Friday, July 29, 2005

Why Do I Believe?

In his sermon last week, Scott Owings challenged us to be able to articulate why we believe in/follow Jesus. I thought I’d use this space this week to work on that.

If I’m being totally, brutally honest, I’d have to say that I probably believe in Jesus because I was brought up in the church. Not believing simply wasn’t an option. I did Sunday school, Sunday night church, Wednesday nights.

Even through high school and college, my primary associations and social circle were with Christians. In fact, going to church became a form of rebellion for me from my parents, particularly the church I went to.

But now. I’m 33 years old and I have to have my own reasons. My faith has to stand on its own, not propped up by my social circle.

So why do I follow Jesus? Because in what I read of him, I can see no better way. The Jesus of Scripture calls for me to lay down my life and all of its burdens and live in him. He says that if I follow him, I’ll have life and life more abundantly or to its fullest. Now I know that doesn’t mean life will be easy. That doesn’t mean that I’ll have riches and wealth. It means that in very brief moments I’ll understand the joy that comes from being a follower of Jesus and a servant of others.

I follow Jesus because I believe in his atoning power. I believe that Jesus ransomed the world and conquered death in the cross and the resurrection. I believe that in doing that, Jesus gave a promise for eternity, that those who follow him will be with him for eternity. And I believe that that means now (here on earth) and in eternity.

I also follow Jesus because of the community around me. I’m surrounded by people that I know believe in and love Jesus. Their faith encourages me. Their lives give me example of how to live as Christ in a fallen world. They push me to explore greater depths of this life that I have, to swim deeper in the ocean of faith.

So that’s it, I guess. That’s what I have. Anyone else?

Oh, btw, if anyone is interested, there’s a discussion of Lee Camp’s book Mere Discipleship, going on at Mere Discipleship has been a book that has greatly encouraged and challenged me on this journey over the last 18 months. I highly recommend it and invite any of you to participate as well.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Saved by Grace. Judged by Works?

OK. This may be a long post, because I’m thinking out loud on this. This is a topic that requires some explanation of my history to understand where I’m going with this. Also, I’m really hoping for dialogue with all of my 4 readers on this, so if you see holes in my thinking or think I’m on the right track, let me know.

For most of my adult life, I have fought against a works-based salvation. Growing up in the Church of Christ and becoming very angry at that due to a couple of reasons, I decided the Church of Christ was dead wrong about having to do something to earn salvation, whether baptism or going to church or whatever. Kind of an “if saved, barely saved” ideology. I started attending a charismatic church in high school and through my first two years of college, but went to a Church of Christ college (Lipscomb) with the intent of showing all the Pharasiacal hypocrites how to be a real Christian. Ah, the folly and arrogance of youth.

Well, long story short, I learned that being Church of Christ and being spiritually minded were not mutually exclusive (Thanks Doug Varnado) and even ended up back at the church I grew up at (Otter Creek). However, my views on grace and works didn’t change and I even found people who agreed with me. We all viewed the works that we did as a response to the grace we had received, but not an obligation at any time that would earn us salvation (defined as our ticket to spend an eternity with God).

And then I start reading Brian McLaren. And rereading the Gospels and the OT prophets. And I start reading this stuff in those about what we do mattering, about what we do having eternal consequence. And my brain starts to feel twisted up. Let me explain.

Matthew 25:31 - 46 is one of Jesus’ clearest statements on judgment. He’s talking about the end of the age from chapter 24 and in this section he talks about when he (the Son of Man) comes in his glory. In this section, Jesus talks about how he’ll separate the sheep from the goats. And the basis for his judgment is NOT what these people believed, what statements of faith they ascribed to, what church they attended, what acts of worship the did or didn’t do or mixed together. The standard for his judgment is how they cared for the needy among them, the sick, the imprisoned.

And as I look through the gospels, Jesus talks very little about what people believe. He is much more concerned with what they do. Now, do I think faith is unimportant? No. I think it is, but it seems that it is less important than what I do with that faith. James said this. “Faith without works is dead.” Works are important.

As I wrote about two weeks ago, being saved by grace is great. It is a wonderful gift given by God. BUT if we don’t do something about that, we will be judged. We will be held accountable for that. When we are saved by that grace, we are all given a joyful responsibility: to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. That’s the message that Jesus preaches throughout his ministry. When the gospels talk about the good news of the Kingdom, this is it.

This also begs the question of what does judgment mean. Traditionally, I’ve thought that when I die (or if Jesus comes back before that), I’ll wake up in a big room with everyone that ever lived and because I’ve got grace, I’ll be a sheep. I’m not so sure about that anymore. I do think judgment is an important part of eternity, but (and now I’m really thinking out loud, so take this or leave it) what if judgment is eternally occurring? What if my daily walk is being judged in how I help bring about the Kingdom? That can sound scary on one hand, but on another, it’s extremely hopeful. Because what if judgment and mercy are two sides of the same coin? What if the mercy that God offers is a part of his judgment? I don’t know how all of that plays out. I don’t know what all of this means, honestly.

