Tag Archives: Religion

Thoughts on Church Attendance

church-serviceI’m not sure why, but it’s curious to me that the topic of church attendance has popped up a time or two in recent conversations. It’s sort of different every time, but all of the occasions have been cordial, courteous, and even understanding and affirming of the thoughts we have on how we are part of the church, the body of Christ. I can’t think of any time that I have brought it up, but it’s been part of enough conversations that it merited a post here this mid-February day.

Right in the middle of these instances of “church talk” was an article I happened to spot by author, Donald Miller, on his website StoryLineBlog.com. I am subscribed to his blog and usually scan his posts once a week or so, reading those that catch my eye. Last week I spotted one titled, “Why I Don’t Go To Church Very Often, A Follow Up Blog“. Follow up? I wondered, I don’t remember seeing the first one…

Curious, I clicked and read, then clicked his link to the original and read—and much more surprising than anything Miller shared were the readers’ comments to both of these blog posts.

Miller’s first article was merely an informal, from-the-heart, spur-of-the-moment, observational post about a recent weekend worship service experience. He basically was “confessing” (his word) that he doesn’t connect with God through music, or any element of the traditional worship service. And so he has chosen to not often be part of that gathering, but finds community with other believers (the Church) elsewhere in life.

Seems fairly harmless to me. How about you?

The readers who felt the need to reply were (it seemed to me) mostly distraught at his proclamation. “How could you say it’s OK to not be part of the church!” And, “Church is not about you, or what you get out of it, Don!” And the lambasting continued with comment after comment—at the writing of this post, there are just about 500 comments on the original post—most of them sharply chastising Miller’s flippant attitude towards the sacred.

Hoo-boy… I’ve been there.

The issue is not whether or not we are called to be together, or to live and serve each other and together in community as the body of Christ. That’s a fairly obvious reality of the church from scripture. The issue is what we are calling “church”.

If you mainly see the hour (or two) on a weekend day—some people attend a Saturday service, you know—as “church” then you might be prone to astonishment at someone’s admission that it’s not their favorite thing—AND that they are “OK” with not attending it. That is actually understandable.

But did Jesus really come into this world to share the Good News of the Sunday morning worship service? Is that what we are called to?

I truly do not want to stir the pot here, creating my own flurry of vengeful, protective, defending-the-Kingdom comments. Please don’t respond here, if that’s all you’re feeling. (Because, I think if that’s what you’re feeling, you’re not hearing me correctly.)

I’d be very interested in calm, collected, thoughtful responses to anything I’ve said, or even more, what Donald Miller shared in either post linked above (and I’ll add them below here, too).

It was all so fascinating how vigorously and intensely the weekend worship service was defended by so many voices. The guilt-laden obligation that dripped from many of those same comments was also telling, I think.

Wherever you are with Jesus, I hope you are at peace. If you are not, I hope that it’s his spirit nudging you toward the freedom we are able to have in him—If the son has set you free, you are free indeed.—not toward a life without him, but into a life of rest in his grace and mercy and goodness. Freedom of a life with him.

Here are the links again

I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.
Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often, a Follow Up Blog

AND, if you want to read more on thoughts about what the church is, and what it can be, I did publish a book about that: There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church! Available at Amazon, and there is also a free (PDF) download. (But it’s nicer to pay for books… if you can.) 🙂 See below.

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There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church by Greg Campbell, is available through Amazon.com. If you’d like to purchase the book, please click the book title in the previous sentence. If you’d like a free PDF version, it is available here. Also have some of the audio version available at church.gregshead.net. Thanks for reading, sharing, and feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below, or wherever else you can reach me.

[ThisDay] Christianity, or Jesus? (Aren’t They the Same?)

January 22nd in GregsHead history was slightly more difficult to whittle down than some of the other days. It was not due to volume, though—only five posts. Four of the five posts are worth reading (the other is worth it if you are using WordPress for blogging…) but of the six options, I selected the article below for today’s re-reading. Please enjoy this little anecdote from a dinner conversation just last January. Good theological discussion!

