Thursday, January 18, 2018

The value of works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

Above is a rather famous passage that distinguishes Christianity from most other world religions. In everything from Islam to Hinduism, works usually come into play in most beliefs version of salvation. Probably because it just seems to be human nature to think and believe that works or deeds are the way to manufacture righteousness and earn your way into the afterlife. So much so that people try to interject it into Christianity as well. Despite that this passage and others like it refutes our assumptions about the role of works. Even when scripture reveals no amount of work would ever truly be enough.(Galatians 2:16, Luke 18:26,27)

Yet, even for those who know and believe this verse, don’t always understand it completely. There seems to be another opposite extreme assumption about this passage. That since works have nothing to do with salvation, then works cannot possibly have any value at all. Which often becomes an excuse to not serve. That idea is completely ridiculous though. Works, deeds, and service do indeed have much value, just not for salvation. Hence, the reason for this blog entry, I will reveal the value of our works beyond salvation.

All you have to do is read the very next verse in this passage to see that works are not without value.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. -Ephesians 2:10 (As you can see, we do this passage a great disservice by leaving out verse 10.)

The implication being that works play into fulfilling our purpose. Even psychologists are noticing that people who pursue a meaningful life are more satisfied than those who merely seek a happy life. So obviously we can’t truly be fulfilled without fulfilling our purpose, which involves service and works.

Works build up the church - Ephesians 4:11-13

Service is the path to greatness in the eyes of God - Matthew 20:20-28

Deeds demonstrate repentance - Acts 26:20

Service brings blessings - John 12:26, 13:17

Good Deeds serve as an example to non-believers -1 Peter 2:12

Let us not forget that Jesus flat us called us to serve thorough works in John 13:1-17. As he indicated later in verse 14:23-24, to do as he commands is a way we express our love for God. For a true believer; that alone should be enough alone to value works, even if it doesn't bring us salvation.

Works do not save us; we serve through good deeds because we are saved. It is a subtle distinction, but an important one that should not be overlooked.

The Visual PARABLEist


a man serving the word to the least of these which gets God's approval.
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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What the church should NOT do

I have been watching Leah Remini’s Scientology: The Aftermath, and bought her book Troublemaker. In this moment, I feel compelled to respond to what I have observed. While I always try to tell people that no matter how good and righteous a belief system may be, people are still people. They are imperfect, faulted, and prone to error. So we often see many common human failings infiltrating religious institutions, even when their theology strictly forbids it. However, it seems that this is what separates Scientology from most other world religions. Many of these human failings I allude to are part of Scientology’s doctrine. So in many ways the church of Scientology serves as a perfect example of what a religious institution should not do. Which I will go over some of the main ones for you to consider.

