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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ticket to Where? Or Who?

Loved the message at church yesterday morning. It was the last in a series on Getting to Know God, on the topic of Worship, given by our Worship Pastor. The entire message was great, but what I loved was an illustration about how the cross is not a bridge to heaven. Salvation is not a ticket to heaven.

He said: When you go visit your friend, you don’t go to his house regardless of whether he’s there — you want to be with your friend, so you go wherever he is. He said his wife bought tickets to U2 for his birthday and he was excited to go see the band at the Oakland Coliseum. He wasn’t excited to go to the Oakland Coliseum.

Likewise, the cross is a bridge to Christ, not heaven. Salvation is our “ticket” to our chief purpose: Glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Since my girlfriends and I are studying “The Cross of Christ” I thought this was a very good add regarding the purpose of the cross, or maybe more accurately, the non-purpose of the cross. Do we make much of the fact that we’re saved so we can go to heaven, or do we make much of Christ, just because of Who He Is and we just want to be wherever He is… now and forever?

Food for thought!

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in God's Word, Jesus, Salvation, The Cross

 

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Pretty Crosses

Why do we wear crosses around our neck or hang pretty cross plaques on our walls? Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross and what is it that we think of when we see these things?

A couple of my girlfriends and I are reading John Stott’s classic, The Cross of Christ. We’re going to read a chapter a week and meet after work to talk about it. Today we talked about the first chapter, The Centrality of the Cross. Here Stott discusses how the cross became symbolic of Christianity. What struck me most about this is what the cross actually meant to first century citizens, both Romans and Jews, as well as others. The cross was the most horrific instrument of torture and death, reserved for the worst of criminals. Its very shadow or mention in conversation was enough to cause strong reactions (an understatement) of horror, disgust, repulsion and shame on the one who experienced this kind of death. Cicero went so far as to state that the very word ‘cross’ was so abhorrent it was to be far removed from a Roman citizen’s eyes, words and even thoughts. On top of this, the Jews knew that anyone who hung on a tree (and they did not differentiate between a live one and its wood cut into two beams) was cursed. And they weren’t talking Harry Potter.

I suspect American Christians know little of this. I know nothing of what reaction the symbol of the cross produced in people 2000 years ago. I only know of pretty crosses adorning necks and entry ways. Why did Christians choose such a shameful, horrible symbol as the very thing that identified them with Jesus? I learned that it is because it was central to Jesus’s life on earth. From His youth He steadfastly walked toward what He knew was His task, His calling, His choice. Because it was central to His mind it was central to His followers. It IS central to His followers.

From chapter one: “How is it that Christians can face such ridicule without shifting their ground? Why do we…insist on its centrality? Why must we proclaim the scandalous, and glory in the shameful? The answer lies in the single word integrity. Christian integrity consists partly in a resolve to unmask the caricatures, but mostly in personal loyalty to Jesus, in Whose mind the saving cross was central. Indeed, readers who have come without bias to the Scriptures all seem to have come to the same conclusion.”

So, my prayer is that I no longer see pretty crosses. That when I see this symbol I recognize it for what it is. For what it means. For what it meant to Jesus, and what it means to me, and to all those who sit at its base and realize what was wrought upon it.

Today one of my girlfriends reflected that she never understood why a friend of hers honored Good Friday over Easter, but now she gets it. I pray that every day I will “get it” more.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Jesus, Salvation, The Cross

 

All Religions Are Alike!

Are all religions alike? Are there many ways to get to heaven? Do all religions essentially believe in the same God? This summer our pastor is taking us through a series on “Getting to Know God.” This last Sunday he covered the doctrine of the Trinity — the wonderfully mysterious fact that God is One God yet three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. I’m not going to go into this doctrine here, but focus on one thing that probably hits home for a lot of Americans who call themselves Christian: What differentiates a Christian from a person of another religion, and does it matter?

