reformers like John Piper and Mark Driscoll have built and reside in is pretty sturdy – maybe too sturdy.  The walls they have built up are way to tight for me and keep so many wonderful people out that I would really like to have the chance to get to know and share this journey with.  On the other hand the village that the Rob Bell‘s and Brian McLaren‘s of the world have constructed seems to have so many holes in the walls that it can barely be called a village at all.  There is no comradry or security in a camp seems to allow anyone in or out, but clearly condescends to anyone who might choose to live elsewhere. I do not think I can really feel at home in either place.

Like I said, I realize there may be more places to set up camp than these two and that there are likely many people who feel just as torn and lost as I do in the wilderness between these two waring factions right now: not belonging to either and feeling like inevitable collateral damage. I fear for the others stuck out in the cold like me and hoping and praying that we might somehow be spared and find a way to set up camp together. I do not know where that ground in between is yet, but I certainly hope to find some people to travel with and set down roots with eventually. It is getting a little lonely out here.

So, it’s about that time again, when it’s my turn to preach again, and I’m looking for input again, so I don’t get accused of heresy.  This is a job posting in the sense that I’m looking for people’s input on what they think of the sermon, and it’s a job posting in another way in that this time around I’m preaching from Matthew 28:16-20, aka the great commission. I’ve got some thoughts that have been running through my head that I think are right but that I’ve never heard anyone say before.  Hooray, for maybe having an original thought again!  Most of the message is pretty straight forward, but I’m always looking for ways to make it better.  However, the section that is near the end of the sermon is the section I’m really looking for your input on.  I’ve highlighted it in blue and would love to get your take on it.  I won’t ruin the surprise or anticipation by telling you what it is.

Have at it and burn the sermon if the heresy factor is too high!  mt28v16to20draft

pointy.jpgSo, I’m preaching again on Sunday – I will be basically every second Sunday for the forseeable future – and I’m looking forward to having the chance to make people uncomfortable and angry.  I say this in the most loving and encouraging way.  I’m not looking forward to preaching because I want to make people angry, but I’m looking forward to preaching this message and I’m pretty sure that some people will likely wind up angry by the end of it.  Christians generally don’t like being confronted with the fact that they may not have everything right.  On a sidenote, for those of you who haven’t read the “Things White People Like” blog, I’ve been thinking it would be funny to write a blog about “Things Christians Like/Don’t Like”.  If you think it’s a good idea, you’re welcome to steal it so long as I get some creative control.

I’m looking at the passage from Luke about the two guys on the Emaus road.  Traditionally most people have looked at this passage and preached about how Jesus wanted to give hope to people that were distraught over his death.  I don’t doubt that he did, but I don’t think that’s really the point of Jesus whole interaction with the two guys on the road.  I think if I preached that message it wouldn’t upset anybody, but I also wouldn’t be doing my job.  No I’m pretty sure the point of the whole interaction is there were two guys (probably more like them but these are the only two we hear about) who were so convinced of what the Messiah was supposed to be (a liberating leader who would resurrect the Israelite empire) that after Jesus death they just couldn’t really believe he was the Messiah anymore.  They walked down the road pooling their ignorance and re-enforcing their own wrong shared view point with eachother.  Eventually Jesus came up to them – they didn’t recognize him – and they told him too how they hoped that Jesus was the Messiah but now they weren’t so sure because he died.  At this point Jesus essnetially called them stupid people and told them how they understood nothing and showed them how wrong they were.  After they realized it, their eyes were opened and they finally recognized Jesus for who he was, litterally and figuratively.  They had been missing the point.

