What We ARE, from What We’re NOT

Jesus doesn’t really like a lot of what passes as religion.  Even religion with his name on it.  Maybe especially that kind.  In fact, he is so disturbed by the religion that was devoted to God during his day that he flat-out curses it (Matthew 23).

We recently started a series entitled “How To Kill a Religion” at church. (You can listen to them as we go along here: https://soundcloud.com/pathwayschurch).  We’ve been looking at the things from Matthew 23 that Jesus says will kill a religion.

DOR7

And while there are many fatal pills that religion can swallow that will put it six feet under, there are three that seem especially deadly:

A lack of sincerity.  Not practicing what you preach.

A lack of compassion. Prioritizing rules over people.

A lack of humility. Practicing religion in order to be noticed by other people.

Religion that lacks sincerity, compassion, and humility is dangerous. It hurts people and Jesus thinks its should die.

Probably many of us who have been hurt by that kind of religion agree. In an unexpectedly weird way, many people who are wary, skeptical and against religion are to some degree on Jesus’ side. And it has been freeing to learn this.  It’s been relieving to discover that Jesus isn’t as petty and oppressive as much of the religion we’ve seen. Sometimes I just wanna cheer, “yea, Jesus! You tell ‘em!”

If I’m honest though, it’s also been a little convicting. I’m sure I am guilty at times of lacking any one of these key ingredients to religion that truly honors God.  It’s caused me to examine who I am, what I do and most importantly WHY I do it.

Am I sincere in actually living what I believe?

Do I really prioritize people over rules and rituals?

Would I do this particular thing if no one ever knew about it?

 

I’m finding that I can even do the right thing, but for the wrong reason. And when I do, rather than honor God, I drink the poison that kills religion.

But more than conviction, this series and these words of Jesus have caused me to dream more about the identity of our particular church community.  As we have discussed the things we DON’T want to be, it has inevitably had the side-effect of forcing me to ask “what DO we want to be?”

And what DO we want to be?

After all, while there is religion that is dangerous and hurtful, not all religion is bad.  Jesus’ own brother, James, reminds us of this:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  (But) religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

(James 1:26-27)

Now I know that defining ourselves by what we are NOT is not of itself adequate. But what if it adds some clarity to us as a community of things we want to avoid and prompts us, like James, to discuss what we really DO want to be about?  Saying “no” to some things may inspire us to say “yes” to what’s better.

This week we celebrate “Orphan Sunday” at Pathways Church.

We’ll be discussing ways to get involved in protecting the most vulnerable in our global society.  There will be ways to get involved that are more immersive than maybe we’ve ever been involved with before.

I don’t know what will happen with all this, but it feels big.

It feels like it might be defining for us.

Maybe there is more here than just a simple Sunday.

Maybe there is the beginning of identity.

Religious community starting to be reformed around the right things.

I’m praying that this series will be more than just a few shots at the religion God hates but that it will call us forward into the religion God delights in.  Could be this Sunday is the first step in that calling.  Join me in praying for that vision and identity to come bubbling out of these moments.

 

The Core Values

Here is what I’ve been meditating on lately.  Seems like every day I re-read this list multiple times.  I think I’ve almost got it memorized.  Hahaha.

They are the “Core Values” of Pathways Church (Mill Creek, WA) that I have recently accepted a call to help lead.

In fact, it is these values that really drew me to this community.  I love the choice of terms and the almost poetic language in which they are described.  There is honesty, reality, grittiness, hope and beauty described here.  They remind me of the best of what church can be.  And I pray that they are a source of refreshment, hope and inspiration to you as you read them.

Struggle

Personal depth is developed by asking tough questions, by struggling. Those who abandon the struggle either come to believe that they have gained all of the answers or quit caring about those answers altogether. Life is not meant to be lived in either of these extremes. Life is a struggle. Following Jesus does not alleviate our struggle, give us the answer to every question, or enable us to conquer every difficulty of life. But it does make the struggle worth facing by tying it to something greater than ourselves. It is in this wrestling that we learn to trust and draw closer to the heart of God.

Meaning

Because we have been purposefully created, everyone seeks meaning and truth. The desire for purpose is built into us. Satisfaction of this inner hunger will only be found by exploring why we were created. Jesus claimed to give “life to the full.” As we gain an understanding of His teachings from the Scriptures, our eyes are opened to the ultimate meaning of life. This fullness is not only found beyond this life, but it can exist in how we live our lives right now, everyday.

