Thursday, September 26, 2013

I am What I Believe or Why There Aren't More Free-Thinking Homeless Selters

Can you just do good Christiany things like help the poor but leave out all that crazy theology?

The friendly atheist, Hemant Mehta posed this question in regards to a group of Christians in Texas who raised up donations to help one of their atheist adversaries. You can check out the story here. At the end of the story Hemant summed up this idea.

"Unless we find a way to replicate that sense of community without the need for supernatural nonsense, churches aren't going to dwindle in number anytime soon." (Hemant, is of course assuming it would be a good thing for churches to dwindle in number.)

Regardless of how many churches close down, atheists will never create this kind of community. The atheists will at best make a pitiful copy of the good things Christians are doing as they try to follow Jesus.  It is the doctrine, the "supernatural nonsense" that drives people to make the world a better place. There is a fundamental reason that you don't see too many atheistic orphanages and "free-thinking"  homeless shelters. It is no accident that hospitals got their start as Christian charities in the middle ages. It is not a coincidence that the Red Cross has the word "cross" in it's name. For all the bad things you could say about Christians, faith in Christ has led people to do some amazingly sacrificial things for their fellow people. Without works, faith is dead, but without faith, works don't get done.

Take the doctrine of "imago Dei," God's image.  This concept is a cornerstone of Christian theology. "God created mankind in his own image. In his image he created them." (Genesis 1:27) People aren't just animals with big brains running around. They were made in God's image, they reflect his glory. and when I look at the face of my sister human, I see a little bit of the God who made her. My sin against her is a sin against God himself. My service to her is a service to God. It is sacred worship.

It also matters what I think of Jesus. I hold that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word of God became flesh. I believe he died and rose from the dead and was exalted in the heavenly (unseen) realm. Can someone follow Jesus without believing in all that Son of God and Resurrection stuff.

Can you just follow Jesus as a great moral teacher?

No, not unless you're an idiot.

Jesus is not scientific. Jesus defies logic. He tells me things like "woe to you when people speak well of you." Logic tells me I am on the right track if a lot of people think I'm doing good. Our whole political system revolves around that truth.  Jesus tells me the opposite. Jesus also tells me crazy things like, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Just like what those Christians in Texas did.

My faith often borders on insanity, telling me to ignore everything that my observation and my logic tell me are right. Telling me to trust in Jesus. You don't give a nice dead guy that much latitude. If he seems crazy, drop him and find a better way.

But if he's Lord, if he rose from the dead in the flesh, then follow him to death.

And that is where I stand. I follow Jesus for who he is. If I did not believe Jesus died and rose from the dead, I would probably not love my enemies. I would probably not serve the poor and the foreigners. If Jesus is not Lord, I would not waste my life on others hoping for a better resurrection.

I believe what I believe
It's what makes me what I am
I did not make it,
No it is making me*

An if you want me to keep being good, it is indispensable that I keep believing this truth. If you convince me all this Jesus stuff is a lie, it will not be good for the people around me. Natural philosophy does not offer me an adequate reason to keep being a moral decent person. I would be just good enough to be liked and to get what I want in life. It does not show me why I should love my wife and give up myself for her. A Godless ethic will not make me honest or self controlled. It will not lead me to make any sacrifices for the "greater good." Maybe some of you can do it without Jesus, I can not. I am not strong enough.

It is necessary for the good of the world, or at least the good of my little corner of the world that I continue to believe what I believe. And to keep a hold of that belief, I must believe what I know has been revealed to me by God.

It is the very truth of God
not the invention of any man*

If you wish to look at my faith from a pragmatic, utilitarian point of view, it is better for me to believe all that crazy doctrine of Jesus than to disbelieve. I believe in the Good and so I am becoming good. I am what I believe.

* Rich Mullins, "Creed" 1993.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Where Would Jesus Live?

Jesus never owned a home, and perhaps that should be more significant to us than it is. "Foxes have dens and birds have nests." It's hard to get caught up in the things of this world when you are constantly on the move, staying at one or another house, sleeping under the stars in between. 

But the Bible never condemns living in a house (it's usually assumed) or even owning a home. In many situations, owning a home is the best way to steward the resources God has given you. 

But does it matter where you buy a home? Where you rent? Where you park your trailer?  Does the gospel effect things as trivial as the place we set up our domicile. 

On the one hand, a decision to follow Jesus is a decision to take the life you have right where you are and let God redeem it. Grow where you're planted. Remain where you were when you were called. (1 Cor 7:20). You don't have to move anywhere to follow Jesus.

On the other hand, following Jesus is so transformative that it can not but effect every decision in our lives. Jesus said take up your cross and follow me. That is a complete life changing self-denial. Everything is on the table: my job, my friends, my money... even my house.

The American Dream tells us to work hard and make money so we can buy a nice house in the suburbs. A place with a little land, and a big back yard for barbecues, maybe even a pool. In my part of the country, the dream for many is to get a piece of land outside of town. Quiet. Peaceful. Relaxing. No traffic. No annoying neighbors, trespassing kids or loud music. 

I have been examining this phenomenon in the light of the gospel imperative to serve others. How can I serve others if I don't live near others?

Elbow room keeps people away. No one can deny that our neighborhoods are less friendly, and more disconnected than they were 50 years ago. This has a lot to do with the fact that our neighborhoods have spread out so much. The average size of a house lot has increased threefold since 1950. We enter our spacious houses through a three car garage. Our kids play in the backyard. We are lucky to know the name of more than two people that live within a quarter mile of us.

Jesus moved a lot. His early childhood was a series of moves: Bethlehem to Egypt, Egypt to Nazareth. As an adult, Jesus moved from his hometown to the seaside town of Capernaum to be in an ideal location to rub shoulders with more people. Jesus' first move was the biggest. He moved out of the heavenly realm in to flesh and bone to be among us. In theology, we call this the incarnation, the taking on of flesh, making his dwelling among us (John 1:14). Jesus inconvenienced himself to be with people, to serve people, to love people, to be a person.

Do our spacious rural and suburban plots allow us to follow a God who left the glories heaven to become human? Or are they merely an attempt to escape the difficulties of earth, to create our own little heaven here and now? 

I don't believe everyone needs to move to a crowded apartment in order to follow Jesus. But we need to allow God to redeem our thinking about where we live. We will be living in just the right place when we stop looking at our house as our refuge from the world, and find our refuge in God alone. We will be living where Jesus lives when we make our home a tool in his hand to love and serve those around us.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What You Can Do About Syria

It all seems so hopeless. If you know anything about the civil war in Syria, you know there really isn't a good scenario on the horizon. Syria is a diverse country with various religions and sects: Sunni, Shia, Alawi, Orthodox, Catholic, Druze. The brutal dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad and his military crackdown have killed hundreds of thousands. Among his diverse collection of enemies are radical Muslims linked to Al Qaida. Regardless of who wins, someone will not be happy, the bloodshed will not likely end.

As our elected officials contemplate a military strike against the government of Syria thousands of Syrian refugees pour into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and other nations, living in tents, often malnourished and suffering from disease. It's been called the worst humanitarian crisis since Rawanda. Over two million Syrians have already fled their country; half are children.

What can a Christ-follower do against such prevailing gloom? It seems we have no voice in our own government's actions, let alone what happens on the other side of the world. What can we possibly do to help such a complex crisis in Syria? 

We are not without hope. Here are the three things every Christian can do today to help Syrians, to combat the tragedy, to push back against the kingdom of darkness.

1. Pray for Peace

1 Tim 2:1-2 tells us to pray for those in authority, that we might live peaceful lives. Let's flood the heavens with prayers for our American leaders, that they would pursue policies that lead to peace and not an escalation of the war. Pray for the leaders of Syria, including the leaders of rebel groups that they would be moved to come to the negotiating table. Pray they will seek to minimize civilian deaths in he conflict. Pray for world leaders who may have a hand through diplomacy and other means to influence Syria for the cause of peace. Pray that the effects of their actions will lead to quiet peaceful lives for Syrians.

Prayer works. Calling on our sovereign and loving God to act changes things. Pray expecting God to change the situation in Syria in ways we could never imagine to bring good we could never bring.

2. Pray For Those Who Suffer

Thousands have lost homes and businesses in Syria. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. Millions are displaced. Suffering abounds in every way imaginable. 

We pray to align our hearts to God's. God's heart is moved to the widows, the orphans, the foreigners. He cares about what is going on in Syria and among the 2 million refugees.  Prayer will move God's hand, but it will also move ours, leading us to action, to help those in need

3. Help Those Who Suffer

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Jesus tells us (Matt 25:40). You will be hard pressed to find more hungry, thirsty, naked strangers than in the refugee camps surrounding Syria. While most of us are unable to make the trip to Jordan or Turkey to physically give food and clothes, we can use a small portion of the wealth God has given us to help those who can.

I did a little digging for you. Here are some reputable organizations already working to help Syrian refugees in nearby countries and links to giving online to their work in and around Syria.

Save the Children is a reputable nonreligious aid organization. 89% of funds raised go directly to providing food and shelter for children and families.

UNICEF is a worldwide organization that has a mission to help kids. In addition to basic needs like food and medical care, UNICEF helps provide counseling and education for refugee children.

Samaritan's Purse is an organization that aids those in need in the name of Jesus.  They partner with local organizations and people in some of the most difficult parts of the world. At least 90% of every dollar given goes directly to providing for the needs of refugees.