|The Youngest Disciple

As a parent, I think about what I want to teach the next generation. This includes the spiritual side of life’s journey (and it’s been said that “everything is spiritual”). So what do I want to teach this youngest disciple in the house about following Jesus?

There are many things, but here are seven unoriginal and redundant answers to that question:

1. Loving God and people are the two great commandments. (Matt. 22 & Mark 12)

2. Treating people as I want to be treated has far reaching ramifications. (Matt. 7)

3. Following Jesus is a call to engage this life, not a ticket to escape it. (Matt. 25 & James 1)

4. How I live out my faith in the world is at least as important as what I do in church. That is, actions in church mean nothing if not followed with actions of love outside of organized worship. (Amos 5 & Luke 10)

5. Following Jesus is as much or more about learning to embody Kingdom values (compassion, peace, justice, righteousness) than about believing right theological claims (some people like the words orthopraxy and orthodoxy). (Matt. 23, Luke 4 & Luke 7)

6. Following Jesus is about learning what it means to be a citizen of Heaven and to be an ambassador of the Kingdom here and now. Following another king in another kingdom has political implications, but no political party represents God or speaks for God. (2 Cor. 5 & Phil. 3)

7. Following Jesus leads me to put on display–almost always in little ways–the goodness of God. The “Great Controversy” theme is about revealing the true nature of God’s goodness. Because God is loving and love is generous, my selfishness is a significant barrier. (Matt. 5 & Luke 6)

NOTE 1: There are so many biblical passages that could be given for each of the seven items. The ones I’ve listed are simply starter verses. I especially had to hold back on #5.

NOTE 2: Since teaching is by example and not merely speaking (or posts on Facebook and blogs), I need to step it up.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for your discipleship over these years. And thank you–other family members, church members, friends–for your influence and support as well.

Faith, Love & Fear

Whether it’s ISIS, al Qaeda, ebola, H1N1, SARS or nuclear weapons, Christians should be the least scared, it seems to me. We take all of these quite seriously, to be sure, doing all we can to promote peace, reconciliation, health and well-being, but we should not be fearful.

Jesus said there would be war and disease.* We should not be surprised by these realities. Instead we should trust that we are in God’s hands as we serve others and take care of the vulnerable. If we are scared, lets spend less time watching TV and more time (a) reading the Bible and (b) serving in our communities. It is natural and normal to be afraid, but Jesus never said the life of a disciple is “natural and normal.”

*”And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. SEE THAT YOU ARE NOT TROUBLED [emphasis added]; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:6-8)

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31)

“Then He said to His disciples, ‘Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.'” (Luke 12:22)

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

God, help me to trust you today. Grow love and faith in my heart so fear has no quarter. Use me today to be a blessing to others. And may Jesus return and make right what I do not have the power to change.

NOTE: I’ll add that those verses grew in importance to me during my grad studies in peace. We didn’t learn about daisies and drum circles. We studied genocide, torture, war, poverty and other gross abuses of human rights. I was overwhelmed with the evil lurking in the human heart and the vulnerability of humanity. Jesus knew all of this and more and still said to trust him and not to fear. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Unity in Diversity

Introductory note: Diversity can analyzed in at least three spheres—behavior (action and lifestyle), belief (what we hold to be true), and belonging (social cohesiveness). This post focuses on the third category—the social aspects of unity—though the other two are lurking between the lines as well. All three areas relate to spiritual gifts, so I’ve included diversity of gifts in this consideration as well.

Which is true: “birds of a feather flock together” or “opposites attract”? Reality defies a simple answer. Social psychologists tell us it depends on a number of factors, including the level of relation one is considering (e.g., friends, romantic partners, clubs, etc.) and the type of characteristic under consideration (e.g., male-female [different gender = opposite] in heterosexual couples [both heterosexual = same]). While both forces are a social reality, it’s the flocking together of similar people that has been on my mind lately.

Social sorting is normal and natural. We develop bonds with people who share our interests, whether the commonality is professional, religious, political or recreational. Often multiple factors influence who we connect with (e.g., people in my faith community who have children the same age as mine, or people in my office who share my political views and are the same gender as me).

I do this. You do this. We all do this in some way.

Unity in Uniformity

This selection process is not entirely beneficial. We can easily cut out of our lives nearly everyone whose differentness makes us uncomfortable. We may only reach out to people of the same age, race, and socio-economic level. We may only make friends with people in our own denomination or religion. We may un-follow or un-friend everyone on Facebook who posts quotes for that other political party. This is the comfortable route. This is the least unsettling-path. This is also the best way to lose a broad perspective on life and the world.

Unity in Diversity

In my understanding, social diversity is a central feature of the kingdom of God. Jesus worked to break down the dividing walls of age, race, ethnicity, gender, social status, economic level, and all of the other major divisions.

