Tag Archives: religion

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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To Live is to Learn — The World Is My Classroom

For me, “to live is to learn” in the great classroom we call “the world.”  When I reach the point where this is no longer true for me it will be time for me to permanently check out of this life.

This great classroom is full of things to be learned. The physical world around me with all of its beauty and splendor;  the world of ideas in history; in philosophy; in  biography; in theology and spirituality and religion and in science. I am also constantly learning from the people I’m surrounded by and interact with.  All are also part of the great classroom I inhabit day after day.

I always have been an avid reader and my interests are varied and widespread. For example, currently I’m reading a book by Walter Brueggemann Out of Babylon that compares the Jewish exiles living under the domination system of Babylon to Christians in the U.S. living under  the domination system of American empire. Both try to answer the basic question How do we retain  our identity as Jews or Christians under the domination systems we are currently living under?   I’m  currently reading Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr, which is about the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous applied to Christian spirituality. I just finished a biography of President George Herbert Walker Bush, The Power and the Destiny (a book on tape that was read to me, which was 625 pages in length), and another biography of John Newton, famous for his life as a slave trading sea captain and begin transformed by his conversion to Christ. He wrote the wonderful hymn Amazing Grace to describe that transformation. I’m now listening to a book on tape, The Indigenous Peoples of North America.

Besides books, I learn each day from people who visit me–my ministers, my family, my friends, my hospice team–They are all part of my classroom.

I learn from the media as they report and editorialize on the news of the day. Programs such as: PBS Newshour, Washington Week, CBS’s 60 Minutes and the morning and evening news programs.

I long ago crossed the threshold of learning because I had to do so (as at school) to learning because I loved to do so.  That is the true test of success for our educators  today.  It is “to enable children to emerge from schools with the life-long desire and love of learning, while having the tools to do so.

As students go back to classrooms this Autumn, I pray that teachers, administrators, board members and legislators keep this lofty goal always in their minds. We need to produce students who strive to and love to learn–not because it is necessary to pass some test, but because it is necessary to satisfy the craving to learn that is a trait of all people if it is not smothered out by those who are preparing them.

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!!!

 

Churches Stuck in a Rut, or Transformed?

 

I once preached a sermon called “Stuck in Schadenfreude”   Schadenfreude?    What does that mean?   It’s a German word that says in one word that “we find satisfaction and pleasure in the troubles of others”!   For mainline churches today who are dwindling in number Schadenfreude is found in such statements as this one that we often hear in our churches:   “Well, our membership may be shrinking but the same is true for all mainline churches and evangelicals and Catholics and Jews and megachurches.   Our numbers are down but their membership numbers are worse!   Schadenfreude.   Instead of seeking to get out of the rut, we just say, well others are in the same rut. It can’t be us, because they are worse than we are in numbers  and we take some pleasure that other churches are suffering like our church and argue that it is not our fault and that it must be attributed to this “new generation” of millenials who have no sense of dedication or commitment.  Our refusal to get out of the rut we’re in as churches is what the new generation is seeing.

Yes, it IS due to the new generation.  They see institutional religion as hypocritical, negative, uncaring, focused on membership and not reaching out to others in the community,  not spiritual,   anti-homosexual,  anti-abortion, but not really pro-anything except supporting right-wing Republicans;  and therefore irrelevant to their generation and to our society in general.  .    We may disagree with their definition of us as a church, but poll after poll after survey shows that is the thinking of our new generation.

We see this thinking also  in a rising majority of other than young  people who say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”   They are really saying that the present institutional church does not offer what they feel they really need—-a connection with God and with other people that we would call a spiritual connection to God and neighbor.    Most surveys show that what people are longing for is “community”  and “spirituality“.   They have heard that the church is supposed to be made up of followers of Jesus Christ who model their lives and actions after his love for people, for the outcasts.  for the sick and lame, for the poor.   Instead they see an institution that sits on soft cushions in air conditioned sanctuaries once a week and say they are disciples of Jesus.

