Evangelical Monk Blog

Ramblings on living a Christan life

Month: June, 2012

Managing Sin

Managing Sin.


Managing Sin

Is the question really simply managing our sins in such a way as to make sure we go to heaven? I have a dear brother who is serving Jesus in China on mission. Because of the way things are over there he is an English teacher in a small vocational school as he can’t really pastor and preach openly. Yet it seems he is not welcome because he is in a community of law and not a community of grace. He hasn’t conformed to the rules – he has consistently been “caught” speaking to the young women (apparently the management doesn’t care about him speaking to the men during those times), always in open areas and never behind closed doors or in dark places – outside of office hours or fellowship times.

Another young lady in our community asked me the other day where in the Bible does it say people who commit suicide and people who are homosexuals are going to hell? Okay, I know there are ways to construct an answer that such things are “true” but ultimately all I can say is that these acts are sins – not statements about final judgments on salvation.

When did the Gospel become learning how to modify our behaviors? And frankly, all I can really say is good luck with that. Even the apostle Paul struggled mightily with all of that – “For I do not understand my own action. For I do what I do not want, but I do the very thing I hate,” Romans 7:15 ESV – and if Paul struggled, then how can I not be struggling as well.

In our community I often ask our youth to spend time in the Word, the Bible. And for most of them, even the adults, this is a hard one. Reading what for them is a very dry and maybe irrelevant book is a tall order.

Sometimes I ask them why they think I am asking them to read. Usually they tell me because we are supposed to read it.

So I ask them, what is the Bible about and they usually tell me it’s about how we are supposed to live. I let them know that’s a maybe true, but there is something more involved in reading and absorbing. Maybe the central question is not really about how do I get saved? (and from those chats with my friend in China and my friend asking me about suicide and homosexuals, the implied answer is that my salvation somehow depends on keeping all these rules in place).

I ask them if the real question is finding out who this Jesus is.

Maybe the truth is that Jesus has told us how to live, but it doesn’t require behavior modification, and efforts on our parts to manage our sins – something we heard from Paul is simply not realistic – rather, it’s about being transformed. Paul again tells us that we are indeed new, “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 God’s Word translation (I like the way this version interprets all of this as it tells me I am not only new, but that newness affects the way I think and the way I do). The Message paraphrase says it like this, “anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.” We aren’t bound to the old ways anymore but we get to learn something new, who this Jesus is and then we get to ask what does this mean for how I approach this new way of living/this fresh start.

So I ask them to read the Bible not to come to better understand the rules, frankly even if we do, we still can’t keep them. Rather, we get to see and learn, and through the work of the Holy Spirit (“the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” John 14:26, ESV), we get to become people who begin to reflect some of that light and understanding, from time to time as we can’t get all caught up in the ideal of doing such things perfectly, as we are transformed and develop Jesus lenses to see our world.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

A Great Adventure

A Great Adventure.

A Great Adventure

The life of the Christian is a great adventure in learning to be truly human in all of its aspects, including the great adventure of living in community with others. Chaplain Mike from the InternetMonk. Sometimes I wonder if we are doing a really huge disservice to our Lord, and to ourselves, when we stray from the idea that being a follower is first, a great adventure (we never really know what is ahead of us on this road we are walking), second, learning to be truly human (as we think we know it but we really are foolish to think such a thing for very long) and third, it’s about being in a community.

I know some people in our community that are really good at planning, and sometimes it gets to a point of planning out everything step by step. Now not that planning is a bad thing, and being “spontaneous” can lead to some really hard places, but that planning everything to the last detail can be a little overwhelming and frustrating when you hit that brick wall when your plans don’t pan out all that well. So maybe thinking out loud here, dissing over-planners is just as hurtful as dissing “seat-of-the-pants” thinkers.

A prayer from time to time, Lord let your will and your Word (both senses here, Jesus as logos and the Bible) through the Holy Spirit be a lamp unto my feet (Psalm 119:105). Back in the day when that Psalm was written there weren’t any of those new fangled things with the super halogen beams and such things. A lantern and that was good for only so many feet around the lantern. Moving too fast forward or just deciding to go sideways could really hurt your feet. And there is that set of verses from the prophet Micah about how the Lord has told us already what is important, and the third part of that is “walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) – not too fast but also not dancing here and there and all around.

