Thursday, December 20, 2012

Are you ready for Finals?

Tis the season. I think most college students dread finals.  I know that I did.  A whole semester’s worth of work is supposed to be summed up in a three hour exam.  To make matters worse, more often than not, you usually had the two hardest finals on the same day.  Days leading up to finals were hectic.  Cramming, study sessions and more cramming were just a part of life. 

Tis the season.  Have you ever thought that Christmas brings finals to our churches?  Before you think that I have finally gone crazy, think about it.  Who shows up in our churches on Christmas?

The Christmas Christian shows up in our churches for the Christmas service.  Much like the groundhog on Groundhog Day, the Christmas Christian makes a quick appearance before going back into hiding till Easter.

This Christian shows up two times a year.  Our churches will be full this weekend.  People that you haven’t seen since Easter are back.  While you glad hand them and tell them how wonderful it is to see them, they are looking just as hard back at you. 

Think about it. You only have two times a year to let those people know if you have been naughty or nice.  While you have them for that hour, can they see Christ in you?  I know you are going to be nice to them.  That’s a given.  The real question is whether they see someone that really cares about them.  Are you showing genuine love for your fellow man? 

In reality, you are probably thinking about going to grandma’s later on in the day.  Besides, since they don’t show up that often it really don’t matter all that much.  You’ll see them later in the week at the grocery store and tell them how glad you were to see them at church on Christmas. 

Have you ever really wondered why these folks only show up twice a year?  These people are Christians.  And you know that they are not so vain as to believe that showing up at Christmas and Easter will gain them some favor with God.

Alas, but I am afraid that some regular churchgoers do believe just that.  And that’s a shame.  We miss out on some of the best opportunities to tell people about Jesus, because we have already decided that they aren’t really interested. We believe that they show up, just to be seen.

So it’s just my silly thought that Christmas and Easter are finals for those of us that consider ourselves regular churchgoers.  We need to take all that the pastor has taught us and demonstrate our knowledge and love of Christ.  And we need to show the Christmas Christian that we are real.  

So if you happen to go the church this Sunday, look around.  You will have a great opportunity to witness for Christ.  And if you miss this opportunity, you’ll have another opportunity in the spring.

Be ready for Easter.  These finals are real important.  They are a matter of eternal life or death.  So study hard.

God Bless you.  I hope you have a Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Good Grief Charlie Brown, They called me an Evangelical

All this time, I never dreamed that being called an evangelical was a bad thing.  I also didn’t know that there were several definitions of evangelicals and then, you have to separate the fundamentalists from the evangelicals.

Fundamentalists have been described in Wikipedia as a group that aggressively attacks their liberal enemies while evangelicals concentrated more on outreach and conversion of new members. 

Now even that definition is convoluted because it goes on to describe three different types of evangelicals. 

Quoting Wikipedia again:

1.The traditionalists, characterized by high affinity for certain Protestant beliefs, (especially penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, the authority of scripture, the priesthood of all believers, etc.) which, when fused with the highly political milieu of Western culture (especially American culture), has resulted in the political disposition that has been labeled the Christian right, with figures like Jerry Falwell and the television evangelist Pat Robertson as its most visible spokesmen.

 2. Centrist evangelicals, described as socially conservative, mostly avoiding politics, who still support much of traditional Christian theology.

 3. Modernist evangelicals, a small minority in the movement, have low levels of church-attendance and "have much more diversity in their beliefs".

Wow, I have to have a dictionary in order to read a dictionary. 

What is a “traditionalist evangelical”?  Reading that definition, I don’t have a clue.  I personally have never heard of “penal substitutionary atonement”, so I had to look it up. 

According to Theopedia: “Penal substitutionary atonement refers to the doctrine that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ, and he, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve. This was a full payment for sins, which satisfied both the wrath and the righteousness of God, so that He could forgive sinners without compromising His own holy standard.”

I don’t know how you could be a Christian without believing Christ died for your sins.  So now I am starting to sound like a traditionalist. But wait, that makes me part of the “Christian Right”.  Who are those folks?  Are they associated with those crazies that blow up abortion clinics?   I hope not.  But what if I don’t agree with Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson?  Guess I have to know what they believe first. 

But I do believe in my constitutional right to vote.  I am sure that I would vote for a Christian over a non-Christian given the opportunity.  Does that make me part of the Christian Right or is that just one of my American Rights? 

That being said, I think I would rather be called a centrist evangelical.  Socially conservative, but staying out of politics.  Or at least, keeping my politics to myself.  I don’t want people to think that I am crazy.  Hold on, what does “support much of traditional Christian theology” mean?  What part don’t I support?  I know that I support “penal substitutionary atonement”.  Will that belief, preclude me from being a centrist?  I am getting lost. 