These people are telling the churches something and churches need to listen carefully to what they are saying.   What they are saying is that churches need to be transformed into the image of the Christ, whose name we bear.

Looking back at recent history of the Christian Churches in the U.S. we see that in the middle of the 20th century Christianity boomed  and the churches were full after World War II.  Mainline churches, out of necessity, needed to become better organized institutions to deal with the large numbers.  We chose to   pattern our churches in a similar way that the business model of General Motors was patterned.   Our churches grew corporate headquarters with program divisions, church development, professional marketing departments, professional development and career paths, executive guidance,  and layers of staff and committees to make decisions all reporting to a Board of Directors. The same patterns were copied by local churches with Boards of Directors, a complicated committee system, professional leaders of worship and music and Christian Education, etc. etc. that reported to the committees who were responsible to the  Board.   We still try to maintain this pattern even though it no longer works.

And just like General Motors became bloated with all its organizational structure, local and national churches became bloated with committees that stifled creativity and began to focus on maintaining the institution, building large churches, expanding, expanding—-and in the midst of all of this, the churches forgot what their mission was.   The mission of being disciples of Jesus was lost.   As Diana Butler Bass says in her book Christianity after Religion      ” the business of the church replaced he mission of the church.”

When customers of General Motors began to become discontented with the high-priced and poorly engineered  gas hogs being produced at the time of the first gasoline crisis, they quit buying General Motors Cars and went in droves to Japanese  car-makers.   General Motors over-organization caused them to not be able to keep up with the creativity of competing auto manufacturers because of all the layers of organization  they had to go through before changes could be made—-and GM lost much of their market share, so that they were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy by the time the Great Recession hit in 2007.  They had to transform themselves in order to become competitive.

When the first decade of the 21st century hit, religious institutions found themselves with the same problem.   After 9/11 people flocked to churches in droves, but they did not find what they sought and quickly became disillusioned.  Because the business of the church had  replaced the mission of the church, people began leaving and numbers dwindled and the big business model of GM was no longer what was needed.   There was rising discontent with what the institutional churches were offering people.  People registered that discontent by walking away from the institutional church in ever larger numbers or went church shopping and found no improvements, so were in and out of churches, looking for what they needed but not finding it.   The discontent is reflected in the summary of many surveys found in  the first and second paragraphs of this post,  and resulted in the decline of the institutional church—all institutional churches.

What to do?    Churches must get out of their rut and  transform themselves.   They  must redefine their mission as not being that of maintaining church buildings but of working for social and economic justice for the poor and the outcasts of society.   They  must seek and provide ways of connecting people to God in spiritual  communities that are not over-organized institutions but are communities of faith where people can find God and can seek to help each other live in a spiritual community that seeks to carry out the mission that Jesus carried out in his ministry.   As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome:  Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—-what is good and acceptable and perfect”.  (Rom. 12:1-2)

If  the institutional church remains stuck in the rut of “but we have always done it this way” (the seven deadly words of the church) , it will slowly  die.

Diana Butler Bass tells of receiving a New Year’s greeting in 2010 from a friend, with the greeting wishing her “the gift of discontent”.  Enclosed with the greeting was this prayer:

O God, make me discontented with things the way they are in the world and in my own life.   Make me noticed the stains when people get spilled on.   Make me care about the slum child downtown, the misfit at work, the people crammed into the mental hospital, the men, women and youth behind bars.  Jar my complacency, expose my excuses, get me involved in the life of my city and world.  Give me integrity once more, O God, as we seek to be changed and transformed, with a new understanding and awareness of our common humanity.”

Perhaps we need as a church to pray often this prayer of discontent.

 

Seven Ways to Break the Great Commandment

 

Jesus summed up all we need to do in what is called The Great Commandment.    It is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”    While this seems simple, it is not, but  if we were to follow this advice personally it would transform our lives, and if our society followed  it,  the results would be revolutionary.   We aren’t  doing very well in keeping this great commandment, either personally or as a society, and I would like to list Seven Ways that we continue to not live according to the Great Commandment, both personally and as a society.  Let’s do it David Letterman style, starting with #7 and working up to #1  way we do so.

