Sunday, December 02, 2007

So Who's Voting for God in 2008?

People repeat it millions of times all over the world every day. It's a piece of what is known as "The Lord's Prayer". But it's those words "on earth as it is in heaven" that I want to extract and talk about. I am convinced that there are many North American Christians that believe that America has exclusive rights to God and that he must live in the US and Canada. For America it must be "on earth as it is in heaven", or, God must make earth like heaven. My only problem with that is that North America and Heaven are diametrically opposed to each other.

Kingdoms are literally dictatorships where people are told what to do by their king. North America is run by democracies. North Americans are free people who love their freedom and don't like other people telling them how to live. How shall the two be mixed? There's only one place that the dictatorship called the Kingdom of Heaven can coexist with free North Americans. That place is in the people's hearts.

There were Christians in communist Russia. There are Christians in atheist nations like North Korea, China etc. There are Christians in the West Bank, Gaza strip and Arab nations. The form of government has no impact on who can be a Christian. It only makes you think a little harder about becoming one sometimes. The fact does remain that Christ's kingdom is a kingdom of the heart, not a kingdom of a nations politics.

As the US approaches a national presidential election, and Canada prepares for their next federal election, don't try to elect a government solely for the purpose of making your nation a Christian nation (although that is very noble and desireable). It's apparent that God doesn't really care what kind of government you have (and might I add that he may have ordained that to be so for his divine purposes anyway). Vote for people you want to do the job of politics in your particular governemt and invest yourself into the dictatorship/kingdom of God with all your heart, mind and soul.

Two Came Out.

In the last six months, two people I've known for years, have announced to the world that they are homosexual. It may have happened before I knew about it but nevertheless, two came out. Both of these young men were raised in Christian homes. Both of these young men were brought up "in church". I happened to be the youth pastor of one of these young men for several years and had a close collaborative relationship with him.

The next statements are of vital importance for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that, according to the scriptures where I derive my world view from, homosexuality is, unnatural, not right...wrong. But it is acceptable. I will explain that later. Secondly I believe that Christians who act anything less than unloving toward these people are not right...wrong. This is unacceptable. I'll also explain that too.

Christianity in it's raw form is pure love. For God so loved the one another...the greatest of these is love etc. We know the verses. We can't really do it but try to put yourself in God's shoes and seeing nothing but failure, breaking of the rules, sin. Try to imagine seeing all of that then sacrificing everything to make it all right again. That is love. That's basically what God did with the human race. You see, when you really love a person, whether you know them personally or not, you find them acceptable. When you really don't love a person, whether you know them personally or not, you find a reason to deem them not acceptable.

I wonder what God gets more upset about, people involved in a homosexual lifestyle or Christians bent on not loving them. Two came out. Their Christian associates all know. I hope they find pure love.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

No Title for This One

This blog may be controversial to some, namely pastors. The reason is that pastors, in Americanized Christianity come in two breeds. The first type is that of the humble co-participant in ministry with believers. You know, the one with a spiritual gift to be used like everyone else. The other is the pastor who is head of the corporation. The power broker. The one who uses his gift, not solely as an edifying factor for the body of Christ, but also or, worse, instead, to be the dictator, the one in charge, "the buck stops here" guy. These are the untouchable, unreachable ones that are entitleld to everything because they have the word "reverend" or "pastor" in front of their name. I understand, however, that those people, enter the ministry that has been established before they got there. It's already set up to be that way in one sense. I write this as a "pastor in exile" if you will. I was one of those guys. Having been ordained for fifteen years previously, my observations are first hand and having read Matthew 23 and understanding the words of Jesus, I'm not sure how I missed this point all those years. I love pastors and I love pastoring. Let's begin.

They called me "pastor" when they saw me in the store or in the hall at church. The mail from my denomination was addressed to me as "reverend". Conveyed upon me and countless other clergy across the country was this sense of separateness or of being above others. There was a sense of being "extra special" to people that was conveyed upon me. During one special speaker's sermon, he uttered the words, "I believe that God has a special place in heaven for pastors. I really believe that." The Bible never says that, however it does say that God is no respector of persons. It's kind of hard to walk humbly sometimes when people are referring to you as "reverend". I know pastors that insist on being referred to as "reverend" by their subordinates in the office. I therefore ask, what is in a human being to be revered? What makes us want to be revered? Why do we even expect it?

