Evangelical Monk Blog

Ramblings on living a Christan life

Month: December, 2012

2012 in Review


Out of town for a while. Number 3…..

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.

Advertisements

2012 in Review


Out of town for a while. Number 4….

Dads & Daughters

Maybe you’ve heard it said, daughters are gifts from heaven. I have 3 daughters, 2 are all grown up and live far away and I miss them. One is still with me and what a special gift she is!

Now not to slight sons, but don’t have any and for some reason our Lord has chosen to bless my family with all girls. Hallelujah and amen.

Well, for my daughters and for my love who is near today, know this

Dads love unconditionally, always, even when sometimes it’s hard or hurts

Dads aren’t given to judge you for your thoughts, actions and ways but to love you for simply being his daughter. Always! That is the foundation even when you don’t think so

Dads really want to be there and share the lives of their daughters – even when there is another guy coming into your life. We don’t like to share but we learn such things

Dads show you are loved and that affection is the normal in all things

Dads give their daughters a special name, our code, hey Sweet Pea! So you know you are special and a joy

Dads always and I mean always, see their daughters as beautiful. Well because they are

Dads always love to tell you he loves you

Dads, a secret, sometimes cry because when my daughter hurts I’m hurting too and we want to be there to catch you when you fall

Dads love to see their daughters all the time and love to hug you and hold your hand and sometimes squeeze you tight

Dads love to walk with you through this adventure called life because some day sooner than wanted you will be flying on your own but Dad will always see you when you were younger and had that big smile on your face

Dads will pray for you every night and you should know you are forgiven almost before you speak

Dads love to sit with you while you do your homework, and just love to watch your lips move when you read

It makes me sad as you have said some some Dads are just donors and that is a crime, but a Dad who knows this joy just can’t stop loving you for who you are – an awesome gift of sweetness given by God.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

2012 in Review


Out of town for a while. So the most viewed posts of 2012. Number 5.

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.

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas to all.

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,

Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

John 1:14 (The Message).

Hallelujah and Glory to Him who reigns!

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Foolish Fridays 16


Brennan Manning in his The Importanceof Being Foolish now points to our sense of boundaries and suggests we need to re-think that sense of boundary.

Christ’s call for unity demands that we move beyond an isolationist sense of personal boundaries and the limits usually associated with self-motivated behavior. No longer can I look at others as people with whom I have no connection. Instead, unity in God calls me to experience all people and things as extensions of God’s family, of which I am a part.

I do not sense Manning is asking us to open ourselves to all things in the sense of allowing someone to dominate our lives or that we have to be accepting of all things and points of view. Rather, that to be open, without boundaries, is to be receptive to the souls that come into our lives, whether intentionally or casually.

In this way, by being open and receptive to others, we allow them to see that we are looking at them as really there. There is no longer any hint that we, like so much of the world, are looking the other way. Then, we will be in a place where the grace that has been given to us is able to be passed on – a divine encounter.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Perfect People? Really?


The other day in our circle time the question was why do people think Christians are so perfect? So thinking that was actually sarcastic as we who claim to be believers are far from perfect. Indeed, we are well aware that perfection is not something we will see on this side of things.

So really maybe the question is more about why are Christians so arrogant as to their standing before God. It seems we Christians are talking about either all the blessings God is giving us (Joel Osteen?) or about managing our sin natures (pick up something from the neo-reformed). Sigh, both really poor marks of what this faith is all about I think.

So I guess our stigma really is something we bring on to ourselves. Maybe part of this problem is that we, like the world around us, speak from both sides of our mouths. A thought to chew on.

In the group we spoke about learning to be accepting of people who are gay. Now not looking to make a statement on validity, rather solely the question of how we Christians deal with this issue. The young lady making the point was that if we are people of grace shouldn’t we be engaging in the dialogue? Good question!

Then we looked at the so-called Bible thumpers and how we react to them. In our group pretty much severe dislike and asking why, I was told well I don’t like people who force/impose their views on me. Hmmm, is there a gay rights agenda? The young lady told us her friend rejected people who wouldn’t at least listen.

OK with all of that but sort of wondering how do we distinguish, as people of faith, how we treat those two wildly opposing groups? Back to that idea, if we are people of grace shouldn’t we be people who listen and respond with respect, at a bare minimum, to people? Regardless of whether they are gay or Bible thumping Christians?

If not, and we humans are awesome at supplying really reasonable sounding justifications, then maybe we look foolish and really are people who speak from both sides of our mouths. I’m wondering if the real question is more about who are we becoming rather than how whether we agree with them.

Aren’t we becoming people who actually offer an alternative to the prevailing culture? Right now our culture tells us listen to the gay community but put down those crazy Bible thumpers. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:17,

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.

Ouch! Not against others but being people set apart – people of grace first?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Why?


Lord, I want to know why! Why is there so much evil in this world? Why did You allow Sandy Hook to happen? Why were so many innocents slaughtered? I really want to know. A dear young woman sent me a text that evening asking if it was okay if she was really pissed off at God.

I told her I wish I could give her an answer to all those why questions. The best answer I can give is I don’t know. I believe that question has been one asked since the beginning of time. We can ask why did God allow Eve to take that first bite. Isn’t that when we humans first became aware of that thing called evil – and the tragedy at Sandy Hook was precisely that, evil.