Christianity, or Jesus? (Aren’t They the Same?)

January 22nd, 2013

Our family is currently making our way through the book of Luke together. We’re taking our time, but I do enjoy reading in larger chunks, so we will often read what might be the subject of an entire series of sermons in one sitting.

Tonight, we read through the fifteenth chapter: the three stories of lost and found.

Though we’d often read more than that, it’s such a good three-part story—with the most famous, the Prodigal Son story at the end—that I thought it would be nice to stop and discuss.

The kids are reading and learning about “unreached people groups” with Mom during the school days, and both of the older boys picked up on the “lost” theme that Jesus’ stories held.

When I asked what everyone heard in Jesus’ stories, Ian replied first, “I think it shows that God cares about every single person: if even one in a thousand is lost, there’s a celebration when he realizes he’s wrong and returns to God.”

“Yep. So right, Ian.” I affirmed.

Alex chimed in next, “Or, like if one person in the 10 million in Japan who are buddhists or other things turn to Christianity. It’s like that, even.”

I smiled and affirmed Alex’s insightful answer, too. But something didn’t sit right with me, the way he had phrased that answer.

Ian and Mom both explained what they had been studying—unreached people groups—and I realized what it was that bothered me: the lost returning home story is not about conversions to Christianity, it’s about the Good News that Jesus is life and nothing else.

I tried to lovingly expand on that thought to Alex, but I guess maybe it didn’t come out quite right. Jen didn’t think I was saying it correctly, and by offering further instruction at that time, kinda squashed Alex.

jesus-christ-in-stained-glassAnd, honestly, she doesn’t really agree with my instruction, that Christianity is not the same as Jesus.

I told Alex that the somewhat subtle distinction between someone “turning to Christianity” and someone meeting Jesus (The One true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent) are often, even usually very different things.

One is a religion. Plain and simple, Christianity is not in the Bible. (Really! It’s true!) In this sense, Christianity is no different than Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, and so on. Jesus never talked about establishing a religion (though he did mention building the Church) and I can’t think of anywhere that the word “Christianity” or “Christendom” can be found on the pages of Scripture. (Though other people called the Church, “Christians”—Acts 11, and Acts 26—the only other occurrence of the word is in 1 Peter 4:16.)

Returning to a loving Father is a different story. Realizing our need to be connected to the Vine; understanding the limitless, boundless love that God has for us, wanting from before the foundation of the world to adopt us as his own children; understanding how the cross restores our friendship with God by destroying sin and death and shame once and for all…

That’s a different story. (And doesn’t “sign you up” for anything.)

Now, I’m certainly painting with too broad a brush right now. Firstly, only a chapter or two before, Jesus addressed his disciples and the crowds following him, making sure they understood the cost of being his disciple. The cost is… everything. He said we need to be willing to give up everything (even family, wealth/possessions, a home), even our own life.

But the key is, nothing else matters outside of his Life. Nothing.

And that’s the point. Converting to a religion often satisfies our own accomplishable goals and benchmarks. There are “measurables” with Christianity. You can check things off like, reading your Bible, or having quiet time, joining a prayer group, or some other “small group”, going to services, volunteering for a ministry… or five ministries. All of those things can become “feathers” in our caps.

Jesus asks us to volunteer to be last, though. To not be noticed. To give up our dreams, turn the other cheek… all of that. And all because there is nothing we need or could ever want more than to know him.

Paul knew that, and wrote:

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. —Phil 3:8

Honestly, I could be convinced that I’m straining out gnats here. OR, I could be convinced that this is the pivotal, most important, fundamental part of the Gospel: Jesus matters.

It’s him. And nothing else. Not a religion (Christianity), not a building or an organization (First Christian Church of Wherever), and not even a set of benchmarks that you set up for yourself to take your spiritual temperature.

