Are we in Sync?

I saw and re-tweeted a request for prayer for Belize this morning. Our Church is sending a team on mission there in April, so it caught my attention.

That I was invited to pray for Belize wasn’t blog-worthy. The other point the tweet shared was. Apparently much of Belize has been evangelized, but there is much religious syncretism there. Syncretism is, simply put, the blending of practices and/or beliefs of at least 2 different religions.

So today Belize and the challenges of religious syncretism are in my prayers today. But I cannot prayer for such a thing in one area without it raising my awareness in others.

Which brings me to the tour of the U.S. Capitol last July. We had a great time on the tour provided by the office of Senator Jerry Moran (we were with my in-laws who live in Kansas).  Near the end of this tour, our group huddled in the rotunda so we could hear our tour guide. She invited us all to look up and see the impressive painting inside the dome itself. Painted by Italian Constantino Brumidi in 1865, she explained that the painting is called “The Apotheosis of Washington.” She translated this for us as “George Washington goes to heaven.”usa-us_capitol3.jpg

Which is, I explained later, so as not to embarrass her, technically true. But apotheosis carries much more meaning than simply “goes to heaven.”

Apotheosis was a term used by Roman Emperors in the early days of Christianity. Specifically, apotheosis was the word for the claim that after a Caesar died, he became a god.

I have never heard anyone claim that George Washington became a god. I have, however, heard the founding era in our history glorified in ways that, frankly, concern me that religious syncretism is not a danger only in other countries and for other people.

While we pray for the challenges of religious syncretism in other nations, let us also be wary of the danger of religious syncretism in our own.

Confirmation Bias

I just read another blog post about an atheist attempting to disprove Christianity and becoming converted in the process.

landing-pages-confirmation-bias-lessonOnce upon a time I was impressed by such stories.  No; more than impressed, I was convinced this kind of thing was the linchpin to converting the rest of the world to the truth of Christianity.

Because I was interpreting such an event from the perspective of a Christian, I now believe it is fair to say that I was suffering from confirmation bias. Evidence that agrees with me or supports my side in an argument gets extra weight in my thinking.

I mean, lets face it: does it even make news that a Christian walks away from the faith?  Do you know someone who once considered him or herself a christian but now claims to be an atheist?

Christians: Please join me in being excited for any who come to the faith, no matter the place from whence they’ve come, or the difficulty of the journey of following Jesus along side us.  But lets get rid of the scoreboard we are prone to keep in our minds that values our ‘wins’ with more points than our ‘losses.’

You and the Bible

bible-Sunlight2This past week I visited a Sunday School class where Luke 14:25-35 was the topic. The opening discussion focused on verse 26:

“Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple.

Actually, the focus was almost entirely on one word in that verse. The word? Hate.

After listening patiently to several people find different ways around Jesus actually telling people to hate, I offered this:

It is interesting to hear all of us talk around and explain away the use of the word hate.  But the word is “hate.” There’s no question about it.

I hope we’ll all be gracious and understanding when other people do the same thing with other parts of the Bible.

Let’s face it: everyone reads the Bible this way: we take some passages more literally and some less. We take some verses more seriously than others. We ALL use some scriptures to trump others.

We ALL do this.

May we all learn the skill of responding graciously and with the love of Jesus when someone takes a verse differently than we do!

The # 1 way we (Christians) have failed our children

A friend shared this on Facebook the other day:

“If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?” I asked the children in my Sunday School class.
“NO!” the children all answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?”
Again, the answer was, “NO!”
Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?” I asked them again.
Again, they all answered, “NO!”
“Well, I continued, “then how can I get into Heaven?”
A five-year-old boy shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!”

We have failed. In a world where even a 5 year old identifies heaven as something you “get” when you are dead, we have failed.

I recall at least once when Jesus said that “unless you become like a child” you won’t enter the Kingdom.

I don’t recall a single time that Jesus claimed you have to die to enter the Kingdom.

Jesus never taught heaven or eternal life as something we get when we die.

Ever.

Jesus taught that eternal life was and is knowing God. (John 17:3)  He taught, variously, that the Kingdom of God is “already here,” “is among you,” will come before some of you here will taste death.

Jesus taught and lived a way of life that knows the presence, power, and love of God now – before death – so deeply that time isn’t wasted on wondering if one might have eternal life after death.

There is still time to teach our children well.

If it were this easy, EVERYONE would do it!

prayI followed this SUV most of my way home the other day.  While I suppose some of you may tell me that God was trying to tell me something else, here is what I took from this “inspirational” sticker.

Prayer does work, I agree.  In my experience, however, it rarely works is a way that I infer from this sticker.  In other words, I don’t believe prayer that “works” is like a “Precious moments” moment.

Abraham bargained with God.  Jacob wrestled.  David sang and danced prayerfully, but also wrote long laments about the sense of God’s absence, of begging God to remember His promises.

When it came down to it, Jesus was so stressed in prayer that he sweat drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)

Prayer works  in part because prayer is work.

My Belated Apologies, Paul and Art

darknessYesterday I cracked open Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This is the July selection for our Summer Book Club.   Here’s how the Introduction opens:

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  – Isaiah 45:3

Immediately, this memory surfaced from more than 30 years ago.  As a young Christian in high school, I reacted strongly and arrogantly against a musical duo that performed at a Midwinter Retreat because they performed Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”

Near the pinnacle of the phase of my life when I knew everything, I was utterly certain that the line “Hello darkness my old friend…” was (bot so) subtly conjuring up the Prince of Darkness Himself at this unsuspecting Christian event.

Oh, the horror!  The Horror!

Then, today, I crack

HOW CAN IT BE!?  In scripture, no less, a positive reference to darkness!

I had no idea, as a 16 year old young Christian-who-knew-everything, that this could possibly be from the same source, the Bible, as all my outrage at the reference to darkness.

So, I didn’t actually know everything then.  I don’t know everything today. It hasn’t taken me all these years to realize this. But it is not every day that something from my past is brought so clearly back into focus.

I am sorry, Simon and Garfunkel, for being so arrogantly presumptuous and condescending.  I am sorry, duo who sang at that Midwinter, for all the attitude a 16 year old Christian-who-knows-everything can muster.

I am looking forward to reading this book.

I am also looking forward to giving others the benefit of the doubt.  It turns out I didn’t know everything at 16.  I still don’t.

This is just WRONG

In case you hadn’t heard/read this elsewhere, a church in Joplin Missouri raffled off 2 AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

While I cannot say I am surprised, I will tell you I am appalled.

Not only does this support gambling – yes, raffles are gambling – but look deeper into what is going on here.

This particular raffle was, the article says, for fathers only:

the church gave area fathers an opportunity to put their names in a free drawing to win one of two AR-15 rifles. Fathers could get tickets for each child they brought to church, and for bringing his own dad to church.

It seems only fair to me that if a church is going to invite people to gamble for guns, they ought not be sexist about it.