Tag Archives: Christianity

Itch-Scratching Christianity

 

Text:  Mark 10:46-52                                                                                      

I’m sure you’ve seen the ad on TV where the elderly lady has fallen and is yelling “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”    It is an advertisement for a Life Line button and support system.    Many people laugh at the ad—-and it is a little over-acted—-but if you have been in that position you would not find it laughable

    The word “help” is one of the hardest words for Americans to voice.   Most people would rather crawl out into the street than call for help.   There are many reasons for this.  

  • We were never taught how to ask for help and have few role models to follow.
  • We love our independence and the “American Way” is to be a “rugged individualist”, taking care of our own problems.
  • We are afraid to ask as we’d rather die than have people think we can’t take care of ourselves.
  • We are afraid that we will “bother” people with our requests. I have been told many times by parishioners that “I didn’t want to bother you with my problem, as I know you are very busy.”   To which I always respond by saying—-if I’m ever too busy to stop and share people’s problems, then I should get out of the ministry!

Blind Bartimeaus had no such qualms about asking for help, and his story teaches us a lesson about asking for help and the meaning of faith and trust.    The greatest lesson he teaches us is that God’s healing should lead to discipleship. 

 Have you ever been completely unable to see?    Although I haven’t experienced it, it must be terrifying. To not be able to see is to be completely vulnerable.   To not be able to see means you have to trust others to help you and to look out for you.    In one of my courses in  Counseling Psychology, one of the exercises we did to experience the need for trust was a trust exercise where a person stood behind us and we closed our eyes and fell backward.   It required trust of the one who would catch you for otherwise you would end up with a very large bump on the back of your head.    Another exercise asked us to blindfold ourselves and let someone lead us through an unknown territory.    We were completely dependent on the person leading us to keep us from stumbling and falling over various obstacles in our path.   It gave me a glimpse of what blindness would be like.

  Blind people have much to teach us about trust and faith—-and the blind beggar Bartimeaeus teaches us about faith and trust through his story that we read in the Gospel of Mark today.

Bartimaeus was a blind beggar.    He had no choice of what to do, as begging was the only way to provide for himself.     He was sitting by the roadside as the crowd  of Jesus and his disciples  approached as they made  their way out of Jericho going up to Jerusalem.    When he heard that Jesus was about to pass by, without hesitation and without any sense of embarassment, Bartimaeus began to shout:   “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”    The crowd around him may have thought that he was making a scene and tried to silence him,, but he continued to shout until Jesus asked that he be brought to him.   Bartimaeus was blind and the only way he could hope for a productive life was to regain his sight.   He knew his need, but notice that he didn’t lead with his need for sight, but rather his need to be seen by Jesus.  

He shouted “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner”  and not “have mercy on me,   a blind man.”  Bartimaeus seemed to understand that his vision was not only clouded but that he needed spiritual healing as well.   He opened himself to the possibility that his healing might be physical or spiritual, with an outside chance that it might be both.  

 One of the first things I learned in counseling psychology was that people have a “presenting problem” and an underlying “real problem.”    Bartimaeus seemed to realize that while his “presenting problem” was blindness; his “real problem” might be more than physical blindness.   He cried “have mercy on me, a sinner!”  He realized that Jesus could do something about the things that bind him, as well as blind him.And Jesus responded by asking him:   “What do you want me to do for you.”?   And Bartimaeus responded by saying:  “My teacher, let me see again.”   (not “heal my blindness”)  and Jesus responded:  “Go, your faith has made you well.”   (The Greek word for “healing” can also be translated “saving”).   God’s healing saves us.  And immediately his sight was restored and he followed Jesus as a disciple on the Way to Jerusalem in grateful response.    He had more than his eyesight restored—-he was saved by the contact with Jesus.    God healed him through Jesus both physically and spiritually.