And now a hard one – becoming truly human. Tons of electronic ink has been and will be spilled on that one. But this reminds me of the young men we talked to the other day. They are in a place where they believe they have the right answer to all things with their idea that everything is everything and all things are possible/potential. Maybe so but something tells me not really. Paul the Apostle tells us being and becoming truly human means letting God and stopping my heart’s desires, “So our faces are not covered. They show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord’s Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18, CEV). John tells us our final form will be like Jesus (not Jesus but like him), “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared (as Paul says we are in the process of becoming); but we know that when He appears we shall be like him.” Truly human means becoming more and more like the one human who was fully God and fully human I think.

Then being in community. In reality, nothing matters if it is not within community. What if God created us to be people who need, make that crave, relationship? What would we look like if we joined in with a community that sought out this great adventure, aiming toward being authentic people, all the while walking arm in arm rather than climbing over?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Even Us Old Guys Need a Kick in the Pants Every So Often

As a circle was finishing up the other day, one of the new people joining the group came up to me and said, “Nothing personal but I can’t wait for Pastor to come back and lead the group.” Wow, ouch. Then when I got back home late that evening, I checked the mail and had received a magazine with a lead article, “Who is Your Neighbor?” Ouch again.

There were some less than charitable thoughts coming and going on the drive back, as well as the standard worries about what I was doing leading the group. But as I read the article, I was hit in the head with the concept that we are to love those who don’t offer us the respect and understanding you think you deserve. Wow major ouch! Then the flood gates opened and I realize touting the sacred virtue of humility means humbleness is something that isn’t just a conversation piece or a blog post (coming up soon) but something that is necessary for
actually living out this Christian life.

Even people who don’t read the Bible know of the story of the Good Samaritan. Check it out; the term is in most dictionaries. But what those who don’t read may miss is that Jews and Samaritans had no regard for the other. Jews felt Samaritans were evil and theologically deficient, and Samaritans felt misunderstood and persecuted by the Jews.

Ahh, misunderstood! There it was. Yet the Samaritan in this story chose love, but not just offering a helping hand, but active, sacrificial and long-term love. Ouch again! There was that needed kick in the pants (okay, not advocating a literal kick people) that is the work of the Holy Spirit again to remind me that I need to move out of the way from time to time.

Lord it’s getting painful here.

Truth be told, we continued in our conversation, and the comment made a little more sense to me after we talked a bit. Maybe I’ll offer up my forgiveness, then again, that is a little arrogant. Maybe I’ll just give him a hug and tell him thanks for listening to the Spirit and kicking out. Maybe I’ll just be listening to the Spirit on how to love him.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Training Day

“What can you teach me?” That question, delivered in a confrontational way, was asked of several of us senior advisors by a young man of 18. The sadness was that, like I was some decades ago, this young man and his several friends with him during this time of discussion was filled with an arrogance that is rather frightening.

One of the more brilliant theologians of our time is Stanley Hauerwas. He is a Texan with what he admits is a Texas mentality about things (Texans are, apparently, not impressed with many things as they grow them big there). He remarked, “being a Christian has not and does not come naturally or easy for me. I take that to be a good thing because I am sure that to be a Christian requires training that lasts a lifetime.”

I really love baseball and once upon a time I was decent at the game. But today I see the talent out there and realize despite a youthful dream of playing for the White Sox some day, and the more youthful dream of thinking I was more than adequately skilled for that task (the Sox missed the opportunity to draft me right out of high school and put me on the major league roster, their loss!), it was my illusion that I was anything other than a raw talent needing some more training (molding) to even get to the place where my talent was something to be considered baseball ready – that is having skills sufficient to sustain me through a productive career.

After our circle time on Monday on the way home a few of us had another mini circle. We talked about prayer, and in particular, why pray if God already knows what He will be doing in our lives (another somewhat heavy idea that needs some time to think about but another day on that one). We talked about an idea that maybe prayer is more about us – the shaping of our minds to understand, however dimly we really can, God’s purpose for us for this moment and for laying a foundation for down the road. Maybe it really is about being trained to see things a bit more clearly than we are at the moment. And that is training that will sustain me for the lifetime He has given me.