Jesus welcomed the young children who the disciples tried to push away.

Jesus taught women (not just men) and had them travel with him.

Jesus called the rich tax collector and the poor fishermen to follow him.

Jesus sent his followers to every corner of the globe.

Jesus prayed that this diverse group would be unified (John 17:11-23).

Paul understood this social revolution and highlighted its significance for the church. We should not jump too quickly over the emotional content of these lists:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11, NIV)

Paul also spoke to the need for people with various gifts to be unified in one body (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4).

John wrote of the diverse group of humanity gathered in the age to come.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9; see also 5:9)

Ellen White, an early leader in the Seventh-day Adventist church, spoke much of unity in diversity.

From the endless variety of plants and flowers, we may learn an important lesson. All blossoms are not the same in form or color. Some possess healing virtues. Some are always fragrant. There are professing Christians who think it their duty to make every Christian like themselves. This is man’s plan, not the plan of God. In the church of God there is room for characters as varied as are the flowers in a garden. In His spiritual garden there are many varieties of flowers.—Letter 95, 1902 (Evangelism, p. 99)

It is the Lord’s plan that there shall be unity in diversity. There is no man who can be a criterion for all other men. Our varied trusts are proportioned to our varied capabilities…. Each worker is to give his fellow workers the respect that he wishes to have shown to himself.—Lt 111, 1903. (2 Mind, Character & Personality, p. 423)

Unity in diversity is God’s plan. Among the followers of Christ there is to be the blending of diverse elements, one adapted to the other, and each to do its special work for God. Every individual has his place in the filling up of one great plan bearing the stamp of Christ’s image…—Lt 78, 1894 (2 Mind, Character & Personality, p. 800)

I believe God’s call for the church is to be an inclusive, diverse body. I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to overcome the forces that push us away from each other. I believe the church is to be a community that shows the world how people of different ages, income brackets, races, genders, political orientations, and other factors can live in harmony with love and respect.

I want to stand in that diverse group (Rev. 7:9), and I want the church to be a foretaste of that day now. May we live up to that high calling, and may I do my part by asking God to open my heart, mind and home.

Reflection Questions

  1. When have I experienced unexpected hospitality and inclusiveness? How did this make me feel, and how did it affect my own approach to others?

  2. What social division is most obvious in my life? That is, what is the characteristic that most of my friends have in common? What are the benefits and problems with this social situation?

  3. What steps might I take to move beyond this barrier (in #2)? What changes in attitudes, words and actions might I need in order to reach out to people who are different in this way?

  4. What social divisions has my congregation overcome? What divisions persist? What factors contribute to this division, and how might God move through me to change this?

  5. In a world polarized by political dissent, how can Christians demonstrate better communication both within the church and in the broader society?

  6. All religions and denominations have boundaries relating to belief, behavior and belonging. This is how one is distinguished from another. What are the positive and negative aspects of these boundaries? What purposes do these serve, and when or how might they become a problem? How do we decide where to draw these boundaries, and how do we decide how absolute or porous these various barriers should be?

  7. How might these themes be applied to relations between Christian denominations or between Christians and those with other religions or worldviews?

Foolishness of Faith

I get why some people stop going to church because it feels stale, lacks relevance for their daily lives, does a poor job of fostering meaningful relationships, and seems disconnected from the real needs of hurting humanity (and ends up actually hurting far too many people).

I understand why some people give up on the church because too often it is more concerned about air conditioning than the condition of the environment, about politics than compassion, about the order of service than community service.

I can see why people lose faith in faith when science so often tells a more compelling story about humanity’s place on the planet with more systematic evidence and more seeds of hope.

I deeply grasp why the suffering, abuse, torture and violence in the world makes it virtually impossible for many to believe that a God of love could be behind all of this.

What is actually baffling to me is the reality that so many of us still participate in a church community at all, still believe any of this stuff at all. It seems like a miracle that any of us find some measure of freshness after a few thousand years of reading the same book and singing songs about the same themes, that some of us find something at church that speaks to our modern lives, that some of us find a measure of community and connection, that some turn their churches outward to care for others, that some care about God’s created world, that some still even believe that God created life and cares about all life, that some people find ways to embrace both God and science, that some people see the God of love trying to use us to overcome violence with love. It’s miraculous–it appears to me–that for many of us, after our orbits have swung wide into the world during the week, we still come crashing back together to explore something we can’t see, touch, smell, taste or hear, at least not directly. Why don’t our trajectories move inexorably apart? Why do we come back together, even when so often fighting our own desires not to? Why do we sing and pray? What is this gravitational force that keeps calling us back to community, back to a place where we share questions, experiences and unusual casseroles at potluck?

