Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

snoopy

Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

Well, it could be.

I know several folks who choose a word as their theme for each year.  I’ve done it myself.  One year my word was “Discipline”.  I know others who’ve chosen words like  “Happiness” or “Deliberateness”.  It’s kind of a nice substitute to the seldom-kept New Year’s Resolution.

May I suggest the word THEOLOGY as your word for this next year?  I think I’m going to make it mine.  It’s probably not the first word that might occur to you as an underlying theme for your life for the next 360+ days, but here’s why I think it should be:

1. WE NEED SMARTER CHRISTIANS.

I swear I’m not impugning your Christian IQ!  But as I’ve looked around this year, I’ve seen instance after instance of Christians who either don’t know what they believe, or why they believe it.  People claim deep seeded values and practices based on their faith, but they don’t have the understanding that goes with it!  Theology is the deliberate work of understanding God, God’s people, and God’s creation.

2.  WE NEED A ROAD MAP FOR OUR ROAD MAP.

To be effective in ministry, we’ve got to know where we should be going and what we should be doing.  That’s what the Bible is for, right?  Absolutely, but there is so much history, translation, literary criticism, and deep symbolism involved that we need a road map to help us read our road map.  Theology helps us understand the Bible with more clarity, depth and meaning.

3.  WE NEED AN INFORMED ETHIC.

Christians, at our worst, spout values and morals with little thought to the ethical system behind them.  Jesus taught an ethic of service, acceptance, obedience, and action that calls for deeper refection than many of us give.  The more we study God, the stronger a foundation we have to launch our work in the world.

4.  WE NEED MYSTERY.

I think the worst Christians are know-it-alls.  As if every question has been answered, and every shadow has been illuminated. Not so!  The greatest theologians in history published volumes and volumes of their systematic theologies, but that did not mean they’ve “solved” theology.  There’s always more to understand about God.  There are theological concepts, problems, and approaches that you and I have never pondered.  These mysteries give a robustness to our faith, and challenge us as believers!

5.  WE NEED THEOLOGY IN OUR DEVOTION.

After writing these devotions for some fifteen + years, I look back at my writings and see too many of them summed up with a simple “God is Love” punchline.  While I suppose my faith could be summarized in those three words, there is so much more to say.  To that end, I plan to engage a deeper level of theology in my work going forward.  I want to share more study of this learning, direction, ethic, and mystery in my life and my work. 

How about you?  No matter what Word you pick (or don’t pick) for 2018, you can choose to be resolute in your journey to know God, God’s people, and God’s creation. 

Remember, the only qualification for being a Theologian… 

is being a Curious Christian.

Have a great week,

Mitch

(If you’re interested in a place to start, here’s a bit of United Methodist theology:  A Few Methodist Basics)

i_love_theology_tshirt-300x300

Christians and Karma

chutesladders.gif

One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. –Proverbs 11:24-25

Ever say things like, “Well, you get what you deserve”, or “These are my past deeds coming back to haunt me”, or “I must have been really bad in a past life?”  I say this stuff, too, sometimes.

Maybe we would make good Hindus, or Buddhists.  Words like these reflect an ancient concept present in both of those religions, called Karma.

Karma is the idea that your good and bad deeds will reward or punish you in the life to come.    There’s something about the notion of Karma, with its multiple lifetimes and black-or-white morality that can be very alluring to us as Christians.

I’ll find myself playing the Karma game when things go wrong.  I’ll think, “I deserve to be punished like this.  I wasn’t faithful enough before.”   As if Karma somehow evens things out.  I’ve heard other people say, “There’s equal amounts of Good and Evil in the world, and this is just the Devil getting his due.”

This is all kind of a Westernized view of Karma.  The Hindu and Buddhist concepts are much more nuanced, I’m sure.  But when Christians think in terms of Karma, they run the risk of ignoring Christ, which is a shame, because Christ plays by far better rules:

  • Christ offers GraceEven when we don’t deserve it!
  • Christ offers Eternal Life present with God.
  • Christ offers Goodness that forever tips the scales against evil.
  • Christ offers Companionship when the road is hard,
    Second Chances when we mess up, and a
    Reason for Living that is so much more than simple spiritual accounting.

Even though there are passages, like the one from Proverbs, that can make it sound like the Bible is talking about Karma, ultimately they refer to a God who is an ever-present blessing to us, in good times and bad.  We believe that, because of God, the universe is fundamentally skewed towards Grace.

Instead of trying to win at life, as if it’s some cosmic game of Chutes and Ladders,  Christians are called to boldly take every step–even the hard ones, because their path is illuminated by the Light of Christ.

