Tag Archives: discipleship

Merit Badge Religion

Most of us think that in some way we must do something to earn God’s love and forgiveness in order to become a Christian and qualify for heaven after we die.  I like to refer to that as “Merit Badge” religion and  it has little to do with what Jesus taught and lived.  When I was a Boy Scout leader, the boys who won the coveted rank of Eagle Scout were those who won a large number of  merit badges and completed a useful project for the community. It was what they knew and what they were able to do that won the award.  “Merit badge religion” is the result of the church being taken over by the American culture.   In this culture we attain superiority  by competing well: by being the most knowledgeable and highest educated; by improved morality and improved behavior.  We worship success in our culture  and believe that we get what  we deserve  by what we work hard for and therefore are worthy of.

We have transferred these same principles to our churches.  So to have the right informed knowledge about God; to  know the Bible through deep study  and to  behave morally and ethically according to its perceived teachings;   and to practice the  correct rites  of worship,  communion,  baptism,  plus giving our money in acts of  stewardship we will competitively qualify for heaven . We earn it.  It  is by what we know and what we do  that qualifies us.    And therein is the problem .Note I refer to it as “religion”  not “Christianity”

 

Our Christian spiritual lives and our churches are too often  based on this same sort of religious meritocracy. For example:

  • Being able to recite Bible memory verses
  • Going to church every Sunday
  • Attending Sunday school
  • Having the “correct beliefs” by understanding and defending the church’s creed
  • Being a “good” person
  •  Praying
  • Being baptized in the “correct” way
  • Taking communion
  • t These are admirable, I will concede, but none will earn us a seat at the Lord’s table in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus makes it very clear that ONLY GOD’S GRACE can do that and it has already been given to us.  All we need to do is be aware of God’s saving love and forgiveness.   It is freely given and there is no way God’s Grace can be earned.

The problem with “Merit Badge” Christianity is that it bases our entry into God’s Kingdom on what we do  and as the New Testament says and Jesus proclaimed it is all up to God’s grace.   “Merit Badge” Christianity says we must work, labor, sweat and learn, and do more to gain a place in God’s Kingdom. The opposite is true! God gives us his Kingdom. Nothing we do on our own can gain us entrance.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are the brightest and the best”

He said:   “Blessed are the poor for to them is the Kingdom of God”.

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Churches Survive by Saying “Yes” to new ideas

If you want your church to survive and see the next decade, figure out how to say “yes” to new ideas.  

I still receive newsletters from many of the churches I’ve served, and when I do I always check two things:  (1)  The calendar of activities ; and (2) the attendance figures, if given.

As I look at the calendar of activities I am saddened to see the same things that they were doing when I was there—10, 15, 20 years ago are being done today.   Same old, same old. year after year after year!   As I look at attendance, it is steadily dwindling for these churches  And church membership rolls are losing more to death than gaining new Christians.

There is a connection between the above two.  I believe that the only way to turn things around is for the church to start saying “yes” to some new ideas.    Actually the ideas are not new at all.    Somehow between now and the time Jesus spent on earth the church has forgotten the message that Jesus brought. Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming something new—The Kingdom of God on earth—a new and transforming way to live according to the principles found in the gospels  and his life and ministry that was summarized in the Beatitudes in Mathew.   His message about living in the Kingdom was a complete turning upside down of all the rules and regulations and greed and hatred and exclusiveness of the temple religion and the way people related to each other at his time —it was the  good news,  a gospel of love of God, neighbor.  Jesus message proclaimed that God loved all peoples, especially the poor, the widow, the outsider, the excluded, the homeless, the sick,, the mentally ill, foreigners, those at the “bottom of the barrel in society.

Those disciples and early Christians who followed Jesus attempted to live out these ideas.    That is why we read in Acts that religious authorities were complaining about them—“these Christians have turned the world upside down.

