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Posts Tagged ‘Scriptures’

Religious Refereeing

We live in a world who likes to define right from wrong, who’s in and who’s out, as well as those we like and those we do not. Everyone becomes their own personal referee, making judgment calls on the life and behaviors of others.  It is so much easier to identify the error and slippery slope in another person’s life than our own, however.  Plus, it seems our rule book is always changing according to our own whims, likes and dislikes and morphing philosophies of life.

I recognize this painful reality in my own life. For example, I had a wonderful time with some friends the other night.  Greg and Cindy Holman had me and my family over for dinner and we attempted to catch up on 30 years of history, which is ever since we were all in college together at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington (then, Northwest College).  Of course, that is an impossible task in one evening.

The conversation turned to how much we have changed, not just age wise but also in thinking, religious beliefs and practices. Life experiences have shaped or reshaped our philosophies and theologies.  How we view, interpret and apply certain Scriptures and religious beliefs we grew up with is drastically different.  We all recognized that our world has expanded; we see God’s tent as much larger than the narrowly defined one we grew up with in our families and churches.

The painful reality we have discovered is that we spent too much of our time in our younger years trying to define the boundaries of God’s household of faith rather than helping those on the journey towards faith. Whether Baptist or Pentecostal, High-Church or Low-Church, liturgical or non-liturgical, Charismatic or Dispensationalist, Arminian or Calvinist, presbyterian/episcopal or congregational/independent in church government – we all believe that we are the heavenly Father’s favored child because we are more correct than our brothers and sisters.  Even the best among us can be paternalistic in our attitudes towards those we accept: We tolerate them even though we consider them to be in error or deviant in faith and practice rather than whole-heartedly accept and embrace them as brothers and sisters in the household of faith.

I believe that this is a changing reality in many churches today. At the grass roots level, Christian believers are recognizing more and more that every follower of Christ is on a different spiritual journey.  There is a desire to allow others to listen and follow their own spiritual walk with God.  This attitude, however, scares many other Christians into thinking that such a consideration would allow for a “slippery slope” into error, heresy or sinful behaviors.  Unfortunately, this has led to a tendency to want to define with hard categories and boundaries “who is in” and “who is outside” the tent of faith.  This has been a problem through all of church history.  It was endemic of the church from the start and continues on down until today.  Consider, for example, the first century flap between Jewish believers and Gentile believers.

The early American colonies were brutally divided by such thinking and behavior. Anglicans were at war with Congregationalist; both of them despised and persecuted the Quakers, Baptists and Lutherans.  Everyone held the Unitarians and Deists in suspicion.  Depending upon which state or county you lived in, you may not have been able to openly practice your brand of Christianity.  You could have been jailed or worse for preaching or holding cottage meetings outside the state recognized church.  If you were a free-thinker, agnostic or atheist then there seemed to be no place for you in early America except the far reaches of western settlements; just as there was no place for the Jew, Hindu or Muslim.

It seems to me that much of the church has concentrated on the minutiae of doctrines and doctrinal distinctives and forgotten Paul’s injunction to consider one another’s conscience. More important than correct theology, according to Paul, was the living application of faith, hope and love in the life of the community of Christ followers.  As much as Paul expounded upon what the early church was to believe about Christ’s life, death, resurrection and glorification, the bulk of the content of his letters to the churches concerned acceptance, forgiveness, bearing one another, mercy, grace and love for all Christ’s followers.

I am not addressing those things that Scripture points to as obvious sin or error. Those are quite clear and even the apostle Paul was willing to expose and expel unrepentant persons from the family of faith for such things.  However, it seems that there is a lot of room left for things that are not clearly identified or settled as sin and error.  The Lord and the Scriptures left to us seem to allow for a great diversity of opinion and practice in one’s faith journey.

Mount Saint Helens, July 2002

Mount Saint Helens, July 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Our proclivity to want to don the referee’s jersey and blow the whistle on fellow believers has left a sour taste in the mouths of non-believers as well as many believers who have left our churches. Christians and their churches today as in other times in human history are more likely to be identified by what they are against than what they are for or have in common.  Just as likely, they have left those outside the faith completely baffled and bemused by our divisive spirit over nearly unintelligent doctrinal nuances.  Our hostilities towards one another over spiritual practices (communion, baptisms, congregational worship, Bible translations, etc) devoted to the supposed same God are confounding.  If we cannot love one another through our different opinions and practices, what makes us think the world would believe the God and gospel we preach could ever accept them?  No wonder so many do not join the church because they are afraid of picking the “wrong” one.