Personally, I think Karma is a pretty interesting idea.  I’ve even wondered about past lives and reincarnation from time to time.  Hinduism and Buddhism both have a great many things to offer and teach us.

But I’ve got no plans to change my colors and abandon Christianity.

Which means, I’m definitely not a…

d59ce44e6caf7323d2b5543598dcbe0e0a16814edb26cea13bfb56f9bc63f0fa

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lumped In.

I hate being lumped in.

I just don’t like sharing that name “Christian” with some of the other folks who call themselves Christian.  We seem to have some different opinions on what that name means.

  • I watch people on some news channel claiming to speak for the entirety of Christianity, and I can’t help but think –“You ain’t speaking for me!”
  • I’ll hear about young people becoming atheists, and talking about all the bad things the church has done — money grubbing, hypocrisy, clergy with no boundary training, intolerance, etc., and I’ll think –“Hey, that’s not my Christianity!”
  • I’ll read articles about how the church in America has failed in so many ways, and I’ll think — “Look at all my church accomplished this week.  We’re trying! We’re really trying.”
  • I’ll see a report about some church making a decree or taking a stand that is, in my opinion, against everything Jesus would do, and I’ll think –“Why would I want to be associated with them?”

Now, if you’re a critical reader, you may have figured out that some of these criticisms, especially hypocrisy, DO apply to myself and most Christians. Sometimes a lot. No church is perfect, as an institution or as a movement.

We have so much work to do.

But that doesn’t change the fact that some churches do things that, (at least from my Christian perspective), are reprehensible. Not just irresponsible or misguided, but dangerous and damaging.

Things like claiming an earthquake or 9/11 was God punishing certain people.  Or treating women as subservient, second class citizens.  That kind of stuff drives me crazy.  Your criteria may be different.

I wonder. To keep us from being lumped in with Christians that give us fits, should we abandon the name all together?

Call me a Jesian, or a Christ-Follower, or part of the J-Crew (well probably not that last one), just don’t compare me to such-and-such Church as if we’re saying and doing the same thing.

I don’t know.  There are a great many other denominations that I see acting in integrity, mission, and purpose.  I want to be connected to them.

But there are some others out there I’d very much like to disassociate from.

Until we can all truly agree on what it means to follow Jesus as individuals, institutions, and movements, maybe we’re better off not being lumped into one category.

But who knows?  In 50 years believers may go by lots of different names.

I’m not planning to arm-wrestle somebody over who gets to use the name Christian…

That’s not the sort of thing we Jesusites would do.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

Very Last Sin

“No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” – 1 John 3:6 NRSV

In 2073, when I’m 113 years old, I will commit my very last sin.

I’m going to walk out to the food replicator and order up a nice big plate of nachos. From the other room, my wife will call out, “What are you eating, dear? That had better be a health drink.”

“Of course dear,” I’ll say, as I sit down at the kitchen table and place one enormous chip filled with cheesy goopy stuff into my mouth.

And then I’ll just die. From old age.

Now on the one hand, that seems like a pretty good way to go. Eating some nachos, my wife nearby. It was a good life. But did you catch it? There, just before I kicked off this mortal coil, I broke a commandment. I lied.

I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. Too bad I had to ruin that special moment by sinning.

Here’s the question: Did I die a Christian, or a sinner?

1 John 3:6, above, makes it pretty clear. You’re either in or you’re out. You’re either a sinner or an “abider”. Certainly there are Christians of various denominations that take this literally. I know some who claim that once you are a Christian it’s impossible to sin anymore. You aren’t just “saved”, you receive “Christian Perfection” all at once. My experience doesn’t bear that out. I see perfection as a goal for our lifelong spiritual journeys.

What about you? What do you think your last sin will be? Will it be a lie? Maybe you’ll steal something, or disrespect God or someone else? Is selfishness a sin? If it is, then you and I have some issues to face. Am I right?

Well, the good news is that several other translations of the scripture read a little differently. Many translations say if you “keep sinning” you won’t abide with God. In other words, it’s not just a one time deal. If you make sin an ongoing part of your life, it becomes very difficult to remain part of the Body of Christ.

So that would mean you’re not booted out for every single transgression. Instead, it means that if sin is a pattern in your life, it’s very difficult for Christ to be the pattern of your life.

That puts some things into perspective for me. If I’ve got a good 65 years left in my life (one can hope!), what kind of a pattern do I want to follow? I may not live perfectly, but I want to live intentionally.

