Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 26, 2015 - along the Way ...

This past weekend in the US we observed Memorial Day.   I was going to say "celebrated" but a holiday set aside to remember the sacrifices of those who died so that others might live in freedom is hardly a "celebration".  It is an observance, a solemn time to remember and reflect.

As I have considered these men and women and the sacrifices they and their families have made, both past and present, I have wondered about the reasons we fight.  We go to war because we believe strongly in the cause for which we are fighting.   We go to war and risk our lives so that others might live and enjoy the freedoms God has given us all.

Yet too often, especially in the current conflicts, it seems that when we return from war we hardly know how to live.  Many find a cause worth dying for, but it is hard for them to find a cause worth living for.

Since the conflicts began in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military has experienced more deaths by suicide than combat-related deaths.   This goes to the heart of the matter.   Our warfighters are given a cause to die for, but when they return too many are given no cause worth living for.  This is sad.

God intends for people to live in freedom, so that what is right will be honored, what is beautiful will be appreciated, and what is true will be respected.  

Jesus died so that we might live.   (See Ephesians 2:1-10)  So how can we give our young people, warfighters and non-warfighters alike, something worth living for?   This should be our challenge as we seek to honor the sacrifices of those who went to war, fought, and died so that we might have the opportunity to live.

Now it's your turn.   What are you living for?   How can you share that cause with someone else who needs a reason to live?  

I invite your thoughts and ideas, as we continue to journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19, 2015 - along the Way ...

Since the celebration of Jesus' resurrection on April 5, I have been on a journey.   My sermon text for Easter Sunday was from Matthew 28, and it was during my preparation for that sermon as well as the days after that God has sent me on a journey wondering what it means to "make disciples".

My question is this:  If a disciple is a learner, what must a person learn in order to be a disciple of Jesus?

Most often I have answered this question with information.   I believe people need to know who God is, and what He has done for us in Christ, place true faith in Him, be completely forgiven of all sin, and receive eternal life.

Yet this is more about the end than the journey itself.   One of the greatest benefits we receive by believing God's promise fulfilled in Jesus is the Holy Spirit Himself.   According to a document from my tradition called the Heidelberg Catechism, "Christ by His Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him."  (Q&A 1)

So what does it mean to live for Jesus?  Is it only about sharing information or is there something more?

As I have considered this question in light of the scriptures, I have found Paul talking more about formation than information in making disciples.   In Philippians 2, Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, Galatians 5, and Romans 12, Paul clearly highlights what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  It is about unity, forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, etc.  It is about being formed into the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet for what purpose?  

Jesus calls us to be disciples so that we can "make disciples of all nations", so the disciples we "make" should also begin to look more like Jesus.   But how will know they know what it means to be like Jesus?   They have to see it in us.

As we follow Jesus, and are formed into His image by the Holy Spirit's power, we bring Jesus to every person with whom we come into contact.   As we then bring Jesus to people, God will bring them to Christ through true faith, so that they too can be formed into the image of Jesus.

As we begin to look more like Jesus, in both what we say and what we do, God will draw people to Himself and more people will place faith in Christ.

So what do you think?   What does it mean to "make disciples"?   And if a disciple is a learner, what must a person learn to be a disciple of Jesus?   I invite you to share your thoughts as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

May 12, 2015 - along the Way ...

I apologize that it has been more than a few weeks since I have written my "weekly" blog.  I have been occupied with travel, conferences, and trainings.   I am just now getting back into the "normal" routine.

As I have traveled I have had opportunity to interact with folks outside my ordinary circles, and I am amazed by what I am finding.   There seems to be real interest in things spiritual, but not as much interest in anything religious.

This confirms some recent findings from a religious assessment conducted by our local Air Guard unit.  About 20% of the respondents chose "No particular religion" to be printed on their "dog tags".
In other places this has been referred to as they are "spiritual but not religious".  

So how should we, as followers of Jesus, respond to this reality?

I have done a lot of reflection on that question over the past several weeks and months, and I would like to share with you my thoughts.

First, we should not be afraid.  Anyone who is interested in entering into a spiritual conversation is a friend and is presenting an opportunity for us to share the hope we have (see I Peter 3:15).   If we are not prepared to "give an answer to anyone who asks" then we have work to do.

Second, I have considered the reverse and have found it more devastating.   In other words, would we rather have people identify as "religious but not spiritual"?   Religion devoid of God's Spirit damages our souls and the souls of others.  

Consider Jesus' words to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law from His time:

"Woe to you, Teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are."
(Matthew 23:13, 15; NIV)

It seems that according to Jesus, being "religious but not spiritual" is most devastating and might be the quickest pathway to hell.

Finally, as I have read Jesus' words and considered them over time, I am becoming more and more convinced that Jesus was "spiritual but not religious".   It seems he reserved His harshest words for the leaders of the established religion.  And constantly Jesus was not calling people to a system of belief or a program, rather Jesus called people to Himself.

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."   (John 14:6)

Similarly, the apostle Paul picks up on this same invitation, and issued it again.

"If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)

Do not get me wrong.   I am not opposed to Christian religion.   I myself am a practitioner and a teacher within a solidly historical and Biblical Christian tradition.   Nevertheless, my point is that if we hope to connect this generation to the truth, then we must be willing to listen to what they are really saying, agree where agreement is prudent, and offer them Jesus, the living Lord, the fullest revelation of the triune, eternal, personal Creator God.  For it is only through faith in Jesus that anyone can be saved.

So what do you think?   Do you have thoughts about spirituality and religion?   If so, I invite you to share them here, as we continue to journey together along the Way ...