Christianity is the only religion that has, at the very core of its doctrine, the belief in the Triune God, and especially that Jesus Christ is God and the Son of God. That He came to earth as a human, lived a perfect (“sinless”) life, died a horrific death specifically for the purpose of taking our place, sacrificing His own blood so that a relationship can be restored between us and God, rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father, acting as our Mediator. To my knowledge, the God of the Christian faith is the only God who seeks out a relationship with the people He created. This is very different from other religions.

In a nutshell, here are what other major religions believe:

  • Mormonism: Sees God as the Supreme Being of the universe. However, He gradually acquired that position over a long period of time by living a perfect and righteous life. God the Father has a body (flesh and bones). Views Jesus and Satan as spirit brothers and sons of God. Every male can eventually become a god.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: God is a single being, not a Trinity. He is not all-knowing or present everywhere. Jesus was created; He is a lesser God. He is Michael, the Arch-Angel.
  • Islam: God (Allah) is one and indivisible. They believe in a strict monotheism. Jesus is not God, He was just a messenger, second to Muhammad in importance.
  • Hinduism: Recognize a single deity, and view other gods and goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God. There are 330 million of these gods (give or take a few).
  • Buddhism: There is no God. By following specific paths, and through reincarnation, one can eventually reach “Nirvana.”
  • Bahai: Believe in a single God who has repeatedly sent prophets into the world through whom he has revealed the “Word of God.” Prophets include Adam, Krishna, Buddha, Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus), Mohammed, The Bab and Baha’u’llah.
  • Taoism: There is no God to hear prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life’s problems through inner meditation and outer observation. Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life. A believer’s goal is to harmonize themselves with the Tao.
  • Shintoism: Believe in the “Kami” (many deities). All human life and human nature is sacred. Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group. Ancestors are deeply revered and worshipped.
The Trinity is what makes Christianity, Christianity.
The Trinity is what makes the Truth, the Truth.

 

If we cannot believe what the Bible says about Who God is, if we cannot believe that Jesus is the Son of God and very God Himself, then we cannot believe anything much in the Bible. Either Jesus is God, worked miracles (including raising the dead), was raised from the dead Himself, or He is not. Because Christians believe He is Who He says He is, we also believe His Words: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

There is but one way to God and that is through His Son. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are brought to this saving knowledge. This is what sets Christianity apart from any and all other religions. Faith in Christ is transforming and faith in anything else is alarming.

 

I truly love my Mormon, JW, Hindu and Muslim friends. I love my friends who don’t believe in anything, and those who believe in other things altogether. Because Christians believe the Bible tells the truth, they share this truth with those they love — it is not a “let me hit you over the head with this, you pagan!” message, but it IS a message that is often hard for people to hear. People don’t want an exclusive message. But we don’t get to make up our own religion and we don’t get to rewrite the Bible. So we share the truth in love and pray that eyes and hearts are opened and lives are transformed.

 

All religions are not alike. Dig deeper. Know what you believe.

 

(Here is what I believe.)

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Belief, God's Word, Jesus, Salvation

 

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Why Church is Fantastic

My pastor said something this morning that pleased me to no end: “If a church is dictating behaviors, that’s a huge red flag!” The church should stand on the authority of God (the Bible) and nothing else. We are to imitate Jesus, and no one else. So, if the church has expectations of its members that are outside that, major red flags should cause us to run to the scriptures and stand on truth alone.

I thought that was a very fitting thing to be said and a good way to start what I think is a deserved and required response to, “Shunned: When the Church Goes Terribly Wrong.” I mentioned that the response to that post was tremendous and it saddened me greatly that so many have been hurt by church leaders, church members or bad church doctrine. BUT it must be made very clear that those unfortunate and terrible situations should not and do not diminish the glory and perfection of God and His design for His followers on this earth.