Maybe I will just be a modernist evangelical.  Sounds pretty good to me.  Don’t go to church much and I can believe what I want.  Wow, that sounds like the majority of people that I know, yet the definition says that this is a small majority of the movement.  Thinking about it, I do like to go to church and I believe what the Bible says.  Maybe I am not a modernist at all. 

I really don’t fit into any of the three definitions of an evangelical.  Maybe I am a fundamentalist.  Let’s look. 

First of all, we have to back up and define this “liberal enemy” that fundamentalists are attacking.  Is this the guy that just voted for Obama or is it somebody that just doesn’t agree with your beliefs about Christianity. For example: You believe in a strict literal translation of the Bible and another person believes otherwise.  Is that person a “liberal enemy”?  I don’t know and I bet you don’t either.  And the reason I don’t care is because I am not about having a label attached to my beliefs.  I don’t think that I am a fundamentalist either. 

Charlie Brown:  I believe in evangelism.  Jesus told us in the great commission to go and reach people for him.  That should be my goal. 

The media might paint me as a religious zealot that goes around bible thumping and preaching hell and damnation if I was to speak publically about Jesus.  And nothing could be further from the truth, at least in my life. 

As a recovering alcoholic and a supporter of the 12 step system, I adhere to the belief that the only way to help myself is to help other alcoholics that ask for my help.  I mean get down in the dirt help.  I mean helping that other alcoholic with whatever means necessary. 

Jesus taught his disciples to do the same.  Jesus taught love and understanding, not hate and prejudice. 

People throw around names and labels without knowing what they are truly saying.  I find that I don’t really fit into any of the above definitions of evangelicals or fundamentalist, but that’s ok.  Call me what you want.

I shouldn’t worry about the labels; I should worry about whether you see Christ in my actions.  In the end, that’s the only thing that matters. 
Listen to the following song by Johnny Cash.  I think it more than appropriate. 
Heck after listening to the song, I might just be a Methodist...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fear, Faith and Fumbling Around

It seems that I am always in the company of one of these three F’s. 

I bet that there’s at least 100 books on “how to conquer your fears” and another 100 on “how to live on faith”.  Either I haven’t read the right book or the ones that I read are just wrong, because I spent most of my time just fumbling around through life. 

Everybody will tell you to “face your fears head-on” or “stand up to your fears”.  Then the same people will tell you to “have faith” or “trust in Jesus”.  For 99% of the people out there, you might as well just told them what time it is.  They are too deep in believing their fears to face them and just too afraid to have faith in anything.  They might believe the time of day.

As humans, we are taught fear from birth.  It doesn’t matter what culture you are brought up in, fear is universal.  Your mom taught you not to stick your finger in the electric socket because it would hurt you.  You became afraid.  Even today, you have fears in your life that limit the good things that you could accomplish.  You are afraid to take that unknown step.

Faith could very well be the opposite of fear.  We don’t have enough faith to take that unknown step.  Why don’t we have enough faith?  Fear is deep seated and well learned.  We gain faith simply by having faith.  It’s that simple, but that is exactly what makes it that hard. 

So what do we do?  We just fumble around most of the time.  You see, one of our biggest problems is our prayer life or mostly lack of.  We tend to judge how much faith that we have by our answered prayers.  If we get good answers, we shine with our faith.  If we don’t get an answer or the answer isn’t what we wanted, our faith goes away and is replaced by our fears. 

And I don’t know who taught us to pray, but aren’t we really selfish in most of our prayers.  We go the Lord seeking his favor and wanting things to turn out the way that we want, not seeking God’s will in our lives.  You have to know that 100 years from now, nobody will remember the things that filled your life with fear.  But if we spent our time seeking God’s will, in a hundred years we will be with him throughout eternity.  To prove my point, do you really know anything about the daily fears that encompassed the lives of your great grandparents?  I know that I don’t. 

So here I am fumbling around.  But I guess, no I know, that the answer is in Jesus.  I find great comfort in Jesus; I just forget to go to him a lot of the time.  Faith is such a powerful thing for us.  We can do most anything with faith.  The problem is that after a little success, we start to think it’s by our own doing and we forget Jesus.  Then we start all over. 

I think that this is probably how it will always be for us and our future generations.  And that’s all right.  The greatest among us will not be the ones that have all the fame, the greatest amoung us will be those that live their lives for Jesus. 

I always like to end with a song.  Today’s song is “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers.  It’s ok, just listen and think about what I said.