Here’s what I think. My job as a follower of Christ, as a disciple of Jesus, is to help bring about the Kingdom of God. I’m going to try my hardest to do that every minute of every day. I’m going to find a community that will try and do that with me. And I’m going to genuinely love (no matter how hard it is) the people I come in contact with.

I think that’s the Law and the Prophets. I think that’s the message Jesus came to bring. And the grace that we receive through his death and resurrection both empowers us and makes us responsible for that mission.

So, how off base am I? What holes do you see? What resonates with you? Looking forward to the dialogue.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Two Funerals

In the past couple of weeks, two funerals have caught my attention. The first one was one Monday and was the funeral of a dear departed saint at Otter Creek. Jayne Harley was one of those ladies that had this quiet sense about her. She and her husband have been servant hearted their entire lives, working overseas and in prison ministry and I’m sure many other things that no one will know about.

To hear her eulogized on Monday after her battle with cancer was one of the most beautiful things to be a part of. She was described as a servant of Christ, one who put the Kingdom ahead of personal gain and material things, one who loved and was loved. As she approached death, she didn’t think of herself, but she asked her children not to lose their faith because God didn’t choose to heal her. It was a beautiful testimony to a life of faith.

It was also a quiet funeral (definitely reflecting Jayne). We sang some of her favorite hymns, her sons talked, and other friends said a couple of words.

The other funeral that caught my attention was Luther Vandross’. I didn’t attend this one, but caught snippets of it in the news. It was loud and raucous. It was full of spirit (Spirit?) and it was also a celebration. One of the things that caused my throat to catch was that when the pallbearers lifted up his coffin, the entire congregation cheered like they were at a sporting event or a party. And it was beautiful. It didn’t even seem like a goodbye. It seemed like “Thank you! We love you!”

Two funerals for two different people. One public, one private. One with television cameras, one with just a hundred people or so. One loud, one quiet. Both reflections of the people and both beautiful, hopeful reminders that this life is only temporary. What is left is how we touch other people. Do we touch them for the Kingdom or for selfish gain?

David Franzoni (through Maximus) is right. What we do in life echoes throughout eternity.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Yesterday, I had the privilege to meet with a group of Christians here in Nashville called the Nashville Cohort. It was a group of eight white guys sitting on couches in a restaurant talking theology. Now, while I look very much forward to a time when the group would include women and members of other ethnicities, it was a great time for me to get together with people outside of my denominational scope (although there was another Church of Christer there, or as we like to call ourselves "True Christians").

It's very much based in Emergent theology, which isn't bad in and of itself or good in and of itself. I sometimes grow a little weary of the hipper-than-thou attitude I perceive, although I feely admit that that might be my perceptions, which is also not a reflection on anyone I met yesterday. Well, besides the Tony Hawk-lovin' Dixon. Anyway, we discussed issues of salvation and that's something that I've been pondering recently, especially terminology.

The term Saved itself has certain implications. There is a "to/from" inherent in it. I think of it in terms of being in the ocean (since I watched the Bourne Identity the other night). If I say that I was saved from the ocean, then there's the implication that I'm saved to something, generally a boat or land or something.

As a Christian, I think I taked the word "Saved" for granted and to use that terminology makes assumptions all over the place. However, I'm trying to change. I'm trying to see that salvation is NOT solely about punching my ticket to the afterlife. It's not about making sure that I'm in and everyone with whom I disagree is out.

When Jesus selected his 72 disciples in Luke, he didn't do that to make sure those got into Heaven. He selected them to go out and do HIS work. He empowered them to go to places that he wouldn't be able to go. When we become Jesus' disciples (a better term than "Saved," in my opinion), we gain a huge responsibility. We become partners with Christ in bringing about the Kingdom of God. To claim to be saved without embracing that responsibility, without spreading the good news that Jesus talks about in Luke 4, then what's the point? What's the point of claiming to be a follower?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Weight Loss and the Kingdom of God

I struggle with equating weight loss and spirituality because of a certain group that will not be named. However, something occurred to me the other day.

Sheryl and I are doing Weight Watchers together. And we're doing this flex points things where each amount of food is worth a certain amount of points and you get a certain amount of points each day. Well, some days it's harder to stick to the plan than others, with dinners and family reunions and what not.

But as we've been doing this, one of the things that I'm starting to see is that the whole point of this is not necessarily losing a certain amount of pounds, although that is a big part of it. The point of this is to become a more healthy person and eater. And the habits that I develop as a result of this are a positive that I can take with me throughout my life.

So, if I don't do so well with the points on a certain day, I don't beat myself up about it for the rest of the week. I say, "OK. I'm going to do it today. The point is to be healthy."

It's the same with the Kingdom. The point of being Christian is not to simply to be a good person who doesn't sin (break Shalom with God). It's to be a partner with God in the Kingdom. Not sinning will hopefully follow as a result of that.

So if I struggle with something one day, whether lust or pride or jealousy, I don't beat myself up. I say, "Ok. The point is not to not sin. It's to work with God in the Kingdom." Not sinning should follow.
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