Archive for April, 2018

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk3-option2Last Sunday, during worship, we talked about other religions and how we, as Christians, should relate to them. How we should have discussions with them. There are many times that we get it wrong when we talk with people from other religions. In order to understand how to get it right, we need to understand a few of the ways the church has viewed those outside the church.

First, is what we would call ‘Christian Exclusivism.’ The belief here is that the only way to get to heaven, is through saying the sinner’s prayer, by accepting Jesus Christ into your life, no exceptions. If you don’t, then you do not pass go, you do not collect $200, and you most certainly do not get to enter the pearly gates of heaven.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, is it not written that the only way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus Christ? Is he not the way the truth and the life? Yes, he is. But what of those who have not heard? What about the groups of indigenous tribes in extreme remote places? What about all of those people who didn’t have a missionary stop by their village before they died to tell them about Jesus Christ? Are they condemned to hell?

Here’s another scenario. I have friends who take care of developmentally disabled kids who can’t function at a certain level, and they most certainly do not understand what it means to make a decision to follow Christ. Does this mean that they will not make it to heaven, because they can’t utter those words? Some would say yes. Now, I don’t have to tell you how heartbreaking that sounds. I just can’t believe that God could do that.

The other side of that belief is something called ‘Christian Universalism.’ All are in, regardless of what they believe, what they have done and continue to do, even if they have never known Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Rob Bell is the pastor of a church in Michigan and has written a number of books. But one that he wrote turned a lot of evangelical Christians inside out. His book “Love Wins” was a proclamation in what some would call universalism. That there really was no need for hell, because everyone would join together in heaven.

Some of what he says in this book is what I believe about God. He talks about his loving and forgiving nature. We see this in the life, death, and resurrection of his only Son, Jesus Christ. But if the message is that everyone will enjoy heaven, I’m not sure I can follow along with that.

But he does write this; “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better….This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

To that extent, I agree with him. The idea of predestination and the elect, the thought that you have to utter some certain words in order to enter paradise, goes against my belief in a loving and merciful God. Which leads me to the last group this morning.

‘Christian Inclusivism’ is somewhere between these other two. Foundational is still that salvation is offered in and through Jesus Christ. This was offered through the power of the cross and his resurrection. But here’s the twist. I am not God. I’m pretty sure that you are not either. The judgement is God’s alone.

God can choose to whom and how the merits of Christ are applied. It’s not our decision. So, as we look at those who are not Christians, whether it would be those practicing Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or maybe as an Atheist like my friend that I have talked about before, God chooses whether to apply the merit of Christ to their eternal life.

Many people who don’t claim to be Christian live their life just as Jesus has called us to live. They help the poor, love their neighbor, care for each other, and speak out against injustices. There are some who are more attentive to the needs of this world and behave more lovingly than some Christians do.

Ephesians Verse 4-5 says this; “But 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!” Who are we to say where God will bestow that gift? And how do we pass judgment and limit God’s mercy?

What’s the purpose within Christianity? Is this all about getting someplace? Is it all about the destination? Or is there something more? Do we share our beliefs with those of different religions because we are certain that they will spend eternity in hell? Or do we share with them because Jesus loves us and asks us to do something? Because he asks us to love them? And if that’s so, how can we love them if we spend our lives hating and judging them? It’s not our job.

We need to show the world Christ because he teaches how to love and live with each other. His teachings are of love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

We get it wrong when we repel others through judgments, hatred, and misunderstandings. We get it right when we love, find common ground within the good of people, and live in harmony with those around us. Let’s strive to get it right and be the example Christ has taught us to be.

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk2-option2I asked for a response recently on my Facebook page regarding people’s thoughts on Christians, Science and Politics. He are a couple of the comments I received; “It doesn’t even look right to see all three in the same sentence!” “They should all go together in my opinion.”

Others said this; “Ooh, ooh…Fun talk! Pour the wine and gather round my friends!” and “Science and religion are not antithetical but really complementary.” And finally; “Two responses – 1) a perpetually triangulated disagreement; and 2) 3 cats chasing each others tail…”

As we focus on places where Christians get it wrong, we turn our attention to science and politics. We will look at science today, but if you want to hear what my thoughts are on politics, you can check out the video sermons on our website.

For many years, people of the Christian faith have been close minded to the experiments of science. Not accepting some of the findings of great scientists of today. Let’s travel back to Genesis chapter one; In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. This is what I was taught, maybe what you were taught as well. But what does this chapter of Genesis really tell us? Is it a how-to manual on the steps God took to create this world and the universes around us? Does it tell us how many pieces it took to create man?

Think about this, in those days, the entire world was very small, all based out of the middle east. America wasn’t discovered yet; the view of the world was infantile. The people of that day would never have understood how God created this wonderful world, they just knew He did it. Not until around 1492 did we know the earth wasn’t flat!