So even though I can’t find the answer, I still have this sense pounding away inside of me – why? Okay, I can hear the Lord asking me, innocents have died all through the ages – take a look at the Old Testament stories, and we can read through many of Paul’s letters and determine that there was much slaughter of innocents. We can read any book about the martyrs.

So maybe the answer is Lord give me a shot at all of this. Because maybe I can do the job that needs to be done. I know Lord that this is a hard thing for me – because I will have to re-think all those times when I’ve sworn I have felt your presence, and those times when the only thing I can think of is that you were active and indeed a miracle happened. But Lord I will give it a try.

What? What do you mean I won’t be very good at all of that. Lord, I’m a good person, I have a good heart, and I really do love people. I have done and expect to do good things down the road also. I mean I swear by God I will do the best I can.

Oh, hmm, maybe I’m starting to see a little bit. Why swear by you? Maybe you have a point Lord, maybe I’ll miss one or two incidents. I know all the way over there in Darfar, Africa or the tsunami over in the Indian Ocean a few years back. Yeah, that’s sort of far away and not right there in front of me to grab my attention. Yes, I know there are so many people hurting each other right here in our little neck of the woods. Okay, You’re right, I remember Your Son’s words,

You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. Matthew 5:21-22 The Message.

Okay, you got me there, maybe I do have to admit I won’t be all that graceful with some people. You remember that crazy lady the other day who cut me off at 60 miles an hour and almost caused me to drive into the guard rail. Okay, maybe that is a good point – I really don’t know where to draw the line. Is it only killing innocents or is it really the murder that is in my heart when I’m angry or hurt or frustrated with someone.

Okay, maybe I will just stop now and be still and let you be God. Maybe I can, but Lord, I still weep over all of this evil. Oh, I remember, you know my tears,

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8 The Message

What? Your Son knows and weeps with us? That’s right, He wept over Lazarus. Thank you Lord, you are weeping right along side of me.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Foolish Fridays 15


Brennan Manning in his The Importance of Being Foolish now continues his laser beam on ourselves and he identifies our idols. He notes,

Disinclined to renounce managerial control of our own lives and unwilling to run the risk of living in union with Yahweh, we seek personal security and reassurances in rituals, devotions, liturgies and prayer meetings.

The point here hurts as Manning is aiming that laser beam right at us who claim the label Christian and our churchly practices.

Paul speaks to this very idea,

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash — along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant — dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ — God’s righteousness. Philippians 3:7-9, The Message.

Where are our hearts? If they are not focused on the righteousness of Christ, being in right relationship with Him, what have we gained?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

I’m Hearing Those Voices Again


On Monday I asked you all the question of whose voices are you listening to? We talked about Pilate and as we know, he listened to the voices outside and all around him. Do we go there a lot? I confess I do more often than I really care to acknowledge.

Lets look at the story of the prophet Elijah, 1 Kings 19:11-13:

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.[a] And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?

Lets each of us ask ourselves, who is our great wind – threatening to blow away those more sober thoughts? Pilate heard such advice – how can you not be frightened when Jesus tells us He indeed is a king but not of this world (John 18:36), and from his wife and her vision to have nothing to do with this man (Matthew 27:19).

Clearly such thoughts weren’t enough to overcome the mighty wind blowing outside the palace.

Who is your mighty earthquake? Pilate’s world was getting rocked and a threat was posed to his standing as a Roman official John 19:12). Pilate immediately took Jesus outside and sat down on the judgment seat.

Who is your raging fire? Pilate again was assaulted with a raging firestorm. When he sat down on that judgment seat he was faced with thunderous voices – “away with him, crucify him (John 19:15).

Whose voice do you hear?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

I Hear Voices


Do you remember that movie a few years back with Bruce Willis? The Sixth Sense? The movie where young Haley Joel Osmont utters that great line, “I see dead people.”

Well, confession time here, I hear voices. Ok, before I get tons of comments recommending an immediate appointment with the head doctors, stay with me for a little bit more.

To be honest, you can admit it, each and every one of us hears voices. The real question isn’t whether we hear voices, rather it’s whose voice are we listening to.

A few weeks back our lectionary pointed us to John’s Gospel, and the trial of Jesus before Pilate (18:28-39). Read it a few times, and then add the following chapter through the 16th verse. As we work through the story of the trial and sentencing of Jesus we come to realize Pilate was baffled. Here he was confronting a man who refused to defend himself. Here is a man being challenged and facing death by crucifixion, yet Pilate hears no denials or defiance, only a puzzling answer to the charge of being a king, “You say I am a king.”

Pilate decides at that moment he wants really nothing to do with this strange man. He continuously tells people I find no basis for a charge against this man.

Yet, Pilate himself is confronted with thunderous voices – crucify him – give us Barbaras. So Pilate now has a choice – listen to the voices outside, and to do otherwise involves a great risk to Pilate’s standing in the Roman hierarchy, reputation, relations with the local Jewish leaders.

So back to that question – whose voice are you listening to?

Be blessed and be a blessing.