Tag Archives: Christ

No Christian is Perfect

 

ChurchPointsToChristReally good fiction may not be a true story, but the best fiction is always truth. For example, In the novel Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, there is a startling and insightful commentary on the failure of self-identified Christians to live up to the faith we all profess. In the early nineteenth century, a Christian group offered to provide Cherokee Indians in the Blue Ridge mountains some Bible stories translated and written in the Cherokee syllabary. Before agreeing to the distribution of these stories, the Cherokee leader, Bear, asked for samples of Bible stories, which he heard with some interest. Describing the outcome, the author concludes the matter this way:

In the end, [Bear] said he judged the Bible to be a sound book. Nevertheless, he wondered why the white people were not better than they are, having had it for so long. He promised that just as soon as white people achieved Christianity, he would recommend it to his own folks.   p. 21

Any Christian who has talked with very many people about what it means to be Christian has heard a similar response. Most people express it by saying that they don’t want to be Christians because of all the hypocrites in the church. They, like Bear, want all the people who claim to be Christians to “achieve” Christianity before they themselves undertake it.

Jesus warned Christians that this would be a problem when he told his disciples that their love for each other would be a mark of his reign in their lives. In another place he said that we should do good works in such a way that it made people praise God, not us. Jesus expected people to watch his followers and notice what they did and what they did not do. We should all be alert to the fact that our lives are viewed by people as the expression of our relationships with Christ, or the lack thereof. Christians regularly bemoan the fact that people who do not know Christ use imperfect Christians as an excuse to reject Him.

This is why all of us should be very careful to point to Christ, not ourselves. It is Christ we offer to people for their salvation, not ourselves. It isn’t even the church. The church, the family of Christ, is a good thing, but it isn’t Christ. People are not saved by the church; they are saved by Christ. Those who are saved by Christ fellowship with him and with other believers in the church.

People who reject Christ because of their issues with some of Christ’s followers are looking at the wrong standard. The only way we can hope to get past that problem is by seeking the character trait of humility. We know that John was right when he wrote, “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2 ESV). We know that we are not perfect.

When we invite people into Christ’s kingdom, we must point them to Christ, not to other Christians. Yet, we all are called to live a faithful testimony to Christ, and that means we must be as much like him as we can manage. People do not all mature at the same rate, so it takes longer for some people, but if we keep our own eyes on Jesus, all of us should certainly demonstrate growth, even if we don’t demonstrate perfection. We must resist the temptation to try to pretend we are anything but works in progress. One of the reasons churches traditionally have spires, arches, and lofty windows is that designers want them to point people’s attention away from earthly things to heavenly things.

When Christ was about to ascend to heaven, some of his followers gathered to be with him. Not one of them was a perfect example of what a Christian should be. Each was a flawed, but redeemed, individual. Jesus did not say, “When you become perfect, then go into all the world.” He said, “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). Imperfect though we are, we are chosen. We, the imperfect, must go ahead and share with the world that good news that Christ died and is alive in order to save sinful, imperfect human beings. We don’t run ahead of sinners and cry out, “Follow me!” We walk beside them and say, “Let’s go to Jesus.”

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com

photo credit: 20140911-DSC02640 Teweksbury Abbey Gloucestershire.jpg via photopin (license)

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Stop and Think About the Bible

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You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. Mark 14:62 ESV 

  • Jesus was on trial. The high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ?” Jesus answered, “I am.” Why did that statement enrage the priest?
  • After Jesus said, “I am,” he made the statement quoted above. To what was he referring? 
  • Why is it important to know that Jesus is both 100% human and 100% God? What difference does it make to your life?
  • Many religions believe that they show respect for Jesus by saying that he was a wise prophet but no god. There are even secular thinkers who say that they respect what Jesus taught about love and peace, but they reject any notion that he is God. Why is that concept complete blasphemy? Why don’t Christians riot and shout “death to the infidels?” when someone makes this allegation?
  • Imagine that the US government arrested you and put you on trial for reading your Bible on a public bus, charged with attempting to proselytize fellow passengers by displaying this book. Further imagine that the judge announced that charges would be dropped if you were willing to classify the Bible as a book of fantasy. How would you respond? 
  • Imagine that you join other Christians and parade through a local festival carrying signs that say, “Jesus is alive!” Further imagine that you are arrested for being a public nuisance and you are offered a choice: either declare that Jesus is not alive any longer or spend six months in rehabilitative therapy with a diagnosis of schizophrenia because you believe that a dead person is alive and speaking to you. How would you respond? 
  • Why are these imaginary scenarios credible? What are you doing today to push back against the development of political and social action that denies people the right to have faith in God?