Case in point; On June 22nd, 1633 the church announces that a certain man was a heretic and confined him to his home for proposing the notion that earth was not the center of the universe. At that time everyone knew that the earth was the center of the universe and that everything revolved around it. Galileo stated the earth rotated around the sun, a notion that put the entire world on its ear. The church starts to get it wrong here. The more we become close minded and unaccepting to the findings of science, the more we become irrelevant to the world, and to those in the world who might not be looking for “how” but looking for “why.” We get it wrong when we become quick to speak and slow to listen, assuming that we know it all. We don’t, there is only One who knows it all, and we need to believe that this One, God himself, can be bigger than we could ever imagine.

Some people who have looked at how the church and Christians have approached science, have stated that we seem to be behind the times or that we are anti-intellectual or “less intellectually active.” Maybe because some well publicized Christians have not wanted to hear about how God could have created this world and everything around it, they just want to say God created, enough said. Many believe that Christians do not want to hear about the findings of science because it threatens their faith. They don’t want to know the ‘how’ portion of the answer, they just want to believe what they have always been told. Think of all of the things we have witnessed the discovery of; countless new animal species, stars, planets, and the list goes on and on. God knew about all of these in the beginning, because he created them. His touch was on all things.

The difference between Science and Faith is this; Science explains the process of how the universe works, faith on the other hand, helps us to recognize why the universe works and what our existence means. While science asks questions like what and how, our faith asks the question why. Science should not undermine your faith and your belief in a God of immeasurable love. The account of creation in Genesis is not to be a science textbook. It does not tell us how God created all of this, but it does tell us that he DID create it. However, this world came into being; Big Bang, Inflation, Evolution, it really doesn’t matter because I believe that however it happened, God was the creator of it. It’s just fun and interesting to learn as we go about the how and when God actually created.

So, let’s remember that we get it wrong when we are close-minded about scientific discoveries. What is the opposite of being close-minded? How about teachable? When we open up our minds and allow ourselves to learn new things, we become teachable. We become respectful by listening and not being argumentative. We also show others the love of Christ when we take the time to truly listen, not judge and learn from everything and everyone around us.

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk1-option2I have a friend from high school and we are connected via facebook because he lives across the country from me. As a kid, he was taken to church, attended Sunday School and worship. But as he grew up, he became more and more disenchanted with what the church resembled for him. He stopped going to regular worship and quickly associated himself with Athiesm.

We have discussions over the internet, especially when he attacks Christianity or religion as a whole in a comment. You see, he has a distorted view of what Christianity is all about. But then again, how many others have a similar distorted view, and why do they have this view?

He believes that all Christians do is pray to an imaginary guy in the sky, and then wait for him to come down and fix the problems that we have in this world. He also points to so much of the history of Christianity and religion; the wars, violence, hatred, condemning, and hypocritical nature of behaviors that he has witnessed and heard about. He has some valid points. But there is so much more to this than what is on the surface.

There has been a lot of research over the past decade and beyond regarding the ‘rise of the nones.’ Those people who claim no affiliation with the church whatsoever. But the truly scary part of the results beginning to be studied is that of the ‘dones.’ These are those who have been turned off by the church.

In a recent PEW poll, they found some of the common reasons why they are leaving the church, and I have to be honest here, some of them do not surprise me. Let me give you this list of reasons…

  1. Religious groups, including churches are more divisive than they are uniting.
  2. There has been more harm done in the name of religion.
  3. They don’t believe in ‘organized’ religion, for them it is more personal. (Nature)
  4. It all about business, it’s all about the money.
  5. There are far too many clergy sex scandals.
  6. The church’s teaching on homosexuality. (We will touch on this topic on another Sunday all by itself)

Jesus had a few words for those in religious leadership. These people were called Pharisees. They were interested in their status and how others viewed them in the community. I was once told an easy way to remember their names, it’s in how you say the name. I’m fair, you see? Appearances were so important to them which led to may wrong actions and bad behaviors. Let’s look at just a few of them.

Matthew 6:1-8 warns us in doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Jesus’ teaching about giving and praying humbly lets us know that God is more interested in our honesty and humble service, than he is with how well we are perceived by others around us. He always has been, and always will be. Are you more concerned with how other people see you than you are about how God sees you?

Matthew 7:1-5 warns about being judgmental. He is telling us that should not point out the sin in other’s lives when we are just as sinful in our own lives. The Pharisees would not acknowledge the sin in their own lives, but would be the first to point out yours. Do you know someone like this? Or does this sound familiar?

We find an interesting passage in Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees were tithing even herbs just to make sure people would not accuse them of not following the letter of the law. But this took over their life, it was all about filling every part of the law, they became legalistic.

We’ve all heard about the book; “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” The subtitle is “and it’s all small stuff.” Not true. Jesus tells us that the important things like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. We get so caught up in the little details that we miss the greater message. Over the years, the church has been damaged by the infighting between denominations over things like how and who we baptize, is it a sprinkling, a pouring, or submerging? It is an infant, older child, or adult?