When Jesus was with his disciples one day, he taught them a lesson and he used the religious leaders of his day as an example. He shared how everything they did was for show. He told them that they live for notoriety and honor. They liked the attention. Jesus went on to tell them to live by what they taught, BUT, do not follow their example.

If we were to look to the book of Matthew chapter 23, we'll find some astonishing words to Jesus' disciples and followers in this case. He told them, "Don't let anyone call you 'Rabbi' for you only have one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. And don't address anyone here on earth as 'Father,' for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don't let anyone call you 'Master,' for there is only one master, the Messiah.

The biblical fact is that ALL BELIEVERS are ON THE SAME LEVEL. The instituted hierarchies of religious organizations are in place to serve only one group of people...those at the head of the hierarchy.

The fact is that, as Jesus said, all believers are on the same level. The kingdom of God is displayed magnificently when people of all spiritual gifts band together and use them. Jesus chastised his followers for "jockeying" for position to be at Jesus' left and right hand in the Kingdom.

Americanized Christianity exalts, idolizes and celebrates "great pastors". We buy their books even though some of them aren't even great writers. We watch them on TV. We can get their stuff anywhere. But in Jesus' definition that is not greatness. I think he says it best in Matthew 23 when he said, "The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

CNN Asks, "What is a Christian?"

What is a Christian?

It's been around over 2000 years and North America doesn't know the answer to that question. On Wednesday, April 4, 2007 Anderson Cooper's news show on CNN aired a program asking that question. Video clips of people praying, clapping, singing, being prayed for and falling over ran while the voice over baited the viewers and asked, "What is a Christian?" I must admit I was intrigued.

I'm not writing so much to prove what a Christian is. I am, however asking two other essential questions. 1. Why doesn't America know yet? 2. By what means do the people answering the question measure or what standard are they using?

Addressing the first question is important given the history of the nation and it's current post-modern climate. The U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the writings of early presidents all have a certain harmony. From the Puritans that landed on the shores of New England to the last president who raised his hand and said, " help me God", these historical snapshots, like bookends, indicate that religion, God, yes, Christianity has and is there. Yet after all of that, America is still wondering what a Christian is?

I'm of the opinion that you can't always believe what you see on TV so why would a person look to a television show to find out. The issue here is of fundamentals. America is confused about what a Christian is, hence the CNN documentary about it. They've see the shows. They've been to the churches. Americans have watched the televangelists. All of them give a different message. All of them leave a different taste in their mouths.

So, what is a Christian one may ask? In Americanized religion it's anything you want it to be. What is a disciple? Ah, now there's a question that needs answering. Jesus said to go and make disciples. Radical, adamant followers of the teachings of Jesus. People who have a "Jesus agenda" and not their own. People who model and live out the mandates of Christ and not a religious organization's "vision" or purpose.

Now, hold on. Some people may be of the mindset that I am anti-church or anit-organized religion. I am not that at all. I am suggesting that we've had a couple of centuries to show people what Christianity is. I merely suggest that if America is asking us, the church, what a Christian is, to quote Ricky Ricardo, "we have some 'splaining to do."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Who Are you Listening To?

Who are you listening to and where are they getting their information? That is a great question isn't it? It's very important. You need to know.

Go to any American school and quiz the kids. Who invented Basketball? They'll say that Americans did. Ask them who invented the light bulb. They'll tell you that their text book says an American invented it. They'll even tell you Thomas Edison did it too. The fact of the matter is that "America's game" and "America's brightest idea" were both inventions of Canadians. Of course the text books don't mention that Henry Woodward, the Canadian who invented the lightbulb, ran out of development money and sold the pattent to Thomas Edison. People don't recite the fact that James Naismith was a Canadian who invented the game as a physical training technique. It's not that the facts are hard to find, they're just ignored. It's not that the people saying that Basketball is America's invention or Thomas Edison invented the light bulb are bad. It just makes it difficult to take a person seriously after being presented with the facts and then those facts are ignored anyway.