#7 –  GLUTTONY.    Gluttony means more than sneaking off too often to visit those 11 secret herbs and spices at KFC, or sitting down to an all-you-can eat buffet.   Gluttony is doing anything to excess!   It is an approach to life that knows no boundaries and honors no limits.   Gluttony turns our appetites into our rulers—no matter what our appetite might be.   It may be food—it may be power—it may be sex—-it may be money—it can even be golf.    Most of us go there from time to time, but our society as a whole is increasingly there all the time.   We want more and more and more—-more clothes, more  adult “toys”, more cars, bigger houses, etc. etc.     And we want more because of #6.

#6 – GREED.

Closely related to gluttony is GREED.    It is not so much the love of possessions as it is the love of possessing.     We live in a money-driven culture where the bottom line is what  is most important and profits are more important than people—-Greed is at the bottom of much that is wrong in our society.   We live in a culture that values money more than meaning.   Money is valued over people.   Money over right and wrong.   We are always wanting more and more and more because we place value in our culture on what we own and not who we are.   Money is power.   Ask any successful politician whether money and power go together—they are as the saying goes “tighter than ticks”.   We see this not only in politics but  in the  business world where cheating and lying to get ahead are often utilized.   If moraliy stands in the way of monetary gain, morality is trampled.   This is not following the great commandment:   money is our God, and who cares about our neighbor?

#5 – ENVY.

Envy  is what happens when we constantly compare ourselves to others.    It is the basis of backbiting (trying to tear down the one we envy), gossiping, bigotry and vanity.   When envy rules our lives then we always feel insecure, and our insecurity is compensated for by making those we envy seem less and less, so that we feel more superior than them.    We love our neighbor less than ourselves and are willing to destroy them to make ourselves more secure.    Building ourselves up at the expense of our neighbor is a long ways from the intent of the Great Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

#4 – IDLENESS.

Idleness is the sluggishness of spirit that “believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die,” as Dorothy Sayers writes.   The idle person expects everyone else to take care of him or her, and will not move a muscle to take care of themselves or to take care of anyone else.   The idle person has no sense of responsibility for what happens to them or anyone else—-They love neither God nor themselves very much if it takes an effort, and certainly don’t care about their neighbors.

#3 – LUST.

Lust is the perversion of what is good into something evil, based on our selfishness.   At the base of Lust is selfishness and the ego.   Someone has said that an acronym for EGO is “Edging God Out”.  As we put our desires before the good of others and before God, we make what we want our God—-whether it be sex, power, money or anything else.   We think only of ourselves when we lust.   It is extreme selfishness in action and it shuts God and other people out of our lives.

#2 – ANGER

W.C. Fields once said, “I am free of all prejudice, I hate everyone equally.”   Anger is the harboring of grievances that demand revenge and develop into hatred.   It is a seething rage that circulates throughout and is prominent in our post-modern culture in ever increasing amounts.   It comes out in murder, rape, attacks on minority groups and the vulnerable, the immigrant, the poor, the homeless, the weak.   When anger rules a society the society will be violent like ours in the U.S. today.   Read the newspapers and decide just how much anger there is in our world.   Pent-up anger comes out in deadly ways all the time—every day.   As the Bible says, we cannot be angry with our neighbor and love God. (I. John 4:7)  

And the #1 problem is—-PRIDE.

Pride is defined as “people getting drugged on the fumes of their own ego”   An example is when someone you are talking to says:   “enough about me.   Let’s talk about you.  What do you think of me?   Pride is when our  ego is in control of all that we say and do.   It’s all about me!  Remember the acronym that I gave you for ego earlier:   “E=Edging; G= God;  O = Out.”   There are many ways that Pride comes out.   It may be a “need-to-control pride”.   It may be a “self-centeredness” that comes through low self-esteem that says “I’m not much, but I’m all I ever think about”  kind of pride.   Religious pride is the worst kind of pride.   In the words of a theologian “Have you ever seen a prodigal come home to a Pharisee?    Religious pride turns away the very people God is trying to reach—the vulnerable, the poor, the weak, the homeless.

