Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Am I Really a Christian?

In December I began reading the Bible and this morning I finished my journey. From Genesis to Revelation in 104 days. In my Bible that’s 1,259 pages, so I’ve been pretty immersed in God’s Word for the last three and half months, and it has been awesome, and life changing and a big wake up call. Here are a few treasures:
  • God is repeatedly saying, “I love you, I love, you, I love you. Please love me back!” This is the number one theme in the Bible.
  • God wants us to love each other. Over and over (and over and over) he tells us to care for the poor, widows and orphans.
  • Social justice is a big deal to God.
  • The mule has nothing on us when it comes to stubborn. We are stubborn, self-centered, and oh so cruel to each other.
While reading the Bible I was able to squeeze in a couple more (regular sized!) books (did I mention I started getting up at 5:00 a.m.? Yeah, that was God getting me out of bed each morning). I read Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture by Brandon Hatmaker and also the book 7, an Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (Brandon’s wife). I warn you do not read these unless you want to change how you live. These are both “call to action” books, and you will not walk away from them unchanged.

Do you think it’s interesting that while reading the Bible and absorbing its overwhelming message to love God, love each other, take care of the poor and seek social justice, I would just happen to read two books that cover the exact same message but in a modern setting? I didn’t plan that. It “just happened.”

Warning #1 – Stop Reading Now if You Don’t Want to Squirm a Bit. Here are a few of the things God has to say about the poor.

  • He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18
  • If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Deuteronomy 15:7-8
  • Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed." Luke 14:12-14
  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
  • If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18
Warning #2 – Some Words From God About Social Justice

  • The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,  a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9
  • Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Psalm 82:3
  • Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9
  • Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17
  • He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. "Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord. Jeremiah 22:16
  • He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. Isaiah 1:17
In her book 7, an Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker says,

  • While the richest people on earth pray to get richer, the rest of the world begs for intervention with their faces pressed to the windows, watching us drink our coffee, unruffled by their suffering. (Note from Shawna: Those rich people she's talking about - that's us. If you make $50,000 a year, you reside in the top one percent of wealth in the world).
  • If the modern church held to its biblical definition, we would become the answer to all that ails society.
  • We made it acceptable for people to do nothing and still call themselves Christians.
  • The church the Bible described is exciting and adventurous and wrought with sacrifice. It cost believers everything, and they still came. It was good news to the poor and stumped its enemies.
So here’s my question - If I’m not seeking justice and helping the poor, am I really a Christian?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Am I Living For?

Have you ever wondered what "sin" is? We all do things that are hurtful either to ourselves or to those around us, but do we ever consider exactly what sin looks like? I am forever asking why. Why does that person behave that way? Who hurt her? Why is it so difficult for politicians to be kind? Why don't we care more that 25,000 people die EVERY DAY of starvation. The state of our world today begs a a really big WHY?

The dictionary defines sin as "an offense against religious or moral law," and I know a lot of people would agree, just as I'm sure if you asked ten different denominations for a definition of sin, you would get ten different answers. We may all be Christians, but we sure do like to disagree.

Theologian George Knights says, "If we are going to understand how people are being saved, we need to understand what they are being saved from." An inadequate understanding of sin will, of course, lead us to an inadequate understanding of salvation.

So what is sin? Genesis Chapter 3 describes the first sin as disobedience on the part of Adam and Eve, when they ate from the one tree in the garden God had told them not to eat from. Genesis 3:7 describes what happens next, Adam and Eve felt guilty. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." So there you have it, the first case of salvation by works!

Then it all comes apart, Adam and Eve had broken their relationship with God. "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:8. This led to a broken relationship with each other, a pattern the world has seen endlessly perpetuated. Look around. You won't need to look far to see it.

Sin affects everything about how we relate to God:
Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: 'I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.' Ah, sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Isaiah 1:2-4
Woe to them, because they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, because they have rebelled against me! I long to redeem them but they speak lies against me. Hosea 7:13
Sin is us saying God is not God. It is us saying to God, "You're not the boss of me."
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law. Romans 8:7
For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:16
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard describes it like this, "Sin is: in despair not wanting to be oneself before God . . . Faith is: that the self in being itself and wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God." This sin description sounds like Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden. They wanted to hide who they had become.

In his book The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Keller writes, "Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to becomes oneself, to get an identity, apart from him."

This means when I find my identity in my marriage or in my children, or in anything that isn't God, I will always crash and burn. Ask me sometime how that worked out for me when my son left for college. I had found my identity in being Caleb and Rebecca's mom and when change came, life wasn't so great.

So what now? What fixes sin? Timothy Keller writes, "Sin is not simply doing bad things, it is putting good things in the place of God. So the only solution is not simply to change our behavior, but to reorient and center the entire heart and life on God."
As Augustine said, if there is a God who created you, then the deepest chambers of your soul simply cannot be filled up by anything less. That is how great the human soul is. If Jesus is the Creator-Lord, then by definition nothing could satisfy you like he can even if you are successful. Even the most successful careers and families cannot give the significance, security, and affirmation that the author of glory and love can. Timothy Keller
Like salmon swimming upstream to their place of birth, we have a deep unchangeable desire to find God.
Everybody has to live for something. Whatever that something is becomes 'Lord of your life,' whether you think of it that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally. Timothy Keller
In the fiction work The Shack by William P. Young, Jesus says:  “I don't want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything.  When I live in you, then together we can live through everything that happens to you.  Rather than a pyramid, I want to be the center of a mobile, where everything in your life - your family, friends, occupation, thoughts, activities - is connected to me but moves with the wind, in and out and back and forth, in an incredible dance of being.”

Who is the center of your mobile?