Tag Archives: Christ

A Sacrifice of Praise


We are instructed to offer a “sacrifice of praise” in Hebrews 13:15. Usually I gloss over that line. Yeah, yeah, praise and Thanksgiving, blah blah blah. Yet, it deserves more consideration than a shrug of  the mind.

“Sacrifice” has multiple meanings depending on the context. Between God and Man, it most often describes a bridging action from man to God which recognizes power (of God, of Law), the deviation from Law (due to intentional action or omission), and the need for the disparity between what is good and holy and what is not. Traditionally, we could not approach God directly. Nothing that is not “clean” or “holy” may. So, the regulations surrounding different forms of sacrifices described in Jewish Law serve to clean the pathway between God and Man so that we may approach Him.

A Christian’s understanding of Jesus as the Messiah means that Christ became the consummate sacrifice meeting all criteria of the Law, permanently. Our individual requirements for guilt or thanksgiving sacrifices have been met, leaving us to offer only “sacrifices of praise.”

All we are asked to do is say “thanks be to God.” Yet, every time we complain about our circumstances, every time we submit to envy or jealousy or self-pity, we do not offer praise. In these negative acts, we shunt praise and prevent it from coming to our lips or hearts.

God does not want us to pretend that suffering is not part of life. He suffered Himself. He wants us to bring our suffering to Him in prayer, however, and not idly grouse and moan to others.

When we speak or think words of praise, we create space within which God can work. When we do not praise, we close ourselves off and prevent His actions.

If we come to him in prayer, acknowledging Him in our suffering and with our praise, we give Him permission to heal and strengthen. Praise is not merely an acknowledgement of faith or of God’s greatness — although that alone would be sufficient reason for praise — it is also our permission to Him for His work in our lives.


Compassion, Social Action, and Christ



Fruits


I was pretty young when I realized that a lot of people who say they preach the gospel of Christ and know The Truth don’t practice – don’t even make a real effort to practice – what they preach.

I wasn’t much older when I realized that the only honest reply I had for friends and others who criticized my faith by pointing out the greed, hypocrisy, bigotry, and cruelty of these “preachers” was “You’re right. They are behaving viciously.” What can one say, really, when there are hatemongers like the Westboro Church or Jeremiah Wright or many others who use their pulpits to shame, ridicule and incite people to despise others? Explaining that the ideologies espoused by these institutions is not at all what is actually in the Bible doesn’t go far enough. So, I’m going to (try to) avoid my soapbox about the effects of bad examples and instead refer to what is written down.

Today’s reading comes from 2 Peter 1:5-8.

… Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control;  and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

There are many passages in the New Testament describing how a person who follows the teachings of Jesus should treat others, and they all come down to one thing: love. We are also told that “by their fruits you will know them.”

We can and should spend a lot of time looking at each of these nouns and discussing what they mean. Despite the brevity of the passage, there’s a ton of content. “Increasing measure” is the phrase used to prioritize this list – which is really interesting because not only does it put “love” on top but “faith” ends up last. It isn’t enough for me to say “I believe” and then go around willy nilly bashing in the heads of those who disagree with me. I shouldn’t act hatefully if I have faith.

If I approach *everyone* lovingly, I am far more likely to treat people with kindness, respect, and compassion than if I simply used a checklist of good vs bad to determine to whom I should be nice.

Going deeper into the list, I see the word “knowledge” – and it too is not qualified. It’s not limited to one specific kind of knowledge, not just “knowledge of the Scripture” or “knowledge of good cooking” or “knowledge of limericks.” It’s all kinds of knowledge. I ought to be a student of the world. A student learns, respectfully, about whatever he or she can. So I am to learn about other ways of seeing the world – including other religions, philosophies, sciences and arts, the whole thing – and respond lovingly.

“Lovingly” is not synonymous with “approval” or “acquiescence.” I think we’ve lost sight of the distinction. My being tolerant of a different point of view is not the same thing as condoning it. Whatever my opinion is, my instructions are clear: I am supposed to be loving. This fulcrum at the center of my personal ethics and the ethics of others is where we find kindness. How can someone stand on a bully pulpit and condemn anyone? How can that possibly be seen as loving? How can protests at funerals or carrying signs of vitriol and bigotry ever be thought of as kind?

