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Be Known

Our Innate Desire To Be Known

I have been thinking recently about the seemingly growing mass of people who do things just to be known and noticed. The examples are so numerous that it is hard to decide which ones NOT to mention. Just think on some headlines over the last few months. Add to that the countless people who still go on shows like Jerry Springer, or people who play to the paparazzi just to keep getting noticed – Lohan, Hilton, Kardashian, etc, etc. On the far more tragic side I was reminded recently that when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on a New York sidewalk the first thing he said was, “I shot John Lennon.” He wanted to be famous and the closest he could get was to be infamous.

So, what is it about us that we have this growing need to be known, to the point that we do the ridiculous (or even the tragic) just to have our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame? I think at the heart of it all, it goes back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and our rebellion against God. The point of the story is that human beings are in some sort of rebellion against God and this rebellion, known as sin, has had cosmos altering consequences. We have become alienated from God and from one another. That alienation has produced fear and insecurity, loneliness and shame. You might be thinking, “Hey, we have always had alienation, fear, and insecurity. What’s different now?” What is different now is two-fold.

First, there have always been other social institutions that helped us overcome our alienation and fulfill our need to belong and be known. Once upon a time the tribal group (or community/family) gave us a sense of security, identity, and purpose. We knew people and they knew us. Not simply in the informational sense of knowing, but in the deeper heart sense of knowing. It is more like the sense in Dutch and Afrikaans of “ken” as opposed to “weet”. Weet is informational knowledge, you know about something or someone. Ken is heart knowledge. It is what the Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when it speaks of a longing for a new day,

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

The more mobile and isolated we become, the more we run the risk of being alienated, yearning for connection.

The second factor is the divine element. During the rise of the modern era, and the commitment to science as having the answers to all our problems, we put God and spirituality on the shelf. We further isolated ourselves from the needs of our soul. Eventually people began to sense that modernism and science did not have all the answers and so an outbreak of being “spiritual” but not “religious” has been sweeping western culture. Why? Because we still have the deep inner need to be known and to know, especially by something or someone greater than ourselves.

In search of that need to be known, to be significant, many have taken a decidedly neurotic path. Others have taken a more reasonable and socially acceptable route. The rise in popularity of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, is in part an attempt to stay connected or reconnect with people who are important to us. Such social media can be a great tool to keep and grow our relationships, giving us a sense of place and belonging. Of course it can also fool us into thinking that we have deep and meaningful relationships just because people see our status updates and we have hundreds of friends, some of which we have never actually met.

Ultimately, all our efforts to connect with one another, to be known by one another, to feel like we are significant and that we matter, will fall woefully short if we do not address the root cause of that alienation. We are alienated from one another on a horizontal plane because we first became alienated on the vertical in our relationship with God. We can have all the human connections we want, but until we are connected intimately with God, we will still be lacking and still looking for more. Blaise Pascal said it best: “We all have a God shaped vacuum in our soul that only He can fill.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being known, he was speaking of the longing to be known by and to know God in as intimate a way as possible. All our searching for meaning, fame, security, belonging, and connection is at its core the result of a need to know that we are loved by God and to experience that love in deeper and deeper ways.

Amelia Earhart

What The New Amelia Earhart Can Teach Us About Being A Christian

William Shakespeare posed an interesting question once when he wrote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” I have often wondered if a name truly speaks volumes about who a person is. Those of you who have kids, perhaps you remember picking out a specific name for your baby because of its meaning. Or, perhaps, you recall not choosing certain names because of who that name was associated with in your past. We place such importance on names in our society, but what role do they play in our day-to-day lives?

As we explore the topic, I wonder if you have heard of the rather fascinating story making it’s rounds amongst internet circles – it’s one that bridges history with the present and it all revolves around the story of a young fearless woman with the very unique name: Amelia Earhart. The historical Amelia Earhart was first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and, today, her name is remembered for the legacy that she left behind which inspires woman to achieve greatness – whatever that greatness may be. However in 1937, as Amelia was bravely attempting to fly around the globe, she never completed her mission as she disappeared,  never again to be found. In fact, that very tragedy is still considered a mystery to this very day. Now, over seventy-five years later, another woman wants to fly the same route and essentially finish Amelia’s original dream. The catch? This new young traveler is also named Amelia (Rose) Earhart… but shares no DNA relationship to the first pilot. Amelia Rose will be the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine aircraft if she completes the flight plan of her role-model’s quest. She explained, “By recreating and symbolically completing Amelia Mary Earhart’s flight around the world, I hope to develop an even deeper connection to my namesake and also encourage the world to pursue their own adventures. Amelia believed that, ‘adventure is worthwhile in itself’ and it is that type of attitude that spurs us to seek the unknown, push our limits and fly outside the lines.” Therefore, truly, a name contains within it the potential to evoke emotion or even inspire average people to do great things.

