Blogs written by Don Bennett for PurposeCity.

Christianity

Are You Taking Jesus Out of Christianity?

Recently Bruxy Cavey (teaching pastor at The Meeting House) shared,

“Christianity – Jesus = Hate empowered Religion”

When I heard this, I had to write it down and reflect on it. The issue Bruxy is digging into is how we love people. It reminded me of something I was reading this past month –  how easily people can shift to a form of Christianity which fully excludes the basic teachings of Jesus. It left me perplexed by the cultural and spiritual connection we hold to the term ‘Christian.’ How can a person call themselves Christian if they also overtly and outwardly deny the teaching of Jesus? Bruxy summarizes it well in saying that taking Jesus out would result in hate-empowered religion. Some might look at this and get bent out of shape on the suggestion made, but consider a few passages:

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

Do we apply the principal of loving others or are we filled with the idea of “them vs. us?” Do we really understand the teachings of Jesus and apply them to the life we lead and our desire to follow Jesus?

Here is a unique approach to answering those questions. Read the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-11 and honestly react to the following questions:

-How does this change my attitude?

-Does my heart understand Jesus?

-How do we follow His teaching?

Once you have gone through the exercise, leave a note with your answers – I think you’ll be surprised by your own response.

Relationships

How Comparison Kills Relationships

Before I begin, let me first confess that for the majority of my life I have lived envious of people. I was ruled by jealousy. What I perceived that I lacked, and saw in others, was the lens I used to view my relationships. Even as a pastor, I found it challenging to understand how to identify and use my gifts when I felt I was so inadequate. What I really struggled to understand then was how much other people mattered and how to live out the mandate to love others more than we are to love ourselves.

Today, I have learned that the best investment we can make is in other people and the best assets we hold are the relationships we form. The best use of the resources we have is to effectively steward these relationships to the greatest capacity possible. For me, it can still be a challenge though to view people purely through a positive lens. Why is that? Is it clearly selfish?

Tony Campolo once said we “need to love the sinner and hate our own sin.” This is not the usual approach – it usually reads “love the sinner; the THE sin.” Often, instead of looking at life this way, we become defined by our judgment. If you believe you are exempt, I would challenge you to a little self-reflection. Once we see that we are clearly sinful, then our perspective can truly be changed. I, personally, look at Jesus’ words about the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” and strive to do my best each and every day. The question I am now asking and have those around me ask, “does my attitude and actions represent the very element I am seeking to live by?” and then “Be honest with me.”

DL Moody once said, “The scriptures were not given for our information but our transformation.” The greatest commandment has to transform us in this way. The question we should ask now is how is this transformative work is being applied in our actions and attitudes towards people?

I would challenge you to ask these questions with me: How can our attitudes be changed? Can our actions reflect this change? Can love be at the core of our responses to people? Let’s love God and others to the absolute fullest in everything we do, even if it might not always be our gut reaction.

Questions

Focusing On The Right Questions

I was reminded this morning, during a time of worship and reflection, the importance of asking ourselves good questions. On a sheet of paper I was handed a list of questions and passages to reflect on. Here are those questions:

  1. What place is my heart in these days?
  2. What am I holding onto too tightly?
  3. Where can I be distracted?
  4. Where do I find my joy?
  5. Am I sacrificing in joy?
  6. What do I need to reminded of?

I sat there and stared at this sheet, frozen with the inability to think of ‘my answers.’ Have you ever felt the same way? Literally stuck in a moment where the obvious was so unclear? For me, the question then shifted to: how did I get so wrapped up and tired that what should be easily answered became the unthinkable?

This simple little exercise reminded me of how we often approach our discipleship journey – a loving God wants nothing but us, even in our flaws, to drop everything and follow Him – yet we stand still. Think about Matthew, the tax collector. Jesus walks by him at his booth and says “come follow me” and he drops everything he was doing and follows. Why do we negotiate with that same question? When we are called to follow Him, that means follow Him and leave everything behind. I have had a month where I can honestly say I was doing ministry well, but not being spiritually discerning to what God was leading me to do. I believe that I was walking behind Him, but not ‘following’ well.