Groups of followers of Jesus gathered together and received the Holy Spirit and then were guided by that Spirit of God in all that they did.      They gathered often  to help each other live out the “Great Commandment” that Jesus said summed up all the foregoing law and prophets:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;  and your neighbor as yourself!.    They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts speaks often of Jesus’s followers being “filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples that  would come after he departed the earth and would be their counselor and their guide and inspiration.     Filled with this Spirit, from the day of Pentecost,    the disciples and the early church  did things that seemed impossible, for example—Peter, who had denied Jesus in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial,  boldly proclaimed  the resurrection and the Kingdom of God at the risk of his life.   Followers of Jesus  endured persecution and death in order to stay faithful to this one, Jesus, who had changed and transformed their lives, and worked together to spread the good news of God’s transforming love and the new way of living in the Kingdom of God.

What we need to say “yes”  to is the Holy Spirit.   We need to say “yes” to welcoming the Spirit into our lives individually.   We need churches who say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and look toward the Spirit’s guidance.   The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and churches  that are full of the Spirit of God are churches that survive and grow because they are not into religion but into transformation.

In a world full of challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion.   We cannot contain God’s Spirit in such boxes as we build and call churches.     They are not churches—-they are buildings.  Jesus did not come to build a new religion, but that is what we have done.   Instead of following him on the Way we have turned Jesus into a religion.   As Rohr says:   ” We worshipped Jesus instead of following Him on the same path”

Jesus transformed lives on a hillside,  in a house, wherever people gathered.   He reached out to ALL people and told them and showed them that God loved them not just in words but in actions showing the love..  To be loved by God is to be transformed, and to be transformed is to reach out to others in God’s name and seek their transformation.

When the church accepts the “new” idea that their mission is one of changing and transforming lives and sees it’s mission as one of changing and transforming the lives of those around them by  following the teachings and example of Jesus, then, as in Acts:   “the Lord will add daily to their numbersl

Congregations that are full of God’s Spirit are full of people!

What We MIss in the Magnificat….

As we near the Christmas Season,   we read he words of Mary, the mother of Jesus,  as she reflected on the blessing that had been given her to be the mother of the Messiah.    We seem to always  concentrate on the opening words:   “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.   Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed.”   But we somehow have missed what she then said about the coming Savior:   “He has show strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.   He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty…

In case we missed what Mary said,  Luke also reports Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry:   “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 he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.   The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   Then he began to say to them,  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:18-21)

Jesus life and ministry was a mission dedicated to carrying out the above.    How have we as Christians through the centuries failed to see what Jesus was about?   How have we missed the major thrust of his ministry?     Why have we utterly failed to continue this mission?    

As I approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I look out on my own state (Kansas) which is supposed to governed by professed Christians.    I see poverty that is growing worse each year.   I see adults working two and three jobs to provide for their children and not being able to do so because of low wages and part time employment with no benefits.  I see a state legislature and governor who have refused to extend Medicaid to thousands who have no health insurance who are suffering needlessly because of that. I see a governor and legislator who have refused to raise the minimum wage so that working people can live on what they earn.    I see children and adults who are homeless.   I see thousands of children going to bed hungry each night, if they have a bed.   AND I ASK—-WHERE ARE THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS?   Why have they not stood up to the powers that cause all of this suffering?   Where is the voice of “the crucified one” demanding that those who have the power to change this picture do so?    Where are we?

We are sitting in comfortable churches.   We have joined the “powers that be” rather than bringing them down to deal with the desperate condition of many in our state.    Not a single voice has been heard from the church and Christians demanding that Medicaid be extended.   Not a single church has demanded that the minimum wage be raised.   The church and Christians have remained silent in the face of the poverty and suffering all around them.

The Magnificat speaks of the change that the society will experience because of the birth of the Messiah.   Centuries later, we who claim to be the “body of Christ” have not brought that change about.    Rather we have joined the forces of the powerful that are causing those conditions of poverty and helplessness to continue and to grow.

WE’VE MISSED JESUS’ ENTIRE POINT, FELLOW CHRISTIANS!!!

