I was thinking recently and decided I wanted to add a section to my website to blog about issues of church and faith. It's interesting to consider what role the Internet might have in the lives of today's and tomorrow's young people -- could it be a catalyst for encouraging kids to explore and share their faith?
January 17: Thoughts in Response to Reading the New TestamentJanuary 17, 2014
A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
Passages like this get my attention for somewhat obvious reasons this year. Here I am, deeply disturbed by how people of my culture use their resources for seemingly selfish reasons in a world where so many don’t even have the basic necessities. People will say to me that my outrage is prophetic in nature. So when I read a passage like this, it asks the question: Do I in any ways fit the description of a false prophet? Is my message fluffy on the outside but destructive on the inside? A couple of months ago as our church was talking about potentially spending $300-$400,000 on renovating our sanctuary and foyer, I was very disturbed. The crux was this equation I keep going back to: If children are dying for very “simple” and preventable reasons every day (by the thousands), and preventing those deaths doesn’t take rocket science, but rather simple things like clean water, sanitation, vaccinations, mosquito nets, etc, then how can we spend such large sums of money on what are largely aesthetics and yet still feel like we’re making the best decision? When I ask questions like this, people don’t tend to answer. They tend to take it as a rhetorical question. There are probably quite a few reasons for that, but it does lead to frustration on my part -- if someone asks you an important question and you don’t even attempt an answer, what does that say? Shouldn’t we be able to answer for ourselves? And so I contacted one of our pastors and conveyed my sense that it was important that churches be able to explain choices like this -- it was a challenge for the leadership of our church to be able to actually respond in some way to this question.
But over the course of a couple weeks, after a couple back and forths over email, I became less convinced that formally answering the question was going to be life giving for the congregation. And I actually had the thought, “Is this demand to answer this question seemingly good on the outside but rotten on the inside?”. Another analogy I had in my head is to wonder whether this dollars-and-sense thinking can be like a trojan horse for the church that has no trouble getting into the city, but then wreaks havoc? Those analogies are quite similar to Jesus picture here for a wolf in sheeps clothing.
I still don’t know. These feelings seem to come from deep in my subconscious and it’s hard to introspect them. When is wrestling with this issue healthy and life giving for the church and it’s mission? When is it destructive?
Another question to ask: What is the fruit that is being born out of my convictions of recent? Has it been life giving? Has it been destructive?
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
This is naturally a scary one for people who have put their faith in Jesus, and it hints at the struggle of Christians in the early church to know how to understand faith and works, and the connection between the two. For me what this says is that we can be fooled into thinking that we have done what Jesus has asked if we simply believe in Him and then go about living lives that convey to others in striking ways that we are a new creation while we are inwardly still not really surrendered, and the wider picture of our life still filled with disobedience and neutered love. A humbling passage.January 14: Thoughts in Response to Reading the New TestamentJanuary 14, 2014
Matthew 7:12: The Golden Rule
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
“Boom, there it is” A critically important verse for me in the last couple of years. I was confused when reading my NIV version of the Bible. It puts this verse at the end of the “Ask, Seek, Knock” section, and it just doesn’t seem to fit. Nice that the NRSV gives it its own section.
There’s a blurb in my NIV Bible that comments that other religions mostly state this in the negative sense: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you”, whereas Jesus’ version is far more open-ended and challenging.
And that’s it -- this statement is incredibly challenging. But so very exciting.January 8: Thoughts in Response to Reading the New TestamentJanuary 8, 2014
7 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s[a] eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor,[b] ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s[c] eye.
Jesus’ words on judging others are good medicine for those of us who feel frustrated by the world around us. This topic of judgement is one that has been on my mind a fair bit this year. People like me who are zealous in their nature come head to head with this issue, I think. How, with our deep convictions, do we avoid the mistake of bad judgement? Something that was helpful a couple of months ago was re-framing God's desire for myself and others in a more relative sense: To be open and obedient to God’s nudgings. That helps relax the frame of absolute behavioural and spritiual ideals, which might demand people to live in very specific ways. Each of us it at a different place in our walk with God, and in a different life context. Trying to be sensitive to that I think can be very helpful in avoiding the pitfall of judging others harshly.
One of my challenges, I think, is that I spend so much time alone, and so my personal context looms large and threatens to make me blind to the diversity of other people’s contexts. I find it interesting when going to another person’s home for dinner. Sometimes while I’m there I have this sinking feeling come over me that “wow, this person’s context is different than mine”, and there is a twinge of discomfort as I relate that to the more absolute ways that I tend to view the world.
Something that has changed for me in the last year a bit is that 12 months ago I wasn’t made uncomfortable by the command to first take the plank out of one’s own eye. This year it causes me a bit more angst. Why I’m not quite sure. Partly it’s that I feel a bit less close to God, and as I try and introspect what has changed, or what the “problem” is, I’m not actually sure. One aspect of this is probably that life tends to moderate itself. We can have a mountain top experience one year, and it might pervade for a week, or a month, or a year, but over time things tend to level out again. (not to return as they were before, but also not to remain heightened at the same level forever)
Profaning the Holy
6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
This is a curious passage. A familiar one, but not one that I understand that well. I’m not sure if I’ve connected life circumstances to this with any frequency. But it has a certain urgency that get’s one’s attention. What is Jesus trying to say to us?older >>