Sunday, December 30, 2007

A New Year a New View?

I am home not feeling well today. Maybe it is not good to work on deep thoughts in this state. Difficult posts like this one may not be wise. After this post, I may be branded as a heretic. Much of my thoughts have come to the surface as I have been doing some reading of several authors these days.

I have grown up an evangelical. I believe in the need for a transforming relationship with Jesus for all of us. I want that for all people. I want them to be disciples of Jesus. I see our evangelical teaching of salvation (what it has become) as very selfish. I will try to explain, but it may not be very eloquent.

We see Jesus as saviour. I have had some conversations with Christian brothers and sisters who have left one church or another because of the doctrinal view on salvation. I had a very briedf but poignant conversation with one brother who said that he left one church because of their view. He thought they did not believe in salvation through grace. I asked him what his definition of "salvation" was. He gave me a very rehearsed and rote version of a doctrinal statement. It became the very much the "Four Spiritual Laws." It was very legalistic. It was a legal transaction. It had very little to do with faith or grace. It was more intellectual ascent framed in a faith argument.

I believe that many of us would agree with his definition. It involved God's wrath being meted on us if we did not agree to the contract. I believe that God is unbelievably disappointed with the human condition. I believe He looks heartbroken at what we have made ourselves. His perfection has been spoiled by our selfishness and greed.

Here is where I am now working through my salvation definition. I think we have the wrong metaphor going in the historical context of Jesus. We remind ourselves that He was in a place in time where a pagan empire which was a dominating culture. Jesus in His reading of the prophet Isaiah, says He has come to be the liberator from an imperialistic lifestyle. In other words, could it have been that He was saying that He was not here to liberate us to a legalistic relationship, but to turn upside down a culture of sin and punishment?

I have been thinking about this for years. If we just look at personal salvation, we reduce grace to what I can get out of it. It is about my freedom, my prosperity and my security. Maybe the definition of salvation is better thought about in terms healing a sick creation not a legal contract. Maybe Jesus in the cross was injecting a much needed cure of grace for legalism. Maybe He was not only about healing the human condition but all of the creation. It is interesting to me that much of His teaching was also about the land and nature and its condition as well.

I have seen some of my best Christian brothers be less than healthy in their treatment of the earth. They have bought into the domination theory. Man is meant to dominate the earth. We consume more than we need. We are overweight and proud. We are stingy in our giving to the poor. But hey, "We're going to heaven." We are part of the special few who have the "right relationship. If people want our life, they should give into Jesus?"

Maybe the transformation that Jesus was speaking about in His life and teaching was more than a personal relationship, where we are safe, secure, prosperous, and staying out of hell. Could it be that Jesus came to save all creation? That means the earth too? Instead of our popular apocalyptic view of heaven and hell, Jesus came as liberator not of domination, but of suffering and grace? Could it be that we have domesticated Jesus to fit our needs, instead of us following His way? Maybe salvation is completely different than what we have thought it to be. Does that make it any less necessary? No. It probably makes it more necessary than ever. What it means is that possibly, we need a new view in this new year? Maybe we have the salvation definition wrong. It is not about me. It is not about the idea of personal salvation. It is about the world. It is about the whole of creation.

Maybe some of you will need to read this post a few times. I might need to as well. I am not sure I have really explained what I mean adequately. I just think that we have not fully gone where Jesus wants us to go. This will have huge impact on the way we live as Christians and the message we proclaim. Transformation in thinking, living and in all of creation is what we need.

So I know I have thrown a great deal out there. It may be confusing. Maybe as we go into the new year maybe it is time for a new view. I would like to start a discussion on this different view. We may be doing some very un-Christ-like things, thinking we were "right." This is an emerging view. I am not sure if I am right.

What do you think?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Making love or making sense?

I knew that the title on the post may stir some conversation. I recently read this quote by L. Robert Keck, "It is better to have a heart that makes love than a mind that makes sense." I have looked at this recently as I have come to analyze budgets and personnel moves in my part of the vineyard.

It is no secret that for the most part charitable giving is down this Christmas season. We are seeing a flattening or even a dip in giving to our organization. Many are blaming this on the economy. I am thinking that this may be the case to a point. I wonder.