1. Act as if you are beyond reproach. For the faithful, questions can serve as an opportunity to educate and promote better understanding of your ideals. However, you have to be well versed yourself to do that. For the easily threatened, it serves as an excuse to criticize, hate, and shame people who question them. Just what the church of Scientology teaches it’s people to do with zeal. Behavior which most other world religions discourage in writing, if not in action. Most religions recognize that you can’t help or inspire people you are demonizing. Or labeling them a “suppressive” to use the Scientology vernacular. (Matthew 21:45-46)
2. Forced submission. People submit to authority everyday. We do this with things as simple as paying sales tax, or stopping at a red traffic light. Some choose to do this because they see value in it. Some only because they fear the consequences of not doing so. As far as the government is concerned, their main concern is order, not sincerity. So it doesn’t matter to them why the public observes the laws, just as long as people do. That is where government and religious institutions should differ, the value of sincerity. Most belief systems recognize that the heart or the spirit is the root of our actions, so they address these things in one way or another to improve the individual, which leads to better behavior. Through that process people may see value in that religions authority, and choose to submit to it; sincerely. Which is how it should work. But in humanities short sightedness we often only look at the surface and merely address evil behavior directly. This often just creates an illusion of true transformation since the root cause of heart and spirit is overlooked. Scientology’s highly systematic approach would be near impossible to skip. However, they do fail to trust in their system enough to allow people to decide for themselves, to choose Scientology or not of their own freewill. If forced submission fails, you get labeled a suppressive and all ties to the church and the people you were in relationship within it are "disconnected". A fact they hold over your head to get you to submit against your will. (Joshua 24:15)
3. Violating your own principles for the sake of the greater good. Many an evil has been committed upon these grounds. However, no religious institution worth its salt would ever condone this. The fact is, if we resort to the same evils as our enemy on the battlefield, our enemies principles ultimately prevail, even if our enemies lose the war. Many shortsighted people have a hard time recognizing the truth of this in practice, including Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard apparently. For example, one of the foundational truths in Scientology is “clearing the planet of reactive minds.” Yet, somehow they do not see their hate and shame "fair game" policies towards suppressive people, and the institution of psychology as “reactive.” Nor, does current Scientology leader David Miscavige see his infamous violent outbursts as “reactive” either. To me, these doctrinal actions would qualify as the epitome of “reactive,” or wrong by their own standards. (Romans 2:1-4)
4. Cold indifference. We live in a crazy hostile world, full of pain, suffering, and every kind of evil imaginable. Trying to care about such a world, and deal with our scars from it can be overwhelming. So our response can often lead to an “us versus them” mentality as way to shield ourselves from that misery. Which leads us to limit our love to our own people, and all else is treated with cold indifference. Yet, in Scientology their central teaching revolves around achieving a state of “clear” that seems to be nothing more than cold indifference. It is most notable in the devout followers who have family members that have left the church. There is no love lost or regret at all over these broken relationships from the “clear” who are expected to disconnect. A human tendency that has only caused good people to do nothing in the face of evil. A human failing that is rationalized by Scientology. (First John 3:16-18)
5. Money. While a necessity of civilization. A disproportionate love for it can be devastating for that culture. It not only has spoiled many a religion but art, music, literature, cinema, and many of the other good things in life as well. Creating something beautiful, important, beneficial, relevant, or meaningful often takes a back seat to making profit. This is so blatantly obvious in Scientology and their rather expensive path to “operating thetan“ status. (First Timothy 6:10)


While I am sure, these practices have served many an institution in the short-term. In the long-term they have only breed disillusion and feelings of ill will towards the institutions that utilize such faulty strategies. As former church of Scientology board member Mike Rinder has indicated, their own actions will be their undoing. Actions rationalized by their own policies. Actions the wise should steer clear of. Actions that are slowly destroying the institutions that they claim to love and serve. Don’t be one of them.


A person entirely obscured by cold armor
click to enlarge



Friday, October 27, 2017

Complexity part 9: another aspect of diversity

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the concept of unity in "diversity." Otherwise known as the body of Christ. How our unique talents and skills can come together for the common good. Yet, there is another side of it that gets addressed even less often than the main point of the body of Christ concept. Ignoring it may lie at the root of many a failure in building the church Jesus intended.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. -1 Corinthians 12:22-26

Our God given diversity's primarily value may have to do with talent; and there should be equality between common and uncommon gifts. However, with those different abilities also come very different needs. While that may sound like a rather simple point, but our neglect of it has led to some complex problems in the church.

Differing gifts mean different strengths. This also means different weaknesses as well. But, if we do not recognize that, then we assume what is easy for us, should be easy for everyone. This may lead us to look down upon people who lack the same strengths, instead of sharing our strength with the church. We should absolutely share the strengths we are gifted with since we all have a weakness in a different area as well, a shortcoming that we need to receive help for from our church family.