 

Milestones

Text:   Ruth 1:1-11

 Life is a Journey! That journey is described in very different ways.   For example, in Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”—-Lear defines the journey of life in this way:   “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” Jesus, on the other hand, told his disciples that He came to bring life and to bring it abundantly to those who follow him.

            The journey of life contains many hardships to endure as well as joys to celebrate.       It contains achievements that reward us for our journey as well as failures that cause us pain. All of these joys, hardships, failures, and successes are milestones that we leave for those who come after us as we go on the journey of life—-they are Milestones —-markers to guide oncoming generations and help them avoid our failures and achieve our successes.   Milestones are the legacy that we leave for those who follow after us to guide their way.

            In this journey of life we are either nomads or pilgrims. What is the difference?   A nomad is a wanderer.   Nomads pay no attention to the milestones and have no goals for where they are going—-and so they wander aimlessly.   They say “I don’t know where I am going, but I’ll get there because I am an individual and no one is going to tell me how to live my life.    A pilgrim follows milestones left by generations before to avoid problems and live a more abundant life.   They take note of the milestones left behind by previous pilgrims.  

That brings us to the story of Ruth that we read as our scripture text today. It is the story of a journey.   The journey begins with a family of Israelites facing a time of famine, and making the decision to move away from the little town of Bethlehem and journey to Moab.   When you think of this famine, think of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Dust Bowl.   The mother in the family was named Naomi and she traveled with her husband and two sons to the land of Moab to survive the famine.   Naomi’s husband died soon after they arrived in Moab, and eventually the two sons married Moabite women—Orpah and Ruth.   After about ten years of marriage the two sons died, leaving Ruth with only her two daughters-in-law.   Since there was no way Naomi could take care of herself and them in Moab, she decided to move back to Bethlehem where she would have the support of her extended family.   She began the journey with Orpah and Ruth, but on further thought, decided that Orpah and Ruth would have the best chance to re-marry if they stayed in Moab, as the Jewish people were quite prejudiced against Moabites. “Go back to your mother’s house” Naomi urged, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.”    Naomi knew that her relatives in Bethlehem had a negative view of Moabite immigrants—you know—-they don’t pay their taxes, they bleed the welfare system dry, they take jobs away from the Jews, and so on as deeply entrenched prejudice always holds—-even today.  

            Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and returned to her family in Moab; but Ruth surprisingly clung to her mother-in-law and refused to go—-saying:   “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.   Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried……”

            To complete the story; God smiled on Ruth’s determination to movie in this new direction and in time Ruth met and married Boaz and they had a son named Obed.   Obed would become the father of Jesse who was the father of David, the greatest king Israel .   And David was the ancestor of the carpenter Joseph of Nazareth who took Mary as his wife and a son was born named Jesus—The Messiah— distantly related to Ruth.—-ALL OF THE ABOVE WERE MILESTONES USED BY GOD THAT POINTED TO JESUS THE CHRIST.!   THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH!

            What we see in Ruth’s story were people on a journey.   Naomi and her family on a journey to Moab; Ruth on a journey with her mother-in-law to a place unknown to her called Bethlehem. All were milestones left along the way toward the destination of the coming of God to earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

 What are milestones?   They are significant places and people through our journey through life who leave behind them a legacy of examples for us to live by.   The idea comes from the book of Joshua.   In the book of Joshua we read that when the entire Hebrew nation had crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, Joshua said:   “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priest’s feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.   …..When your children ask in time to come “What do those stones mean to you? “ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord when it passed over the Jordan. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4) They were called “Milestones”.   And they marked a significant place in the history of the Jewish people’s journey from being slaves in Egypt, through the Wilderness; and finally to the Promised Land.

 On this All Saints Day we look back at the journeys of our loved ones that have departed the earth this past year.   Each of them, if we were to speak to their loved ones who remained behind have left milestones for us to follow.   They have left a legacy concerning how life should be lived.  And we, their loved ones have a share in that legacy and as we journey through life as pilgrims we also will leave milestones behind for those who follow after us. The legacy of a life well-lived.  

