Loving unconditionally vs performance

A true and deep spirituality comprises more than living according to rules and keeping the law.  Some Christians would go as far as to label this a false religion.

People are searching for a deeper spirituality that involves love and acceptance.  If we have a shallow understanding of God’s gift of forgiveness, we might end up emphasizing performance over grace.   How well one follows rules/laws and do good deeds become a measure of our Christian spirituality. This fails to show how deep and wide is the love of God.

What’s worst is how this might influence the way we treat others, e.g., being judgmental and hypocritical toward others if we don’t match up to our standards of following the law.  This type of spirituality can feel very unsatisfying (and be unsustainable), especially if we’re on the receiving end of judgment.

This judgmentalism and performance type of Christianity paints a false picture of God’s love and acceptance of us as God’s children.  People have turned away from the church because of our hypocritical attitude towards them.  The sad thing–we who might be hypocrites may not even know it, and often, we’re too busy putting up a show of being moral.  It might be good for our image but bad for spiritual morale.

Paul said in First Thessalonians 1:3,

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.”

Jesus speaks of loving one another as a command (Gospel of John 13:34-35),

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

For some ex-Christians who have left the church, the ability to believe in God’s unconditional love is where it stops. After failing to live rightly and justly, and having to repent over and over again for our same old sins, some of us just give up and no longer believe because we have not experienced the love of God through others.  We have been given a false image of a harsh God.

This is a lot of pressure we place upon ourselves and upon others.  It becomes an unsustainable spirituality, and possibly, even a false religion.  Where do we get this impression of God’s love being conditional?

If we have projected our moralism upon others, may we be humble enough to ask for God’s forgiveness. It might be a first step toward forgiveness, a deeper spirituality, and a better religion.  We can do better as Christians.

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October 31 marks a freedom from good works

October 31 is a special date that marks the beginning of Protestantism.  No, not Halloween but the day one monk-professor protested the Church’s illegitimate rules and regulations.  It was the beginning of the western church’s road to reform.

Martin Luther, a young Roman Catholic priest before he was kicked-out, had nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church.  This got him into big trouble–not for graffiti, but for his ideas.  It was sort of a declaration that stated the truths he wished all Christians would understand, including the Pope and bishops of the Church to whom he had given some constructive, but unwelcomed critique.  They were furious when they saw what he made public for all to read.  They tried him, and finally, wanted to kill him when they realized he would never conform.

Why was Luther up-in-arms about the Church?  Christians had been deceived into giving indulgences (or alms) to ensure the salvation of one’s loved ones. This was totally contrary to biblical teaching because scripture was clear that salvation was a free gift from God and cannot be bought.  Finally, in 1517 A.D., a fed-up Martin Luther began to argue for freedom from such non-sensical rules that were conveniently concocted by the church in order to secretly fund the construction of a big church building in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica).  He argued that we are saved only by faith in believing that Jesus died for our sins, not by following the illegitimate laws of the Church.  He believed this was the Christian’s religious freedom from having to trust in the dictates of the law for our righteousness.

The great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, et al, have fought to restore the freedom of the Christian from having to earn our righteousness through good works.  It was a major sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears (literally).  Christians have died for this religious freedom.  Today, Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic Christians have solid ground to stand upon the belief that we are not bound by having to do any good works to earn God’s approval or favor.  Paul also encouraged Christians toward good works, not to run from it (Galatians 5:9-10 and Ephesians 2:10).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
To do good works in the world is part of being a good human being.  It does not make you and I a better Christian.  What makes a person a good Christian is faith alone, in and through, the grace of Christ alone.  In light of our freedom we have today, may we be encouraged to live out our freedom to do even more good works, not because we must, but because we want to bless our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, and help our fellow human beings in this world.

We are the salt and light in a dark world.  May the light of the gospel shine as others see our good works to the praise and glory of God the Father.