Amelia Rose was inspired to fly because of her name and I wonder that if as Christians, have we generically labeled ourselves without truly being inspired to  fly outside the lines for the name of Christ? The name Christian means to be ‘of Christ’ and this means that there  is much expected of us when we say we are a Christian. We are, in effect, telling those around us that we are not only connected to Christ, but that we are of the same nature. It should be no surprise to us then that we are often called hypocrites by people far from God as we continually fall short to very definition of our name. Yet, the truth is, we aren’t defining ourselves by one mere act of bravery, such as Amelia is by flying around the world. Rather, we are labeling ourselves after a perfect man, in all His characteristics. It’s no wonder we are called ‘flawed’ so often! Yet, this is no excuse to sour His precious name. Like Shakespeare concluded, a rose is sweet regardless of what you call it and a true Christ follower displays His character despite the label. So, the question begs to be asked, are we living up to the name God has given us as His children? Are we following in Jesus’ footsteps, continuing to pursue the metaphorical flight plans that He wants us to finish? Are we seeking out the adventure He has for us? Are we honoring His name when we tell others that we are a Christian?

I have come to find that there is a lot that goes into a name and while we do come up short, as Apostle Paul also concluded in scripture, this does not mean that we give up. We are carrying the torch, leaving a remarkable legacy as we join our dying flesh with God’s sovereignty. We become a new creature, given a spotless name and a new start. We are Christians, not because we are good, but because we are His. Therefore, we must begin to make a conscious effort to give Christ’s name the honor it deserves, representing it well at all times. Paul encourages the new Ephesian Christians, who were once Gentiles like us,

“to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

We must remember that our name is tied to a new person, no longer bound by our former sinful ways, but rather evolved from corruptness to holiness because of God’s righteousness. This is the beauty of a name and the legacy that goes with it. While we may never fly across the globe and proudly boast that we have a heritage of adventure embedded in our name like that of Amelia Earhart, I would argue that we have something far greater and extremely newsworthy. We are Christians. We date back to the most remarkable time in history, when a perfect man asked a few average men to follow Him. Through this lineage, we are made into true followers and “Christians” – being of the very nature of God. How fascinating of a story is that? We bridge the history of one spotless man with the present and it all revolves around the very unique name we all share: Christian.

China

Why it’s Easier to Follow Jesus in China than it is in the United States

When Christians in America talk about China it usually is a conversation filled with a focus on how hard it must be to follow Jesus in a country that has not historically been seen as friendly to Christians. What I found on my recent trip was that it is very possible that Christians in the west are the ones who are really at a disadvantage. Why? In many ways it is just too easy to be a Christian in America and other western countries where Christianity has historically been strong.

Consider this: On Sunday morning we went to Church in Beijing. This Church has 5 services each Sunday. Eight hundred in the main auditorium and 500 in an overflow. It is packed for all five services. What was really incredible was that people stood in a line for half and hour before each service just to get a seat. It was near 90 degrees outside, yet they waited patiently. Twenty minutes before the service the place was packed, while in most churches in America people regularly come in late and leave early.

When the worship team started singing  the congregation was inspiring. They nearly took the roof of the place. Everyone was engaged and seemed to want to make sure that Jesus knew they were praising Him. There were no casual folks looking to be entertained. The people there were either legitimate seekers, deeply interested in finding out about Jesus, or in most cases, already following Him and glad to let the nations know that their Lord is King.

I then had the opportunity to speak with the pastor and received an even clearer picture of what it is like for people to follow Jesus in China. There is very little in the way of programs that the Church can do to impact the community. Organized church evangelism projects, or even programs intended to serve the needy, are frowned upon by the government. To actively evangelize is viewed as disturbing the balance and harmony of society. So the Church can’t do that. Organized programs to meet the basic needs of people is the role of government. So no Church food banks, or clothing drives, or other common ministries that Churches carry out in the west.

So how is it that the Church is packed and growing if it can’t setup programs or ministries for the needs of people? Simple, the church can’t organize these things but individual Christians can do these things themselves. And guess what? They are doing it. Without fancy programs, events and staff organizing things, these followers of Jesus are living out their faith, everywhere, everyday. As a result people ask them about Jesus. When that happens, you are free to share the Gospel. If you see a person in need, you are free to meet that need, just like the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught about in Luke 15. They are being living witnesses and doing what the Bible tells them to do. As a result Christianity in China is alive and well.

Is it hard to follow Jesus in China? Sure it is. But not for the reasons we usually think. It is harder to do Church there, but it is too easy to follow him here. In reality I am not sure what many of us Christians in the west are doing that can really be called following Jesus. It is far too easy. There is no cost to it, no deep personal investment. We look to Jesus to be our spiritual and emotional fix-it guy. If suddenly there were no Church programs to do ministry, I fear that Christian activity in the west would slow to a crawl. In China the opposite is true. They are not handicapped by our expectation that the Church does everything. They are instead living for Him no matter what. Their lack of programs has meant that as individuals they own their faith deeply and follow Jesus gladly with a passion. Maybe for them it really is easier to truly follow Jesus. It is harder for them to do Church than it is for us, but that is not exactly the same thing as following Jesus.

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.