In an ideal church everyone would share their gifts without keeping score. Yet be humble enough to accept the help of others graciously. Unfortunately, we often fall short in being that selfless. We can be rather greedy with our strength and gifts. So we tend to keep it all to ourselves. Or be so greedy with the help we desire that we drain the people helping us, which makes the drained individual less able to help the rest of the church. On the other side of it, many are too proud to receive assistance. While they often think of this as a virtue, they often do not mature as disciples in certain needed areas. Which ultimately means they have less to offer the church, which affects everyone. The dynamics of church community, if we don't follow them as intended we make our spiritual journey that much harder. This leads to our churches becoming that much weaker.


 

Have you ever revealed something or told a story to someone, and they just didn't believe you? They can't accept that you would behave or do as you described for the simple fact that is not how they would respond to the same situation. This is an example of what I refer to as "wearing your heart on your nose." Or looking at the world through the filter of your emotions or self, to state it plainly. Which causes people to unconsciously assume that everyone thinks, feels, and finds satisfaction in the same things as they do, or at least should. This causes us to believe that what is good for us, should be good enough for everyone. Such attitudes lead only to distorted interpretations, and the misunderstanding of others. This often leads to judgmental, critical, insensitive, and ultimately unloving behaviors. This should not be found in the church at all. Yet, we do see it in the church with all too much frequency, because we fail to see and value the depths of the diversity that God instilled in us. This has become a huge liability to the church universal. Especially in our ability to unify the church in all our talents, as well as the needs

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Complexity part 8: Challenged

Matthew 5-7 is what is known as the sermon on the mount. Jesus' only documented sermon, and arguably one of the most powerful passages in all the Bible. Jesus speaks on many subjects, but the overall theme is one of challenge. Specifically, he challenges our understanding of God, his word, and what it means to be holy.

With the beatitudes, he challenges our notion of what it means to be blessed. It's not simply a warm and fuzzy picture of prosperity, comfort, and ease that we want to be true. Then, he goes on to address many familiar subjects to the people of the time, many of which he starts with the phrase "You have heard. . . " Then proceeds to tell them how what they have heard is not entirely right. Yet, there is the implication that we need to be more active in our own understanding, to not simply follow what we have heard, but to seek truth for ourselves. As complex a task as that may seem to those who just want it explained to them, I know you are out there. It does not stop there either; he goes on to challenge our motivations in following the truth. Do we truly do it to honor God, or merely to impress people, or avoid their judgement.

Which begs the question, are we simply taking the easy way in and accepting the word of others on what people tell us about the truth, and risking incomplete and inaccurate information? Or are we taking the complex path and confirming it for ourselves? How might Jesus challenge us today? What subjects would he address when challenging our understanding of God and his word? Where might he indicate that we are applying truth wrong? In what areas would he address when challenging our motivations?

They are all valid questions in any age, but especially now in the age of social media. Where everyone is adding their two cents on every issue imaginable in rather impatient, unkind, rude, critical, unloving, and ultimately questionable ways. Where we can display our actions before everyone. In the midst of this information overload can we sort out the unfavorable facts from the desirable fiction, sincere actions from posturing, reality from mere feelings? Can we ask ourselves objectively, why am I sharing this? Are we sharing it in true humility or mere pride? Are we trying to do what is right, or just be right?

Are you up for a challenge, or is Jesus’ challenge too complex for you?

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27


a person jumping over a mountain
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Friday, October 13, 2017

Complexity part 7: God's Holy Spirit

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” -John 3:8

If you were to go to seminary, you would have to take a class called systematic theology. Which in all honesty, I find absurd. I liken that to phrases such as systematic marriage, or systematic romance. You never hear such things because it would be ridiculous. It would be treating people like mechanisms not living spiritual beings. Yet, somehow we think it's okay to think of God as a lifeless mechanism.

