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Secular and Sacred Pt. ii

The separation of secular and sacred is rooted in Gnostic Dualism. The belief that the perfect state of man and woman is spiritual. There is a perfect design or blueprint of a person. The only way to reach perfection is to shed the physical state and become a perfect spirit.

               This is not Biblical. God made us with a physical body. When Christ returns and makes a new heaven and earth, we will have physical bodies. Christ himself is raised from the dead in his physical body and ascended into heaven in his physical body. We will be like him in the resurrection. We are made to be physical.

In the creation narrative Adam and Eve were gifted the responsibility of tending the garden. The command to subdue the earth is prior to the fall (Gen 1:28). The narrative then moves into a detailed look at Adam and Eve. God commands Adam to tend the garden God made (Gen 2:15). The intent for responsibility and work is present before the curse.

The curse after disobedience extends from our calling to be stewards of the earth. Adam’s curse was to toil with the ground. His job and life endeavor did not change.

The law that God gave to the Israelites continues the theme of earthly importance. Contrary to several surrounding religions, God gave commands regarding food, building their houses, and even their waste hygiene. Other religions gods did not care about the ‘earthly’ and ‘mundane’, only the spiritual.

Our spiritual health is important. But the spiritual is present here. The laws given to the Israelites to separate them from the surrounding nations were specific regarding how they lived their physical life. The Israelites were commanded to be different in their daily lives.

Finally, as James tells us, “Show me your faith without your actions and I will show you my faith by my actions.” The actions that show our faith is every aspect of our lives. Job, free time, shows we watch and don’t watch all point to what we believe in.

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The Secular and Sacred

There are two great lies the church hands out freely. We are to love ourselves first and there is a separation between secular and sacred. The first is more widely held and defended. When I politely suggest that loving yourself first is not scriptural it is Christians who respond viscously. Those who do not profess Christ easily accept it. Christians are supposed to love others more than themselves. That is Christ like, is it not?

               More subtly is the separation of the secular and the sacred. The separation is not taught as much as implied. Sermons, books, conversations, bible studies, and tweets imply that the unseen spiritual world is of more importance. Church ministry, worship songs, winning souls for Christ, reading the Bible all have value. Everything else is just pointless filler.

               If you are working a secular job, it is good to tithe and not do wrong things in front of your coworkers and invite them to church. But your real life is the spiritual things you do around your job. You have the unfortunate position of only getting in a few hours of spiritual work. Blessed be the church ministries that get to do spiritual work 40 hours a week.

               Christ cares for conduct of all people, everywhere, in every action. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it well unto the Lord. If this means taking extra time to clean the runners in your sliding door unto the Lord, then do it well. If it means leaving that task undone to respond to a friend on Facebook, then do so to the Lord.

                 The separation degrades most of our life from diligent stewardship of God’s gifts into pointless tasks. Those not in full time ministry feel lost and without purpose. It strips lives of opportunities to serve and glorify God. Worship moves from all people, all places, everywhere to fifteen minutes on Sunday morning and listening to Phil Wickham in the car.

               Our crowns are created and shined on earth. They are shown in heaven. The next several posts I will be covering how to change our thinking to undo the separation of secular and sacred.

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Average Joe

“There is no room here [the Christian life] for such contemporary ideas as the looking-glass self, and no consideration here for trivial contemporary obsessions such as one’s legacy” Os Guiness – Fools Talk      

Today I recount the story of the Christian called average Joe. He works as a routing and process engineer at a waste management company, is married to a wonderful girl Cindy and has three kids, Julie, Aaron, and Victor.

              In the future his grandkids call him ‘Pops’. His great grand kids know nothing about him, except the story of how he met his wife. He ran into her car on her way to a date. Her car was inoperable, so he gave her a ride. The man stood her up and Joe bought her dinner. They got married six months later. Aaron and Victors kids tell the story in jest and scold their deceased grandma as foolish for getting into cars with strangers. Julie tells the story in reference to God’s mysterious work and taking chances leads to a worthwhile life.

              Nothing else will be remembered of Joe. He did well at work and shared the gospel with several coworkers, four of whom eventually followed Christ. He stops to buy food for the homeless and plays with the children at church. When told he has done well for himself, he simply responds, “Well, my wife still loves me and all my kids are making wise choices. So, I guess I have.”

