Questioning His Limits

I remember growing up and believing myself to be the face of future Christianity. I thought I was going to be a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor. I wore my GOD DOESN’T BELIEVE IN ATHEISTS t-shirt, listened to Petra, Michael W. Smith, and DC Talk sing songs like “I Am On The Rock,” “Place In This World,” and “Jesus Is Still Alright With Me.”
I got out of the pool during swim practice and left my teammates like a good Adventist at Sundown each Friday. I didn’t drink or party with my friends. I had a HE LOVES ME bumper sticker on the back of my 1980 Toyota Corolla right next to an anti-abortion bumper sticker. I read Christian books, attended Christian youth conferences, and even spoke sermon-style to a group of church members at a vespers meeting.
But, there were some issues that weighed heavily on me at that time. They were issues that would continue to weigh on me for years to come: What was I supposed to think about my dear grandparents who loved me, provided breakfast for me each morning before college classes, co-signed a loan for me to buy a car, but, didn’t attend church? What was I to think about the Contemporary Christian Music artists that I so avidly adored and that I perceived to be so sincere, but, in reality were no better than I? Or, wait a minute, maybe they were better. Maybe they were closer to God. No. That can’t be right. They weren’t Seventh-Day Adventists! What about babies born in China or third-world aboriginal cultures where they will never hear about Jesus? Are they going to hell just because they didn’t have the technology to get the Billy Graham broadcast that included an altar call? What about those friends of mine who, though they taught me to get drunk, smoke cigarettes, and do other things I shouldn’t do, also taught me what it meant to have somebody I could rely on?

The truth is that God’s grace surfaces in so many different forms throughout our lives. Nobody in this world is as they should be. We are all lost: The condescending Christian that responds to your apology with an I-told-you-so-type attitude. The Pope, Ellen G. White, Ghandi, John Lennon, Trent Reznor, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Billy Graham, Michael Jordan, Paris Hilton, Bono, Tony Blair, my in-laws, and myself.

If any of us had to lay our hope in our own pathetic efforts to be good, attend church services, pay tithe, perform rituals, or argue our way into heaven, we would all face eternal seperation from God. I don’t know if there is an eternal Hell or if all the damned just cease to exist. What I do know is that our only hope is in God’s grace. His grace and his Love far supercede any church doctrine, any liturgy, any papal mandate, and any governmental law. The Creator knows the hearts of those who have never heard the gospel and He knows the hearts of those who have heard, but, persistently deny the gospel. His justice will be served.

Its strange indeed that anybody on earth would have the audacity to try to outwit God. Instead, I admit my flawed self. I concede that my own direction will only lead to pain for myself and those around me. My hope rests in my faith. My faith built on His grace. God offers his fatherly, unconditional, loving, eternal acceptance to me. I accept it. I pray that you do, too.

Peeling the Hardened Shell of the Church

Thanks to the insights and emphasis lent to the topic by authors such as Brennan Manning, Donald Miller, and the writers of the gospels, I’ve come to a much greater appreciation for what Christ intended when he taught the early disciples. When asked what is most important about living, Jesus said that we should love God with our whole beings and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

This was the opportunity for Christ to name what he wanted his church to look like. So, did he say, “spend disproportionate sums of money on ornate, aesthetically pleasing cathedrals?” Did he say, “contribute large sums of money, time, and enthusiasm to the political funds of candidates running for a role in government?” How about, “lecture, criticize, and turn your back on homosexuals, self-proclaimed atheists, and people who get abortions?”

The Church, as referred to in scripture, is the body of people who believe in Jesus and follow him in faith. Unfortunately the focus of so many Christians in society today is inappropriately placed on contributing to the campaign funds of self-proclaimed “conservative” politicians, having the most stylish clothing and accesories to wear to church, and shunning those who are in such need of love that they’ve turned to unnatural, abusive means like promiscuity and addiction. From this perspective, the church is weak.

The church has been guilty of this kind of posture for ages. The prostitution of the church in Europe during the renaissance is evidence. The witch-burning days serve as evidence. The self-righteous population that drives to services in BMW’s and high-end SUV’s to fill churches, chapels, and cathedrals across America today serve as evidence.

If we truly loved others as ourselves, as Jesus instructed us to, we might sacrifice a little more so that we could contribute to meeting the basic needs of those starving and suffering in places like Africa and Central America. If we truly loved others as ourselves we would spend more Saturday mornings serving at the local homeless shelter and less recovering from hangovers from drinking too much the night before.

Nobody is perfect and some of the examples stated above of inappropriate emphasis were taken directly from my own personal list of weaknesses. But, can you imagine how much better off this world would be if the Christian population in America reorganized their personal priorities to match the priorities that Christ instructed us to have?

The cause of Christ has never been cheap, unjust, or fake. The people that make up the church of Christ, however, are all of those things. All of us are less that what we should be. God has bigger plans for us. Drop your religion and follow Jesus. Serve him by loving those around you.

 28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g]There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

 

Relentless Reliance

It is when I’ve got it together
that it falls apart
Its when I’m most conscious of my imposter – my image
that I become forgettable
It is shortly after I bow my head in sincerity
That I lash out at those who need me
I can offer no explanation to justify
What little I have to give is only apology
Relying on faith in grace
An end leading to eternity

Suspended In Grace

Right hand reaching high
Hoping to grasp the next branch on the beanstalk
Both feet slipping
No foothold
Not touching the ground
Suspended in grace

It is my heart that fails
My soul that bends so easily
With the shifting wind of a pub song
So easily swept away, picked up
Turned around
Just enough for me to find pain in coming back down

The yearnings of my shell lead me closer to Sheol
Until I remember that I am capable of nothing more on my own
Once more I empty my hands
So, that I can pick up, again, what He has given me
And walk on
With ease of mind and soul

Promise and Hope

The clarity of grace can be tainted
The ringing echo of redemption can be muffled
The promise of life everlasting can be marginalized
The reality of His love can be obscured
By the unavoidable ebb and flow of pain and hope
Our peace resides in the fact that death, and everything less terrifying, has already been beaten
And the tumltuous currents of this life will be silenced in favor of His river of Peace

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Speedbumps in Acts

Sunday, May 6, 2007
I’ve been reading through acts and a couple of speed-bumps keep resurfacing:

“When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” Acts 19:6

I’ve always struggled with the idea of this kind of thing happening. In my experience I’ve never seen anyone prophesying, though, I know that the bible indicates that there would be more prophets. I did accept, for a time, the idea of Ellen White as a prophet in the Adventist church. But, then what about the speaking “in tongues?” I have a vague recollection of some people producing gibberish in the midst of a First Assembly of God youth meeting when I was younger, but, it certainly didn’t seem to serve a purpose. If it was real, why is the practice seemingly confined to just that church? These are the kinds of tangential issues that really begin to frustrate me at times and take my focus off of my relationship with Abba. I understand the Holy Spirit to be the voice of my conscience…the still small voice that is always there for me. So, what about the rest?