Do you trust him? Then you’re in. And your life will never be the same. If you believe that Jesus is Immanuel, God made flesh, the Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life… buckle up!

That might be the same to you as “Christianity”, and if that’s the case, I’m really glad. My experience has been different. We people are good at maintaining control, and I think Jesus wants—longs for—us to relinquish that. Most often systems with fancy names—Christianity—don’t allow any room for that to happen, and even worse, they keep us in the “performance” mindset, where we’re always trying to “do better… for God, of course…

But Jesus’ words were always simply, “Follow me.”

I think it might really be that simple.

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 22nd

  1. I’d really recommend reading this post, too, if you’ve got the time. It was a very close second!

The World of Pretend [Church Book Excerpt]

There's The Steeple - Here's The Church | Greg Campbell | The Church BookFridays in August will be featuring a selected chapter from the book I published on the topic of the Church, titled, There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church—I call it “The Church Book”. If you’d like to read the rest, click the book cover to the left to purchase your copy from Amazon.com! (And, thank you!) Or, see the footer of this post for how to obtain a FREE copy.


I have a few posts coming in the near future that will be similar in content to this chapter of There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church! I was hoping to post them before this, but I’ll stick with this pre-selected rotation.

This chapter, written eight years ago, follows nicely with yesterday’s post about living in the moments. Life can be messy, but that’s life. We usually miss the beauty when we try to clean it up first—or to pretend. Don’t miss this. Real life is so much better than anything we can pretend.

(Although, I am certainly one for a good game of make believe! I grew up with Mister Rogers!) 🙂

The World of Pretend

There is a new fad these days in the world of audio. MP3 players are all the rage, and specifically, the iPod has become iconic. Everyone has at least heard the term. In fact, a new form of “broadcasting” a radio program is to record it and post it to the internet as an MP3 that people can listen to on their MP3 players—like the iPod—so it is called a podcast. I am quite addicted to these. It’s radio, but on your schedule. The other day I was listening to one of these podcasts and a phrase caught my attention. The speaker was a former pastor who has stepped away from “the paid ministry” and is now feeling more free, and more helpful to people than ever before. He spoke of his new paradigm in life saying:

“It’s no longer practice… no longer pretend. It’s real!”

My head nodded emphatically in agreement.

For a while now I have noticed that the whole world of Christianity as I know it involves some level of “pretend”. It is, in a way, imaginary. We have so closely united our life with Jesus to all of the things we call “church”, that to leave behind any of the practices of Christianity is to leave behind some piece of Christ himself. From Sunday school to Sunday potlucks. From Wednesday night prayer meetings to Sunday morning worship. From singing in the choir to going on a short-term mission trip; even individual practices like praying before meals, or having morning quiet time. None of those things by themselves are bad in any way. When they become the heartbeat of our relationship with God, or even more, when they replace our relationship with him, then we have what I recently heard someone refer to as “Churchianity”—the religion of the church.

The church is not a bad thing. The church, as it was designed by God is us, the believers—his bride. Jesus loves the church. But the church as we define it can be any number of things, as I have mentioned before. Could be a building, or the state registered non-profit organization that owns and meets in those buildings. It could be the hour that folks meet together on Sunday mornings. (“Come on Mertle! We’re going to be late for church!”)

But having for so long made the structure for the masses our primary focus, we have created an entire world unto itself. The world of the church. The world of pretend. There are customs and behaviors indigenous to this place. The natives seem to know them, and occasionally, there are seminars to explain such customs. But often, they are simply learned through time. Newcomers slowly pick up the behaviors and make them their own. As with any culture, there is also a native tongue. Travelers can understand most of what is spoken, but many terms are unfamiliar. The banter seems quite familiar to the natives, however. There is an unspoken dress code, a sense that some things are not to be done at some times. Very much like any other group of people, we have created a culture unto itself.

I think that’s too bad. I think that is what the speaker I mentioned before was referring to. We create this world in which we can do and say and think all the “right” things, and live out a well-performed Christianity. Life was not meant to be lived in a bubble. “Hide it under a bushel — NO! I’m gonna let it shine!” In the world of pretend that’s supposed to mean that we wear Jesus T-shirts and always say “Praise the Lord!” and, “Hallelujah!” That’s not what it means! Jesus is saying you have the light. The Light of The World is in us! Why would we coop him up in this building, or at these meetings, or only gathered with other Lamps? Live life! Let the light shine before all men that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven!

I want to know my neighbors. I don’t want people to see in me someone who is a faithful attendee of Christian meetings. I want them to see a life filled with hope, and Light. A caring neighbor who listens, and is available, not running to the next planned gathering, or rehearsal for said gathering. I want to know the folks I see in the grocery store, and have some connection with them there at that moment, or from previous connectings. I want to be available as Jesus was available.

Some years ago, I really felt like all that mattered in my life was telling people about the reality of God. It is in our little slogan on our website, our business cards, all our basic gear… even our trailer. It says, “Real Life. Real God.” Nothing has been more important to me than sharing the truth that God is real and is part of every bit of our lives. And so I gave up my pursuits of a career in journalism, to follow a leading from God and give my entire life and doings to him. That has led me down some incredible paths. I can’t wait to see what is next! All of my life has been, and still is completely for him.

But perhaps my focus has been on the wrong thing. I have poured my life into doing things for him, working on staff with a couple different churches, planning all sorts of events to share this life God is sharing with me. Maybe I have just been feeding the world of pretend? Helping people to confine their Light to the refueling station of “the church”. Perhaps.

Can you tell I am sorting through some things at the moment? I don’t want you to go away from this post feeling at all negative or mad. If you are…. just forget everything I said. This is definitely something God and I are dealing with. If it sparks something in you, as the phrase at the top did in me, shoot me an e-mail.

Wherever you are in your journey with him, be there. Don’t get your light from other Lamps. Live in the Light of THE Light. Let him live in you, and teach you, and lead you. He is our source. Not the church. Not any pastor. Not any teacher. HE is the Light. HE wants a relationship with YOU. Really.

For real.

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This post is a chapter in the book There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church by Greg Campbell, available through Amazon.com. If you’d like to purchase the book, please click the book title in the previous sentence. If you’d like a free PDF version, it is available here. Also have some of the audio version available at church.gregshead.net. Thanks for reading, sharing, and feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below, or wherever else you can reach me.

The Need to Be Right (Can Be So Wrong!)

Right vs. WrongSomehow, through the centuries and millennia of history, religious folk have gotten the notion that the supreme goal of their spiritual pursuit is to know the right answer—to find and know the Truth. With a capital ‘T’.

Certainly a goal of spiritual hunger is to find answers, enlightenment, and ‘truth’.

But just what that means—”What is truth?”, to quote Pontius Pilate—has been, and continues to be, the cause of such great fracture.

The Focus Is Wrong

If you take a photo of someone, but somehow you focus on the background rather than the subject (the person), you end up with a picture of the wrong thing. What you intended to capture is blurry and secondary, while the extraneous surrounding is what your eye is drawn to. The intended subject is still present, but it’s secondary and you must look hard to find it.

Truth is certainly important. You can do a search through Scripture right now for the word “truth” and, my goodness, the results are plentiful!

But Jesus said:

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!”—John 5:39

And…

“Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”—John 14:6

Jesus spells it out: he is Truth. Truth is not a concept, or a list of correct answers, doctrines, beliefs, practices—it’s a person. The person of Jesus.

His Kingdom is so much less about the what (what we should or shouldn’t do) or the where (church, temple, Israel, etc.) and so much more about the whom (God, others) and the why (because he loves us).

Arguments

But we keep making “truth” about what we know, and especially our interpretations of it, don’t we?