I trip over the kindness instruction every day.  I’m full of disdain for all kinds of things – pop culture, politics, bad television, bad beer, bad books. I suspect that I am, in fact, a snob. This judgement is not only directed outwards; I’m full of self- flagellation too. It’s just so easy to be spiteful.

When I consider that I am taught to treat others as Christ would, and more importantly, that He loves everyone – even me, though I’m not always so loving to myself – it’s like releasing the clutch too quickly when changing gears. Everything grinds to a full stop. I realize that I don’t have the position to criticize others when I’m falling so short myself. This is where we find self-control.

If I can’t feel lovey-dovey towards others, the first thing I ought to make sure of is that I do no harm. I need to stop saying unkind things. I need to watch how I behave. Maybe I can’t be kind right out of the gate, but I can start with trying not to be rude. The simple act of prevention requires enormous self-control. Doing it again and again requires perseverance.

As for godliness, I think that the best instruction on how to be godly is found in others. The obvious example is Jesus. The Son of Man is also the Son of God, the symbiosis of both God and man. It can be hard to look at Christ directly. We can look at others, including people who do not identify with Christianity at all. We can look at Gandhi, for example, but I think the best place to look is in our own neighborhoods.

People of all creeds perform acts of love and kindness everyday. In their reflection, I can see the Divine. God isn’t confined to one box, one identity. He can be found all over the place. If people prove impossible, we can look at nature. Dogs, for example, are striking examples of affection, forgiveness, and loyalty. Dolphins. Elephants. Wolves. Birds in Spring. It’s everywhere we look, if we try to see.

Sometimes, we are given negative examples instead of positive. Sometimes, the best way to determine what something is is by looking at what it is not. We need to determine for ourselves what is good and what is not, and we need to avoid taking the words of others at their simple value. Our words never mean as much as our actions. I urge us all to look critically – but lovingly – at what we do.

 


Critical Thinking about Christianity


I have made a pretty deliberate decision to try to keep religion out of my blog, or my “published” writings, for that matter. I think that what a person believes in is very personal. I know that I don’t appreciate it when someone tries to persuade me that I am wrong and s/he is right. I figure I ought to show other people the same respect.

It’s part of the “treat others as I want to be treated” philosophy I try to live by.

Something that troubles me about conversations about religious beliefs, or moral codes, or ethics, or even philosophy and science, is that there usually is not a reasonable conversation happening. Most of the time, you get two or more parties yelling at each other irrationally with no substance to the vitriol. And people wonder why churches and organized religions and atheists, for that matter, are lampooned and mocked. Dude, if you want to be taken seriously, take yourself seriously first.

It’s part of the “remove the plank from your eye first, and then consider whether or not you’re qualified to throw stones” bit. None of us are qualified to throw things at each other. We just aren’t. Eventually, faith can’t be proven – it’s the nature of faith. And, if you believe one thing and I believe another, well, hey, we’re working on faith here. Of course we can’t “prove” it. And yelling at each other certainly doesn’t help. As long as we’re both trying to figure out how to live honestly and with goodness, I offer up a high five.

Now, for the skanky immoral folks who don’t consider ethics in decision-making and opt instead for immediate base gratification…. well, my tolerance doesn’t extend that far. That’s a failure on my part to completely live up to treating others the way I want to be treated. I admit it; I can’t stand people who don’t try to be bigger than base animals. You have to at least try. I mean, then, even if we disagree, we can have an interesting conversation about why we disagree. We might both learn something, too.

I am certain there is a great deal of value in discussing moral and ethical principles, completely outside of the context in which they are usually presented. In fact, once we begin examining what the source material really says, we usually find that most of its “followers” are, um, *not* practicing what they preach.

As a Christian, as an Episcopalian, I find this embarrassing. I freely admit to being horrified by most of the things “Christians” do in “God’s name.” I envision God (wherever he or she or it is, and however that looks, I’m not sure) shaking his head and saying, “I got nothin’ to do with that! That’s all you and your hate and stupidity! You wanna be an ass, do it in your own name!”

I suspect that lots of Muslims feel the same way about the jihadists, and so on, [insert your higher calling here].

People hide behind the blanket of religion to avoid being responsible for their own actions and words – or their failure to act. If you are a coward, that’s on you, buddy. That’s not God (or the absence of God, or whatever you believe). That’s all you. If you are a bigot or a racist or a dogmatic fear-driven fool, that’s all on you.