Interestingly enough, my very last sin may not have changed. After all, lying about nachos is more like a little white lie.  And at 113, I say I deserve them.

Maybe it’s “Nacho” last sin to be so concerned about.

It’s the ones between now and then that really matter.

Have a great week,

Mitch

(Updated)

The 6 people you probably WON’T see in Heaven (…at least, according to them)

Do-atheists-secretly-believe-in-God-300x199

6 guys walk into the worship service.

You’re a nice friendly person, so you walk up to one and welcome them.

“Thanks,” he says a little nervously.  “We’re all non-believers.  We’re here for a school project.”

“Oh, well, glad you’re here! What exactly are you studying?”

“Well, apparently there’s more than one type of Christian, so we’ve been to a Catholic church, a Bible church, and now this one.”

The service is beginning, so they take their seats in the third row.

—-

A friend of mine sent me a great article (that you can read HERE) about Atheists and Non-Believers in America.  It’s based on a study done by researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Ready to meet 6 different types of Atheists/Non-believers?

Here we go:

1.  The first guy sitting in the row is larger than any of his friends. (He represents 38% of non-believers).  He’s intently listening to the preacher, but he looks like he’d rather be having a conversation than just listening.  He represents the “Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic” group.  Not particularly hostile towards believers, he’s up for a good philosophical debate with the pastor afterwards.

2.  The guy sitting next to him is smaller, but still good-sized (23%).  You notice he’s wearing buttons for various causes. He looks bored by much of the sermon, but when the pastor talks about social issues, he perks up, interested.  He represent the “Activist” group. He wants to heal what’s broken in the world…he just doesn’t think God created it.

3.  The third guy is a smaller fella (7.8%).  He’s watching the sermon intently, rubbing his chin and weighing out what’s being said.  He represents the “Seeker/Agnostic” group, those who really just don’t know what they believe.  He doesn’t have it all figured out, but probably doesn’t think the pastor does, either.

4.  I should have mentioned the 4th guy earlier, because you would have noticed him first and foremost.  Not because of his pretty average size (15%), but because he keeps scowling and shaking his head after just about everything in the sermon.  He represents the “Anti-theist” group.  He thinks religious is wrong, and dangerous, and the cause of most of the world’s problem.  If his other friends weren’t holding him back he’d probably jump up and give the whole congregation a piece of his mind! Whew!

5.  The smallest guy of the six can scarcely sit in his chair, he’s so small  (4.4%). He’s positively bored, and keeps looking at his phone.  He represents the “Non-theist” group.  He doesn’t believe in God, and honestly doesn’t much care for the whole conversation.  He thinks both the pastor and #4, sitting next to him, are taking the whole thing way too seriously.

6.  And that brings us to #6.  He’s an average looking guy (12.5%), and as you look at him you start thinking he looks familiar.  Yes! You know him–he’s been to church a few times over the past year.   That’s right.  Not because he believes in God, but because he likes the ritual of the church.  He represents the “Ritual Atheist/Agnostic” group.  He likes being part of a community.

And indeed, as you think about it, he fits right in.  There are probably more than a handful of folks like #6 already in your congregation.

After the service, you make sure to shake their hands, and even #4 seems to do so willingly enough.

“It’s funny,” you tell them.  “In the same way you hadn’t realized there were lots of different kinds of Christians, I’d never really thought about all the different kinds of…”

“Non-believers”, #1 smiles.

“Agnostics”, #2 hands you a button.

“Seekers”, #3 winks.

“Atheists”, #4 glares.

“Whatever”, #5 shrugs.

“I don’t know what you should call me,” #6 says, shaking your hand…

“but I’ll probably see you next week.”

Have a good week,

Mitch

keep-calm-and-love-people-6

4 Peacemaking Techniques THAT DON’T WORK.

peacemaker

There are those rare magical people out there…

They seem to radiate calm, and generate hope, and leave people around them generally better than they found them.

And then there’s the rest of us.  🙂

Most of us would like to be Peacemakers .  In fact, most of us try, with various levels of success.

Problem is, we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot by trying the wrong things.

And so, without further ado…

Here are four examples of peacemaking techniques that don’t work. 

#1. PEACE BY FORCE

Every parent knows this:  Yelling at your kids for peace and quiet may generate some quiet, but it doesn’t truly create peace.

You can’t make anybody do or feel something they’re not willing to do or feel.

When Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers”, he didn’t mean people who tried to force peace down other people’s throats.

INSTEAD:  Don’t force it,  create it!  Being a peacemaker means creating an environment of peace that emanates from within.