You may have discovered by now that I am applying the 7 Deadly Sins to  individuals and our society today.    Although the seven deadly sins are a product of the past, I think they are very present with us today in our society—-and they are just as deadly as they were in the Middle Ages, both to us and to our society!!    What do I mean by “sin”.   Sin, biblically is anything that turns us away from God and our neighbor—it’s not just “doing bad things.”    It is when we let ourselves become rulers of our lives instead of God.

All of the above are sins because they separate us from God and from each other.   That is the deadliness of them.  All of them break what Jesus said was the Great Commandment—to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves..   There is no love for anyone but “self” in any of these “sins”.   No love for God.  No love for neighbor.   Only self-love.  What a difference it would make in our society and in our personal lives if we could get rid our lives and our society of all seven of them!

Walking the Walk

 

I’m a “people-watcher”.    I like to spend time while sitting in a car or in the Mall waiting for my wife to finish shopping  just watching people!     One thing that I watch is how they walk.   Have you ever done that?   Think about the way YOU walk and the way OTHER PEOPLE walk.   Can you tell who someone is from a distance by seeing how they walk?    Most people can.   Some stride.  Others Swagger.  Or Swing, or strut, or shuffle, or waddle, or ramble or amble, or scuff the soles of their shoes.   YOUR WAY OF WALKING IS ONE OF THE UNIQUE THINGS ABOUT YOU AND TELLS THE OBSERVER A LOT ABOUT YOU.

The Department of Homeland Security has noticed this also.   There are now two federally-funded, gait-recognition technology projects under development at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.   “Gait recognition” aims to detect, select, classify, and identify any individual based on the way she or he walks.   This is seen as a possible way to detect known terrorists at up to 500 yards away.   It is still a “work in progress”, but is showing a lot of promise.

But this isn’t a new thing.    Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul pointed out that people look at whether we “walk the walk” more than how we “talk the talk.”   In other words, THEY BOTH STRESS THAT WHAT WE DO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT WE SAY!

In the 21st chapter of Matthew, Jesus told the chief priests and elders in the temple a parable when they asked “by what authority do you do these things?”

Jesus told about a man who had two sons.   He went to the first son and told him to go to work in the vineyard.   The son answered  “I will not go!”    But later, the first son thought about it and changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard for his father.  The father also told the second son, “Go to work in my vineyard today”   The second son said:   “Yes, father, I will go.”    But he never did go to work in the vineyard that day.

Jesus asked those questioning him, “Which of the two sons did the will of his father?”  They answered:   “The first son.”   Jesus told them—-truly tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.   IN OTHER WORDS—-THE SONS ARE JUDGED BY WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID AND NOT WHAT THEY SAID!   And you will be judged in the same way, he told the priests and elders!!

In II Thessalonians 1:1-4; 11-112, Paul says something very similar.   He says that he and Silas and Timothy give thanks to God for these brothers and sisters because:   “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.   Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions you are enduring.!

Why is Paul proud of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica?   Because of their ACTIONS.   The love they show and demonstrate for each other that is seen by all.   The steadfastness they have exhibited as they endure persecutions and afflictions.   PAUL IS PROUD OF THEM NOT FOR WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, BUT FOR WHAT THEY ARE DOING!!

DO PEOPLE RECOGNIZE US BY HOW WE “WALK THE WALK” OF FAITH?

They’ll know we are Christians by our love” goes the song.   People who watch us determine what faith in Jesus Christ is all about, NOT by what we say to them but by WHAT WE DO TO EACH OTHER!   They will know we are Christians by the way we live, by the way we talk, by the way we “walk the talk.”   If our faith is real, observers will sense it—-they’ll see it!   If its real, they might even ask how they, also, might “walk the walk” of faith.