Church is fantastic — when you’re in a good one! Here is why:

  1. Love! Everyone needs it and it’s not so easy to find. A good, solid church community is filled with people who love God, love each other, and love others outside their community. Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
  2. Related to this, the church is home to the proliferation of authentic relationships based on the solid foundation of shared beliefs. It is important to know what you believe and what the church believes. If either one doesn’t line up with the word of God, then there is a problem.
  3. Purpose. There are things we can do in community that we can’t do on our own. We are “better together.” Corporate worship is rich and fulfilling and a mirror of one of our major pastimes in heaven. We are encouraged and challenged by the preaching of the word of God. We use our gifts to help others and others’ gifts are used to help us. Only in a community of believers can we obey Christ’s command to remember Him through what we call “communion” or “the Lord’s supper.”
  4. Hope and healing. We get beat up all week long. We hear more lies than truth, we experience stress and anxiety, pain and fatigue, sometimes even depression and despair. The church is a safe haven where we can find arms to hold, words to comfort, empathy that others have been there and come through, and very real help in time of need.
There are many more reasons why church is fantastic, and I am so glad that most people I heard from, who were shunned from previous churches or experienced major hurts, are now happily engaged in a healthy community and healing from those wounds. But since we live in America, a nation where over 75% of its citizens believe they are Christian, there are a bunch of churches that are nothing more than “spiritual clubs” of sorts, with very little to recommend the Christ on Whom they base their name. A good set of guidelines for finding a good church and running from a “bad” one:
  1. Does the church preach from the Bible? Know the word of God and test the beliefs of the church against God’s word alone. Reject church doctrine or rules that are not grounded in the word of God. Reject churches that don’t preach the word at all. Don’t be shy about asking questions, both initially (who are you, what do you believe?) and later on (where is that in the scripture? can you explain more about that?). God gave you a brain: It’s OK to use it!
  2. Do you feel welcomed? The church is your spiritual family — you should soon feel like a welcomed friend, not an outsider. But don’t judge a book by its cover: One visit doesn’t provide the whole picture and the people you meet sitting next to you might be visitors just like you! You wouldn’t buy a house without checking it out thoroughly, do the same with your church family. Look for love and care demonstrated between people; Look for smiles and laughter, hugs and tears; Look for diversity; Look for authenticity.
  3. Pray. God knows exactly what you need. He knows others’ need that can be met by you. There is a place where everything gets worked out. It’s not always neat, because people are often messy, but within our fallen, messy, human relationships, there is beauty and something precious that just doesn’t happen elsewhere. Pray that God would clearly reveal the right community in which to become a part of the family.
There is more, like my personal favorite: Diversity! I love churches made up of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures, but above are the things that I have found to be very true, and very healing, for me.
And now I can say, “Church is fantastic!” Glory to God for His grace, mercy and love!
 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in God's Word, Relationships, The Church

 

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God’s Friends

Last week’s blog received a tremendous response. My heart grieves to learn SO many are wounded or still healing from hurtful words and actions of fellow Christians. While I have been preparing a follow up post on this topic, I came across this post from John Fischer which I think is pertinent and thoughtful. I repost it here for your refreshment:

http://catchjohnfischer.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/friends-of-god/

And please don’t forget to check out this Web site if you have been the victim of an abusive church relationship. There is hope and healing ALWAYS!  http://www.barnabasministry.com/

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in God's Word, Relationships, The Church

 

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The Shunned: When Church Goes Terribly Wrong

There is a “Christian fiction” (I always feel odd using that phrase) series about the Amish, and one of the best sellers, called “The Shunning,” is about an old traditional practice of ostracizing a member of the faith for some grievous sin. While this may seem an odd practice to most American Christians it is certainly most alive and well in many controlling church communities.

If you’re with me this far, you might assume I am referring to some backwater church made up of all relatives or perhaps a cult that manipulates its members. You’d be wrong on the first, and getting warmer on the second. I call these churches “borderline cult” (my friend calls them “cultish”) and I was a member of two: One in Hawaii and one in the Bay Area of California, neither were backwater, and neither made up of all relatives. And I was “shunned” from both.

They don’t call it that. These grace-less churches misuse scriptures like Ephesians 5:6-7 in their anti-love behavior. (WAIT!: Isn’t “anti-love” the same is “hate”? Hmm…) People who are in these types of churches are either the victimizer or the victim. Or they are completely ignorant. Sometimes they are all three as they morph their way through the muck and mire of these communities. The manipulation and deception is so powerful, it is (as a lovely, young friend of mine said) like being in a smoke-filled room – you don’t realize how you are being poisoned.