I read a book a few months ago that was fascinating. It’s called “Provocative Grace,” by Robert Corin Morris, and it’s pretty challenging to the establishment. Morris is an Episcopalian leader, but he writes this book not as a religious tract, but as an exercise in removing “religion” and looking one by one at the lessons in Christ’s teachings. Not what the church has said. Not even what the disciples said. Certainly not what masses do during their crusades. As bits of ethical ideas, he looks one by one at the tenets of what has become Christianity as it was written, fully acknowledging the limitations of translation and history.

It is brilliant. It is subversive and challenging and completely “in your face.” It turns conventional easy legalism on its head, and then kicks it out the door.

For anyone interested in ethics, I strongly recommend it. Morris comes right out and says that it is not the intention of this book to “convert” anyone. He wants to look at what it is that we say we believe in – and how closely our popular interpretations line up with what’s really said.

Punchline: conventional Christianity doesn’t line up well with Christ’s actions at all.

The basic “rules” of Christianity are 1) be kind to everyone – and it means everyone, even the people who hate you and whom you hate, be KIND, and 2) don’t judge people, period. You don’t know what they’re up against and you’re not qualified. So, take your sanctimonious self-satisfaction and shove it. You be *kind.* Feed anyone who is hungry. Protect anyone who needs safety – of any kind. Be gentle to all. Period.

It’s actually a pretty straight-forward set of instructions.

It’s really too bad they aren’t followed more closely.

So, when you meet someone who claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t live and act according to those two basic ideas – I implore you, blame (if you must) the human. God isn’t in those actions. He’s no where around. That’s all mankind, right there, building our own hell here on earth.

http://www.amazon.com/Provocative-Grace-Challenge-Jesus-Words/dp/0835898482


Thoughts during this, the Monday before Easter.


 

I think that this (described below) is a provocative and powerful way to consider why the Passion of Christ exists at all, why it must for any of Christianity‘s tenets to be true.  Most people who call themselves Christians do not, in my opinion, very well reflect the actual teachings of the Bible. I suspect that this can also be said of me many times throughout the day. But, I also think that if anyone is going to try to understand why Christianity is so powerful (and I’m not referring here to a Crusade-like conversion at sword point manner, but in an individual, meditative and personal way), it is the very notion that there is a God who loves us *this* much, who wants this particular kind of relationship, and who has experienced and mourns over the extraordinary amount of pain in this world. Christ was either the Son of God, or he was a completely insane and dangerous vagrant. There is no middle ground, no “wise teacher” stuff. It’s a powerful challenge to anyone’s sense of knowledge in this world. If we only murdered a poor sick leader of a cult, it wouldn’t be so much news. We do it all the time, even now. But if we murdered God, and then He came back to us again anyway… Well, it’s rather magnificent that we’re still here to talk about it, isn’t it?

 

Courtesy of a message from a group I follow from “The Upper Room,” an Anglican (Episcopalian) Group based in Tennesse –

HEN JESUS SUFFERED and died on the cross, God bore the sin and suffering of the world. By giving his life to the bitter end, Jesus shared the fate of all innocent victims of inhumanity. He took the suffering of the world upon himself. He absorbed the agony of broken hearts and twisted lives. …

Second Corinthians 4:5-6 was the favorite text of my theological mentor, Robert Cushman, and I can hear his often repeated words in my mind to this day: “The only authentic Christian life is a cruciform life.” In an “if-it-feels-good-it’s right” world, the glory of the cross makes little sense. But to the hurt, the abused, the wounded, and the lonely, the Savior who identifies with our pain is the light of life. As followers of Christ we are called to translate, through God’s grace, the cognitive dissonance caused by our questions about the brokenness and suffering of the world into resolute action rooted in God’s love. …

God in Christ “suffers with” the world. This is the actual meaning of the word compassion. I believe nothing expresses the central truth of God’s essence more fully than compassion, the outworking of God’s self-giving love. We see compassion on the cross.

– Paul Chilcote
Changed from Glory into Glory

From pages 103, 104, and 105 of Changed from Glory into Glory: Wesleyan Prayer for Transformation by Paul Wesley Chilcote. Copyright © 2005 by Paul Wesley Chilcote. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. http://bookstore.upperroom.org/ Learn more about or purchase this book.


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