An ancient term used to describe Christianity was “THE WAY”.    We can’t “talk the WAY”—-we must “walk” the WAY.    It is the way of Jesus as we carry out his great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF!”

Those who study communications tell us that if there is a problem in communication between verbal and non-verbal—-the non-verbal communication wins almost all the time.   90% of communication is non-verbal—-and therein lies the problem that we as followers of Jesus Christ need to examine today.   WE MAY SAY WE ARE CHRISTIANS, BUT ARE WE ACTING LIKE CHRISTIANS?     Are we walking the Christian life, or just talking about it?    Observers will believe what they see over what we might say.   Can those who observe us see any difference in the way we live that identifies us as folllowers of Jesus on the WAY?

This question is especially being asked by two of the present generations who are watching the church very critically—-the Busters and the Millenials.

The Buster generation grew to young adulthood in the shadow of their “Boomer” parents—-Boomers refers to the huge wave of children born after WWII.    The Busters, the children of the Boomers,  are the first generation to face the possibility that they may not achieve as much as did their parents.    The defining moment of their generation is often chosen by them as the tragic explosion of the space shuttle “Challenger.”    That was the moment when they watched the fragile illusion of “In Science we Trust” and “in Technology we trust” blow up in their faces.

The Millenials are those who became adults around the turn of the century—-who are 18-30 years old today—-the children of the Busters.   They therefore share many of the characteristics of their parents, as the “leaves don’t usually fall too far from the tree”.

  • They are very open to “honest” or “real” spirituality.   According to polls—86% of Millenials believe in God.   They don’t want to listen to talk about God—–they want to experience God in their lives. They believe that God is in the world and not just in church buildings—that God can be experienced in a variety of settings!
  • They distrust institutions, including the church, and will not get involved in an institution unless the institution is  actively involved in trying to meet the crucial needs of today’s society. They say they are “spiritual” but not “religious.”
  • They think “talk” is cheap—-the airways have been full of it ever since they were born. They want their talk translated into action.   They have excellent “Fake Detectors”.   They value honesty and can deal with contradictory ideas.
  • They are techno-savvy and are heavily into electronic technology as a key part of their daily lives.
  • They are inclusive and non-judgmental of all people—this applies to homosexuality, abortion, global poverty, environmental issues, immigration, other faiths, etc.
  • They exhibit an authentic spiritual longing for a better sort of Christianity that practices the teachings of Jesus.  They feel that Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love, forgiveness and practicing what Jesus preached and modeled.
  • Relational community, intentional practice, and experiential belief are important to them.
  • Even though they are connected electronically they yearn for connectedness in a community.
  • They have opted out of the “rat race” but not out of the “human race”.
  • They deal with paradox and with contradictory ideas well—they recognize there is no absolute truth and that things are not black or white but shades of grey.

JESUS MAY HAVE BEEN THE FIRST BUSTER/MILLENIAL.   Consider some of the evidence:

  •  He never did join the rat race of his day.
  • He wasn’t into the religious institutions of his day.   Rather he resisted much of what passed for “religion” in his day.
  • He was itinerant—-much of his preaching and teaching was done in the countryside and villages of Galilee.    He didn’t try to build large churches.   He didn’t care about “members” or numbers of members—-he chose only 12 disciples to be his close friends and shared his life with them.
  • He assumed his public ministry late in life He was probably about thirty years old, but in a culture whose life span was about 40 years of age.   .
  • He was inclusive and reached out in compassion to those who were on the margins of society—the social outcasts, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, the widow, the orphans—-and defended them against the “uppity” and “in crowd” of the rich and powerful.
  • He was critical of the domination system that rewarded the few at the expense of the many. So his biggest problem was with the Roman authorities and the religious institutions and authorities of his day.
  • As someone has put it—-Jesus majored in forgiveness and minored in dogma.

IT IS THIS JESUS THAT CONFRONTED THE MEALY-MOUTHED QUESTIONS OF THE PRIEST AND ELDERS AND CHARGED THEM WITH AS “ALL-TALK, NO-WALK” TYPE OF SPIRITUALITY.