Hunger and Thirst

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst

What do you long for, yearn for, lay awake at night dreaming about? What do you hunger for? Much of what we yearn and hunger for never becomes reality. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to go to the moon. I could have told you everything about the space program, including every man who walked on the moon and each Command Module Pilot who circled the moon while two of his buddies played Rat Patrol in the Lunar Rover. I had a hunger to go to the moon. Sadly the program was killed long before I ever had a chance to go. Today I am pretty certain that NASA won’t be starting up a shuttle service to Tranquility Base anytime soon, so that hunger will likely never be satisfied.

Jesus says that there is a hunger that can be satisfied, but it is not something that most people really care much about. In Matthew 5:6 he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” At first blush it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as a chance to hit golf balls on the moon. But the more I think about having a hunger for righteousness, the more appetizing it sounds. Think about it for a moment. What would be different in the world if life was characterized by righteousness? What if people actually did the right thing, treated each other with dignity, watched out for the hurting and weak, and generally loved God and their neighbor above all else? How different might things be if political leaders actually cared about doing the right thing more than getting elected again and again. For that matter, how different would it be if the voters hungered more for leaders who did the right thing than for those who seem to promise the most perks for us? How different would it be if people so longed for righteousness that we would no longer put up with a world in which children starve to death while others grow fat? How different would it be if we thirsted like a dying man in the desert for a world in which women need never fear being raped?  How different would it be if we yearned for a world in which the color of ones skin was seen as a beautiful example of God’s love of variety instead of a reason to exclude, reject or attack?

Jesus hungers for such a world. It is a world in which human beings fulfill the requirements of our relationship with God and with one another. We are to hunger and thirst for “right relationships” that are characterized by loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength – loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We must never be satisfied with anything less.

But in order to be truly satisfied we must long for a righteousness that is worthy of heaven. For it is only there that we will ultimately experience a relationship with God and one another as it was intended. We must hunger for that heavenly righteousness as a starving man hungers for a crust of bread.

That kind of hunger will lead inevitably to the foot of the cross. At the cross I am reminded again and again that I have no righteousness in myself. I can do nothing to satisfy my need for righteousness. I am spiritually bankrupt. Jesus made that clear in the first Beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit. But it is also at that cross that I receive my one true hope. I find that Jesus has gone to that cross on my behalf so that I may indeed be in a right relationship with the Father. And that is at the heart of righteousness. It is being made right with God, being in a right relationship with him because my sin has been forgiven. Jesus promises that if I hunger for that kind of righteousness that I will be filled.

As much as I may look at the world and the appalling lack of righteousness in it, I have to look deep into my own heart first. It is there that I must hunger for righteousness before anywhere else. It is in my own heart and my own relationship with God that I must thirst for right things. It is in my heart of hearts that I must yearn for a love for those around me that knows no bounds.

It is a humbling thing to admit that in our hearts we are just not right with God and others as we need to be. But it is also a very freeing thing. It frees me to become the person I know Jesus wants me to be and to look with expectation and hope to the day when all my hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

Church

What Should Church “Look Like”?

Has you ever been asked what Church looks like? When most are asked this question,  they talk about the physical aspects of a building.  Gothic cathedrals to modern theatrical spaces, tiny white clapboard buildings to movie theaters and rented halls – we all have an idea of what Church ‘should’ look like.  Perhaps our ideas are shaped by our upbringing or by personal preferences.  Whatever the reason,  if you ask three different people in Church what it should look like, you might get four different answers. 

Too often, I find that we measure the success of the Church by the way it looks.  If we have a building that looks like what we think Church should be, the Church is a great one.  But what if we stopped looking at the physical aspect of the building and started to consider the spiritual ones?   Instead of thinking in terms of bricks and mortar, let’s think instead in terms of God’s people accomplishing the mission that was given to them by Jesus.

Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

To be a Church, the first thing we need to consider is: do we reach out to others with the love of Jesus?  As a group of believers, do you prioritize  reconciling our world with Jesus?  One of the benchmarks of a healthy Church are how many new people come to faith and if there is a growing body of believers who are being baptized into the Kingdom of God. 

Is the Church not just growing bigger numerically, but is it growing deeper spiritually?  Jesus calls us to the messy (but joyful) work of making disciples as we teach them to obey His word.  We need to be about the business of helping others to be transformed into the image of Christ.  While we might have a great building with an abundance of programs, but the end goal needs to remain the making of disciples.

Finally, a healthy Church recognizes the power of Christ being with them.  They take comfort and direction from Him, striving to live out the mandate that He has gave us in Matthew 28. A healthy Church relies on God for His provision, magnifying Him through the worship of their lives, and giving Him the honor and glory for how He works in and through them.

In my own life, I have had to learn to let aspects of Church life that I enjoy go, all for the sake of the mission of the Kingdom of God.  So like me, what do you need to re-evaluate in light of our mission?  What is there that you might need to let go to be faithful to the call of the Great Commission? Personally, I am working at scaling back to a simple focus on that which brings God joy and fulfills what He calls us to.  And in that, I am learning to find peace.  Why don’t you join me on the journey as we realize that the Church is not a building or a place, but a way of life.