And this is where we have a problem today.    I fear that too many Christians are “healed” and then just go on their way and not on The Way of Jesus in discipleship. Once we have been healed we go the way that so many people in Jesus day went—on their own way,  not on the way of discipleship.  Think of all the people Jesus healed—-the leper in Galilee, the roof-destroying friends of the paralytic; the man with a withered hand, the Gerasene demoniac,  the 7 lepers (  only one of whom returned to thank Jesus); and so on and on.   They were healed and went their way and never are heard of again in scripture.    Blind Bartimaeus was different—-he followed Jesus as a disciple on the way to Jerusalem and death and resurrection.

       And this is the problem that we have in our present times.     The church as the body of Christ on earth has been turned into an “itch-scratcher”.     There is a church I read about with a large sign in front of it that illustrates my point.

      One week the advertisement was “Lonely?” then come to our church.  The next week the sign said:   “Depressed?”   Come to our church.   “Anxious?”    Come to our church.   Every week a different malady.   Every week the promise that Jesus could fix it. 

      This is what I call a “Where-does-it-itch” style of Christian ministry.   You tell us, the church, where you itch, what needs you have, the  church exists to scratch where you itch.   An example of this is given by preacher William Willimon, recalling a conference he was at where the speaker, a well known television evangelist said:   “God wants to meet every one of your needs in life.   Whatever your heart desires, bring it to the Lord in prayer”.   He then illustrated this conviction of divine beneficence by telling of a woman of his acquaintance who, when she had been unable to find a part of her favorite red shoes, prayed to God and….there were her shoes, right under her bed!

     Our church here wants to grow—-and it is tempting to do as one church grown consultant wrote:   “Go out into your neighborhood and find out what people need.   Child care?   Elder care?   After school programs?   Then begin those programs.   Churches who meet needs grow.”    

     And many of our churches do this and wonder why the people whose needs they provided for don’t become a part of their church.   Jesus could have asked the same question—-all of the people who Jesus helped—-where were they?    They went on their way—many times without saying thank you to Jesus.  

What churches need to do is not just “scratch the itch” but to make disciples of those whose needs they are trying to meet.   What people in the world today need is not “fixing” but transformation as they relate to God and follow the way that Jesus walked                                                                                                      

Persons who have been touched by Jesus healing and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  cannot just be “takers” but also need to be “givers”.    If you have truly been touched by the salvation and healing of God and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, you will do the same thing that Bartimaeus did—–you will follow on the Way.   Bartimaeus alone among the other hurting, oppressed, victimized, suffering, hungry ones, became a disciple.   He had the ability to see, even when he couldn’t see, what Jesus was really about. 

The story of the healing and the response of Bartimaeus invites us to ask:   What do I want from Jesus?   We look at Jesus, and too many of us see him as a solution to all our problem, freedom from our aches and cares, a magic want waved over our lives to fix everything.  Too many of our churches begin with the selfish invitation to let Jesus fix our needs and never follow through with the selfless invitation to love and serve God and our neighbor as ourselves.   Jesus makes a claim on our lives.   This is the same Jesus that said:   “He who would be first must be the servant of all.”    This is the Jesus who said:   “He who would save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”    This is the Jesus who said:   “If anyone would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”   The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross.    It is the way of discipleship.

     The real questions here are:  Is Jesus our Lord, or our errand boy?   Are we his faithful followers or only his pestering clients?      A better question to ask is:   What does Jesus want from us.    And the answer Bartimaeus gives us—-follow Jesus on The Way.  

     What is “The Way”?    

It is the way of discipleship.    It is calling us to a life of service.    It is the way that Jesus walked when he was on earth.   It is the way of LOVE of God and neighbor and not just yourself.

     There is a great gap between meeting people’s needs and calling them to discipleship.   The churches that truly grow are the ones that invite people to discipleship—-to a transforming relationship with God through Christ.   Amen

                                                                               

 

 

                                                                                                       

 

Being a Church Member

 

Are you a member of our church?   Have you “joined” our church?   Before you answer the question I want to share Donald T. Williams definition of “Member” in his Devil’s Dictionary of the Christian Faith:    “Member (n.) One of the individuals who allegedly make up the roster of a given Congregation (q.v.)  Less than one half of them can usually be found or accounted for.”    A  Congregation, according to Williams is:  ” church-speak for Audience; those who show up for the entertainment offered on any given Sunday.”   Note well that in neither of these definition does the word “Christian”, or “disciple of Jesus”, or “followers of Jesus on the Way” show up.   Nope—just “member”.