   I have only seen two of the legacies or milestones left for us in the person of Frances Campbell and Pop Warner, but all of those named today in our bulletin insert whom we remember in this service have left behind their milestones on their journey through life—their legacies , I am certain.   They are in the hearts and minds of their children, grandchildren, and fellow pilgrims trying to walk the way of Jesus.  

            And all of the saints who have gone before us at Christian and Congregational Church have left their milestones behind for us who follow in their footsteps.   Those who had a dream and founded this church.   Those saints that through the years supported this church and contributed to its impact on the community.   A long line of saints have gone before us in this church and we live today because of their contributions of their lives to their church which is now our church.  

The writer of the Book of Hebrews in the N.T. wrote about the legacy we are left by saints gone before us and the duty we have to follow in their steps:   “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….”   (Heb. 12:1-2)

 An unknown poet points our duty as we follow the milestones of past saints in the present:

 Hold high the torch!

You did not light its glow—

‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.

‘Tis yours to keep it burning bright,

Yours to pass on when you no more need light

For there are other feet that we must guide,

And other forms go marching by our side;

Their eyes are watching every smile and tear

And efforts which we think are not worthwhile

Are sometimes just the very help  they need,

Actions to which their souls would give most heed;

So that in turn, they’ll hold it high

And say, “I watched someone else carry it this way.”

If brighter paths should beckon you to choose,

Would your small gain compare with all you’d lose?

 Hold high the torch!

You did not light its glow—-

‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.

I think it started down its pathway bright,

The day the Maker said: “Let there be light”

And He once said, who hung on Calvary’s tree—

You are the light of the world”…..Go!….. Shine for me!

 

    

 

Blind Faith

 

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 discipes 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 the 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 modern 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.  

     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

                                                                             

 

 

           

 

Who Do YOU Say I Am?

 Scripture: Mark 8:11-28

The final command that Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension was to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded….” We call it the Great Commission.   Luke reports it a little differently in Acts 1:8 and has Jesus final words to his disciples being this:   “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Different words—same essential message.   Disciples of Jesus are to tell the world about Jesus the Risen Messiah and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

The basic question is:   How do we go a about doing that in a world that seems uninterested?

We’ve tried inviting them to church.   No longer works well in the present day of millennials and younger folks.

We’ve tried advertising.   Doesn’t seem to work well any more.

We’ve tried scaring people with messages of eHell and damnation and God’s wrath. They were just turned off– -We have found that and faith and fear doesn’t seem to fit together.   In fact, faith is what cancels out fearo.   And the scare tactics do not attract but drive peopleaway. They don’t have much to do with telling people about Jesus.   So scare tactics are counterproductive.

We’ve tried TV and the social media, including web-pages and blogs.   Not working.

We’ve tried changing our music and worship services to “contemporary” rather than “traditional”.   We’ve tried praise bands and loud music while throwing our pipe organs out the back door.   Turns out it didn’t make much of a difference.

 

WHAT WE HAVE NOT TRIED IS PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM OF GOD THE WAY JESUS DID IT.   What way is that?   Let’s look again at our text for today to answer that question:

            When Jesus asked his disciples the questions in the text today:   Who do people say I am?   And who do you say I am?—-it was near the close of his earthly ministry.   These disciples had followed him, lived with him on a daily basis,   ate with him, shared ministry with him, listened to his teachings.   In the gospel of Mark, Jesus does not ever refer to himself as the Messiah.

            Jesus had kept a low profile on being the Messiah up to this point.   He wasn’t interested in self-promotion and big advertisements in the local papers & Tv..   He published no bumper stickers to place cars advertising who he was.   He hadn’t handed out t-shirts or hats with his face on them.   Jesus, according to Mark’s account, had kept a strict “don’t tell a soul” policy. Jesus referred to himself in Mark as “the son of man”.  