              He was saving money to take his wife on a surprise trip to Cancun. He loaned the money to someone in need at the church. They took the two-thousand dollars and left. He never told anyone. He lamented later that he hadn’t told his wife out of embarrassment rather than because he was turning the other cheek. In a later incident he was wronged much worse. No one knows but the offender, Joe’s best friend Greg, and the pastor who helped him through the situation. The incident died with them and I will not repeat it here.

              Joe struggled with pornography up until he was married. He had 4 relapses during his marriage. Each time he came forward to his close friends confessed and turned from his sin. He also struggled with a short tempter up until he was in his forties. The early death of his son changed his heart to always be compassionate.

              When his best friend, Greg, got terminal cancer he spent three nights a week for five months helping Greg’s family with needs. Joe cared for his parents in law as well when they were aging. He never got the big promotion due to these choices that took up his time.

He joined the water board on recommendation by his colleagues and helped secure more fair water policies for their town. NPR would eventually do a short documentary on the change, but his name was never mentioned.

              This is average Joe. He tried to be kind to whoever he met. He never failed to share the gospel when given the chance. He spoke almost every night with his wife regarding the good deeds laid before them. You will never read of him in a book. You will never see him on television.

When we get to heaven and we see everyone as they are, but just before we are healed of comparing others, we may notice that his crown is just a little larger, and his robes a little brighter than the pastors we see on television or book covers. Joe followed Christ in humility, he put others first, he did the good things that he came across, and he daily sought Christ for answers and forgiveness.

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Compassion for Strangers

I was on my way to work from a coffee shop for the sole reason that I enjoy talking to strangers. On the way I observed a young man in a very disheveled appearance having a fit; flailing his arms, talking and yelling to himself. He continues this for about fifteen feet, spins in three circles, and falls down flat on grass. His arm or leg occasionally twitches and flails.

               I felt like I was looking into a mirror of my soul. I sympathize with the struggle he must have with his own mind. I don’t know if he is aware of a fight in his soul, whether he is friends or enemies with voices in his head or even voices from strangers around him.

I wonder if the strangers in my head would get along with the strangers in his. I may never know because unfortunately I drove past him without stopping. Perhaps by God’s grace I will see him on my return and we can have a conversation. Maybe it will be the two of us, maybe it will be four or five of us.

Most of my adult life I have struggled with depression. I am convinced that all forms of suffering trivial or severe serve to make us more like Christ. I have been trying to figure out for years how depression is making me more like Christ. Despite many conversations with friends I never could figure out a satisfying answer.

               I recently woke up in the middle of the night in a great deal of angst over something that in a few years will seem trivial. I couldn’t fall back asleep, gave up, and went about my day on two hours of sleep. This morning I felt a sudden onset of guilt and regret over past choices with enough emotional force to make my chest hurt.

              It is a struggle. I am aware that my emotions are out of line. I am routinely fighting with myself. I wonder if this man intensely feels this struggle. Does he feel as though he has demons and wants freedom? I wish I knew how to help. I realized that even if I had stopped I would not have had the slightest clue as how to be helpful.

(As a side note, according to Jesus we are not to worry about what we will say when taken in front of courts and kings and queens for the Holy Spirit will guide us. I assert that he will do the same for us when speaking to his lost children. I should have stopped).

              I enjoy talking to strangers. But I find that those who are most strange are not strangers. When asked who is our neighbor, Christ responds with a story about a person who chose to be a neighbor to a stranger. Now here This young man taught me something important about my struggle; compassion. How can he be anything but a neighbor to care for?

Church Community

Community. It is a nice little tag word that Christians like to use at church. “Be part of community” “Join a community group” “What I am really looking for is a community”

It is supposed to communicate a close group of people that can really share life together. Unfortunately, to commonly our communities look more like a shared social media page than an actual community.

This past Sunday while I was at church we were asked both before and after a short video to answer a prompt, “What causes you to feel / press closer to Jesus?”

“Being in nature really helps me appreciate who he is… When you almost die from….” During the conversation it appeared as though everyone discovered their hands for the first time. One person was picking at their hand. Another yawned, examining their fingers. Everyone paid just enough attention to be able to respond.