We talked a bit about Abraham and Isaac and the time when Abraham was called upon to sacrifice his son – the son given as a promise – and how some ask why was God putting Abraham to such a test (the story is in Genesis 22). I thought maybe it was the other way around. Maybe God was seeking to have Abraham come to a better understanding of the depth of his faith in God, and how coming to that place of understanding was critical for Abraham for the rest of his life in serving God.

So back to our young men. Maybe there is great danger in being people who have all the answers – particularly where there is no responsibility when offering out those answers to people asking questions. Maybe saying, as I have heard it said, that the disaster that can come about isn’t just on the asker who listened, but also rests on the one giving the less than reflective opinion. Maybe it is all about being trained and taught to see, think, pray and live out our lives as though Jesus was, is and is to come.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Angry at Jesus!

God is real! I was having a conversation with a wonderful young lady in the family and she told me that with tears in her eyes. A few weeks back we asked the youth to write an essay for us – weekly we have homework/tutor/family dinner time after school (we are breaking for the summer) and her essay, on the topic of who do I need to begin to think about forgiving and why, identified some family and some friends, then the last paragraph made me stop.

She was angry at Jesus. Her friend has a possibly serious health issue, and she and her friend had been praying for healing. After 3 weeks of daily, and sometimes many times during the days, no healing was apparent. Ever since we have been talking about prayers and how God answers prayers and such things. That is sometimes the hard part of all this. We can say the right things and talk about what all this means, but until they begin to see a little bit or start experiencing some things, it really is all just up in their heads and frankly they get enough teaching about things during school hours.

So apparently during the week past she had sat down and was feeling pretty down about things and she made a simple prayer. God if you are real, and you care about me, I want someone to give me a hug. On that day, unbeknownst to me, we went downstairs and my partner asked if she could borrow my friend for a while to help out in the kitchen. I said of course and she grabbed my friend’s arm, pulled her in close and gave her a great big hug.

So we continued our conversation about prayers and we agreed that God doesn’t always answer our prayers in our time and in the way we want. But also maybe that is a good thing as well. Maybe sometimes God has a plan and a purpose about how He wants things to be and more importantly how we are to see the world around us. Maybe it’s about God letting us know He is real, He is there and always will be there and maybe that is why God answered my friend’s prayer – He let her know He is with her. She had given up the idea that God has to heal others immediately or give us what we want right when we ask.

Not that we give up – I told her about a pastor I met in the DR many years ago who walked what would be a 2 and a half hour car ride to come to see our mission team. He had been praying seven years – that’s right 7 years – for someone to come alongside of him and his ministry in one of the poorest areas of the DR, and 7 years later we showed up.

So I told my young friend, maybe God was telling her He could not give her what she wanted right at that moment, but that He was right there with her in her pain and that He wasn’t leaving her alone.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

The Island of Misfit Toys

A while ago I asked the question, “If small groups are the answer, what is the question?” I was reading the latest text by Miroslav Volf, Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities (a great read), when I came to his essay, “Negative Externality.” The line that caught me was, “Jesus’ ministry, of which the treatment of children is a paradigmatic case, presupposes that persons belong to a community of grace in which others’ fragility and even rowdiness are opportunities of service” (at 64).

I know some big words but Volf’s point is striking as well as deeply frightening. What stopped me to think was the idea that Volf seems to be suggesting that we, who belong to that community of grace (and would that not be all who are people of faith broken down into relatively manageable units we call church?) will be provided opportunities to serve people who are fragile or rowdy, or worse fragile and rowdy.

Thinking about that, what is more frightening is that Volf seems to be implying that there may even be people in that same community who themselves are fragile and/or rowdy. Is that a community I want to be in? or more frightening yet, what if I am someone who gets identified as fragile and/or rowdy? Thinking a little more, if those who are overtly fragile and/or rowdy are removed, gently of course, would it be a better community? At what point does that community lose its standing as a community of grace? Then again, aren’t we all in some way fragile and/or rowdy?