So Peter’s response was based on one thing only—-his experience of JesusWhat Jesus did.   How he acted.  What he taught by his daily life.     From his daily experience of being Jesus follower, Peter discovered who Jesus was—-from his actions more than his words.   When Peter said:   “You are the Messiah!”   it was based on Jesus actions—not just his words. It was based on what Peter had seen as he followed Jesus.

            When Jesus heard Peter’s words, he then began to explain to Peter and the disciples what it meant to be the Messiah   Peter still didn’t fully understand.   He saw Jesus as the messiah—but according to Peter’s definition of “messiah.”   What does “messiah” mean? It harkens back to the Jewish understanding of an “anointed one”.   Anointed by God for a special purpose.   Peter got the word right but substituted his own definition of messiah for the one that Jesus was. It is the Hebrew word for “Christ” (christos) in Greek.

            In the O.T. “messiah” was used to refer to Kings as God’s anointed ones.   As such, in many people’s minds that meant one who God anointed as a conquering hero like David, flushed with success.   But Isaiah gives the word a “different meaning” as he describes the Messiah as being a “suffering servant”.   For Jesus, the “suffering servant” is the vision that is given in Isaiah was the one he sought to fulfill by his life and work.  

           I think in far too many of our churches today we see Jesus in a third way that we have concocted.   Jesus has become a religious market product in today’s world.   There are “Jesus Loves you” smiley beanbag babies; little plastic cross-shaped containers filled with bubbles;   religious pencils; “Jesus is the Light” key chains; “Jesus Lives” rolls of stickers; Lamb of God resin lambs; God erases sin erasers; religious tattoos; pens, posters, etc.   There are bumper stickers saying:

Warning¨ In case of Rapture this car will be driverless; or

“Got God?”

Eternity: smoking or non-smoking?

Jesus is coming, everyone look busy.

There are billboard signs beside our roads advertising Jesus.

 We think we are spreading the word about Jesus with these, but really the only result is they serve to make money for those who sell them. That is because they –do not define the Messiah, God’s suffering servant, God’s anointed   Is it any wonder that people are turned off by all of this?   His “marketing approach” is not a good one for telling the world about Jesus and Gode.  

 We don’t seem to be doing a very good job of telling people about Jesus and God with all the media and paraphanalia we are distributing.

 

Increasingly we hear from the younger generations but more and more from the older generations, that they are searching for God in our churches and not finding God there. They want to deepen their relationship with God.   They say they are “spiritual” not “religious”.   Remember the statistic I gave you last week—-90 of churchgoing adults report that they have never experienced God in church!

So What Do We Do??  

            There are two ways that we can get the word out about Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one of God and the gospel or good news that Jesus brought to humankind about God and his Kingdom:

            The first is by word.   If you were asked what the gospel is, what would your answer be?   If you were asked why it is good news for all people, how would you explain it?? Would you say that Jesus was sent from God with the revelation that God loves all of his creation and that God is not like some person “out there somewhere” but is present in nature and in our daily lives—-whether we recognize God’s presence or not.   Would we say that Jesus revealed a God of love?   Would we say that God is a forgiving God and is like a Father to his children?

            We have to know what we believe about Jesus and God before we can effectively communicate about them to others?

            The second way, and best way is by how we live in God’s Kingdom on earth that Jesus came to proclaim.  

            The sermon on the mount in Matthew communicates “the way” of Jesus.   That’s how we are supposed to be living   Nothing spreads the word better about Jesus’   proclamation of the Kingdom of God on earth and his revelation of God as a God of love and forgiveness than when we as his followers live according to the rules of that Kingdom.     We do this by loving the unlovely; by going the extra mile; by turning the other cheek; by feeding the hungry; by sheltering the homeless; by tending the ill and visiting the dying.

The early church spread rapidly because its followers practiced their beliefs and didn’t just preach!!

As Francis of Assisi said to his monks:   preach constantly, using words only when necessary.