While William’s definitions are  obviously a “tongue-in-cheek” way of poking fun at churches who are a little too proud of the large number on their membership rolls; there is more truth in the above definitions  than we would like to think.  There are many on our church rosters who are not followers of Jesus nor Christians in any sense of the word. They are ones who “joined the church” , were baptized, etc. and went through the expected rituals, and then left and will never be seen again—-until they or a loved one are diagnosed with a terminal disease, or die unexpectedly.   Then they or their families will expect the pastor of the church they “joined” to give them solace and hold their funerals.   Many times as a pastor I was taken by surprise to read in an obituary that someone I had neither seen nor heard of  was a member of my church!

That’s been the perennial problem caused by the idea of  church membership.   Church membership seems to mislead people into thinking that becoming a church members makes them a Christian!.    It may well be—but it may not, also!

Another aspect of this perennial problem with “church membership”  is that it leads  people to think that they are  “in” and those who are not “members” are “out.”   This type of exclusivity is not Christian.   It is not what Jesus taught nor the way he ministered.   Surely anyone who has read a Gospel knows that the poor, the vulnerable, the blind, the leper, the victimized were the ones for which he showed priority concern.  Never once did he say, you have to join my church to be my follower.  No, you just followed him and modeled your life after him and his teachings.  That’s what made you Jesus’ disciple.

   Church membership as required  is not what Paul wrote about.  True, he founded churches so that they could mutually sustain each other in the midst of persecution.  I believe Paul would say that church membership alone is just a variant of  the old temple-system of Jesus time revived with its Court of the Gentiles, Court of the Women, Court of the Jews and the Holy of Holies that only priests could enter.   One of the reasons Jesus attacked that system was its exclusivity.    Paul likewise criticized in his teachings and his ministry those who tried to make Christianity exclusive—e.g. those who said you must become a good Jew and observe the Jewish Torah and customs, including food customs and male circumcision,   before you can be a Christian.  Paul wrote that  God gives his saving Love and Grace to all—not just to those who have their names on church rolls.

“Membership” is good if it unites people in the body of Christ (the words used by Paul to describe the church) and therefore enables them as the body of Christ to do things that a single individual could not do in serving God and walking in “The Way”.    Its the actions of  all the individuals that make up the body  that show they are followers of Christ—not their individual name on a membership roster of a church.

Who cares if you are a “member of the church”?    That’s not the question.   A better question to ask is “Are you walking with Jesus on the Way?” 

 

The Scandal of Poverty

 

In May of 2012 UNICEF reported that of the world’s developed countries, the United States had the second highest rate of child poverty, with more than 23 percent of its kids officially living below the poverty level.   Only Romania, still struggling to shed itself of the awful legacy left by Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship had worse numbers.

Sasha Abramsky, in his excellent book on poverty, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives, emphasizes in his Introduction that poverty is not the  problem—-we have the means, technology, and ways to deal with it.   He says that in the United States poverty is a “scandal“. not a “problem“.   It is a moral scandal that a rich country like the U.S. produces the statistics reported above by UNICEF.

As Abramsky says:  “As long as people think “poverty” is the problem, they’re missing the whole point.   Poverty is evidence of a problem; it’s not the source of the problem….The galloping poverty in the United States is evidence of a retreat from democratic beliefs and practices.”   Some refer to poverty  as being like the “canary in a mine“.    Such widespread poverty in such a rich country is a warning of severe problems with our democracy in not providing for the “common welfare” that is demanded by the Preamble to the Constitution.   It is a warning that something is terribly wrong with our political and economic system’s developments in the past few years that allows this to happen.