For me, in preparation to write this piece, I had to repent of my attitude and reflect on necessary changes. Here is a great quote from Scot McKnight that speaks well to this idea:

“‎Those who aren’t following Jesus aren’t his followers. It’s that simple. Followers follow, and those who don’t follow aren’t followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it.”

Discipleship, or following Jesus, requires not only that we ask ourselves questions, but that we invite others to ask us questions as well. We must be constantly immersed in the idea of what it means to truly follow Jesus.

How can we continue to challenge each other along these same lines each and every day?

Love

Learning How to Love

I am a big fan of the artist Noah Gundersen. I have sat and listened to his album over and over – captivated and challenged by the lyrics of his songs. Likely none more so than the song ‘Ledges’ with the particular focus being, “I want to learn how to love, not just the feeling.” There is something to what he says here.

Often in church we talk about the Greatest Commandment and how it defines what love is and how we ought to respond. Loving God with our core (everything in us) is only accomplished when we love others before ourselves. In fact, 1 John 4:19 reads,

“We love, because He first loved us”

The interesting thing about Gundersen’s song “Ledges” is that we should move past the simple feeling of love and instead, learn how to love to our fullest – moving to the stage of being fully focused on unconditionally loving others.

Here is a quote from CS Lewis that I know really speaks to the issue at heart,

“Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”

Meshing the Word with both Lewis and the lyrics from Noah Gundersen’s song should be an inspiration to us all to move from the hypothetical to the practical, which is love as action.

Can you imagine if an entire generation grabbed this and lived it out? And how do you, personally, plan on learning to love, moving past the internal desires we hold for the simple ‘feeling’ we call love in society today?

Prayer

Focused Prayer in a Group Setting

Recently I have been reflecting on a passage in Matthew,

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (6:5)

The reason the passage stuck with me comes from an internal debate I have been having about publicly praying with groups of people. You see, some people expect me to pray at every gathering and personally, I began feeling like I should edit my prayers to serve the whole because I am the one leading the group. I began feeling very disconnected and my focus was on my choice of words rather than being attentive to what God put on my heart to pray. I started then listening to others as we prayed and found that often we used the same words or statements, just in different phrasing.

I began to ask myself, how do we engage collectively in prayer while recognizing that it is what is on our hearts that needs to be focused on – not what we think we ‘should’ be saying. I knew I needed to shift my train of thought to listening to others and affirming what is on their hearts – not simply being politically correct.

As you consider your prayer time with other people, I’d encourage you to think on what some of those that came before us had to say – ultimately, these short quotes played a big role in my process of understanding,

“Our Lord did not say it was wrong to pray in the corners of the street, but He did say it was wrong to have the motive to be seen of men.” Oswald Chambers

“Prayer is not getting things from God, that is the most initial stage; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God; I tell Him what I know He knows in order that I may get to know it as He does.” Oswald Chambers

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Søren Kierkegaard

Here are some suggestions for the next time you pray in a group:

  • Focus your times of prayer on first listening to God, not just speaking.
  • See what is stirring everyone’s hearts and how those things are shared within the larger group.
  • See what is burdening the collective, often times God will place a specific burden on groups of people.
  • Pray together and affirm the things that shared by others in the group.
  • Ask the group how, when praying together, everyone can change and better grasp the character of the One (God) to whom we are praying.

I believe if you start to focus on some of the core elements, it will greatly transform your collective prayer life. I know it has ours.

Love Thy Neighbor

Has Culture Killed ‘Love Thy Neighbor?’