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Torah Scroll
Source:
http://library.duke.edu/exhibits/hebrewbible/torah.html
License:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0

 

 

 

Stop and Think About a Hymn

Open Hymnal

 

My Faith Looks Up To Thee

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

By Ray Palmer

Text in the Public Domain

Source: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/y/myfluptt.htm

 

 

  • The hymn writer describes an attitude that looks to Jesus for faith and guidance in everything. What does the Bible say about this attitude? (See 2 Corinthians 5:7, John 14:5-6.
  • Why does the writer ask for strength through God’s grace instead of asserting a right to his request? What is zeal? How does the hymn writer describe zeal for Christ? How can a faithful follower of Christ express this kind of zeal without building a wall between himself and the people around him? Why don’t Christians want to build a wall of separation between themselves and all other people?
  • What experiences have you had that help you understand the author’s perception of life on earth as a “dark maze?” How would you explain to a secular thinker why you see the earth as a dark place?
  • Secularists believe that when they die, they simply stop living biologically and they have no further sentient existence. Their only concept of their further existence is that their molecules will be recycled by nature. How can you explain to a secularist why you believe that “death’s cold sullen stream” is not the end of your life?

 

I normally do not print the story of the hymns I post, but this story is extraordinary. The section about the Syrian Christian who came to the USA is especially relevant as we pray daily for the protection and the powerful testimony of Christian brothers and sisters in Syria.

Ray Palmer wrote these lyr­ics up­on re­ceiv­ing a vi­sion of Christ short­ly af­ter his grad­u­a­tion from Yale Un­i­ver­si­ty, while work­ing as a tu­tor at a New York school. How­ev­er, he kept them to him­self un­til meet­ing Low­ell Ma­son on a street in Bos­ton, Mas­sac­hu­setts. When Ma­son asked him to write some­thing for a new hymn­al, Palm­er dug out his old notes and pro­duced these lyr­ics, writ­ten two years ear­li­er. Af­ter tak­ing the lyr­ics home and read­ing them, Ma­son com­posed this tune. Sev­er­al days lat­er he saw Palm­er again and said: You may live ma­ny years and do ma­ny good things, but I think you will be best known to pos­ter­i­ty as the au­thor of My Faith Looks Up to Thee.

An interesting story con­nect­ed with this hymn:

Mrs. Lay­yah Bar­a­kat, a na­tive of Syr­ia, was ed­u­cat­ed in Bei­rut and then taught for a time in Egypt. Driv­en out in 1882 by the in­sur­rect­ion of Ara­bi Pa­sha, she, with her hus­band and child, came to Amer­i­ca by way of Mal­ta and Mar­seilles. Her his­to­ry is a strange il­lus­tra­tion of God’s pro­vi­den­tial care, as they were with­out any di­rect­ion or friends in Phil­a­del­phia when they land­ed. But the Lord took them into His own keep­ing, and brought them to those who had known of her in Syr­ia. While in this coun­try she fre­quent­ly ad­dressed large au­di­enc­es, to whom her deep ear­nest­ness and brok­en but pi­quant Eng­lish proved un­u­su­al­ly at­tract­ive. Among other in­ci­dents she re­lat­ed that she had been per­mit­ted to see the con­ver­sion of her whole fam­i­ly, who were Mar­o­nites of Mount Le­ba­non. Her mother, six­ty-two years of age, had been taught ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee’ in Ar­a­bic. They would sit on the house roof and re­peat it to­ge­ther; and when the news came back to Syr­ia that the daugh­ter was safe in Amer­i­ca, the mo­ther could send her no bet­ter proof of her faith and love than in the beau­ti­ful words of this hymn, as­sur­ing her that her faith still looked up to Christ.

The source of this story is identified on the site as Sutherland, pp. 77-9. However, the link appears to be dead.