Pope Francis recently framed the moral scandal of poverty in the U.S. when he said:   “We have created new idols.   The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”  

Robert Reich, former Secretary  of Labor under President Clinton adds:   “The moral crisis of our age has nothing to do with gay marriage or abortion.   It’s insider trading, obscene CEO pay, wage theft from ordinary workers, Wall Street’s gambling addiction, corporate payoffs to friendly politicians, and the billionaire takeover of our democracy.”

I know in these posts I  have pointed to poverty and homelessness many times and you may be tired of hearing about it —-So what are we as Christians going to do about it?  What can we do?     I make these recommendations:

First:   Read Sasha Abramsky’s book, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives.       This is a well researched look at Poverty and updates the work by Michael Harrington, The Other America,   that inspired the 1960’s War on Poverty.   Sadly, the situation is worse 50 years later than it was when Harrington wrote.  
In the first half of his book Abramsky’s details the statistics as well as the human face of poverty today.   In the second half, he gives well thought out solutions that are doable—-if the moral and political will is there.

We have been brainwashed by our politicians to blame poverty on the poor.   We have been told that people are poor because they are lazy, lack ambition, are drug users, alcoholics, etc.   Feature Governor Brownback, who during the last campaign said  that “People don’t have to be poor, they need to get a job?” That is Brownback’s cure for poverty—get a job!

While this may be true in a few cases, how about elderly poor?   How about those who are unable to work because of physical problems that limit them?   How about those who are mentally challenged?    How about children?    Many people are caught in a trap from which the laws and the economic system do not allow escape.

We as Christians and as a church must view the human face of poverty in all its aspects.    We need to establish a relationship with the poor of our country—-get to know them and the problems they face every day and how hard so many of them try to escape from poverty and seem to be thwarted at every turn.   One example-—the young woman who is laid off from her job, loses her apartment, is not able to find another job because of poor education and skill.   She has children—-and to improve her chances for a job she needs to go to a community college.   She not only can’t afford the tuition but also can’t afford child care?   And yet we let our legislators in Congress jeer at President Obama’s call for free tuition for those who maintain a C average in Community Colleges and free childcare while they are attending.  As Republican leader, John Boehner said—that bill will be “dead on arrival”.

Second:   As a church,  develop a sense among our members as to the causes and the extent of poverty in your community.    As a church and as individuals, take action to change the  climate that blames poverty on the individuals rather than on the fact that features of our present political and economic system do not help those in poverty, but make their problems worse.

Third:    As individuals and as a church find ways to challenge the present political system that, at present, operates on the principle that  those with money fund the political process and elect those who will favor their own selfish interest.     A democratic system will seek the common good—-those we now elect are manipulated by the money needed for advertising to be elected and in return will pass laws that benefit those who support them with the needed cash.   If you don’t have money you don’t have any political influence.   Those with enough money can manipulate the voters to vote the way they want them to with enough half-truths told enough times on costly TV ads.  Who speaks for the poor in the halls of the Kansas legislature and the U.S. Congressional leadership?   Very few!

When poverty flourishes as a direct result of actions taken  or not taken by political and economic leaders, then search for the reasons that is so.   How do the present laws and economic system keep people in poverty from helping themselves?  Hang around some poor people and they will quickly and accurately fill you in on this question.  We tell people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and then cut off the straps or take their boots away from them!

The above three recommendations should get the churches and Christians started to thinking about the scandal of poverty.  Christians and Christian Churches have a responsibility for maintaining the moral backbone of our people in this country.   If Christians and the churches do not stand together as a voice for the Way of Jesus today that gives priority to the marginalized, the poor, the outcasts, the homeless, the hungry of our society,  then who will be that voice?  Together, churches can make a vast impact on the scandal of poverty today.   It will not be easy—the causes of poverty are many and varied.   But the churches can work to end the needless scandal of poverty in the U.S. if they have the will and  love for God and for neighbor that is at the core of the Christian faith!

 

Congregational Myopia….