After the video the same level of involvement continued. When I pressed one couple as to what they were going to change to make Christ a priority, they listed off reasons as to why it is hard. No commitments. No confessions. No one was sharing a part of their lives with any intent to keep up with the other people, to be held accountable, or to be actually known. They were answer prompts the same way people answer Facebook’s status question, “What is on your mind?” Thrown out to an audience that won’t walk with them.

If we really want community we need to put away the status update conversations, and the when in church relationships. Status update conversations are those that you have because, ‘it is the thing to do’ like standing up or sitting down when everyone else does. ‘In church’ relationships are those you have only at church. Not the weekend. Not in evenings, and certainly not when you need support, to be held accountable, or pressed on towards Christ.

You will really know if you are actually sharing life if you go to your group of people when tragedy strikes, or when you need accountable help. If someone suddenly dies in your family, would you show up to church? I have been a part of several groups I would have. In fact, while I was part of one bible study a very emotionally traumatizing event happened. I went to community group, and slept in the corner. I was able to be un hidden processing what had happened.

Strikingly there was a moment that could have shown the church as a community. A not very old individual had died unexpectedly just a few days prior. I don’t know if the family showed up to church. I don’t know if people cried in the previous service. But I began to really wonder, would most of the families show up to share their pain, or their joys, with the church family when it happens?

Justifying Fashion for the Church

Often in Christianity we have to categories. Those things that are sacred, and those items that are secular. Recently I have been seeing more and more how this dichotomy is dangerous and even harmful to the Christian church. There are many perfectly good enterprises that are given up in pursuit of a life that is only sacred.

                God created a world for us to enjoy. We are called to follow Christ wherever we are at. Are plans are to be committed to the Lord whatever they are so long as they are in the character of Christ. When looked at this way, there is a great deal of life that is free to be enjoyed that is normally considered secular.

                Fashion for example. I have had the past had a great deal of difficulty spending money on anything related to clothing. I am more than my clothes and none of it will fit me for very long anyway. I never knew what to do with my friends who invested in a hundred dollar pair of pants, or three hundred dollar shoes. We are very quick to judge this as a waste of money that could be given to the poor.

                But, even a slight comparison to our other judgments will find this lacking. Do we judge the individual who spends three hundred dollars on a ski trip? Or buys a car with leather seats and A/C instead of a minimalist design with no power windows or air conditioning. Do we judge the one that remodels their kitchen? I have never heard of that. These are all things that are ‘expected’ as normal and good. But the judgement is arbitrary.

                Furthermore, I categorize fashion and clothing as one of the arts. How we dress and present ourselves can be as much as a form of art as a canvas. Matching colors, styles, seasonal clothes all with your particular body type in order to convey an image is an art. Especially if that dress conveys an image of your personality in line with who you are. I would be curious to see a fashion guide based on personality.

                Finally, how we present ourselves is important in ministering the gospel of Christ. Just as overtly expensive clothes can make those who are less ‘fortunate’ feel bad, so too cheap of clothing can cut off certain peoples. If you want to minister to the wealthy or LA and Hollywood culture, you had better dress like it. Clothing can also spark conversations.

                Use your money wisely, and follow Christ. In some cultures, it is considered rude not to wear your best. We are the ones that have to look at you all day, not you.

Philosophy, Country, and Love

I talked in my previous posting about being caught up in these dreams of grand adventures and perfect Disney movie lives. This is more of a revealing of my own internal dreams than a specific critique of culture. I often get caught up in the perfect moments. The right lighting, mood, events, and words said at just the right time.

Not only that, but I am a philosopher at heart and have this constant yearning to find meaning in events. Though it more comes from a heart that is trying to figure out its own path in a world that has yet to be made right, it is still searching. I want to know that what is done is significant and has meaning. Whatever meaning means.

You cannot find the solution to a problem on the same level that the problem is found or created. The answer to my own philosophical nightmare of meaning and significance I found in the very lofty views and words of Luke Bryan from two of his popular songs, “rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey, whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky… rain is a good thing” and “A huntin, fishin, and lovin everyday that’s the prayer that a country boy prays”

The lyrics from these two songs are good examples of how connected to life that country music is. Country singers always sing about what is tangible. What they see. What they feel in response to specific things, like a girls smile or hair. There are no complicated metaphors or layered meanings within meanings. There are no hints and jabs from other parts of culture. There is a country boy or girl singing about what they see, touch, taste and know. And it is beautiful.

