Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Watered Down" Christianity is the Hardest to Follow

I've heard it time and again...
- "This person preaches a watered down Gospel"
- "You believe a watered down Gospel"
- "That Church teaches a watered down Christianity."

What is a watered-down Christianity/Gospel?


Usually, those slinging that term around are talking about a form of Christianity which promotes love and following Christ, rather than fear and the wrath of God.

If we say we are to always love our neighbors, family, friends, and even enemies - we're preaching a watered down Christianity.

If we do not continuously stress that if one does not obey God, they will go to hell - we are preaching a watered down Christianity.

If we stress obedience by showing love rather than obedience to avoid the pit of fire - watered down Christianity.

If we engage, encourage, and envelop everyone (yes.... even the sinners....) - it's a watered down Christianity.

If we believe everyone is worthy of God's love and grace - yup, watered down.

If we promote correction of self and do not promote correction and judgment of others - it's watered down.

I could give several more examples, but I think you get the point. 

Watered Down Christianity is Harder!


I have a theory...
The reason people start screaming that the above is all watered-down Christianity (and therefore not true and we should not be promoting it) is because this kind of Christianity is just too difficult. It is the hardest thing ever.

It is easy to throw insults at sinners and tell them they're going to hell. It's easy to correct others and stand in judgment of them.

It is easy to exclude people because they do not fit the kind of person we think is the stand-up Christian. It's easy to isolate ourselves from non-Christians, or those who refuse to believe what we believe.

It is easy to recognize that certain people are not worthy of God's love and Grace (and be willing to tell them that).

It is sometimes almost impossible to stand behind someone who doesn't believe, or someone who is an obvious sinner and give that person comfort and love. It is sometimes almost impossible to extend love and comfort to those we believe are not worthy.

And it is insanely difficult to stop correcting and judging and criticizing other people, and rather look inward and recognize what needs to grow inside our own hearts.

So- is this Really Watered Down? 


No. Promoting, preaching and practicing love - towards all people and in every possible way we can in the name of God, in the following of Christ Jesus - this is not even close to being a watered down Gospel. It is THE Gospel.

So, what is a watered down Gospel? 


I stumbled on another blog post earlier that has some very good points. Instead of rewriting what has already been done, I urge you all to read this post: 10 Ways We Water Down the Gospel

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Teaching to Walk a Mile

I had the privilege of serving supper to the Confirmation class at Church last Wednesday night. As I was in the kitchen cleaning up, I listened to the Pastor and students. He asked them what is something they have a reputation for that isn't true. It was meant to be for the individual - for example, "Jimmy, what is something people say about you that is not true?" But instead of anyone answering that, one child chimed in about a different one, "Well, [she] always acts crazy."

This short conversation is what inspired me to write Walk a Mile. If you haven't already done so, please read it. If this was your life - wouldn't you act a little crazy? Or, perhaps you'd be more like a couple other children - you'd be very shy and reserved, withdrawn from everyone else, uncertain of how to respond in situations. Or, perhaps you'd be like another child, and be prone to panic attacks. Or, like another, and be subject to severe bouts of depression.

The Ease of Judgement


As we sit back, looking on from the outside, it is so easy to judge other people, including children. It's easy to laugh at someone else who is acting different than we think they should be. It's easy to pick on that person for being strange. It's easy to bully them, exclude them, have fun at their expense. It is particularly easy for children to fall into this, especially if they see other children (or parents/adults) doing the same. And, especially if no one bothers to help teach them empathy.

I remember many years ago when my eldest daughter was in elementary school, there was a young girl in her class. This girl was different. She acted weird. She stole from other kids. For some reason, she liked hanging out at our house, and one day I caught my daughter telling her she couldn't come over any more. When I asked my daughter about it, she said "she's weird, and she stole my crayons. No one likes her."

Ignore, Accept, or Teach


When we, as parents, hear something like this, we have 3 options - ignore it, accept and contribute to it, or use it as an opportunity to teach our children to walk a mile in someone else' shoes.

It's easy to brush it off as just kids being kids. We don't want to tell our kids who they should or shouldn't be friends with - especially if it might affect our own child's popularity. And, it's equally easy to say "yeah, she is different. I can see why you wouldn't want to be friends with her. No one needs a friend like that."