Here is the kicker: I was in leadership in both of these churches I mention. So by default I was a victimizer. (“Isn’t this how all churches operate?”) And I was also the victim, manipulated from the beginning to believe twisted scripture and ultimately allowed to be controlled to the point of questioning truth, logic and good common sense.  I was ignorant to the fact that this was so NOT what Christ intended the church to be. In many ways the community was refreshing and vibrant, non-traditional and different and offered things that had been missing in my life. It’s easier to rest in ignorance when there are some things to value in spite of things to reject.

BUT, OH! When you don’t conform, when the smoke clears a little and you start to SEE, when you start to ask questions and point to God’s word as the standard-bearer; OR when you mess up and fall into some sin or other (and here again, “sin” could be simply non-conformance to non-scriptural behaviors, or not being or acting the way leadership thinks you should) or if you leave for another church (any of these will do), then you are SHUNNED!

I remember in Hawaii, when after I left the church for a year having had all the controlling I could take, people walking down the same side of the street as me would cross to the other side to avoid any interaction!  No one called, no one asked how I was or what I was doing. Same in California (the issue was far less about control and more about manipulation) – not only did no one seek me out, the truth was so twisted that I still can’t believe it. And this was after I had been on staff and on the worship team and a leader in women’s ministries. Victimizer. Victim. Ignorant.

THANK GOD many (probably most) of the folks formerly in these churches have left. We have grown and are healing and are currently in healthy churches who understand Christ came to heal the sick. We understand that people will know we are His followers by our LOVE for one another. Many relationships have been restored. But some, sadly, have yet to bring themselves to find a healthy community of believers. And others, even more sadly, continue to cloister themselves within these abusive churches. They separate themselves not only from the world but shun any fellow believers who do not think as they do. It is sad. It is unscriptural. It is hurtful. And it is wicked. Pray for them. Pray for us all.

Here is how to tell if you are or were part of a “cultish” church:

  1. The teaching does not come from the Bible, or when scriptures are used they are lifted way out of context.
  2. You are told how to think; when you think for yourself and speak of it you are rebuked.
  3. Church leaders shame others publicly and gossip about others in casual conversation.
  4. When someone leaves the church the remaining members are publicly or personally counseled to avoid the departing brother/sister at all costs.
  5. The mistakes of leaders are covered up; the same mistakes of “regular members” are exposed.
  6. There is no accountability or safety net in place for the leadership.
  7. If there is an “accountability safety net,” it does not hold abusive leadership accountable, only the “regular members.” The lack of love, care and gentle restoration is generally absent.

There are more, but I’ll stop here. These do not come from formal training or spiritual abuse resources, just my own experience and my conversations with friends who experienced the same. This is my story, but (OH! JESUS!) hopefully it is rare. CORRECTION: This is part of my story. And thank God, such a small part! The REAL story, the story of Christ’s grace, mercy and redeeming love (regardless of my abuse, regardless of my sin), Christ’s victory over everything — THAT is THE STORY!

The bottom line for those with a similar story? God is not manipulative and will not be manipulated. God loves His children and treats them as the most perfect and patient parent would – He does not abuse, belittle, patronize, or shame them publicly. Has your church screwed up? God hasn’t. Have you screwed up? God forgives and forgets when we humbly seek Him. Church is made up of humans. God is not human. I believe He is truly grieved over the abuses His children and would-be children have suffered at the hands of the church or other believers. I do NOT believe that negates His perfect plan for the purpose of the church in this world. I do not believe that excuses us from finding and becoming involved in a local, healthy, God-loving Christian community (e.g. Church) and working out our “stuff” together.

I believe we will find there is a treasure awaiting those who dare to trust again. MAYBE just dare a little. MAYBE try to trust again. If anything here resonates with you, here is a very good Web site to check out. You will find many good resources that to consider for your healing:

http://www.barnabasministry.com/

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Grace, Love, Relationships, The Church, The Journey

 

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