Redemption

To “redeem” is to buy back something that you originally owned. All truth and beauty belong to God. Unfortunately, selfishness, pride, and hatred have twisted and marred much of it. Christ came not only to reclaim individual lives, but all of creation as well. Redemption can occur in the simple beauty of art and creativity, the profound redirection of a life consumed by self, or the overwhelming task of tackling poverty, hunger and sanitation in third-world countries. We partner with Christ to recover the sense of beauty, renewal, and justice which He intended for our lives.

Sacrifice

Here the teachings of Jesus become very unpopular. True love transcends self and ease and therefore requires sacrifice. God first demonstrated that love to us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross. As an act of worship, and in response, we give our lives, sacrificially, to Him and to those around us. To follow Jesus is to reflect His giving nature; to take more interest in the needs of others than of ourselves.

Community

We struggle, but not alone. We search for meaning, but others walk the path alongside us. We partner with God to redeem creation, but we do so in conjunction with others. We sacrifice of ourselves, but must have others to whom we give. The New Testament is filled with teachings on how we are to live with “one another”. We laugh together and cry together. We celebrate together and grieve together. We were not meant to journey alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever you are tonight, may you find struggle, meaning, redemption, sacrifice and community as a core experience in your faith journey.

iReflect on Steve Jobs

I have never met Steve Jobs.

But his influence literally effects every day of my life in both profound and very practical ways.

Mr. Jobs never stepped into my house, but his legacy will be living here influencing my family for many years to come.

Almost every single picture and video of my two young children was either taken on or is stored on an Apple device.  These are the most treasured recorded memories of our family and they owe their existence to a man I never met.

The family-connecting moments of grandma reading my 3-year-old a story before bed, all while sitting in her house hundreds of miles away, on the video FaceTime of my phone have allowed my children to discover their grandparents.  This too was possible because of a stranger.

And let’s not forget about the times I’ve been away because of work and able to see my children before bed because of the same invention.  Or the educational apps stored on my iPad that have entertained my children during moments we needed to extend their patience.  Or the AppleTV device that streams Disney’s “Tangled” into my TV so my daughter can enjoy a movie and popcorn night with us in our sleeping bags on the living room floor.

Or the macbook that my wife uses to scrapbook the pictures and stories of our family life into a blog online that friends and family far away can view to follow along with our lives.

And what of all the hours spent reading news on one of his devices, emailing and communicating through his iPhone, finding my way to a destination by his map app, locating a restaurant through another app, following a live football game during a long meeting, and the countless work tools that I depend on each day.

This and so much more. Because of a man that I’ve never met.

I’ve been a Steve Jobs fan, from afar, and an Apple fanboy for many years now. I’ve stood in long lines for iPhones and iPads and all sorts of things.  Each keynote address was as exciting as Christmas morning for a 9-year-old.

But, for me, it was never about having the coolest and newest device.  My love of Steve’s Apple products isn’t about keeping up with the Jones’ or some sort of status symbol.

I’ve loved Apple because of Steve’s passion to blur the lines between art and technology.

He didn’t just make a phone; he made an iPhone. He didn’t just make a computer; he made a macbook.  And anyone who’s used his products understands the difference.

Every product released under his guidance was like watching a new painting being completed by da Vinci or van Gogh.  Each as striking as a new literary masterpiece by Shakespeare or Mark Twain.  On par with the greatest sculptures, architecture, poetry, and music of all time.

Jobs didn’t just make items that were functional.  They were beautiful.

Of course, like any good artist, he didn’t really want people changing his creation.  He was famous for secrecy and closed systems that people couldn’t fundamentally customize.  What he created he was passionate about and wanted it to stand as he had made it.

He was at heart an artist, who also happened to know computers and like technology.  Touch screens, computer chips, mobile antennas and operating systems were his tools; the paint brushes, violins, and writer’s pen of his craft.

Art. Productivity.

His tension and pursuit of both as the same thing is what is most inspiring to me.

And it strikes me that we could use a few Steve Jobs’ in our churches today.  A person here or there that advances God’s kingdom with creativity, passion and courage.

Someone who challenges the status quo and with courage and braves a new path forward, despite previous failure and criticism.

Someone who refuses to see salvation as a cold transaction, but as a creative life experience.

Someone who doesn’t see building churches as a business model but as Divine art.

Someone not as concerned with “the bottom line” (number of people in the pews) or “financial margin” (how many new buildings we can put up) but, as Steve put it, to live with the purpose of putting “a ding in the universe”.