But we often fail to recognize the opportunity that arises for us as adults when we witness something like this - an opportunity to teach love and the message of Christ, the opportunity to possibly impact another life, the opportunity to help our children grow in compassion and empathy.

Christ teaches us repeatedly to be compassionate to others. We are to love all, including our enemies. Should someone take our coat, we're to also give our shirt. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (all of these are from Luke 6 - good chapter... give it a read). These are things we can (and should) be teaching our children.

We as parents, teachers, Pastors, etc need to take opportunities to teach our children empathy. We need to teach them to imagine life from the other person's perspective. What is he/she going through? How difficult must that be for them? How would you feel if you were in their shoes? How would you act? How would you be different?

Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
We need to teach them to think about the other person's interests. Ask your children what they think this other child needs. What will help this other person?
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5)
 We need to take opportunities to teach our children to be Christlike in our thoughts and actions towards others... to not judge by what we see or hear... to be compassionate towards all. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Walk a Mile

I have a favor to ask of each of you reading this... I'd like for you to take your time reading these words, and taking them in, and letting yourself into the character's shoes. When you're done, close your eyes and truly image yourself in his/her shoes...

Imagine you're a young teenager. You are awakened early, after another restless night's sleep. Your first thought is "blah... I don't want to go to school..." but is immediately followed by listening in the silence for your dad's voice. Is he throwing up again, as he's doing so many mornings? Is he in pain? Is he even awake? Is he alive? Please let him be alive!

You stumble down the stairs to check on him. Sometimes, upon hitting the bottom of the stairs, you remember he isn't even home - he's in the hospital again. Sometimes, he is home. But often, when he is home, he's either sick or in pain. And when he's sleeping, you stand by his bed checking to make sure he's breathing.

Finally accepting that he's ok, you get ready for school and head off. Like any teenager, you have a million other things on your mind. Did you finish your math homework? Why didn't your boyfriend/girlfriend text you this morning? Do I really have to go to phy ed today? But, unlike most teenagers, amidst those common but stressful worries, your thoughts also go to other things. Will Dad be ok? Can Mom handle helping him, and work? How's he going to get to his doctor appointment? What if the doctor finds something else wrong, and Dad's going to be in the hospital again?

You come home, knowing you need to help with the chores, and the siblings. And with taking care of your Dad. You can't go out with your friends because he needs someone to help him out. You don't want to go out a lot of times, because you're worried something will happen while you're away. 

You go to bed each night praying God make him well... praying God end his pain... praying God make your life easier, though you often feel guilty for this desire. Your sleep is broken up as he calls for someone to help him in the middle of the night... or because you are worried he will call for someone.

The stress becomes almost unbearable. Tears threaten to fall, even though you've tried so hard to keep them away. You've had to become so strong, and yet you constantly feel so weak. You try turning to a good friend... again. But, you've apparently turned to her so many times, she doesn't have time for you anymore. She'd rather hang out with the "fun" crowd. You try another, knowing you desperately need a shoulder to cry on, or at least an listening ear. But, he doesn't have time for you either.

You try to be understanding. Everyone has their own issues to deal with. You recognize this. And you know you've abused the friendships so much by always being in need. But, dammit, you need someone now. Again.

In selfish, needy anger, you lash out at those who abandon you.
Eventually, you cut yourself off from them all.
You learn to toss on masks - acting strange and psychotic and goofy. It's not for attention (or, not exactly). It's to hide from the pain that no one wants to hear about. It sometimes is also for someone to see you  and listen to you - they won't listen to the real you anymore. But, it's still a mask. The pain and stress and anger and frustration still lives within.....

......

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gossip and Slander - the Tools of Fools

I'm sure you've all met them before. Conversations with them usually begin with "did you hear what [insert name] did???" It's usually followed up with... "Well, Betty told me she overheard Jim tell Jack that Susie's husband's brother said...."

Gossip


I remember going into work about 10 or 11 years ago, and being approached by the boss' wife. "Are you and your husband getting a divorce?" The question came out of the blue. He and I weren't having any problems whatsoever. So, I answered her honestly (no, we're doing great)... and asked where the question came from. She explained that someone had told her my husband kicked me out of the house and I was living in a motel. It was several hours later before I figured out who said it and where she got the information...