#2. Peace FAKING

Some groups, especially families, learn to tip toe around each other rather than talk.  People learn to push down their emotions rather than dealing with them.

It’s a little like being co-dependent.  People pretend — even alter their behavior — to keep a false sense of harmony.

It doesn’t work! When people push down or fake emotions too long, they will explode.

INSTEAD: There’s a difference between faking peace and seeking it.  Perfect peace may be a rare thing to achieve, but being authentic and intentional will take you far.

#3. Denying Peace

Some people grew up in chaotic environments.  Lots of conflict, maybe abuse and pain.  Others lose their way as they grow older and find themselves living in constant turmoil.

When that happens, it’s easy to think peace is an illusion, never attainable.  Or you might think you don’t deserve it.  And so you throw yourself to the mercy of the storms of life, trying to be at “peace” with the idea of having no peace.

If you feel this way, I need you to know something:  Christ’s love and peace are meant for you as much as any other person on the planet.

INSTEAD:  Believing that you (even you) are worthy of God’s love is a big step.  And maybe not an easy one to take alone.  You might talk to a pastor or a counselor.  You can have peace in your time.  It’s an important goal to work towards.

#4. Peace Through Distance

Your family is in St. Louis.  You moved to Kansas City.  Why?

To get away from the chaos!  Maybe the family you grew up with drove you crazy.  Fighting, conflict, a lack of trust, etc.

So you head to another town, another state.  Somewhere far away where the craziness can’t touch you.   Peace through distance.

This doesn’t work either.  Oh sure, you may not have to see these people, or talk to them every day, but chances are they haunt you.  You hear your dad’s voice in the back of your head telling you you’re irresponsible.  You feel all the emotions of a fight with your sister even though you’re just fighting with yourself.

INSTEAD:  Distance doesn’t bring peace, but you know what does?  Learning to be together but separate.  It’s finding that healthy balance where you retain your own soul, but are willing to engage with others.  You’ll probably never resolve all those issues, but you may learn to find peace on your own terms.

The Real Deal

The apostle Paul says it so well in Romans 12:18:  “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

In other words, with the grace of God through Christ, you can be in charge of making your own peace.  And when the situation allows it, you can share peace with others.

When he says it like that, it seems so easy.

I don’t know about you, but I want the real deal.  Not some imperfect facsimile of peace.

I want the kind of peace that passeth understanding…

But I’ll admit I’m still trying to understand

exactly what that looks like.  🙂

peacebwithu

Have a good week,

Mitch

P.S. I put out spiritual art every day via http://AdventureChristianity.com.  Subscribe there to receive them in your email, or click the Facebook link and add them to your feed.

Now serving number 6,989,999,999

Berlin, Michael Jackson-Konzert, Wartende

I’m not a line guy.

Waiting in line is hell for me.

I have left a full shopping cart of groceries at the front of the store because I didn’t want to wait in the check out line.

I have traveled an extra 30 miles out of the way to avoid being stuck in a traffic jam.

I have driven for 3 years without an updated license and registration to avoid the lines at the DMV.

Okay, that last one is a lie.  But I’ve THOUGHT about it!

I don’t like lines.  I hate waiting, which has me worried.

What if I get up to the Pearly Gates, and there’s a line?

Jesus kind of implies that, you know.  Remember when he says “The first will be last and the last will be first”? That kind of sounds like there will be a line.  Potentially a LONG line.

And I hate to admit it, but I don’t see myself very close to the front.  Quite the opposite.

If there are 7 billion people on this planet, surely most of them have suffered more than I have.  And of those who’ve suffered less than me, surely a bunch of them have been more devoted servants in their lives than I have.

I may be stuck towards the back!

Which brings me to my new definition:

“Hell is the length of the line between where we are and Heaven.”

It’s something for us to think about, as we make choices about how we will live, and who we will serve, and what we will worship.

It’s something to ponder as we take or give, as we consume or create, as we live gracefully or selfishly.

The line between us and our God does not involve standing and waiting, but loving and serving. The distance between our lives and the Kingdom of God is set by our own willingness to PARTICIPATE in the Kingdom in our lives, right now.

So, don’t worry about the Pearly Gates, friends…

The line forms HERE.

Have a great week,

Mitch

US_Navy_090806-N-6220J-004_Sailors_and_Navy_Delayed_Entry_Program_members_serve_breakfast_to_homeless_men_and_women_at_Dorothy's_Soup_Kitchen_in_Salinas,_Calif._during_Salinas_Navy_Week_community_service_event