In his article “The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity”, Richard Beck hyperbolises the problems inherent in turning Christianity into a religion of tasks rather than the total transformation that it really is.
One can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. In fact, much of this activity can distract one from becoming a more decent human being… Many churches are jerk factories.
Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.
Performing spiritual/religious activities does not inherently make you a better person. Really becoming a better person is something that can only be done by Jesus.
We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We [Jews] tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. …I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man.
Galatians 2:15-16,19 MSG
Beck is clear: there is nothing wrong, and much that is right about private devotions, bible study, prayer, fasting, et cetera. It just can’t be a substitute for being a decent human being. We need both. What we don’t need is our churches perceived as being “Jerk Factories”.
The Jewish Messiah might not have been born on December 25th, AD Zero. (It was may have been springtime; the exact year is debated.) He may have had an entirely ordinary name (Joshua).
Nevertheless, he was born, lived a life free of the usual human errors, preached a remarkable Message for a brief three-year period, was executed by a collusion of religious and governmental leaders, and miraculously returned to life. And one day, every sentient being, willingly or not, will acknowledge Jesus as Master of the Universe.
He changed the lives of those he met. Those he changed were so completely transformed that their eyewitness testimony of the Messiah, combined with experiences of Yahweh choosing to live inside them, likewise transformed the planet.
And December 25 is as good a day to remember and celebrate that birth as any.
Merry Christmas, everybody.
The sermon today was based on John 9:1-41. Such a powerful reminder of the transforming power of Jesus.
Continue reading Wretched, Pitiable, Poor, Blind, and Naked
We can’t come to God under our own steam; we haven’t the strength. But with his radical intervention, he can give us strength to become his.
Holy Sonnet XIV
Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
As a worship leader married to a dancer in a church that is mostly made up of non-demonstrative people, the discussion of certain expressions of worship comes up repeatedly for me — in particular, the question of whether dancing, raising hands, speaking in tongues, kneeling, and the use of certain modern instruments such as drums are acceptable expressions of Christian worship.
It’s not the leaders that have the difficulty. It’s folks in the congregation from a variety of backgrounds that may be familiar with social prohibitions against some of these practices.
So I jotted down a few thoughts on the subject.
Continue reading Premises for Diverse Expressions of Worship
I just love walking into the grocery store in November and hearing Christmas music. There’s just something inherently cool about it.
I know it drives some people crazy. Maybe it’s an association with commercialism. So, it’s okay to buy nothing for Christmas. Maybe it’s the huge array of cheesy Christmas music. Listen, there’s tonnes of Christmas music out there; I guarantee there’s something in your taste.
To me, maybe it’s just the fact that people who have no real emotional or ideological attachment to Christianity are hearing, over and over, somewhere under the squeak of shopping carts and beeps and dings of cash registers, something like:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth
Hark the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”
That’s so cool.