This makes me think a lot of questions.  It’s easy for us to look back at the Jews in the Old Testament and laugh as we see them make the same mistakes over and over again.  It’s easy for us to look at the disciples and people in the gospels and shake our heads in disdain as we see them miss the point of what Jesus was trying to teach them about how to serve God and about what the Messiah was really supposed to do.  How often do we stop to think about what we’ve got wrong though?  I guarantee you we don’t have it all right.  Just like the two guys on the Emmaus road, what things are we so convinced we have right that we blind ourselves to what is really right?  What things will Christians a hundred years from now look back at and wonder how we could have been so wrong?  Sometimes we get so comfortable with getting things wrapped up in tight little theological packages that we stop looking for what the truth really is.  Sometimes we get so comfortable discussing our beliefs with people that see things exactly the same way we do that we never grow or learn new things or discover where we’re wrong because we only re-enforce our own view points.  What kind of things are keeping us from seeing God and his plans as they truly are?  The two men on the Emaus road were so sure that they knew what the Messiah was supposed to be that they couldn’t see what he really was.  It was so bad that God purposely blinded them to Jesus identity on the road until they would come to the realization of who Jesus really was as the Messiah and as God.  It was only after they realized what they had wrong that God opened their eyes to realize that Jesus was right there in their midst.  So I wonder, what kind of things are blinding us to who God really is and what he really wants to do?  What kinds of beliefs or practices have we wrongly accepted as right that are keeping us from seeing God as he is and his work as it stands?  I think these are really important questions because I don’t want to be the guy or part of the people that Christians will look back on with disdain one hundred years from now.  Where are we missing the point?  I’d certainly like to miss the point if being kicked with a boot like the one in the picture, but when it comes to serving God, that’s a point I don’t want to miss.

If you’re wondering what we could possibly have wrong, just look at what kinds of things Christianity accepted for so long that we look back on with disdain now like the acceptance of slavery or the oppression of women.  We look back now and wonder how Christians could have been so out of touch with reality and God’s values, but at the time those Christians were convinced they were right.  Will our issues be how we allowed women to minister in the church?  How we handle the homosexual issue?  How 20th century evangelicals viewed alcohol consumption?  How we treat people with tatoos or piercings?  How we present the good news as “fire insurance” with no strings attached?  How the church seems to constantly want to prove science wrong?  What are the issues that are keeping us from seeing God and his truth as they truly are?

I’ll be the first to admit that I likely don’t have it all right.  I think that someone who thinks they have it all right likely has never been farther from having it all right.  I realize I likely don’t have it all right, but I want to have it more right all the time.  I want to really look at what God thinks on issues and what the truth really is so that we can truly be the people of God.  Sunday could be interesting, but I’m finding it even more interesting getting there.

fighting.jpgI was away all weekend speaking at a youth retreat at Redberry Bible Camp and had a great time.  I really enjoyed talking to the group of fifty kids about what it really means to be a Christian – yes, I used the label because it’s what everyone understands – and I had all kinds of things I wanted to write about here.  Things like how great it is to talk with believers that are truly willing to examine what it means to follow Jesus and who really want to make a difference for the kingdom of God in this world.  Things like how great a time I had with Jenn and Payton.  Things like how excited I am to be elected to the Saskatchewan Mennonite Brethren Board of Faith and Life.  Then I came home and read a blog and all that went out the window.  I would name it here, but the last thing Christianity needs is for another public flogging.  I was again dragged down into the un-civil war that Christians have been waging against eachother for far too long now.  Why do Christians feel a need to fight with eachother and try to prove eachother wrong?  We’re on the same team for goodness sake!  We have enough enemies as it is, why do we need to try to make enemies out of some of the few allies that we have?  Enough already!  With the state Christianity is currently in in the Western world the last thing it needs is fellow Christians publicly flogging eachother.If someone see things a little different than you it’s a chance to expand your thinking and learn from eachother, not a chance to start another holy war.  We don’t need more fighting and holy wars.  We need to finally accept that we don’t have to do and believe things exactly the same to love and serve the same God.  People can do things differently and still love and serve Jesus.  All Christians are from the same family, received the same baptism, and have the same Spirit.  Why can’t we just get along and try to fight against the real enemy and not eachother?  I feel sick.  Maybe I’ll be able to talk about some of the good things I wanted to later.