God Never Said That: It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 119:65-72 and Romans 3:21-22.

A couple years ago my dear friend Kelsey asked me to guest lecture in her AP Human Geography class. Her students were working their way through a unit on the five major world religions and Kelsey asked me to come in to represent Christianity.

Woah.

And by the way, the class is 50 minutes long and please leave at least 15 minutes for questions and answers.

Double woah.

Knowing my audience (and time sensitivities!) I decided to make a Top Ten List to share with the students – a sort of cross between a countdown on a late night television show and “you might be a Christian if…” With the help of my friend Magrey, this is what I shared with the students:

YOU MIGHT BE A CHRISTIAN IF…

10. YOU HAVE A THING FOR TABLES – We are a table fellowship people. The table is a place of brokenness, connection, and blessing. We bring our brokenness caused by sin to the altar table, we seek connection with Christ, and we receive the blessings of forgiveness and grace.

9. YOU’RE RELATED TO MORE PEOPLE THAN KEVIN BACON – Our participation at the table connects us to Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, through the ages as we all share a common lineage in Abraham. This connection also reveals a number of ways to practice the Christian faith. Perhaps a more accurate description is Christianitiesrather than Christianity.

8. YOU HAVE A THING FOR THE GAME SHOW “FAMILY FEUD” – Why are there Christianities? Because people – through the ages and in the present – that practice Christianity quarrel about interpretation of Scripture, application of Scripture, teachers of Scripture, and more. They fight and think they are more right…it is not that they leave the table, more like they declare their own section at the table. This kind of quarrel is at the root of the Catholic-Protestant split, and to some degree, is the root of why we have so many denominations.

7. YOU’RE THEOLOGICAL VOCABULARY INCLUDES THE WORD, “WHOOPSIE.”– Our Christian history is not full of warm and fuzzy events.

  • The Crusades – the Spanish Inquisition – many Nazis claimed Christianity – to just name a few. It is not just other faith traditions that invoke the right to land and secure their access of it through mass genocide…Christians do it, too.
  • We struggle with Sin and sins. Sin refers to the Fall – when humanity abused God’s good gift of free will – and sins refers to the act, word, or thought – whether of omission or commission – for which we will be held accountable before God.
  • Our bondage to sin ruptures our relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of creation. We are incapable of breaking the power that sin holds over us. This is why Christ’s atoning death is so needful – his immeasurable gift of love through his atoning death frees us from sin’s bondage, which allows us to live in renewed relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

6. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART I: 1+1=1 – Jesus is one person with two natures. He is fully human and fully divine. As fully human, he lived as we live and endured what we endured; as fully human Jesus is able to stand in humanity’s place and take the punishment for sin. As fully divine, Jesus as God incarnate is able to save humanity from our condemned state and break the power sin has over us.

5. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT BIOLOGY, TOO – We believe in the resurrection of Christ, not the resuscitation of Christ. On the third day when the stone was rolled away, our Jesus did not come back to life; he was not resuscitated. Jesus was given new life. He was resurrected and his resurrection assures the eternal defeat of sin – the eternal defeat of death – for all that receive the gift of grace in Jesus Christ.

4. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART II: 1+1+1=1 – We believe our God is Triune – that our God is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in every moment God is all three of these persons; God does not cease being one person in the Trinity in order to be another.

3. YOU THINK THERE’S A GUY IN YOUR FOOD – Sacraments are the means by which Christians encounter the mystery of Christ. At the communion table Christians believe they encounter the mystery of Christ, but in different ways. Some Christians believe that once the communion elements – the bread and wine/juice – are blessed that they physically transform into the body and blood of Christ. Other Christians believe the real presence of Christ becomes present in the bread and wine/juice. Either way, there is a guy in the communion meal, and we are redeemed of our sin and equipped for service in the Kingdom through this encounter with the mystery of Christ.

2. YOU HAVE A WEIRD THING FOR CALLING PEOPLE “MINISTERS” – What is theology? The study of God. Who does theology? Everyone! We believe in the Ministry of All Believers. It is not just the clergy that attend to the work and service of God’s people. This is the work of all people! All people have gifts for ministry to use in the Kingdom. And our using our gifts – this work – our ministry – we share it together.