So it's obvious. The people controlling the flow of information to other people often tell them what they want them to hear and think. This serves some sort of purpose in the more grand scheme. The purposes may be for evil. The purposes may be for a perceived noble good as well. Nonetheless I see it happening. I don't think the Christian community has been exempt either.

Too many preachers, teachers and authors are missquoting, misrepresenting and misinterpreting the Bible for their own purposes. There I said it. At least that's my opinion. One preacher says poverty is a sin. Jesus said that "the poor you will have with you always." Another preacher says that God provided all of our healing for every disease. Jesus didn't even heal everyone. One author writes a book about "how many steps to do such and such" and Jesus simply says to believe. Case in point, at the last church I worked at on staff, a guest minister from another country said that "God has a special place in heaven for preachers. I really believe that." That made all of the ordinary folk feel great I'm sure. I'm sorry, but I have to politely ask him and the others saying these things, stop making this stuff up!

Let's bring this home to our churches. I even challenge you to put your own church to the test. Ministers across North America are telling us about our personal walk with God, our personal spiritual experience and our personal faith in God. Last time I read the New Testament there wasn't much that was personal about it. It was communal. The church is the eklesia of God. The church is the Body of Christ. It is a collective community of people of like faith, like beliefs with a shared experience. Jesus had twelve disciples. He was virtually never alone EXCEPT in his personal prayer times with God.

The teachings of a personal gospel fly in the face of almost everything Jesus stood for. Furthermore, the teachings of a personal faith gospel are bent toward making the Bible say what we want it to say to fit our personal beliefs. The teachings of a personal faith gospel allows us to relinquish our personal responsibility to one another. I challenge anyone to read the New Testament writings and tell me or anyone that its teachings are NOT about a community of faith. We, me, a minister, teacher or whomever, can't just make stuff up. While I'm not advising we all huddle into a gated community, I am admonishing all to be aware of who and what we are listening to.

Jesus said "my sheep hear my voice". I ask again, who are you listening to?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

God, Patent Pending

Ever watch Christian TV? Have you caught the latest teaching? Have you heard about the newest revelation? Perhaps you've read the latest book. Please understand I'm not being a cynic here. I'm as sincere as my eight year old daughter asking for ice cream. But have you noticed that there are all kinds of people telling us what God wants from us and what we should be doing? Is it me or are there some people out there, people of influence, seem to have a lock on God?

God, "patent pending". It seems sometimes that there are people in the religious world that would hold the proprietary rights to God. People who tell us what God thinks. People who tell us what we should think. All of this stuff unsubstantiated by any contextual scripture or any teaching of Jesus. I've lived long enough to see and hear some outlandish things in North American Christianity. It's not the ordinary God-seeking believer that does and says such things. It's the ones who seem to control what God is telling us or what we should think about him. In essence, they tell us what we want to hear.

Take for instance the minister who told America (and the world for that matter) that he needed to raise eight million dollars before March 1, 1987 for a medical missionary scholarship fund and if the money wasn't raised, God would "take him home". If you are familiar with the story, the money was raised, over a million coming from a gambling institution, and shortly thereafter the medical missionary scholarships ceased.

Then there is the case where a miracle-working faith healer was "found out". What was found was that all of his prophetic words of knowledge were fed through an earpiece from his wife in another room reading from a sheet of paper. What was on this paper were answers to people's questions prior to the evangelistic meeting. While he was telling people what "God was telling him" they were being lied to and were part of the act unknowingly.

If this isn't enough to raise an eyebrow, look at what else is common. The two examples listed above with countless others all boasted multiple millions of dollars in revenue each year. This revenue became properties, free houses, luxury cars, all things that "the ministry" furnished to them. As if "the ministry" owed them anything. So long as these people told the followers what they wanted to hear about them and God, they were willing to keep sending in the dollars.

Well, I won't go on about the lavish lifestyles of some ministers. Alot of people already know and virtually anyone can find out. I simply advise caution to the believer here. Be careful about whose dream your following. It's OK to wait, think about, substantiate and prove things. It's what the Berean believers did in the New Testament. They heard some new teaching about God and didn't just "buy in". Before you go and send in your dollars, and throw your support behind something, make sure that what the people are telling you is what God is saying is what he said in the pages of that Bible of yours. If it's not there, well, buyer beware.