There are many people hurting in the world today.   Hurting because of drug abuse, broken relationships, too little income, homelessness!     There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in today’s wilderness are young and old,  rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy.   How is the church of Jesus Christ speaking to their needs?   Are they even on our radar?We need to ask ourselves: ARE WE SO BUSY TRYING TO SOUND GOOD, LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD AND MAKE GOOD THAT WE DON’T ACTUALLY EVER DO GOOD?,

 

SO—-HOW IS OUR FAITH WALK WITH OUR LORD?

The current younger generation is calling the church to become what it says it is.   They may have problems with organized religion, but they recognize Jesus as one of them.   Are we offering this Jesus to them through our churches and our lives?  If we do, and we show them Jesus in our actions, they will join with us in our work for the Kingdom of God. This generation is open to spiritual growth.   The key to reaching them is the key to reaching every generation—-IT IS TO LIFT UP JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF HIS LOVE FOR HUMANITY AND TO DEMONSTRATE JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF OUR LOVE FOR HUMANITY.

And we look today at too many people who call themselves Christians, that are focused only on themselves, who are caught in traffic on the fast track, who are cut off from community because they are too busy or too indifferent to get involved.   THE BUSTERS & MILLENIALS LOOK AT THOSE CHRISTIANS AND SAY—“WE DON’T SEE YOU DOING MUCH!   We’re hearing a lot of talk, but where is the action?   What you are saying about loving Jesus and following him and the Great Commandment to “love God with all your heart, soul and strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself?—-we don’t see that in your ACTIONS from day to day.”   Guess which these observers will believe—they will believe our actions not our words.

LOOK AT WHAT PEOPLE DO, NOT AT WHAT THEY SAY, Jesus taught.

Jesus offered a Way to experience God as a Father who loves and cares for his children—-directly with no priests and sacrifices or rabbi’s involved.

He saw the religious authorities as “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”   Jesus skewered the traditional religious authorities as being “all-show” but “no-go”. He uses the culturally unclean and  reprehensible “tax collectors and prostitutes” as examples of obedience to God in this week’s text, because they listened to him and changed and transformed their lives, while he saw the religious authorities, the traditional symbols of piety and obedience as morally wrong and spiritually empty.   Those religious authorities therefore sought to kill him and eventually did so.

Are people observing us “walk the walk” and not just “talking the talk”—-or are we causing confusion by the gap between what we SAY and what we DO?

Is our faith walk recognizable?   Both up close and at a distance, or even when our backs are turned away?   Can it be seen and known over time?   Is it consistent?

Can people catch sight of our faith walk and begin to understand it over time—-how we behave, how we act, what we do, speak volumes about who we are and whose we are to those around us.   It identifies the quality, reality and the depth of our faith in God.

ARE WE KIND, MERCIFUL, GENEROUS, PATIENT, CHARITABLE, COMPASSIONATE, UPLIFTING, SHOWING LOVE CONSTANTLY EVEN TO THE UNLOVABLE? .

God’s hope for the church is like Paul’s hope for the church in Thessalonica.   Paul observed their faith, love, patience, endurance and resolutions that were visible for all to see.   Their walk with Christ was clearly identifiable.   So must the church today clearly walk with Christ in the eyes of those who see us day by day.

If our faith is truly about love, then we are called to live that faith, and to walk the walk of love every day to the best of our ability.   People in the community around us will see our compassion, our charity, our strides in feeding the hungry and reaching out to the outcast.   They will see our endurance.   They will see us reaching out to the unloving and the unlovely in Jesus name.   They will witness our love for one another as we seek to support each other in troubled times, or when we visit an elderly shut-in, or someone in the hospital or take the time to help someone in need.

You see the words of this poem are really true.   It is one that the present generations demands and echoes and responds to:

“I’d rather SEE a sermon than hear one any day,

I’d rather one would walk with me, than merely tell the way.

For the eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;

Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear….

And the best of all the preachers are the one who live their creeds,

For to see faith put in action is what everybody needs….Amen!