More importantly, I believe, it speaks to our complete lack of faith in the Lord to build his own house (as we are told in Scripture he would do) and for his Holy Spirit to convince, convict and conform his own children in his own way (as Jesus assured us his Spirit would do).  We honestly do not believe that if everyone loved the Lord enough and loved one another enough that he is strong enough or faithful to bring us one day to all the same conclusion and same place – which is before his throne and in his presence.  No, we would much rather try and second guess the Lord and identify for ourselves who will be there and who will not.  The stark, naked truth is that it is not our job.

As someone wisely observed, “It is not my kingdom and I’m not the King.” It is not my household of faith and I’m not the Father who chooses who is in it or who is outside of it.  Jesus’ parable to The Tares and the Wheat may be worth another study for us who want to blow the religious referee’s whistle on others.  It may be time to put those away and, instead, embrace anyone on a spiritual journey towards God, encourage them and share with them what we know and our stories and, most importantly, allow and trust that God is at work in their life just as he is in ours.

It must have been an elderly and wizened Jude who learned to put away the religious referee whistle and uniform when he wrote in his New Testament letter, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen” (Jude 24, 25).  In these words is an understanding of a grace greater than all our sin.  There is recognition that it is all God’s work, not ours and that he is able to take care of what is his.  As such, it allows us to put away religious refereeing because God is able to make his own calls.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome, in short, is the psychological phenomenon in which people become enamored with those who enslave them and hold them captive.  Christian music artist Derek Webb made this a part of his new album by the same name.  In it he explores how people, particularly Christians, have fallen in love with things that ultimately destroy them.  This seems to be the reality of the human story throughout time.

This smart application of a psychological phenomenon to the human spiritual condition caught my attention.  Personally, I think Webb is on to something and has creatively pointed it out for us.  Of course, that is what artists are supposed to do, right?  I really appreciate artists that take us below the fluffy surface of life to get to the gritty reality of day-to-day living.  I like to think of them as prophetic artists.

Blue Heron on the Deschutes River, April 2010

Blue Heron on the Deschutes River, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Of course, it is easy to name the ways in which fallen humanity as a whole and our American society in particular has fallen in love and come to identify with those things that are destroying us.  It is quite another issue to look within each of our own hearts and find those places, people and things that we have become enamored with that are really destroying us spiritually albeit ever so slowly.  Our affinity to our self and our sin goes unnoticed most of the time.

Instead of keeping up an adversarial mentality towards our own spiritual enemies, we have learned to make peace with them.  Rather than staying in constant battle-mode, if we are honest with ourselves, we have taken off our armor, dropped our weapons and started enjoying the company of the enemy of our souls.  This goes against the message of the New Testament which is replete with pictures of saints as boxers training their bodies, athletes staying fit for the race and warriors constantly armored and at the ready to use their weapons.  We are to be always on our guard because our enemy, the devil, is always going around searching for an easy meal.

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome is where American Christians in particular have become enamored with affluence, materialism, comfort, gluttony, convenience, pornography, anger, swearing, gambling, selfishness, personal rights, image and looks or the hundreds of others lures and sirens of our age calling us to our own destruction.  At best, these things merely make us spiritually impotent against the spiritual enemies of our age.  We are no longer poor and impoverished; but we no longer have spiritual authority or power when and where we need it either.  Collectively we have lost our prophetic voice and the right to speak to our culture because we have become just like the rest of our culture – enamored with the enemy.

What will it take for the evangelical churches in America to come out of their spiritual Stockholm Syndrome? I do not know.  We have experienced national crises and have soon afterward returned to what we were before.  Perhaps God in his goodness and grace will visit us by his Holy Spirit and awaken us from our slumber.

Meanwhile, there are many who, like bellwether sheep, are ringing the bell as loud as they can to call us back to where we belong.  I am not certain I agree with Derek Webb’s approach when in one song he chides those who “don’t give a s—” about thousands dying around the world daily.  Such shock treatments, reminiscent of Tony Compolo’s similar attempt more than two decades ago, rarely have the desired effect.  Nevertheless, I cannot denounce his attempt to do something to ring the alarm.  I just think there are more effective ways.