Art and artisans since Moses

The contemporary church has failed to appreciate the value of art, artists, and artistry as an expression of our worship. The Protestant Church in the 16th century expelled much of art and believed that it was unnecessary and extraneous from the core of the gospel. This is why we have not seen much Christian art since the rise of Protestantism.

In the Old Testament (14-13th c. BCE), God had Moses commission the best of the artists, Oholiab, to design items of worship for the sanctuary. These items were not merely for practical uses, but were also meant to be beautiful and artistic–thus, demanding the best of the best artisans to design and craft the holy hardware.

“…and with him was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an artisan, a designer, and an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen.” (Exodus 38:23, NET)

During the exile of Jerusalem, the Babylonian King, valued the artists so much so that they were taken captive along with the best military officers, soldiers and craftsmen.

“King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land.” (2 Kings 24:14, NLT)

Art was highly valued in worship and is common in all cultures. Why should Christianity not also value artistry in our worship of the Lord?

A glass wedding chapel in Taiwan

I am currently visiting Taiwan and will blog when I get the opportunity. I saw this church on the internet and thought this was interesting. It is a glass slipper church in Chaiyi, Taiwan.  There are no worship services, and was built with the intention to be used as a wedding chapel.  Seems like a bit of a luxury.  The BBC websites blogged about this here.  Might be an interesting place to visit if I get the chance.

A ‘lost’ generation can be ‘found’

I spoke with parents whose children no longer come to church. There are many young people who are now adults who made an exodus from church. You’d never know they once accompanied their parents to church.  The thing is, they never got to know Jesus in the way that Jesus would have wanted.  Maybe that’s why some see the ‘church’ as a stodgy old place where rules and regulations are recited and taught from the pulpit.

This is not to say that God isn’t holy–the holiness and righteousness of God is utmost and paramount.  Maybe some of our churches might need a little bit of reform and teach more about God’s grace, mercy, love, an embodiment of His powerful living presence, and God’s very own righteousness instead of our own human righteousness.   This is what I hope the church can be, and be more about. I saw this YouTube spoken word video on just this topic.  I liked it because it resonated with me.

Anatomy of a sick church

Thom Rainer posted on his blog about 10 symptoms of a sick church.  Many churches don’t realize they’re unhealthy or sick until they get to the latter stages of the sickness and near death.  Let’s hope and pray that these churches would wake up and realize our need for healing and for Jesus to come and heal our body.

  1. Declining worship attendance. Surprisingly, the majority of church leaders do not monitor worship attendance. I advise leaders to compare each month’s average worship attendance to the same month of previous years.
  2. Decline in frequency of attendance of church members. This symptom is the number one explanation for attendance decline in most churches. Members are not as committed as they once were. Their waning love for their church is reflected in their declining frequency in worship attendance.
  3. Lack of joy and vibrancy in the worship service. Obviously, this symptom is subjective. It is still, however, very important. Most people can sense when a worship service is vibrant, lukewarm, or dead.
  4. Little evangelistic fruit. As a general rule, a healthy church will reach at least one non-Christian for every 20 in worship attendance. A church with a worship attendance of 200, for example, should see at least ten new Christians a year.
  5. Low community impact. In my consultations, I attempt to find clear indicators that a church is making a difference in its respective community. I ask both church leaders and community members for clear examples and indicators.
  6. More meetings than ministry. A sick church will meet about what they should do rather than do it. Some churches have more committees than conversions.
  7. Acrimonious business meetings. Christians can and do disagree. Sick churches have meetings where the disagreements reflect obvious bitterness and anger.
  8. Very few guests in worship services. A vibrant church will attract guests. A sick church will not.
  9. Worship wars. Yes, they still exist in many churches. Those wars are indicators of an inward focus by the members.
  10. Unrealistic expectations of pastoral care. Sick churches view pastors and other staff as hired hands to do all of the work of ministry. Healthy churches view pastors as equippers for the members to do most of the ministry.