The weekend before, I was stressed beyond belief and driving my husband nuts. So, he gave me some money and told me to go uptown for a while. Upon arriving at the bar, I told some of my friends "I was driving my husband nuts, so he gave me 10 bucks and told me to get out." I knew what I meant. My friends knew what I meant. The old lady sitting behind me, however? She decided to run with the story, and fill in the blanks on her own.

Slander


4 or 5 years ago, I was volunteering at the school for a fundraiser. I was walking near my son and one of his classmates, when I suddenly heard an old lady quite loudly tell her friend (while pointing directly at me) "She used to be a stripper!" I was floored. First, I've never been a stripper (maybe I should have been - they make good money), and second, I still don't have a clue where that one came from.


What's the Difference?


There are some people who consistently feel the need to take little snippets that they've heard, and fill in any blanks with their own creativity, and spread this around to other people. They hang on every juicy tidbit other people feed them, embellish the stories a little, and eagerly share their story with the first person who'll listen. This kind of gossip is annoying, and hurtful, but it's usually fueled by a simple desire to talk... to say something "exciting"... to relieve boredom.

But worse (in my opinion) are those who feel the need to make up their own crap with the intention of hurting other people. The woman who was telling people I was a stripper - the only intention behind her words was to slander my name - to ruin my reputation. She told lies with the express purpose of making me look like a bad person (as if I don't do that well enough on my own).

And these are the kind of people I need a lot of patience from God to deal with. These are the people who will smear the name of a good person, just because they don't like her. These are the people who set out to ruin a man's reputation, job, marriage, or all the above, just because they don't agree with him. These are the people who intentionally seek to destroy good people just because they can, or because they don't care for the person, or because they're simply heartless fools.
 

What's the Bible Say about it all? 


There are actually many verses which speak to the evil of slander, both in the OT and NT. But, my personal favorite is this one...

Psalm 15
 1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
 3 who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
 4  in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
 5 who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

And, of course, there is Matthew  15:18-19...

18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

And then there's... well, look them up. Just do a search for "Bible verses about slander."

 And then... stop slandering. Or, if you're not one to slander, at least stop listening to those who are this way. They can't slander someone if they don't have an audience.

May every word that leaves our lips be brought forth with the intent to lift up, comfort, love and support one another.

God bless!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Button, Button, Who's Got the Button

Have you ever found yourself spinning yourself in circles, to the point where you confuse yourself much more than you already were?

This is how I've been feeling lately. For the past several weeks, my Bible Study group has been concentrating on Spiritual Gifts. I really hadn't paid much attention to the topic before. I'd skimmed over the verses which discuss these gifts, but never spent energy on what they are, what they mean. It never dawned on me that perhaps we each have at least one of these gifts.

It has been an interesting study. And it's motivational and encouraging to believe we each have at least one gift. I entered into the study excited to find out what mine is, and how I can best use it.

And, 6 weeks in, I still don't have a clue.

Service
Prophecy
Mercy
Exhortation
Giving
Leadership
Teaching

These are the motivational gifts. We should each have a primary one (or two). How one reacts instinctively to a situation is generally a good indicator of which gift it is. And, I'm still lost. I react instinctively in many different ways, depending on the situation.

Service - I offer my services whenever and wherever possible. But is this an instinctual, drawn-to-do-so behavior? Or do I simply feel someone has to do it, so I agree? Or do I do it for the recognition and acceptance? Or because I really can't afford to financially give, so I give my time to compensate?

Mercy -I can often empathize with people who are hurting or in distress. I sometimes feel their pain almost as strongly as if it were my own, sometimes without them even telling me. And I sometimes can minister to these people. But is it an instinctual reaction because of a gift, or is it more because I know where they're coming from because I, too, have been there?

Teaching - I love absorbing myself in studying. I study the Bible, the commentaries, the original language/translations. I could spend hours researching a topic. And, I love to write about these topics, or whatever other topic pops into my head that I need to shout to the world. But do I do this to teach others? Or is it just a love of education?

Even the others (or some of them anyway), I can see myself fitting into in some way, at some time or another.

Arrrgggghhhh!


So what about you? Do you know your spiritual gift?