Yet, there is one part of Christian teaching that cannot be made systematic, mechanized, or simplified into a rigid definition. Which would be the Holy Spirit. An important player in the life of a true disciple, for he is our connection to God, his strength, and his wisdom. Someone we very much need to deal with the many variables found in the human heart, not to mention our complicated culture. Since the spirit cannot be defined simply, he is often overlooked by many in the church. Yet, followers who ignore him wonder why their faith lacks true power.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. -2 Timothy 3:1-5

I honestly believe true understanding of the Holy Spirit cannot be achieved by just having him explained to you. He can only be understood by experiencing him. Which means you got to seek him out for yourself. Not the simple, systematic, or formulaic answer you were probably looking for, but a true one. People keep telling me; they just want someone to explain it to them. Do you ask someone else to explain your relationship with your spouse to you? That would be absurd, just like wanting God's spirit explained to you wold be absurd.

A place to start, every one of the verses reveals something about the spirit.

John 14:26

Acts 1:16, 2:4, 7:51, 8:29, 11:12, 13:2, 16:6-7

Romans 8:26-27

1 Corinthians 2:10-11, 12:11



a person consumed by holy fire of the spirit
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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Complexity part 6: Facing issues

Forgiveness is an important part of the Christian creed. Even among those who have a hard time accepting it, like the idea, and want to believe in it. (At least as far as it applies to self, not so much when it applies to others.) Yet, many people seem to believe that forgiveness somehow excuses us from having to face and deal with our complex issues that lead to the actions that we need forgiveness for. That seems to be how many people are applying it at least, if not in actual words. But is this perception true? Well the story of the woman at the well (John 4:1-26) and the rich ruler (Luke 18:18-29) seem to indicate otherwise. In both cases, Jesus puts a proverbial mirror up to their hearts to reveal exactly where they were lacking, and ultimately what they had to deal with. Which begs the question why? This Old Testament passage is a strong clue.

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 
-Numbers 33:55

Forgiveness is of great value in being able to move forward. But that in itself does not prevent these same destructive patterns of behavior from recurring and having a negative impact upon our lives. These issues that we try to avoid often become barbs in our eyes, and thorns in our sides if we don't face them, and eliminate them at the root.

Obviously, the woman at the well looked to relationships for hope, and amassed many ex's; as a result. I'm sure it doesn't take any explanation on how past relationships can become a set of virtual thorns in the side. She would have done well to seek another source of hope. The rich man clearly looked to riches for hope. If the never ending cycle of celebrities dying young has taught us anything, it's that fame, fortune, and achievement are no guarantee for wholeness and peace of mind. We need to seek the eternal wholeness that Jesus offered, not the temporal things of this world. All the things that we try to avoid, stand in the way of finding that completeness. An obstacle that we refuse to acknowledge is no less an obstruction after all.

With that being said, what complex issues are you avoiding? What do you look to for hope other than God himself? What is keeping you static and unchanged? What issue do you need to face to move forward as a disciple.


A person unsatisfied with who they are being consoled by Christ.
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Complex part 5: Passion

The word passion often has a negative connotation attached to it in the church. Unless it is Easter time, then we attach the word to Christ. So why in the world do we freely accept the concept in this singular context without question? Yet categorically condemn it in every other context, also without question. Granted, many so-called "normal" passions that we gravitate to the most can have many consequences. That in itself does not mean that we can't be passionate about positive and constructive things. Although many are assuming, righteousness is the same as being dispassionate.

I contend that the reason for the decline of numbers in the church is the result of a lack of passion. How do we honestly expect people to live with purpose and commit to the work of the church without sincere passion? If we assume all passions are bad, then we end up killing our own heart in an attempt to be holy. That is definitely not what Jesus meant by denying self. (Matthew 12:35, 22:37) Not only that, when we end up applying this all or nothing notion about passion, it will fall on the "fruits of the spirit" as well. Which will make us guilty of quenching the spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:19) So all our efforts will end up being puny and powerless, since they are only done legalistically, and not with sincere passion from the heart.

We need to move past such simplistic notions about passions, and seek the more complex notion of discerning the difference between passions of the flesh, and passions of the spirit. (Galatians 5) Otherwise, the church will continue to die a slow stoic death.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. - Colossians 3:23-24

The Visual PARABLEist

A person trying to drive a very large nail with a tiny hammer
click to enlarge