We have become pros at doing good. It is our mission and mandate. Especially at Christmas, we pride ourselves on doing good. Christmas is an emotional time. It is commercialized and because of that we reach out to help people celebrate the season, the way we have been conditioned to celebrate. We share lots of gifts and lots of food. There is nothing wrong with that sentiment. We can sanctify the secular. It is the hallmark of our movement. We have become pros though.

Therein lies the rub. Maybe for many in the charity business, Christmas has become a matter of duty and not a matter of sacrificial giving. We have become good at large dinners for the homeless, mass distributions for hundreds of gifts for needy families or even giving good gifts to the shut-in. We have logistics down to a science. We have the movement of people down to a perfectly timed procedure. We have good minds and make a great deal of sense. I wonder though if we are still motivated by love or if we are just answering the call of duty, because we know it is good marketing and the time of year we are supposed to do something like this.

This Christmas, as I review my own motivation, I pray that it will be out of heart that makes love and not a mind that makes sense. So if you have opportunity this evening and tomorrow, take time to love people as God would and not just make sense.

So this Christmas, as you sit and make merry with loved ones and give a nod to the less fortunate, maybe it is time to consider is my heart making love or my mind making sense? Do you think we need a combination of the two? Maybe making sense is the reason we have flattened out in our resources, when we need a renewal of love.

Well, enjoy your Christmas and let me know....What do you think?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Clash of Cultures?

Let me start by saying I love Christmas. I love the True Meaning of Christmas, Christ our Lord, more than life itself. It is for me a great season of hope and blessing. I just returned from our office Christmas celebration where there was frivolity but also a sense of the Holy. Jesus was lifted up, but in a gentle loving way.

Recently, I had a deep conversation about saying Merry Christmas. The conversation took place as a result of some recent bad press regarding people not saying Merry Christmas. The discussion with my friend went to the thought of us protecting our rights as Christians. He went on to say that we should fight to keep the holiday from being secularized for the sake of profits. Well, as a Christian I thought about that. I am not sure that I need to protect anything. I am not sure Christ has called me to fight in that way. He has called me to lift Him up as the Prince of Peace during this season. I am not sure that calls upon me to join a pitched battle for the right to say Merry Christmas.

What He does call me to do is to be compassionate, loving and kind. He calls me to do things to better humanity without expecting anything in return. He calls me to love those who disagree with me. He calls me to say "Merry Christmas" with my actions and then share the Gospel as the opportunity arises. I am not sure Jesus will need me to fight His battles. If I read scripture right, He has already won.

That brings me to another point. Much has been made about the fact that the Church has fought against the right of those living in alternative relationships when it comes to giving health benefits to those who are dependent on them. Recently, an employer fired a grandmother whose ill grandchild was her responsibility because she asked for Family Medical Leave and was not granted it because it was not her "child." Legal? Yes according to the law of the land. Moral? You decide. Personally, I am not sure Jesus would have denied health benefits to that grandmother or anyone for that matter. Shouldn't that be a right not tied to employment in the richest country in the world?

I say all this because in recent years, I have witness and sadly, been part of a vitriolic voice within the Church that has castigated "the far left" because of their secularist views. Rarely has the dialogue been kind or productive, because Christians have rolled in the mud to "protect" our culture instead of really offering grace and mercy.

Now I know some of you reading this will be thinking that I think anything goes. I don't. I don't think, however, we can hold unbelievers to our standard, without them really knowing why we believe and Who we believe. We also can not be the mean-spirited people who always need to be right. We need to be a people of grace and mercy.

William Booth taught my particular part of the Church to practice, soup, soap and salvation. He called upon his army of compassion to feed, clean and care. Then he would suggest we can talk about the moral conditions that put a person there.

Believe me, I do get deeply hurt when Christmas is attacked. I have decided not to attack back, but to pray and engage kindly, ushering in the Prince of Peace.

I know that many of my more conservative brothers and sisters will take offense at what has been written here. I want you to know that you are loved and respected. I just think there may be a better way than coming out swinging.

Is this a clash of cultures or the Church becoming so institutionalized that we ignore our mission to protect our rights? Am I less of a Christian or cheapen Christmas, because I occasionally say "Happy Holidays" to some people?

For all of you who believe Merry Christmas. To those who are unsure, Happy Holidays.

Will this clash really matter in eternity?

What do you think?