The same could be said for a lot of LA culture. The artisans of LA create from what they see hear and touch. Though there may be a bit more meaning, you cannot escape the direct connection from the lives that they live.

This is why I listen to country. Because although I am always caught in the dream of a tomorrow that will never come. Even though I want to create these extravagant adventures and believe in a love story worth sharing. Really life is simple, and I love the simplicity, but I need help staying grounded. So hand me the gluten free beer and the rustic guitar and lets talk about the cheese in the fridge, the mice in the barn, dust on our boots, and the sun on her hair.

Listening to God

I have asked many pastors how we know when we hear the voice of God. We are encouraged to seek him and desire him and to follow his will for our lives. Most of those who profess to be Christians want to follow his will.
Maybe I am alone in this, but often I find it difficult to differentiate between what I think may be the pulling of the Holy Spirit, and the weird food and hot sauce I just ate. Or simple mood swings. Sometimes I am told that I am just not close enough to God and that I will ‘know’.
There are times when I will admit I have felt the move of God. The actions I was lead to do and the “crazy-random-happenstance” that ensued that was more than just coincidence was evidence. I don’t discount that. However, the very next day I have moments where I am just not sure and I will never know. It could just be a gut feeling.
Generally we are encouraged as evangelicals to spend more time on our knees in prayer until we have a solid answer. To pray and listen until God moves. Usually the implication is you will just ‘know’, it sounds rather mystical to me.
I posit that God works in much more mysterious and wonderful ways than just providing a feeling.  He talked to Adam and Abraham face to face, to his kinds through prophets, to his prophets… well not sure how, to Moses through a burning bush, and to Balam through an ass.
Our God is creative. He can communicate a direction or a message through a friend, a book, a thought, a prayer, or even a prophetic message. Perhaps we should expand our faith, and importantly, our view of God’s communication and creativity to include, however he wants to communicate. When you seek to hear God, remember to look for him in whatever way he chooses to show up. The Israelite’s were expecting a warrior, and he showed up humble lowly.

Teach Those in the Church to Serve Outside the Church

I have almost always been involved in some sort of church service or activity. As a small child I attended Sunday school. When I was in college I helped with a small youth group, and after graduation I taught high school and Jr. High. During the week I brought all of my bible college education to the bible studies I attended and attempted as much as possible to help share what I had learned. When I stopped teaching high school and Jr. High I began teaching a young adults bible study.

In total it was three to four years of being involved (with some gaps) directly in church ministry where I got to see the Lord work and people grow in their understanding of God. Then I got promoted to a full time position at UPS. The work hours have since prevented me from being very involved in any sort of small church ministry. Made worse I stayed in hotels at least two hours away for work during the week making attending the same bible study as my home church impossible.

I feel the pull and the desire to see the work of the Lord in the people of God. I love seeing the growth and sharing the truth of God with others. But at times that has turned into an idolization. Serving in church was a standard by which I judged my life. Since I was not directly involved I judged my life inadequate. Lacking. “God what would you have me do?” I would constantly ask. If my actions weren’t directly connected to his body where organizational growth and change was visible, I had problems seeing the value in my actions.

The idolization of being involved in church as the ideal work of the Lord is unhealthy and wrong. Do we need to be involved in “church” yes. We need to have deep close caring relationships with brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is a biblical expectation. The church is supposed to support and lift each other up, bear one another’s burdens and love each other deeply. However, judging my contribution to the Lord’s work based upon my involvement in church is false and unhelpful.

“Lord what shall I do?”

“Feed my sheep” is always the reply. Been that way for years. I always thought that meant his sheep in the structure of the modern church. Ironically now that I am still and listen, the pull I have on my heart is to teach those in the church how to serve God outside of the church.

The Lord is seeking to redeem all aspects of our lives. Our work, our play, our words and even our social media. I want to be one that shows the church (that is all my brothers and sisters that profess faith in Christ) how we are to redeem our lives before God. Now I often become overly technical and analyze every little deed and word, and I will write to that end. However, it is also true that to an extent we must commit our ways to the Lord and let him work in our lives. Enjoying his creation is just as important as carefully choosing how we live.

Tuesday will be blogs on redeeming every part of our lives.