We even disagree about what music to play or sing in church. Should it be only hymns, and if so, which hymns. Should it be just the organ, or is a piano alright? What about a guitar or drums? Should we sing contemporary worship songs? These topics have torn apart churches and Christian brothers and sisters.

Finally, Matthew 23:25-28 are some difficult words to hear. The warning here is about being two-faced. It is about living your life one way while around your brothers and sisters in the church, but then a completely different life outside of the family. I know this one well as I was living one life in the church as a teenager, but a different life at school and with my friends.

Jesus talks about how the Pharisees would make sure they looked good on the outside. They dressed the way they should, said what they should, did what they should, all while out in public. But what was on the inside, was something different. Jesus relates it to washing the outside of the cup, but neglecting the inside. Have you ever found that cup you had been looking for, sometimes in the bedroom of your daughter, that has been sitting for way too long with chocolate milk in it?

Here is the warning for us. We can be presentable on the outside, but if we are not careful, we will be like that spoiled milk on the inside. The danger is that at some point, that spoiled attitude will spill to the outside. We will do or say something that will affect someone else. We run the risk of turning someone away from the church, away from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ warnings to the Pharisees ring true for us, because, like it or not, we are all recovering Pharisees. I think we can all relate to one or more of the things we talked about this morning. This requires a change. This requires our intentional response to God’s message.

I am reminded of something that Garrison Keillor once said; “You can become a Christians by going to church as easily as you can become a car by sleeping in a garage.”

Just because we come to church on Sunday, doesn’t guarantee that we will live our lives as faithful Christians, that requires a response. A response to this message. A response to the knowledge of the growing amount of people who are walking away from the church because of the actions of those inside the church.

Martin Luther said this about Noah and the flood, “If it were not for the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the stench on the inside.” Is this how the church is for some? Is this the reason so many have left?

Are you part of the stench? Or are you those who are trying to clean up the mess?

Easter-Sunday-2018We live in uncertain times. We wonder what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Have you ever found yourself not wanting to get out of bed, afraid of what waited for you that day? The doctor will be calling with the results from last week. Your boss called you in to a meeting tomorrow and you don’t know what it’s about. Your spouse has said they want to talk, what could that mean?

Fear and uncertainty grip our lives on a daily basis. But being afraid is not something we want others to know about us. It sounds like a weakness and we don’t want to appear weak, so we give it different terms, like stressed. Are you stressed out? Have you had feelings of anxiety, worrying about the future or just the daily things going on in your life? These could be signs of fear. Fear can keep us from enjoying all the little things of this life. Fear paralyzes us and holds us down when we should be out enjoying what life has to offer.

Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome make the journey to the tomb on that first Easter morning. They are bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body and wondering along the way, just how will they move that big stone to gain access to the body? Here’s what we do know. According to the gospel of Mark, they arrived at the tomb and the stone had already been rolled away. The fear that was already there because of the death of Jesus, starts to grow even more as they wonder what happened.

They went to the open tomb and entered. They didn’t find Jesus! What they found was a young man, dressed in white, sitting on the right hand side. They were scared. They were afraid. Where is Jesus, what have you done with him? What is going on here? The young man responds with “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; He is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” They are told to go and tell Peter and the rest of the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that he was going ahead to meet them at the rendezvous point they had set up earlier. So, the women left, but how did they leave? They left scared. Scripture says they “fled the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Two ways we can look at this. One, they literally said nothing to anyone about what they saw. Or, they didn’t say anything to those they passed on their way to meet up with the disciples. They didn’t want to get stopped and distracted and risk forgetting anything they saw that morning at the tomb. They were determined to deliver the message to those whom they were told to give the message to. This is where the original manuscript of Mark ends. So, if this is the actual ending of Mark’s writing, what can it tell us?

For me, it tells me two things. First, is that we don’t hear about the women telling everyone about the resurrection, because it points to our calling. We are to tell people about our risen Lord. Mark leaves the story unfinished, because it is. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and is alive forevermore. But do you remember the job he gave to his disciples, and also to us? We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Even if we are afraid of what will happen to us, we need to share this message.

But it also tells me that we live in uncertain times. And as the young man in the empty tomb tells the women that first Easter morning, we hear it again today. Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. He is not in the tomb, so stop looking there. That is a grace filled message. That is a hope filled message.

If you are going through anything in your life right now, the fact that Jesus rose up from the grave is the best news you could ever hear. Because it means, as Fredrick Buechner once said, the worst thing is never the last thing. Just when we thought all hope was lost, when Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, the resurrection happened. Resurrection can happen in your life. Resurrection can happen in your family. Resurrection can happen in your relationships. It can happen in this church, this community, and even in this world. Resurrection will happen! It will happen to you and it will happen to me.