Someone who finds the beauty in simplicity and engages in life as a labor of love.

I don’t know what Steve Jobs thought about God, but I know what God thought about him.  He loved him.

And for that much, so did I.

Thank you, Steve, for all your art over the years.  I’m so glad to have been a witness to the artist God created in you.  May we all be true to the creative genius He has placed in each of us as well.

 

. . . made on a mac . . .

Would Jesus Make You Buy Health Insurance?

“What is the Christian response to healthcare reform?”

Facebook & Twitter are great for those kind of trap questions, aren’t they?

An incredibly complex topic (does anyone really know all the ramifications of reforming or not reforming?) about a controversial American bill (does anyone really know everything that is in this thing?) and you’ve got 140-characters to concisely explain the Bible’s definitive view (does anyone really know what 1st century Jesus & his disciples would actually think about 21st century American healthcare?) on something you’re really not sure about.  Hahaha… classic.

And yet, I’ve found myself answering this and a bunch of similar questions online a lot this week.  Really, they are the questions I’ve been asking in my head too, struggling to formulate an opinion.  Questions like:

“What is the Christian view of healthcare reform?”

I’ve read literally dozens of articles and blogs in recent days seeking to answer this very question.  Some people say that when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” that he had this type of idea in mind: a society that progresses and values those who have more giving to those who have less.  Jesus, they say, would be all for this type of bill.

Other people use the same quote from Jesus to explain that he meant uncoerced, self-sacrificial love, not compelled assistance of those around us.  Jesus, they say, was not discussing government intervention, but individual generosity.  Clearly, Jesus would be against this type of bill.

“What would Jesus say about healthcare reform?”

He’d love it!  He’d hate it!  He compels us to support it!  He demands we reject it!  The views out there are strong, compelling and fairly exhaustive.

I can literally scroll through the newsfeed on Facebook and place people into their camp.  I read status updates like:

“healthcare reform is a sign of the end times.”

“win for Jesus, as healthcare reform passes.”

“I’m moving to Canada…wait… ughhhh”

“should we rename Reagan International Airport after Obama or Pelosi?”

I mean, who needs a USAToday poll about what people think when I can just read it on Twitter?

Now, of course, everyone’s got an opinion.  I myself have an opinion.  But, it turns out that Jesus has the same opinion we do too.  Whether we are pro-reform bill or anti-reform bill, it appears that Jesus is too.  We quote Jesus and explain our correct theology and justify why Jesus is on our side and not on the other.  But the reality is, either Jesus has gone schizophrenic or we have.  And one way or the other, God has some serious mental illness in his family.

“What do YOU think about healthcare reform?”

Maybe that’s a better question.  I’m not trying to ride the fence here and take the easy way out.  I’m not gonna say I think both sides are right and try and appease everyone.  I definitely have an opinion on this topic (however ill-informed it may be).  But, let me just OWN it.  It’s my opinion.  I don’t know what Jesus thinks.  My politics aren’t necessarily Jesus’ politics.

I formulate opinions based off what I believe to be true about Jesus, but as with many things in life, I operate out of faith and in environments where I don’t see clearly.  I stumble through decisions and opinions, praying they reflect Jesus heart, but sometimes unsure; many times evolving and changing as I learn and grow.

“What does Nick think, right now, about healthcare reform?”

I’m in favor of this healthcare reform.  I think its good for a whole lot of reasons that many other people have at great length explained.  But, I’m not writing this to convince you to agree with me or to argue that Jesus does.  In fact, I’m hesitant to say what I really think for fear it will come across that way.  I’m only saying what I think to show I’m not neutral.  I have an opinion.

But, it’s MY opinion.  I don’t speak for Jesus when it comes to politics.  No one does.

Does Jesus have a strong opinion about healthcare reform? Maybe.  But, he hasn’t ever told it to me.  I have absolutely zero words from Jesus (in the Bible or audible discussion) addressing the specific topic of the American healthcare system in 2010.  Everything I think and endorse in this arena is at best my limited view of what I “think” Jesus would approve of, and I’m completely open to thinking that possibly Jesus doesn’t really care one way or the other.

“So, Jesus isn’t on either side?”

Actually, I think it is a bit more profound than that.  Jesus is on BOTH sides.

As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed I see many good people that I call “friends” outside a computer screen who deeply love and try to follow Jesus.  And as I divide them into their pro and anti reform bill categories, it occurs to me that I don’t have the market on Jesus any more than they do.