Myopia is a vision problem where close objects are seen clearly, but objects further away are blurred.   It is commonly called “near-sightedness.”   Some congregations show the same symptoms when they are unable to see    no further than themselves.     When this happens, in my opinion,   the congregation stops being church and the congregation begins to die as they turn inward and away from the community in which they are located and to which they are sent to be God’s witnesses.   These congregations  have lost something very important—-their vision.   What do I mean by “vision”?   The church’s vision is what we see as the purpose of  being a church–that is the reason for which we exist.  It is our answer to the question ” Why are we here?”    What is true for congregations  is also true for each  individual Christian.   Why are we Christians ?  What is our purpose?   When we name Jesus as Lord and are baptized to show the world our commitment—-how are we changed and transformed?   What vision do we have to fulfill as a Christian?   Is there a difference between us and other non-Christians ?.     If we have no vision as individual Christians it will result in a collection of Christians (a congregation) also not having a vision!

I have been working with a church to help them evaluate where they are on the congregational life-cycle (See Bullard, Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation).   During a recent meeting with 12 to 15  of the “spiritual leaders” of the congregation we noted the place their church was on in the life-cycle.   They decided the  congregation has started on the downward slope (Maturity on the life cycle) where the first thing lost is Vision as the driving force for the congregation.   Sure enough, when I asked if they knew what the vision statement of their congregation  was, not one of these “spiritual leaders” knew  the answer!    They did find a vision statement in the part of the constitution that described what their responsibilities were—-but decided it was hopelessly out of date—-forgotten, and so lengthy no one could quite understand it completely.   They realized they needed to “re-vision” based on their current time and place.

As I pondered the problem of a congregation that does not have a vibrant vision that guides them, I wondered how they could still be a church and not just a nice social organization.    As I searched for why they had lost a vision for their church  my mind led me  to wonder  if I had asked them for a personal vision for themselves as Christians, what their answer might be.   The formula to explain lack of vision may be:    Lack of individual Christian vision = lack of congregational vision.   We have found the problem and it is us!! (to borrow from Pogo)

I believe that the church is should exist  to transform lives.   Congregations should exist to change individual lives, to deepen discipleship to Jesus the Christ, and to thus set about changing the current world to be more like God’s passion, described by Jesus in the Gospels as the Kingdom of God .   Any vision that is does not include the above is myopic.   We are here as individual Christians and as a church to make a difference in people’s lives and in our world.   We are here as a church to carry out Jesus’ ministry and mission that he described in the synagogue in Nazareth:   “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   (Lk. 4:18-19)  

fWe are sent to do the same.    To bring “good news” to the poor.    To speak in their behalf.   To end the unfairness that our present laws put upon them.  We are to challenge the causes of poverty, not just feed the poor.   We are to speak out for health care for them—not just sit back and let the extension of medicaid in Kansas die because the governor doesn’t like President Obama’s Health Care Act which is the law of the land.   We are sent by God through the example of Jesus to make concrete differences in the lives and well-being of our fellow human beings.    To make sure all are treated fairly as God’s children.   TO DO THIS WE HAVE TO  ACT, NOT JUST SIT QUIETLY IN OUR CHURCH PEWS ON SUNDAY MORNING ONCE A WEEK AND ALLOW INJUSTICE TO REIGN IN OUR COUNTRY UNCHALLENGED.  

It was said of early followers of Jesus, specifically of Paul and Silas, by the citizens of Thessalonica :   “….these people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…”(See Acts 17: 5-8)

What have the churches done lately to “turn the world upside down.”   What have we done to  carry out Jesus’ Great Commandment?  What have we done to continue the ministry he described?   We as congregations cannot “turn the world upside down” if we stay within our walls and never open the door and go into the world outside and challenge the powers that be to create a world that is fair and good for everyone, not just the chosen few in the name of Jesus the Christ.   To turn the world upside down will mean to take risks.    It will mean that we will dream God’s dream and work for it to become effective in our place and time.