 

I want to close with this story about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time you sped up and went by a car that had cut in on you too quickly and gave him “the universal sign of human friendship”.   Then at the next stoplight you banged your hands on the steering wheel in frustration and honked because the car in front of you didn’t leave quickly enough when the light turned green, then you sped by someone you thought was going to slow and yelled obscenities at them.    

            The lady said—“But officer, none of those are illegal.   I still don’t know why you stopped me!”

            The officer replied:   “Ma’am, I saw the bumper sticker on the back of your car that said “God loves you and so do I”   and I thought that this must be a stolen car.

 

OUR ACTIONS SPEAK SO LOUDLY AT TIMES THAT OTHERS CAN’T HEAR WHAT WE ARE SAYING!   Amen.  

 


 

 

 

 

Termites in our Churches

Do our churches have “church termites”?   Are you one of them?   Termites eat away the structure of a house from within.   Not until the structure is almost a shell does their work begin to show.   “Church termites” are very similar.   Alert!  Alert!   Their work is beginning to show!    Many of our churches are just shells of what they once were.   They have gone from being vibrant, sturdy, and involved  structures meeting the needs of their congregations, community and world, to just shells of what they once were.

What happened?  Of course to answer that question completely  would require a book, but I want to focus on a very subtle thing that has caused much of the destruction of the church—-the existence of “church termites“.  The question is:   What is a “church termite”.   You may not have to look any further than your own mirror to see one!

Just look for a “comfortable Christian” and you’ve found one!   Most churches are full of them. Here are a few ideas of what to look for to find them:

Look for a church that does not challenge its congregation to its mission of practicing the Great Commandment-–in fact that has lost memory of what it’s real mission is about. ( See Matthew 22:36-39 for the great commandment in case your memory is poor in this area).   Carrying out the Great Commandment is not a comfortable thing to do.   The challenge of “loving your neighbor as yourself”  is not a comfortable challenge.   It is a formidable challenge.

Look for a church members who don’t have time to do Bible Studies because they must do other things they consider more important—-almost anything is more important!  The church usually has lowest priority  among the demands for their time and talent and money instead of highest priority.  Termites at work!

Look for church budgets passed by termites that spend most of the money given to the church upon their congregations and very little  on community outreach, social justice for the homeless, or carrying out their mission of proclaiming the good news Jesus proclaimed.      These budgets  prefer making sure everyone of their congregation is sitting in comfortable pews in air conditioned comfort once a week to going into the community in the name of Jesus every day and showing by their life the Way of Jesus.   They prefer improvements to their buildings.   They spend thousands in maintenance and upkeep of their building   and pennies, in comparison, for Week of Compassion,  community outreach,  the poor, the homeless, the outcasts.   More termites at work!

Look for churches who have no children’s Christian  education program because everyone is too busy with other things to teach children about Jesus.   All those people who are too busy are seeking their own comfort, not following Jesus as a disciple, and  are among the termites chewing away on their church.

Jesus did not call his disciples to a life of comfort sitting in a padded pew with air conditioning  and listening to beautiful music.   He called his disciples to serve, telling them that “the greatest among you will be the servant of all.”  .   He called them to follow him into the world of his day.   To heal.   To help.  To proclaim God’s love for all of his creation and his children.   Jesus did not tell them that to be his disciple they had to make sure they were comfortable.   He said that “if you  would be my disciple, you must take up your cross daily  and follow me.”   Carrying a cross is not comfortable.   Following Jesus is not comfortable as he went a lot of places we would prefer not to go.   Most of the members of our congregations would take this challenge by saying—-well, if that’s what you want—count me out!   They are “church termites”.

This attitude of seeking “my comfort” is destroying our churches.   More and more we see the effect of this attitude as our church buildings remain intact and solid but the congregations dwindle and eventually die within their comfortable buildings as the membership thinks only of their comfort and not their mission as a church.   For the church is not a building—it is a living, breathing body of people who seek to become disciples and followers of Jesus, the Christ.   If that is not their purpose then they have no purpose.

Where are your priorities?    Are you a “comfortable Christian”?     Or are you one of the termites that is destroying the church from within?