My anti-reform bill friends are trying their best in their experiential framework of life to reflect Jesus in the same way that I am with my framework.  We both agree that Jesus says, “Love your neighbors as yourself,” we just have different conclusions about what that looks like in Seattle, Washington in 2010.

When I claim Jesus is on my side, I’m right.  But so are they.

Will we ever agree on American politics?  Probably not.  But maybe we don’t need too.  Maybe we just don’t need to make Jesus agree with us either.

McLaren Q1: The Narrative Question

Looking for a good, open conversation about faith?

Well, our friends at the conversation-starting website: www.theooze.tv are currently doing a video series with Brian McLaren about his new book: “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith”.

Each video features McLaren discussing one of the specific questions raised in his book.  And, due to the subject matter, I’m sure there will be much conversation generated! And really that is the goal.  There may be more than one thing that you find yourself at odds with him about, but according to McLaren himself, these questions:

“are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.”
(Brian McLaren)

So, here is the first of these videos.  It discusses briefly, McLaren’s first few chapters on the “storyline” of the Bible and how to properly frame our picture of Jesus.  Give it a quick view (less than 5 minutes) and feel free to comment here on your thoughts or go to www.theooze.tv and watch them all as they become available.

ReThinking Religion

I just finished reading a book, “ReJesus” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost.  I will be doing a full book review tomorrow, however, there was a great quote that I thought I would post today.   The quote comes as a bit of a “side-note” in the greater context of the book, but is well worth the space re-typing it  here.

————————————————————————————————————————-

“For many suburban, middle-class churches, niceness is the supreme expression of discipleship.  But any cursory reading of the Gospels will serve to remind you that Jesus wasn’t always nice.  He was good.  He was loving.  He was compassionate.  But he wasn’t always nice.  The church must abandon its preference for good-manners piety and adopt again the kingdom values as taught by Jesus.

rejesusAllow us to give you an example.  Some time ago Michael wrote an article for a Sydney newspaper, commenting on the influence of Sydney’s largest church, Hillsong.  In the article, he defended the church against various attacks in the media, but he also gently raised his concerns about Hillsong’s emphasis on prosperity doctrine (the so-called health and wealth gospel).  He received an avalanche of letters and emails berating him for daring to be publicly critical of another church.  A significant number of these angry correspondents claimed that it was un-Christlike to criticize the church in any way.

Now, whether you agree with Michael’s decision to write such a thing in the media or not is beside the point.  But the point is that somehow these people, most of them ministers, failed to recognize that Jesus was regularly and scathingly critical of the religious leaders of his faith community.  Furthermore, Jesus’ seven messages to the seven churches in the book of Revelation (Rev. 2:1-3:22) contain plenty of harsh critical comments directed at the church!

To claim that it is un-Christlike to criticize the church is to disregard the example of Jesus.”

—————————————————————————————————————————

Wow!  Nicely said.  In the Spirit of Jesus and the personality of those like yesterday’s Soren Kierkegaard, maybe the call is for at least a few to become this new voice of reformation in the church today.   Could it be that what is needed is not so much a voice that is critical of unbelievers, but an “inner-voice” within the church that is critical of what we have created out of Jesus’ teachings and life?

Of course there is no room for a spirit of meanness, disrespect and destruction, but maybe as much as any time in history, the church needs the new voices of Luther, Kierkegaard, Calvin and even Jesus Himself to be heard.

Rather than reacting with anger towards these voices calling us to reform, perhaps it is time to evaluate the merit of what is being said and look again with a critical eye at the static religion we have created out of the wild and beautiful revolution Jesus initiated.

Possibly we are due for a total re-calibration and re-centering on the person of Jesus in our organizational churches.

For a great start to this discussion, consider picking up a copy of “ReJesus“.

Think about it…

The End of Christian America

[great article link at the bottom of this post!]

Until recently, I lived in the most “unchurched” region of the country.

Now apparently, that designation has switched (very slightly) from the Northwest part of our country to the Northeast (though really “church” hasn’t been popular in either region for years).  But, whether we are first in “lack of churchiness” or second, if there is one thing I know it is living in a post-Christian religion environment.

Newsweek coverWhich is why it interested me to read several articles recently that seemed to indicate what many of us have thought for years, that the rest of the country is catching up to us… in godlessness, that is.   [see “The End of Christian America” and  “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”]

Recent studies find that American people are exiting the Christian religion in greater numbers than ever.  Be it evangelical, mainline, etc, America is losing it’s religion.