1. LOVE, BABY.  IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE – Like all faith practices – it is what you make of it. Some Christian traditions offer detailed prescriptions of what practitioners do and do not do to make of their faith while others are less rigorous. As for me and my making of faith I start here:

  • “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (Jn 13:34-35).
  • I live out this verse in conversation and accountability John Wesley’s General Rules: (1) Do no harm, (2) Do good, and (3) Attend upon the ordinances of God – or as Bishop Reuben Job said – “Stay in love with God.”

(Exhale!)

If you were to add anything to this list, what would it be? Take time this week to consider what it means to be a Christian to you. What are your foundational Christian beliefs? How do your beliefs draw you in closer relationship with Christ and those that are faithful to him?

Prayer: Holy God, “Although a difference in opinions may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works…Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? If it be, give me thine hand.”* Help us, O God, to offer and receive one another’s hands. Amen.

*John Wesley’s Catholic Spirit – (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-39-catholic-spirit/)

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Commanded to Love: With All Our Soul

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:30 and Hebrews 4:12-13

Our texts for this week explore the impact God’s Scripture has on the soul. The letter to the Hebrews says, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow” (Heb 4:12).

That’s deep – and oh so punny!

As a pastor I read a fair amount of Scripture – and I will quickly add that I would like to read and study more than I do presently! There are days when I read Scripture with the posture of Sargeant Joe Friday from Dragnet – “just the facts, Lord, just the facts.” I want the highlights. I want the headlines. I want the facts and then I want to move on. I want to read, but not really marinate. I want to study, but not really emotionally connect to the text.

What pronoun did I consistently use throughout the five previous sentences? I. Reading Scripture is sometimes about what I want; yet, reading Scripture is an encounter that God always wants. Those encounters with God are not meant to be rushed. Those encounters are meant to and do catch me up in God’s presence. And they speak to my soul. They speak to God in me. They breathe into the breath that breathed into me. They teach. They form. They convict. Yes, they are facts that the Joe Friday in my desires – facts that become fodder for greater reflection and growth in my relationship with God.

A Scripture that continues to catch me up is tucked within the history of the Kings, “When he left there, he met Jehonadab son of Rechab coming to meet him; he greeted him, and said to him, ‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?’ Jehonadab answered, ‘It is.’ Jehu said, ‘If it is, give me your hand'” (II Kings 10:15). The he in this text refers to Jehu, the tenth King of Israel, anointed by the prophet Elisha. As king Jehu’s mission was to exterminate the house of Ahab because of the sin that Ahab himself had committed as well as the sin that Ahab led and prompted God’s people to commit.

Jehu is faithful in his mission and it is a bloodbath. On his way to Samaria Jehu’s path crosses with Jehonadab son of Rechab. Jehonadab, though not a Jew himself, supports Jehu in his efforts to fulfill his mission from the Lord. Though they are not from the same people group, from the same heritage, or from the same faith, they choose to work together. They choose to form a partnership. They choose to be stronger together than weaker apart. “‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?’ … ‘It is.’ … ‘If it is, give me your hand.'”

John Wesley reflected on this passage of Scripture in his sermon Catholic Spirit as he considered the hindrances that lie in the way of brothers, sisters, neighbors loving one another just as Christ’s greatest commandment calls us to do! Wesley pens, “The two grand, general hindrances are, first, that they cannot all think alike and, in consequence of this, secondly, they cannot all walk alike; but in several smaller points their practice must differ in proportion to the difference of their sentiments. But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” (Read the full text of John Wesley’s Sermon Catholic Spirit here)

My friends, there are so many hindrances in this world that seek to divide us. We can identify the root of some of these hindrances – sometimes we are the root! – and at other times we struggle to identify the root while we suffer the effects the hindrances cause. These hindrances can divide our thoughts, they can divide our hearts, they can divide us from our neighbors. Our God does not desire division. Our God desires one people – one beautifully united people that celebrate one another’s gifts and encourages one another to use our gifts in service of the Kingdom. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (I Cor 12:4-11).

Daily I am challenged to, encouraged to, delighted to extend my hand because I truly believe that is how I extend the Kingdom. This Scripture from II Kings strikes and resonates within my soul. This Scripture from II Kings has caught me up. What is that Scripture for you? Please, take my hand and share it with me.

Prayer: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul. My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound, and the Lord bass descend, even so, it is well with my soul. It is well [it is well] with my soul [with my soul], it is well, i is well with my soul.”* Amen.

*”It Is Well with My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 377.