The background material and the story of the Syrian Christian are all taken from http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/y/myfluptt.htm

Blog post created by Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Open Hymnal
Source:http://foter.com/
License: CC BY-NC-SA

 

 

The Spiritual Worldview

A persistent complaint about Christianity is the “hypocrisy” of Christians. I recently met a lady who told me she was Buddhist, even though faithful Christian parents reared her. She said that three different times in her childhood, she was sexually assaulted by Christian clergy. Those experiences marked her, and she wanted no part of Christianity. Most of the Christians I know who have attempted to speak to unbelievers report stories about Christians who lie, cheat, steal, and behave in a generally disreputable manner. Christians who do not act like Christians lead non-Christians to believe that there is no good reason to become a Christian.

On the other hand, one will rarely hear someone criticize a Christian for un-Christlike behavior when that person says, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This little empty aphorism is just as un-Christlike as sexual assault or theft, but non-Christians do not recognize that fact, because this notion is quite popular among secular thinkers. Yet even Christians often do not recognize that this statement makes self, not God, the center of life.

This idea is one of many statements that fall into the general category of “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a term coined by Rod Dreher, a cultural analyst who contrasts this philosophy with a Christian worldview. Facebook posts are full of MTD. They are often posted as text added to gorgeous photos of sunrise, galaxies, and the like. They look quite inspirational, but the inspiration is to look at self, the god within, rather than God Almighty, our Creator.

Here is another example of such a post, a statement attributed to someone called The Kamarpa:

“Ask yourself what kind of person you want to be in the life that you will live today. Throughout the day, remind yourself that your life is happening right now.”

When a secular thinker reads such words, he feels good. He sees in such a statement a reminder that he is his own god. He need not be in submission to anyone, because he can simply ask himself what to be. He can ask himself each day, and the answer may be different each day. He need not get in a rut. No perseverance required here. If it doesn’t feel good, then leave it alone.

Sad to say, when Christians read such a statement, they, too, feel good. Some Christians do not really see any conflict between this statement and the Christian faith. How could such a nice idea be un-Christlike? Shouldn’t we examine ourselves each morning and try to live better lives?

Of course we should, but the idea of asking ourselves, rather than God, what needs to be done each day is alien to the fundamental teachings of Christianity. A fellow Christian asked me one day, “Why shouldn’t I go ahead and align myself with the universe and pray to God at the same time? What could it hurt? After all, I’m just putting myself out there for whatever opportunity I can find.”

The ancient Israelites are the most well documented example of what happens when people believe that they can serve both God and gods. They had no problem marching into the Temple with lambs and bulls for sacrifice to God and then marching out to the high places to worship Baal. God had given them Ten Commandments which were to shape their lives forever, and the first one was “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2 NIV84). The prophets repeatedly called them to repentance and faithful lives, but it was just too tempting. Why did they have to be the only people in the world with only one god? All the other people had many gods. It was much more fun. Those gods were much more accommodating. To worship those gods, one visited temple prostitutes, and that was much more delightful than all that talk about sin.

The ancient gods and the book The Secret all teach that people ought to get what they want. The ancient gods, which are resurfacing today in all their glory, did not necessarily yearn to give people what they wanted, but they were not averse to being persuaded by gifts and orgies in their honor to fulfill people’s wishes. Of course, if the wishes were not fulfilled, it was always a simple matter of human failure to fulfill the god’s expectations. In consequence, the Israelites, and people today as well, thought that God’s failure to grant their wishes was about some failure to say the right word or do the right ritual. Those ancient gods had minimal expectations of human behavior and no expectation of real commitment. Daily life had little to do with those gods, and the Israelites, as well as people today, liked it that way.

The Secret teaches that the universe wants people to get their wishes. People like my friend believe that the universe is “star stuff,” as Carl Sagan used to say. That means that they don’t think of it as a false god. However, that does not keep them from swallowing the thesis of The Secret, a thesis which makes the universe into a god. Ancient pagans have no problem with the universe being a god. The teachings of The Secret are no different from any other form of pantheism. They are also no less dangerous that any explicitly named religion that teaches pantheism. My friend had fallen for the notion that he was just playing the odds, hoping that one way or another, he would get what he wanted.

Faith in Christ is not one among many options for a happy life. Adding Christ to the mix of powers one petitions for a good day or wisdom or wealth will not add positive weight to one’s case. Trying to worship Christ and worship self at the same time will not work. To worship ancient gods, the universe, or any other power in order to get what one wants is to worship self. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.” Jesus is exclusive. Believe him, or don’t believe him. Never try to play the odds. Never try to bundle up as many gods as possible in the hope that one of them will fulfill your wishes. The need for wish fulfillment is worship of self.

Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer is a good model for starting the day with self-examination in the light of one’s relationship with God. Rather than asking oneself what the day ought to be, Martin Luther recommended looking first to God:

Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, such as one on the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

In this manner of prayer, the first thing one does is to address God, not self. This prayer points to God each morning. It does not invite us to ask ourselves what we want. It addresses the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and doesn’t ask for anything until after worship in God’s presence. The next step, recitation of The Creed is a testimony of faith beginning with the words, “I believe in God . . . .” After that, praying the Lord’s Prayer points to God with words of both worship and petitions. All these practices point to God, not self. Finally, one offers up one’s own concerns for the day ahead in a prayer that asks, “that all my doings and life may please Thee.” Compare this practice of beginning the day by turning to God and offering self to God with a habit of beginning the day by turning to self to ask self what self wants.

After the Transfiguration, Jesus came down the mountain to find his disciples in disarray. A man had brought his demon-possessed son to them for exorcism, and they were failing. Jesus rebuked their lack of faith, and then he took care of the problem. Later, after they had escaped the crowds, the disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we get rid of it?” (my paraphrase) Jesus did not tell them that they didn’t use the right words or the right ritual or the right potion. He reworded his rebuke about their lack of faith by saying, “The only thing that works for this kind is prayer.” (my paraphrase) The problem was that they were asking themselves what they needed to do instead of asking God. They trusted themselves to know what to do. They trusted in self. They did exactly what Kamarpa recommends: Ask yourself.

I believe that the greatest deficit among self-identified Christians is faith in Christ. Poll after poll confirms that many, many self-identified Christians do not believe that Jesus is “the Way.” They believe that he is “one of the ways.” A Christian worldview begins with Christ, and if anyone wants to call himself a Christian, he must begin by recognizing that Christ is the only Way. Rod Dreher believes that “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD) is replacing biblical Christianity across our culture. That is sad, because moralistic therapeutic deism will not save anyone from demons or transform anyone into a powerful servant of God. The reason self-identified Christians often do not act like Christians is that they do not follow Christ. To practice moralistic therapeutic deism is not the same thing.

 

 

 

Stop and Think about the Bible

torah_500

God,
being rich in mercy,
because of the great love with which he loved us, 
even when we were dead in our trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ
—by grace you have been saved—
and raised us up with him
and seated us with him
in the heavenly places
in Christ Jesus,
so that
in the coming ages
he might show
the immeasurable riches of his grace
in kindness
toward us
in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

  •  Paul wrote these words to a troubled church. It was a great church, birthed in fire, a fire that burned books of magic spells and potions associated with the culture of idolatry in Ephesus. If someone like Paul came to your town and stirred a lot of people to receive Christ, what would be the major thing citizens would abandon or throw away as they came to faith? To ask the same question a different way, what do you believe most people in your town cry for when they feel hopeless?
  • Do you know people who fixate on angels more than they fixate on Jesus? How did it happen? Why do they have so much more faith in angels than in Jesus?
  • In the town where you live, do most people claim to go to church on Sunday or not? What do people in your town do if they are not in church on Sunday? Do these things fill up their lives and push Christ out? Or was Christ ever in their hearts?
  • Do you observe any hint that people in your town who do not serve Christ believe that they are sinful? If people do not think they are sinful, or as Paul said it, “dead in their trespasses,” what would make them think they need Jesus?

By grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God,
not a result of works,
so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

  • Do you personally know anyone who believes that he does not need God, or any god? What does that person say is the foundation of his personal strength? Does that person consider that there is anything in his life which he would die for? In different words, is there anything he would die rather than give up?
  • Are you saved? What were you saved from? How did it happen that you became saved?

We are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

  • You may have heard someone say, “I hope this one counts for good stuff, because last time I think I made God mad.” What would you tell someone who said such a thing?
  • Since we now know that good works don’t buy heaven, what is the point of doing good works at all?
  • Imagine you had hired someone to be your right hand while you worked as a teacher and personal mentor to a dozen people over the course of a weekend retreat. You were scheduled for thirty minutes to eat some food at 8PM on Saturday evening after teaching and consulting nonstop since noon. If your assistant inexplicably brought you a beef taco and chips after you had specifically ordered chicken, would you feel entitled to complain, or would it be proper to eat it without any unpleasantness? Would it be a good work to refuse to abuse your assistant, or would it be leadership to teach him what a big error he had made? What exactly is a good work?