Even though we are approaching summer and thoughts of the Christmas season are far away, I remember that classic animation, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the image that keeps coming up is the island of misfit toys. If the question includes all those in our community of grace who are fragile and/or rowdy (which includes those who are uncomfortable, shy or less than friendly), are small groups still the answer (be it the best answer or the sole answer)?

Let us hope and pray that our communities of grace are not like Santa in the Rudolph animation who is unaware of that island or worse has forgotten it exists. Let us hope and pray that there rise up small groups that are truly communities of grace and transform those islands of misfit toys into islands of safety and compassion.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Be Nice!! (revised)

“They only listen to you if they like you.” That was a line I heard at a circle time following a VBS (vacation Bible School) for some very young people. The little kids were well little kids with short attention spans and focused on American Idol – apparently a big favorite of their parents I’m guessing.

As I thought about that line, I dismissed it but then this morning when I woke up, it was on my lips and seemed to be part of a dream I had. While I can’t remember the dream at all, I was thinking do I need to like Jesus in order to listen to Him? I mean I honor Him, worship Him, pray to Him and such things, but do I listen to Him?

I have heard it said this way, and it still boggles me – our incredible God came down here, entered history and took on flesh. He pitched His tent among us and stayed among us for over 30 years. Then He left us with this command – be nice to each other! “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34 ESV.

I mean at that time was Jesus “cool?” When I first heard that line in the circle that was my thought – he was saying they like me because I’m cool to them. Or I don’t be talking and telling them stuff about doing this or doing that – then again, that verse from John smacks me on the side of my head. Is being cool all that, well cool? Is there a falseness at work here? Am I really pointing to myself when I act “cool?” Am I acting “cool” when I don’t feel like it, just to be “cool” or am I acting “cool” when speaking the truth in love might be called for in the situation?

Maybe what’s more important is being in a relationship. Maybe Jesus is telling me to be out there loving others first – without regard to being cool or being liked or being anything other than obedient to Him and humble to others.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Is She the Right One?

I met a young man the other day. Well, truth be told, I’ve met him a couple of times already. He stopped by as I was writing up the post on Lolo Jones last week. His question to me was how do I know she is the right one? Now that is a question that demanded a little time to think about.

Going back a little, he had stopped by a month or so ago, asking for a pastor to pray with him. As our pastor was out for the moment, our youth came and got me. So we sat and talked, and I did in fact pray for him and for the concerns he was dealing with at the time. But as we were talking a cute young woman crossed the street in front of us and I didn’t see him again for a few weeks. Well, apparently, this cute young woman was now the object of his question – is she the right one.

As it turns out, he met her for the first time that day. He had been praying for some time for our awesome God to send to him the right one so he could settle down and “man up” if you will. And as it turned out she came on the street behind the church as we were sitting, and he was having a pastor pray for him.

So we sat and talked awhile and I tried to let him know that while God works through His people and through the circumstances of our lives, all the coincidences that led him to meet this cute young woman weren’t enough to stamp her as the right one. So we talked about what he was looking for – besides a very pretty young lady. He said, a good woman, but defining that was a little difficult. We talked a little about how knowing God’s will can be a little tricky when we are wanting something so much that sometimes the voice we hear is really our own and we mistake it for God’s inbreaking.

So as I mentioned I was working on Lolo Jones, and that story about Hannah and the birth of Samuel came to mind. I asked him whether he wanted a woman that would have his back when times got tough – what Hannah had. Maybe being the right one was something that needed some time to answer. I asked him if he wanted this right one to be really close and a real friend? He said of course, the right one will be his soulmate.

I asked him if he was looking for a commitment? He said of course. So I asked him if he was willing to work really hard on showing – not just talking – that he was in fact commited to this young woman? I mentioned a story about a man named Jacob and his efforts at getting to marry his right one – Rachel. I asked him to read that story, in Genesis 29 and 30. In that story, Jacob had to labor 14 years for Rachel’s Dad, Laban, to gain his consent to marry his daughter. I think that really says something about commitment.

I asked him to come back to me in a few months (of course, come back anytime) and we could talk more specifically about this Miss Cutie, and get a better idea about whether she is the one. I talked to him a little about Lolo Jones and trying to see things clearly.

Maybe she is the right one.

Be blessed and be a blessing.