Treatment for spiritual Stockholm Syndrome will take time and commitment.  The Great Counselor is the only one who can give us the wisdom necessary to navigate out of this spiritual and moral dilemma.  The spiritual manual for living – the Scriptures – must be our map out of this spiritual wilderness.  Finally, recognition of our true spiritual condition must result in a cry for help from the Lord who is full of grace and mercy.  He will fulfill his promise to help when we cry out to him.  Only he has the power to break free those who are stuck in a spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The author Scott Peck noted that the ability to appreciate pleasant, unearned surprises as gifts tends to be good for one’s mental health.  Those who perceive grace in the world are more likely to be grateful and happy than those who do not.  Grace is available for everyone.  God’s grace is evident everywhere: in the nurturing touch of a mother, in the hug of a father, in the provision from a job, in the help from a friend, in the fellowship of a church, in the emotional connection of a song, in the words of encouragement spoken into the midst of trials, in the beauty of art work, in the wonders of creation and in the rescue and relief from emergency services.  Like rain, God’s grace flows over the earth.  It falls on the just and the unjust.

There is a story of about a Yankee who, on a business trip, had to drive through the South for the first time.  He stopped at a roadside diner in South Carolina and ordered eggs and sausage for breakfast.  He was surprised when his order came with a white blob on the plate.  “What’s this?” he asked the waitress.  “Them’s grits, suh,” she replied.  But I didn’t order them,” he said.  “You don’t order grits,” she explained.  “They just come.”  And that is very much like grace.  It just comes to us.  Unasked for and undeserved, the blessings of God flow in, through, under and over our lives.  As author Scott Peck noted, happy is the one who recognizes it!

Eagle Creek Pool, Fall 2002

Eagle Creek Pool, Fall 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The Bible reminds us that God’s grace flows to those who are full of thanks and humble.  In fact James says, “God resists the arrogant, but gives his grace to the humble.”  Our attitude and posture are important in our relationship with God, especially when we are in need of his grace.  A good definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor”.  Do you need God’s favor in your life today?  For what you are going through in life?  You can look to God, who will lavish his favor upon you abundantly.  However, it is important to be in a position of reception and readiness.  Otherwise, you may miss it.

I am thankful that God’s grace comes to me freely and most often when I do not expect it.  It reminds me that I am his and that he is still in charge.  He only asks that I remain humble and thankful before him.  This is a position of receiving something I do not deserve.  Why is this important?  Because arrogance shuts off the flow of his grace into our life.  It says, “No thanks.  I’ve got what I need.”  Self-sufficient pride closes our life to God’s unmerited favor.  Simply, our life or human vessel is already full – of our self.

Grace flows most easily toward humble gratitude.  Even as humans we find that it is much easier to be gracious and show favor to those who are humble and thankful.  An arrogant person repulses and repels the gracious help that is offered.  Is it any wonder then that God’s grace flows toward the humble?  So, in one sense, you may have your own hand upon the faucet handle of the source of God’s favor towards you.  Go ahead.  Turn it on with humility and thankfulness.  Let it flow.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Lincoln City by Mo's Restaurant

River at Lincoln City, Or. © Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr (2009)

One of the advantages of being unemployed is the freedom to make room for spontaneity.  Each day is a new adventure with untold possibilities.  Today I received an invitation to meet a good friend at the local Barnes and Noble for beverage, walk, and talk.  Since it had been a while since we met last, we used the opportunity to catch up on personal and family events.  He, too, is unemployed but just finished working on a book he hopes to get published.

As always happens between us, the conversation quickly turned to talking about God, Scripture, and daily living out our faith.  Like me, he is also on a faith journey.  In other words, we are both attempting to discern what our life’s purposes are and how to fulfill the sense of mission we both hold.  We choose to believe that there is a larger story that we are a part of and that our small part of that story is important.

That belief is a part of our faith.  However, faith is much more than just a belief one holds to intellectually.  It is more than just a well known Scripture verse.  Many people have a belief system that includes God, Jesus and the Bible.  However, very few of those same people have faith.  This is because faith requires an active trust.

A great example of this is in Hebrews, chapter 11, of the Bible.  “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for” we are told there.  Recently, the Bible study teacher at the church I attend recalled what someone had once told him:  “Faith is the evidence that the things we cannot see are real.  Also, fear is the evidence that the things we cannot see are real.  The difference is what or who we trust.”

In what some have called “the hall of faith”, a list of people is held up as examples for us.  These individuals had faith.  However, it doesn’t tell us what they believed but what they did.  In other words, faith is a verb.  After every introduction of “by faith” there immediately follows an action – they went, spoke, saw, did, acted, etc.

In this sense, my friend and I are in a long line of saints who actively trust God to fulfill his promises.  It is not just a creed or statement of faith to us.  It is much more than a memorized and oft quoted Scripture verse.  We do not merely tick off a list of things of what we believe about God and his word.  We bet our lives upon it.  So, “by faith” Oran wrote a book.  And, “by faith” Ron looked for a job.  We believe, therefore we act.  That’s Hebrews 11 continued.

© Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr.  (2009)

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