It is a matter of clearly seeing what God wants the world to be like by reading Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God in the gospels and then setting out to bring  that about.    As stated in the book of Proverbs:    “Without vision the people perish.”     Congregations with myopia who can’t see anything but themselves and their comfort also perish!    They really have no reason to continue existence.   Amen.

 

Acting Christian

It was a cold winter day when Mary  decided to go into a McDonalds for breakfast.    The restaurant was crowded and as she waited in one of the lines, she noticed that the other lines were long and hers was short.   In fact, people were moving away from her line to get in other lines.   Soon she recognized what was going on.   Toward the front of her line were two homeless men.   They hadn’t shaved in days, their hair was matted and dirty, and they “reeked” of body odor.    They were being ignored by the waitress and were trying to come up with enough money to buy a cup of coffee.   They were obviously hungry and cold.  Mary stepped forward to the two men in spite of the smell and asked them if she could help them.    They were very grateful and asked if she could help them get a cup of coffee to warm themselves.    Mary said, I am here to have breakfast, so why don’t I just buy breakfast for all of us and we will share it together.   She did so, paid for it and went to a table with the two men to eat with them.

The men, who were used to being ignored, threatened, or completely shunned by other people, were amazed.    They couldn’t believe this was happening to them!  One of them asked Mary for a hug and she gave each of them one as tears ran down their faces.   One said:   It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a hug.  Why are you doing this for us?        Mary told them  “I am a follower of Jesus, and I know that God loves each of you—-and so do I.  I’m just doing what I think Jesus would do”.

Jesus began his ministry, according to the Gospel of Luke, at his home synagogue in Nazareth.   He defined the purpose of his ministry  in the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.      And after rolling up the Scroll he told the synagogue crowd:   “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God and showed us that God was a God of love and mercy.  He didn’t just tell us that, he showed it by what he did.   Jesus healed the sick;  he opened the eyes of the blind; he raised the dead; he advocated for the poor and the helpless , the outcasts and the discarded in his culture.   Mary (above) was right.   What she did was what Jesus would have done because that is what he did when he walked this earth.

In our world today we see and hear much about Christianity.    Jesus is talked about a lot.In polls, 85% of us in the U.S. say we are Christians.  Of that number two thirds say they’ve made a personal commitment to Jesus.   Posters on FaceBook say “Like if you love Jesus”.    Tee shirts, bumper stickers, posters, all tell of love for Jesus.    Talk is cheap.    Words do not transform people. Actions do!     The Epistle of James gives this good counsel:   “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

Richard Rohr describes our “Christian” nation  well in his book Jesus’ Plan for a New World:    “We keep worshiping the messenger.   Keeping Jesus up on statues and images, so we can avoid what Jesus said.   It’s the best smokescreen in the world!   We just keep saying, “We love Jesus”    The more we talk about Jesus the less we’ll do what he said.”

Jesus told his disciples as he journeyed to Jerusalem where he would be put to death, and he says the same to any of us who want to follow him today:   “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”   (Mark 8:34)

Be doers of the word and not hearers only!  This world would be a better place if all of those who say they are Christians acted like Christians.

Living the American Dream or Nightmare?

Living the “American Dream” is defined these days as to “be rich in material things.”  And our society is blessed with comforts and material things that are  the envy of the world.    However, the “American Dream” may also become the “American Nightmare”!!  These may be the “best of times” but they are also“the worst of times” for our American Culture.

  • Never has a culture experienced such comfort and riches or such massive poverty and lack of opportunity.
  • Never has technology given us so many household conveniences, or such terrible instruments of destruction.
  • Never have we been so able to communicate in so many different ways, and never felt so disconnected from others and so lonely.
  • Never have we been so free and never have our prisons been so full.
  • Never have we been so sophisticated about relationships, or so likely to suffer broken or miserable relationships.
  • Never have we had so much self-knowledge and the desperation to search  for “who we are.”

