Tag Archives: God’s Grace

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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Climbing Ladders

There is a drive in all of us to achieve success in our lives.   That is what our ego’s, or as Rohr puts it “our false self” feeds upon.   Seldom do we take time to really define what “success” is.    What is “success” for you?   You will have to answer that question, I can’t.   I have a hard enough time answering  the question for myself!

On my wall above my desk are some physical signs of what might be called success.   Three college degrees (including two Master’s degrees);  Awards of various kinds from both the Education field (Who’s Who in American Education, e.g.)  and the field of Christian Ministry (Minister Emeritus of Christian Church in Kansas, e.g.).   Does that mean I’m a success?   No—it means some people think that I am a success, I feel.

I have pictures in my office of my two children, a boy and a girl.   They are now adults and are doing well—but most important they are loving and caring individuals who are contributing to society.   Does that make me a success?   I’d like to think so,  but who knows but what they would be the same despite me being there to help raise them—-and I have to share any success in that area with my wife who did more to raise them than I was able to do while working two jobs to support my family.

I have a nice, comfortable home in Wichita and a loving wife to share it with after the death of my first wife.   We have two cars and a half-garage full of woodworking tools that I love to use.    My life is comfortable and I’ve had reasonably good health for my age in the late seventies.   Does that make me a success?   It may mean that I am blessed by God far beyond what I deserve, but I do not believe material things make me a success.

Wherein should my feeling of success lay then?    As I write this I am reminded of the words of Thomas Merton:  “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

I am trying, at this point in my life, to lean my ladder of success on the right wall—God’s wall.   The only true success I can strive to attain is in an ever closer relationship to God.    I found at the sudden death of my first wife that all the knowledge and skills that I had were of no value in dealing with an event over which I had absolutely no control.   I turned to God and said:   “Help me God, I can’t do this without you.”   And I felt a peace come over me and knew that God heard and began the healing process of my heart at that point.

Since that time, as God helped heal my grief and led me to a loving caring and Godly  woman that would share my life and become my wife,  I have realized more and more that the ladder to success for each of us mortals is the ladder to God.   The happiness my wife and I feel today is the result of a “God-thing”, we both agree.   So I have endeavored to place my ladder of success on the wall of God.

And the greatest thing about the ladder  to God is that we don’t have to laboriously climb it from day to day with great fear of falling and failing—-instead our God of love and grace comes down the ladder to dwell  with us now; right here,  and will do so forever.    Amen