I get why so many of my friends have left the church community and/or given up on trying to find truth in the pages of the Bible. I don’t have any less respect or appreciation for them. I’m just surprised that not everyone has done the same.

I raise my glass to all who are seeking community, seeking truth, seeking meaning, seeking creativity, seeking peace, seeking justice, seeking love, seeking joy, seeking goodness, and seeking beauty even in the dark corners of the human experience. May you find or create what you need, and may you encourage others in the quest as well. And if there is a God, as some of us still believe, may this God be very close to each of us, helping us know and experience the way, the truth and the life…

Random Articles about Christianity

I haven’t posted anything about religion for a while. Here are some articles that have caught my attention, plus one I wrote for Adventist Peace Fellowship:

Church. What’s it good for anyway?

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve come across two different people describing their thoughts on church. Well, kind of. One person talks about the positive aspects of organized religion/Christianity, and the other shares about why he does not regularly attend worship at a local congregation.

What do you think about these perspectives?

In his first post, Donald Miller says, “I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all…. It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service.” He goes on to explain this phenomena from the perspective of learning styles:

Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course churches have all kinds of ways for you to engage God including many kinesthetic opportunities including mission trips and so forth, but if you want to attend a “service” every Sunday, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much out there for kinesthetic or visual learners.*

The post by Jack Hoehn doesn’t address these same questions or issues, but looks at the role of organized religion in the world, focusing on positive aspects.

God-lovers—no matter how sincere and how wonderful their solitary walks in the woods with Jesus or their spiritual encounters with God himself while climbing mountains—don’t build schools, don’t build hospitals, don’t train nurses and doctors, don’t run orphanages, don’t print books, don’t educate…. Churches do that.

Later, he uses personal experience to flesh this out a bit:

For 13 years Adventism made me the richest physician in the world—I was so rich I could afford to treat anyone I wanted for nothing or next to nothing, because I was working for the Adventist church! Your 10th egg, your Sabbath profit, your tithe by the thousands or millions put together into the hands of men and a few women on committees, wasting time on policy books, and home deposits, and conference offices, still let me rescue over 500 women of obstructed pregnancies with surgeries at no cost to them. It let me drive four-wheel trucks through rivers to get to little clinics where everyone wore a blanket due to the high mountain African cold. It let me ride a boat through swamps where no one even owned a blanket. Organized religion let me build hospital wards for sick children suffering the same malaria crises I remember from my Kenya childhood. Church let me train and graduate Nurses and Medical Assistants who would go out into the bush and jungle and run little clinics that were lights in the darkness, and teach in SDA schools that would graduate people like the Obamas and Nelson Mandela’s children.

If you either currently participate in a local congregation or you used to, what factors are important to you in making that decision? Do your thoughts match either Miller or Hoehn, or is your experience something else entirely?

*UPDATE: After reading this post, Ed Dickerson shared via Facebook that his congregation incorporates multiple intelligences in each week’s gathering. He also shared resources he developed on the topic, available at iFOLLOW. How could you use this learning theory in your faith community to connect with a wider range of people?

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus

Yesterday my mother shared the following quote with me. She is reading Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg, and she knew this would be meaningful to me:

The gods of Israel’s neighbors concerned themselves with sacrifices and ceremonies.  They were not terribly moral, and they were often fickle and cruel.  The God of Israel was unique in tying worship of him with compassion for others.21 When his people began to believe that rituals were all he required, God sent prophets to remind them that justice to the poor was his greatest concern.  This was the heart of Jesus’ teaching too. (p. 79)

21 See John Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1994), 229-47.

She also shared these:

Web Round-up

MISC PEACE, JUSTICE & HUMAN RIGHTS

ENVIRONMENT

RELIGIOUS ETHICSlist

Dependent on God

What do I need to accomplish today? What are my responsibilities at home, at work, at my church, or anywhere else? Whatever my duties and opportunities may be, these words speak to me:

They [Jesus’ adversaries] felt sufficient in themselves for all things, and realized no need of higher wisdom to direct their acts. But the Son of God was surrendered to the Father’s will, and dependent upon His power….

The words of Christ teach that we should regard ourselves as inseparably bound to our Father in heaven. Whatever our position, we are dependent upon God, who holds all destinies in His hands. He has appointed us our work, and has endowed us with faculties and means for that work. So long as we surrender the will to God, and trust in His strength and wisdom, we shall be guided in safe paths, to fulfill our appointed part in His great plan. But the one who depends upon his own wisdom and power is separating himself from God. Instead of working in unison with Christ, he is fulfilling the purpose of the enemy of God and man. (Ellen White, Ch. 21 “Bethesda and the Sanhedrin,” The Desire of Ages, pp. 208, 209)

Spirituality & Peacemaking

If I were to teach a class on spirituality and peacemaking, these are some of the resources from which I would draw inspiration: