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Category: Outward

Answer to an unbeliever

I participate in an online forum on faith filled with all sorts of crazies (like myself.) Recently, a member turned the tables and wrote from the perspective of someone who chose not to be a Christian. I decided to reply to this fictitious unbeliever and thought it might be useful to someone else.

First, I can’t ((this is a footnote)) believe in Christianity because Christianity doesn’t know what to believe. Jesus supposedly lived, died, and rose again. Jesus himself said that when the Holy Spirit came, He would lead Christians into all truth. But it’s been about 2,000 years now and Christians still don’t really know the truth about anything! They disagree about everything! And it’s not like they only quibble over little things. Ask a Christian to explain the Trinity! Ask them to explain how someone gets saved! They disagree about the very basic components of their faith! And not only do they disagree, they’re NASTY about it. Am I supposed to be impressed by a religion that claims to be based on love and yet has to divide into a handful of churches (at least) in each town?

I think the obstacle you are running up against has its roots in “Christian” being defined as someone who believes certain things, tries to be nice, and gets together once a week in a building to sing songs and listen to a sermon. I don’t think you are at fault for defining it that way. The majority of Christians define it that way. But going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger, Christian musician Keith Green once said.

Keith went on to describe a Christian as someone who is “bananas for Jesus. Someone who loves God with all their heart, soul and mind, and loves his neighbor as himself.” It means getting to the core of who Jesus was. Learn what he taught about true living. How do you see yourself? How do you see others? What did he do for us. For you? And then put your stake in the ground and identify yourself with Him.

When people’s disagreements lead to divisiveness and a lack of love, rather than disqualify Christianity, I think it disqualifies those people as Christians.

So how do you become one of these kinds of Christians. My suggestion is to read the stories and teachings of Jesus by those who were closest to him. In the Christian Bible these are called gospels. I recommend Mark first.

Then, be on the lookout for people who are imitating Jesus’ vision. People who are devoted to God. Who are humble. Who are loving and accepting. Who aren’t living a sloppy life. That’s Christianity. When you see it, I’m not sure you’ll be so quick to reject it as the fake imitation you’ve seen.

Feel free to post questions either in this thread, or personally message me. I’d be happy to discuss it further and answer questions you have.

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The Prophet Elijah – Friend or foe to the non-Christian

There was a time when many of you can remember that being a Christian was as ordinary as being an American.  The foundation for our institutions was a Judeo-Christian belief in one God.  People knew that the Bible was the story of Israel and Jesus.  And our understandings of morality were based on the 10 commandments and the Golden Rule and other ethical standards found in the Bible.  

But as the prophet Bob Dylan said “The times they are a-chainging.”

 

While 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a universal force. Only 35% are classified as Born-again.” When conducting his surveys George Barna, an evangelical pollster used 2 criteria to classify respondents as born-again.

The 1st were people who said that they have an ongoing, personal commitment to Christ that is still important today. Second, they said that they believe they are going to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as their savior. Only 35% of Americans hold these beliefs.

Worse is the number of Americans who are classified as Evangelical. To be classified as evangelical respondents must agree with the previous two statements about being born again plus six others: First, that religion is important in their lives; Second that God is an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator and ruler of the world; Third, that you cannot get to heaven just by doing good things; Fourth, that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; Fifth that Satan is a living force and not symbolic; And finally that Christians have a personal obligation to tell other people about their religious beliefs. Only 7 percent of American adults polled can be classified as “evangelical.”

That leaves 65% of Americans who are either non-religious or follow non-Christian beliefs. Even though they believe in God, more Americans claim “no church affiliation” then claim affiliation with any other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists.

And while all of this is disconcerting, the future is even more precarious. Additional research indicates that “40 percent of 16- to 29-year-olds” are already “outside the church” and only a small fraction of those currently within the church will remain

It’s important for us to understand that the America we live in today is very different from the one 60 years ago.
This is the first of a series of 3 sermons that I have the priveledge to preach this summer about the prophet Elijah. Studying Elijah is worthwhile to us because he lived at a similar time. He ministered while Ahab was king of the northern kingdom, Israel.  According to 1Kings 16:30, Ahab and his infamous wife Jezebel “did evil n the sight of the LORD.” They led Israel in the worship of Baal, the Canaanite god of storms and fertility rather than Yahweh, the God of Israel.

However, the key difference between Elijah’s time and ours is that not only had his nation turned from Yahweh, it had become hostile to those who still served Him. Our country is not hostile to Christianity in the way that Israel was hostile to Elijah at this time.  It is safe for us to go to church.  We won’t be arrested for sharing our faith with someone.  We do not have to register with the authorities if we want to have a bible study in our home.  We can even speak out against our president without risking our life as Elijah did.  But as the statistics show, most of our neighbors do not worship Jesus.  In fact many of them worship other Gods. 

When Elijah found himself living in the country where God’s chosen people had turned their backs on Him, Elijah was not allowed to retreat into seclusion. Rather, God placed him in the home of a woman who worshipped Baal. God used Elijah to demonstrate to us that when our neighbors turns away from God, we cannot turn away them.

I want to share 3 skills we need to practice when God has placed us amongst people that are increasingly turning their back on Yahweh and Jesus.

First, we need to learn which people to treat with hostility and which people we should be hospitable to.

Second, we need the faith and vision to believe that God may miraculously provide for our neighbor’s needs so that we can use that provision as an opportunity to showcase God’s faithfulness.

And finally, when tragedy occurs in the lives of friends who are serving other gods, they will believe it is a sign of judgment because their god’s approval depends on their service to him. This is an opportunity for us to show them that the true God is a God of love and grace and that tragedy is simply a natural part of life rather then a sign of God’s judgment.

When we first encounter Elijah in the Bible in 1Kings 17, he has hit the ground running.  The only biographical information we have is that he was a foreigner of Gilead.  But from that point on it is all action.  Offended for God and seemingly on his own authority Elijah decreed a drought as a national punishment for Ahab’s waywardness.  In Verse 1 Elijah said to Ahab “As Yahweh, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” This was a rather bold move for Elijah because as far as we know, he hadn’t even been commissioned as a prophet. 

But it also put him in an awkward position. If there’s no water for the infidel, there’s also no water for the prophet. So in vv. 2-3, God provided for him by telling him “Get up, and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, that is before the Jordan. 4 It shall be, that you shall drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” But eventually the brook dried up and he had to move.  So verse 8 says “The word of Yahweh came to him, saying, 9 Arise, get you to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you. 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath which was a safe distance from Ahab. But rather then putting Elijah in country that served His God, Elijah found himself in a time and place where worship of Yahweh was foreign. In fact God placed him in a home where a woman who worshipped Baal took care of him.

So now we see the first skill that we need to learn to practice. We need to learn which people to treat with hostility and which people we should be hospitable to. The situation Elijah found himself contrasts these two types of people and demonstrates the appropriate way that each should be treated.

Ahab was a leader of Israel, a nation that had covenanted with God to serve Him and Him alone.  He not only chose to turn his back on the God with whom he had a covenant, but He led the nation in the same way.  But this woman grew up in a nation that never had a covenant with Yahweh.  She was a simple woman living out the beliefs that had been handed out to her.  It was appropriate to treat each of these differently because of what each needed.  Elijah was hostile to Ahab because he was leading the nation away from God.  But Elijah was hospitable to this woman because God was using his relationship with her to teach her about Yahweh’s faithfulness.
We need to learn from Elijah that it is appropriate to speak out when leaders are suppressing the expression of faith in Yahweh and Jesus. When I went to the Filer Idaho High School graduation I was surprised they unabashedly began and ended it with a student led prayer.  At my graduation in 1986, we were not allowed to pray during the graduation because it was believed it violated the separation of church and state.  But 9 years later, in 1995 the secretary of education, under mandate of the President, provided legal guidelines to help school boards and administrators write policy about religious expression in schools. Rather then simply describe what was not allowed it went on to demonstrate what was allowed.  It turns out that there are many religious things students can freely do without infringing on the rights of others.  And so, like Elijah, it is appropriate for us to stand up against leaders who try to suppress the public expression of faith in God and to support students within the guidelines given to them by the Secretary of Education.

On the other hand, we learn from Elijah that it is appropriate for us to be hospitable to those who worship either a different god or no god.  The worst thing that you can do to your friends who have a different faith is to be hostile to them.  All faiths understand what it is to be persecuted for what they believe.  And so being hostile to them puts them in a defensive position that reinforces their beliefs about us.  Elijah let this woman take care of him.  He lived with her in her home.  It was only through the years that he spent with her getting to know him and the God he served that she eventually was convinced about who Yahweh was.  In the same way we need to learn to be there for our friends who follow a different faith, letting them see God in us.  It may be years before they become convinced about who Jesus is, but if we are hostile to them we will only turn them away.

The second skill we need to develop is the faith and vision to believe that God may miraculously provide for our neighbor’s needs so that we can use that provision as an opportunity to showcase God’s faithfulness.

verse 10 says “and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks: and he called to her, and said, Please get me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 As she was going to get it, he called to her, and said, Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand. 12 She said, As Yahweh your God lives, I don’t have a cake, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the jar: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and bake it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.  13 Elijah said to her, Don’t be afraid; go and do as you have said; but make me of it a little cake first, and bring it forth to me, and afterward make for you and for your son. 14 For thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, The jar of meal shall not empty, neither shall the jar of oil fail, until the day that Yahweh sends rain on the earth. 15 She went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, ate many days. 16 The jar of meal didn’t empty, neither did the jar of oil fail, according to the word of Yahweh, which he spoke by Elijah.

One of the opportunities that we have when we have close relationships with people of other faiths is to show them God’s faithfulness.  To be there to help them with any need that they may have.  The widow saw God’s faithfulness as day after day passed that the jar of meal did not empty nor the jar of oil fail.  

And yet, no matter how faithful God is, when tragedy comes it can lead people to think that God doesn’t love them.  They believe it is a sign of judgment because their god’s approval depends on their service to him. And so the final skill is that when tragedy occurs in the lives of friends who are serving other gods it is an opportunity for us to show them that the true God is a God of love and grace and that tragedy is simply a natural part of life rather then a sign of God’s judgment. 

17 It happened after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. 18 She said to Elijah, What have I to do with you, you man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to memory, and to kill my son!

This widow believed that it was because of her sins that her son was killed. That when she allowed Elijah into her home God’s attention was suddenly focused on her and He became aware of her sins and judged her by killing her son.  When the worst happens, people’s most common reaction is to either believe that God is judging them or that God doesn’t care for them. Each of us knows the wickedness that is in us.  And so we fear that when a tragedy happens it must be that God is punishing us.  

Jesus addressed this belief in John chapter 6. when he passed by a man who was blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that it was in order that the works of God might be revealed in him.”

When this man was born blind it was not because of his parent’s sins.  It wasn’t because of his own sins.  And when the widow’s son died, it wasn’t because God was judging her for her sins. When tragedy happens to our friends, it is not a sign that God is judging them for their sins.  Elijah uniquely demonstrated this by bringing her son back to life.  

19 He said to her, Give me your son. He took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the chamber, where he abode, and laid him on his own bed. 20 He cried to Yahweh, and said, Yahweh my God, have you also brought evil on the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?   21 He stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to Yahweh, and said, Yahweh my God, please let this child’s soul come into him again. 22 Yahweh listened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Elijah said, Behold, your son lives.

One of the hallmarks of other faiths is that you must work in order to follow their religion.  You have to do good deeds.  You have to live up to a certain standard of holiness.  And if you don’t then you will be under judgment.  I went to a seminar once on reaching out to people of another religion and it made the point that often you can’t reach out to these people until they are in their 40’s and 50’s because by that point, they are tired of living under the stress of these expectations.  They can’t do it.  They can’t be good enough.  And then when a tragedy happens, they think that it is a sign that God disapproves of them.  It is at this time that we can share with them God’s grace.  That Jesus came because we weren’t good enough.  This can be hope to someone living under the expectations of another religion.  It was to this woman.  

This story of Elijah and the widow teaches us the importance of having relationships with people of other faiths.  Of reaching out to them.  Of demonstrating God’s faithfulness.  And of being there for them when the worst happens.  Take some time and think about friends that you might have who have different beliefs then you do and how you might learn from Elijah how to minister to them.

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Checks cashed here! Payday loans! Title loans. You keep the car.

Check CashingAll around us, we are seeing signs that the economy is going south. The dollar is weak. Gas is nearly $4 a gallon here in Idaho. People are losing their homes and those who are selling theirs are having a hard time.
I’ve spotted another sign: checking cashing and high interest loan businesses. My wife and I both work full time jobs. And we have the added income of student loan money. But still times are tough for us. Because I had to take a job living away from the family we have an additional rent cost. And I drive over 30 miles to work every morning. So we have troubles making ends meet. When we find our selves with more month then money, I often find myself noticing all the check cashing places on the boulevard and thinking “there but the grace of God go I,” and worry that God’s grace is going to run out and there I’ll be.

Recently I noticed that there seemed to be an awful lot of these places. So yesterday I drove down the boulevard and counted. I discovered there is a whopping 13 of these businesses in just two miles.

I think that this is a sign of the economy we live in. The cost of my yogurt, milk and gas have gone up, but my earning power has not.

A couple months ago I was with my wife at a debate contest. We sat down at the judges lounge with an acquaintance of hers who travels with the team. I sat uncomfortably through his demeaning talk about the poor clients in his social work and how they take advantage of the system. But then he decided to minimize the pain of the recession by comparing it to the depression. I blew up. People who are comfortable don’t understand the pain lower income people are in as the economy turns south. They don’t understand that the working poor are becoming trapped by the cycle of credit at these predatory lending businesses. 13 of them!

There but by the grace of God go I. These institutions are preying on the working poor. We need to show more compassion for those who are working hard but having trouble making ends meet. I know I’m talking about myself here. But I have also fallen prey to the lure of judging the poor, thinking they are getting a free ride by the system. That they have control of their situation if they would only work hard. It’s not as easy as that. Poverty is a complicated problem. And part of the equation now are these yellow buildings with red trim offering temporary relief at a high interest rate.

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Love your enemies

The following sermon was preached on July 30th 2006 at Filer Mennonite Church.

Do you remember the emotions of your first Love? I was pretty girl crazy in school, so I remember the emotions of infatuation pretty vividly. Then I met Deana and for the first time articulated the word “love” as a description of how I felt about her.

I also vividly remember the love I felt for each of my children when they were born.

Love is kind of a slippery word. We use it describe our feelings for a favorite food: “i love good sauerkraut!” an infatuation, or our love for our children.

Jesus narrowed it down a little for us when he taught that there was No other commandment greater then to Love God, and to Love our neighbors as ourselves.

My feelings for God need to be greater then my feelings about sauerkraut. And my feelings toward my neighbor need to be greater then my puppy love in jr. high.

In fact, John Jesus’ beloved disciple taught that we would be known as Christians by our love. He would ask us, “Will the world know you are His disciples by your worship service? Or by my preaching? Will the world know you are His disciples your four part singing? Or by your choruses? How bout by our offering? By our VBS? By our 10,000 villages sale? By our Christmas program?

No: They will know we are His disciples by our love.

And more specifically by our love for each other. In the church.

So, what does this kind of love look like?

The definition for this word is both affection and benevolence.

Affection and benevolence

Webster’s calls Affection: A settled good will; kind feeling; love; zealous or tender attachment

Love is a feeling. It is how we feel towards someone. Feelings of kindness, settled good will. Tender attachment.

Webster’s calls Benevolence: A predisposition to do good. A desire to promote their prosperity and happiness.

It is choosing the best for someone. It is our actions towards them.

So love is both a feeling and it is an action.

Today we are looking at a very difficult teaching of Jesus.

Jesus is teaching us to love our enemies….

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8 core convictions

Many years ago, I began the process of developing my core convictions. This went through many edits on its way to becoming the form you find here. I find it inspiring and a reminder of what I want to commit my life to. I hope this is valuable to in some form or other.

8 Core Convictions

I believe in a sovereign, loving, holy God. I believe it is more true to the scripture and healthier to live with God as He is and has described Himself in the Bible then to attempt to craft a theology that safely answers the paradoxes His omnipotence creates. He is in charge of life.

The best source of knowledge, wisdom and understanding is the Gospels, the Bible and the Spirit of Christ in me.

I believe that we are called to live abundant lives. The entrance of Jesus into the world 2000 years ago established the Kingdom of God on Earth and provided history and our personal lives with hopeful meaning in the midst of tribulation and trials as opposed to historicial and personal pessimism. Deuteronomy 30:19 to choose life, that you may live. I choose life!

Learning is a life-long pursuit with varied focuses that depend on the physical, emotional and spiritual stage of life we are in.

God has given each of us complete solidarity. The ethic that Jesus taught was for the influence of the Holy Spirit to transform the will of each individual so that they would be free to choose the Kingdom and to then take initiative to accomplish Kingdom good. This contrasts measuring spirituality on outward appearance and rewarding organizational service. It instead elevates initiative on individuals and gifts.

God has made us mutual branches of one vine, and reconcilers of people separated from God and others. Our relationships are to be characterized by love, acceptance and forgiveness. It is important that we gather as the Church, the Body of Christ, seek team solutions to social and spiritual needs, to reach out to people in need, and to reconcile and strengthen relationships both in the church and outside the church.

The seed and nest of abundant life is the family. It should be prioritized so that we are providing for the full needs of our families without sacrificing their well being to pursue material wealth, organizational recognition, religious obligations, or personal passions.

I believe that we are called to change people’s lives by inviting them to follow Jesus. I believe that we are called to change the world. By leveraging the previous seven points, the individual, family and church can “salt the earth,” providing healing and adding flavor. This is the mission of the Kingdom, that God’s will would be done here as it is in heaven, that the blind see, that we be the father to the orphan, and friend to the stranger.

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Creative alternatives to living in the 21st Century

Daren asked in a previous comment: “Did you really mean “seek to find creative alternatives to living in the 21st century”? What does that mean?”

It means a couple things.

First, I believe that Jesus was God in the flesh, and that His life not only taught us what to believe, but how to live. His life was a living owner’s manual for what genuine human existence can look like. I think that this is more true based on His favorite nickname for himself: The Son of Man. He was identifying himself with humanity in a manner that cannot be underestimated and in so doing showing that his life was an example for how we are to live.

Thus, the ethics of Jesus found in His life, and in teachings such as the sermon on the mount regarding values, money and relationships I believe should be crafted into a lifestyle that is ultimately counter-cultural.

Second, some of these ethics of Jesus have to do with ownership and shared useage of things.

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Who are the Mennonites and thoughts on the war

I was recently asked by a friend for a description of the Mennonite church, which I am a member of. My answer was fairly succinct, so I thought it might be useful to post it here. I also included comments on consciencious objection to war, which is my position along with the Mennonite Church. I welcome questions and comments.

Daren,

…the dime-store novel history is that during the reformation there were more reformers then just luther and calvin. there was also erasmus trying to make changes inside of the catholic church rather then attempting reform by leaving catholicism. another group felt that luther, calvin and zwingli and others like them weren’t going far enough. historically, this group is called the radical reformers.

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Peacemaking Evangelism

This article was written for the most current issue of the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference newsletter The Evangel.

Today I had the pleasure of watching a video of Guy Doud, 1986 Teacher of the Year as a part of my education towards a teaching certificate. One of the many stories he told was how as a child he was very overweight. When he was the last person to be picked for recess games, he learned that he wasn’t just not good at sports, he wasn’t good. The result was that he gradually participated in less and less activities the more his self-perception told him he wasn’t good.

It’s my opinion that we Mennonites can struggle with similar feelings. Because we are different from other Christians, we can sometimes limit our activities based on our self-perception. I know for myself, I struggle to invite people to attend church with me because it will mean explaining what Mennonites are, that we don’t all drive horse and buggies and that I will have to explain the position of non-resistance.

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