[ See full blog post here ]

Poll: Authority of the Bible vs. the Church’s Teachings

Here’s a poll for you.  Have we gone too far in rejecting the authority in the church, or not far enough?  Find out where your church or congregation stands on authority–on the bible alone, or also on the teachings and traditions of the church?


It seems like the majority in the evangelical church today tend to understand the authority of the bible vs church tradition in this way:

Accepting the infallibility & inerrancy of the bible which is the only authority (to the exclusion of the authority of the church’s teachings)

while

Rejecting the authority of the church’s teachings/traditions based on the bible (but not to the exclusion of the bible as the only infallible authority)

Yes, seems like a small difference in wording but implications can be huge.  It comes down to this: Where upon which does the onus for infallibility lay?  1) Upon our individual congregation’s interpretation of the bible, or 2) Upon the Church’s historic, catholic, and apostolic interpretation of the bible?

What are the implications?  Many evangelicals are never taught anything about the historical meaning of the Church’s early traditions and confessions. As a result, have we evangelicals become individualistic and have a type of privatized inner spirituality where we see our faith as a kind of “me, God and my bible”?  I know it’s a tough question to answer because we need to dig really deep to examine our inner spirituality.

Historical background: The Reformation in the early 1500s carried a strong conviction lrose_stainedglass300that the Scriptures alone was the word of God.  Luther did not trust in the pope or councils alone because, in the past, they had spoken in error and contradicted themselves.  Therefore, reformers like Luther and Calvin rejected the pope’s official words as being the very words of God Himself, thus the phrase: “sola scriptura” and “word alone”.

God’s kingdom’s reign…in our weakness or strength?

My last post was on God’s coming kingdom.  Although how extremist-Islam’s version of God’s kingdom is to come about is violent and forceful, Islam also believes in a new kingdom.  However, if I may also be critical of us as Christians, throughout sectors of the church, some of our Christian ideas about God’s coming kingdom hasn’t been exactly all correct either.  I’m speaking about our “Kingdom Now” theology that some Christians believe in.  God’s kingdom is here now but we just need to claim it for ourselves.  This is true in one sense but false in another.  Theology is not so simple and clear-cut. We are citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom but it hasn’t fully manifested itself on earth yet, until the Last Day.

What some of us Christians might not like to hear is that Christ will accomplish His will in us in our weakness–and not in our strength.  In some parts of the Church, even today, it has deluded itself into believing that God’s earthly kingdom must be strong and victorious in an earthly way and we must exert our power and influence over the earth.   We look to grandiose schemes that are really focused on the earthly realm and view them as reflections of God’s future powerful rule on earth.   This is a theology of glory that attempts to achieve God’s kingdom via human strength–which is pure vanity.  The truth is, God’s kingdom is not of this world and will be nothing like what we imagine.

God’s kingdom is of the spiritual realm–which is unseen, and unknowable through earthly eyes and mind.   It cannot be built or achieved through the secular-earthly realm.  As Christians, some of us have also placed too much confidence in physical-secular power and wisdom.  We ignore the Sovereign and Almighty Power and Presence of God the Creator and trust more in our own wisdom and human potential, which in God’s eyes, really doesn’t amount to much when compared to his omnipotent power.  Our own ignorance and our arrogant attitudes within the church is proof enough.

Two thousand years have passed since Jesus ascended to heaven and returned to the Father and we still ignore what Jesus reminded the Church just before our Lord ascended.

In Matthew 24:23-27, Jesus also goes on to warn his followers about false messiahs and false prophets, who will also be performing signs and wonders to deceive even the elect.

God’s kingdom will come even in our weakness, and amidst our persecutions, trials and hardships.  Didn’t Jesus say:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:5,10)

Both Muslims and Christians alike can fall prey to the evil one’s manipulation of believing that God’s kingdom must necessarily come through our strength and power.  If God is God, then can’t the kingdom of the Sovereign God come in the midst of our meekness and weakness?  When it does, then we know the kingdom belongs to our Lord, and not to us.