So what does this mean?  Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.  Many people think that it isn’t exactly ideal.  I have heard many well-meaning preachers proclaim it as the beginning of the end; the ushering in of Armageddon.  Ahhh, you premillenialist friends are always looking for the signs of the end, aren’t you?  =)

But, it isn’t among just preachers.  There is panic among many everyday Christians.  There is fear that what has been the driving force of morality in this country is going to erode and leave their children depraved and godless.  I have sat in a pew next to many parents who feel this tension all too keenly.  Even in Seattle (where we have a several decade head start in living in this environment) the church (generally), is characterized by great fear in this arena.  It seems as though this decline in the Christian religion–at least in the form we are accustomed to–can only be a bad thing.

Now, before going any further, I’d like you to know that I understand this fear.  I think I understand why many of my brothers and sisters, whom I love, feel this way.  It is indeed scary to see the moral/religious fiber of your country shaken.  I can sympathize with this uncertainty.

christian_america2However, I think our fear may be causing us to behave strangely.  If you read this blog, you know that I often call-out the apparent un-Christlikeness of the church.   In doing so, I am not meaning to say that I don’t believe in Jesus.  I do.  I believe Jesus has opened the fullest and most meaningful way of life for all people.  I want more people to experience this life, not less.  And, I am not trying to say I don’t believe in the church.  Christians don’t necessarily have bad intentions.  I simply think we need to be very careful and think extremely critically about our methods of communicating a message.  Too often, the methods have become the message.  Too easily we believe that we should use any means necessary to convey our point and “the ends justify the means” should never be the attitude of Christ’s people.  Especially as it relates to the fear of “losing our Christian nation.”

Fear of the end of Christian America.

Because of this fear, we have seen (I believe) many Christians behaving in ways that do not show love.  Whether it is the polarizing political attempt to legislate Christianity, the stereotyping generality of protest signs or simply the attempt to shame those who are perceived as the danger through our bumperstickers, t-shirts and slogans.

Because of fear we have reacted poorly.

But, perhaps, we do not need to fear this decline so much as we have thought.  Maybe what we feel we need to protect doesn’t need protected at all.  Maybe, the cause of Christ could be advanced in a much more meaningful way if what we are scared to lose was really to disappear.

You see, living in Seattle, I have heard for as long as I can remember about how non-churched this region is.  I grew up knowing that I was among less than 10% of my local population that attended any type of church each week.   I heard these statistics as a teenager, while in Bible college and beyond in ministry.  I was taught that I was the only beacon of religion in a depraved land.

But, as I’ve hung out with people, got to know them and seen many of them make decisions to follow the life and example of Jesus with their lives authentically, I have learned that these statistics are a bit misleading.  The reality of my interaction with people in this “godless” land is not as dire as I had been made to believe.  In fact, while we may be declining in religious fervor, I have found people here to be more spiritually open to discussion than ever before.

Almost no one that I meet anymore is unwilling to have a spiritual discussion with me, as long as it is honest and not aimed at “converting” them.   And though this seems strange to some of you, I actually think that the message of Jesus is finding more traction in this culture that we fear than in the one we felt comfortable in previously.  It is almost as if the dismantling of the “civic religion of Christianity” is helping people to rediscover the Jesus behind this cultural influence.

church_stateOf course we all know people that would label themselves “Christian” though they make no attempt to follow and model the life of Jesus.  This country, since its beginning, has been labeled by the same generic label, “Christian.”  It has become a cultural and national label rather than an affiliation with the personhood of Jesus.  This faux Christianity, I contend, has actually made it much more difficult to lead people to authentic relationship with Jesus.  And to see it decline, in some odd sense (to some of you) gives me great hope for the future.

I believe we live in the greatest moment for followers of Jesus in the history of our world (and country).  I believe that this decline is preparing the soil (and has already) for a much deeper commitment to Jesus in the hearts of people than we have seen in our lifetimes.   It is not a day for fear, but for great expectation.  It is a great day to be a follower of Jesus!

I have included a link below to a blog by Greg Boyd.  His excellent blog lays out several reasons not to fear this decline.  Hopefully, it will be very helpful to some of you.

“Don’t Weep for the Demise of American Christianity”

But he also has two excellent books on this subject.  The second of which just came out last week and is fantastic.  Both of these books should be required reading for Christians in America.  If you haven’t read them, please consider picking up a copy this week.

themythofachristiannation

myth of a christian religion