It  unfortunately has always been true that the church has mirrored the culture and it is true today,.  As a part of the church in this culture, we who are trying to be disciples of Jesus are struggling  to establish our identity as his disciples and as his church.   We are doing so  and searching for “who we are” as Christians and for what is of ultimate importance for us to build our lives upon and meet our needs.   As we search, all around us we are hearing the cultural  message “look out for  Number 1”,  the message to “buy, buy, buy” to fulfill the needs  of “number 1”.      Yet, if we heed those messages we find less satisfaction, less joy, and less happiness than we were told we would have.     People who have based their lives on “bottom-line living”—where the only thing that counts is the bottom-line tally—are finding themselves “bottoming out”.   Gradually their devotion to a “god of more” just doesn’t seem like enough!

The “Me Generation” that leads our culture  needs to discover that it is “not about me”!    As Max Lucado writes:  “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy.   Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness?   I want a spouse who makes  me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion.  I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me (but doesn’t cost me any taxes).  It is all about me.”  (Lucado, It’s Not About Me”)   Italics mine.

There are some basic questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • To what should we be committing our life?
  • What is worthwhile and lasting?
  • For what should we strive?
  • What is worth giving our life for?
  • How can the church change the culture rather than reflect it?
  • What is my role in this change as a Christian?

Culture can be compared to a symphony orchestra.    When all of the players play  their parts to perfection, beautiful music is produced under the watchful eye of the Great Conductor—God.  Each of us contributes our part to making that beautiful music and if you’ve ever been a part of a musical group you know what a pleasure that is.   But if the symphony orchestra decides that “it is all about me” then the result is not beautiful music but a monstrous noise!   Can you imagine an orchestra with an “It’s all about me” outlook held by each separate musician?   Tubas blasting nonstop.  Percussionists pounding on their drums to get attention.    The cellist shoving the flutist off of the center stage chair.   The trumpeter standing on top of the conductor’s platform tooting his horn.   Sheet music disregarded.  Conductor ignored.    Would anyone want to be a part of this group?   Who would enjoy contributing to a monstrous noise that makes people wish to hold their ears?

And yet, we as Christians are tempted to buy into the American Dream that is turning nightmarish.   This dream of material success is based on the “Me Principle”.

Do we want to make beautiful music with our lives or just monstrous noise? Much of the American Nightmare is based on the “Me Principle.”    When we buy into materialism  as individuals and churches we help continue the nightmare.   When we elect politicians that refuse to compromise and work for the common good, we help continue the nightmare.   When we turn away from the problems of our society and turn inward for self-protection we help continue the nightmare.   Is that what you want to do?   Is that what I want to do?   

We as individuals and as churches need to ask ourselves this question:  “What kind of orchestra are we playing in—the one making beautiful music or the one making monstrous noise?

“Fake It Til You Make It!”

“The deepest and most important spiritual lessons I ever learned came from a circle of drunks, fighting desperately not to drink today, whom I initially viewed as “low-life losers”, and who ultimately came to be for me the “oracles of God”.

This is a statement from a graduate of an evangelical college and seminary, who feels he never really understood the Christian faith until he went through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.   He writes:

“I experienced the gospel of Jesus Christ in dramatic ways.   I learned that God is wildly at work in healing, redemptive, saving ways that were way outside the confines of the evangelical church.”

He continued:   “The 12 Steps in no way diminished my appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ—quite the contrary—I am more convinced than ever of the reality of the gospel story.

The AA practices of self-awareness, honesty, forgiveness, and reconciliation led this person to find a new life in Christ.   In other words, practices transformed him.

Diana Butler Bass, who recounts the above story of a college classmate of hers in her book A People’s History of Christianity, remarks:   “Alcoholics Anonymous  teaches addicts to “fake it until you make it.”   “Translating this insight,” Bass says, “into Christian spirituality,  if you act like a Christian you might just become one.”    (p. 297, A People’s History of Christianity)

Long ago, in the 16th century, a man by the name of Menno-Simons, the founder of the Mennonite and Amish forms of Christianity, wrote:

True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.

It clothes the naked.

It feeds the hungry.

It comforts the sorrowful.

It shelters the destitute.

It serves those that harm it.

It binds up that which is wounded.

It has become all things to all people.