I must warn you, what am about to dive into I have been processing for quite a while. Well… maybe more so writing about it. In December 2012 while wrapping Christmas gifts with my wife and I watched as the media grabbed our attention with the school shooting in Connecticut. It is something that parents of similar aged kids never wanted to imagine, let alone watch it on TV. Within the first hour I posted on Facebook what ended up shaping how I use social media to this day.

You see, I am avid believer in the peace teachings of Jesus. That afternoon I wrote a status update regarding guns. The intent was to provoke conversation about how to bring about peaceful responses to conflict and focus on the hurting. I got barraged with comments of anger that I would label this a gun issue. People made comments that Jesus would want us to have guns to protect ourselves and even used Old Testament scripture to back it up. So, for a day I tried to keep up the conversation and engage people within it. What shocked me, and to this day still perplexes me, is that we find it easier to respond in anger than love. Why is violence ever a course of action? I believe fully that the teachings of Jesus reflect a greater cultural issue we have at hand.

It is clear that Jesus taught that we are find peace in the midst of conflict and that violence is not a means to an end. Bill Maher, shortly after the Osama Bin Laden assassination went off on Christians who celebrated. It was interesting here in Canada because it seemed odd to me as well. My children were being brain washed that we in the West are the good guys and they are the enemy. However, I would imagine that in the other part of the world the West are the enemy and they are the good guys. It just seems to muddy the full and complete message of Jesus.

Consider this from Maher (a self-proclaimed non-Christian) on that broadcast:

New rule: if you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself. Last week, as I was explaining why I didn’t feel at all guilty about Osama’s targeted assassination, I made some jokes about Christian hypocrisy and since then strangers have been coming up to me and forcing me to have the same conversation. For almost 2,000 years, Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor” and how “turn the other cheek” can mean “screw you, I’m buying space lasers.” Martin Luther King gets to call himself a Christian because he actually practiced loving his enemies. And Gandhi was so Christian he was Hindu. But if you rejoice in revenge, torture and war – hey, that’s why they call it the weekend – you cannot say you’re a follower of the guy who explicitly said, “Love your enemies” and “Do good to those who hate you.” The next line isn’t “and if that doesn’t work, send a titanium fanged dog [to attack.]” Jesus lays on that hippie stuff pretty thick. He has lines like, “Do not repay evil with evil,” and “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.” Really. It’s in that book you hold up when you scream at gay people. And not to put too fine a point on it, but nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark, kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales. There’s interpreting, and then there’s just ignoring. It’s just ignoring if you’re for torture – as are more evangelical Christians than any other religion. You’re supposed to look at that figure of Christ on the cross and think, “how could a man suffer like that and forgive?” Not, “Romans are wusses, he still has his eyes.” If you go to a baptism and hold the baby under until he starts talking, you’re missing the message. Like, apparently, our president, who says he gets scripture on his Blackberry first thing every morning, but who said on 60 Minutes that anyone who would question that Bin Laden didn’t deserve an assassination should, “have their head examined.” Hey Fox News! You missed a big headline; Obama thinks Jesus is nuts! To which I say, “hallelujah,” because my favorite new government program is surprising violent religious zealots in the middle of the night and shooting them in the face. Sorry Head Start, you’re number 2 now. But I can say that because I’m a non-Christian. Just like most Christians. Christians, I know, I’m sorry. I know you hate this and you want to square this circle, but you can’t. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing. You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans.

I don’t agree or disagree with much of what Bill Maher ever says. However this caught my attention. Is he right with what he his saying or wrong? I believe that there is a lot of contextualizing we all need to do, while also understanding that our identity is first in Jesus. Consider these quotes from Jesus:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6: 27-28

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Matthew 5:38-39

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

I am writing this as a part of the process that I am using to firm up my understanding of what it is to fully understand Jesus and better live via His example. Whatever you feel about the topic, what I want you to walk away with most is that this process has been part of my discipleship journey. I would challenge all of us to really take time to consider even the most controversial topics (not that this is one) and work out how the scripture states Jesus would have responded.