Why do you think there are so many religions? How about just within Christianity? There are approximately 41,000 organizations who call themselves Christians, but separate themselves as “different” from the other 40,999.

We make our differences much more important than what we hold in common.

¡Ay, ay, ay!

The words Paul wrote to Timothy would be helpful to folks today who argue over “truth”:

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.—2 Timothy 2:23-25

The point is that we need to care much less—almost to the point of not caring—about being right and much more about living as greatly loved children of God, loving his other children—and I mean all of them. (Whether or not we agree with them. On anything!)

When we are “right” it makes us smug, self-righteous, and somehow “different” than “them”. Which is not how it is. We are all in the same boat. All in need of grace. All made in the image of God. And all given the ability to freely choose to know him, or not. (And the best part might be that He himself doesn’t seem to be in as much of a rush for us to “get it right” as most people who identify themselves by his name!)

What It’s All About

I read a blog post this morning at Donald Miller’s blog (by a guest author) that ended with this paragraph:

Amazing grace binds us with its simple message that keeps us together. Despite our differences, we are a people tied to each other in love. So we will keep singing “Amazing Grace” and we keep kneeling in the waters of grace so we can always love one another.

The author told the story of how she always thought better of herself for her distinguished taste in music for not liking the song Amazing Grace. However, in one moment when she saw that through the song community/unity was experienced and enjoyed, it was an epiphany for her of what really matters. Not the “truth” of a song’s worth, but each other, and sharing and celebrating what we have in common—made possible through grace.

You see, that’s what this is all about.

We can either hold our ground and fight for “the truth”, OR, we can accept the Truth that God loves every person he created, more than we can possibly imagine, and it’s not our job to change them, convert them, save them, or even condemn them. That’s all his job. We are just to surrender ourselves completely to him, follow him, and as he leads, use every opportunity he places before us to love other people as we ourselves have been loved.

That’s really it.

It’s not about whether baptism saves you, or if you’ve received the gift of the Holy Spirit, or if Allah is the same God that Christians worship, or if Mormons are Christians. It’s not about when and how Jesus will return, whether you are “Once Saved, Always Saved”, free will or predestination.

It’s just not.

It’s about loving God (because you are loved) and loving others.1

In Ephesians, Paul exhorts the believers there to be united, despite their differences. I love the line from early in that chapter, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Perfectly said, and oft-repeated in our home.

Listen to how he concludes those thoughts:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.—Ephesians 4:31-32

Yes. Please. Let’s do.

Sometimes We ‘Get it Right’

Now go get a box of tissues, and read this article. 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity.

Sometimes we transcend the “need to be right” and cross boundaries that we’re “not supposed to cross”, and we just love. Really love.

I believe, that’s who we are meant to be.

We’re not meant to be the ones who are Right. We are meant to know the One who makes Right.


I rediscovered a very related (and pretty funny!) post from this blog’s past. If you have the interest and time to read more, please read Be A Christian!! And, somewhat related: check out this post from even longer ago!

Our Experience at the Hill Cumorah Pageant

Mormon protesters, Palmyra, NY during Hill Cumorah Pageant in July
Photo credit: Vasiliy Baziuk/Messenger Post
“You’re all sinners! You are an abomination to God!!”

These words were angrily spit at the thousands of people peacefully passing through the entrance to the Hill Cumorah Pageant’s last showing for 2013—an event which was attended by this writer and his wife.

Friends of ours participated in the Pageant this year. They played various roles up front. We met them after we entered, and they were dressed in their appropriate costumes and headdresses.

Other friends were part of the groups verbally, abusively accosting people as they entered.1

(Fascinating, huh?)

It was truly such a fascinating range of thoughts and emotions as we proceeded from our parked vehicle into the Pageant grounds. You could certainly call it surreal. Many people—many of them families, with young children—quietly progressed toward the entrance. As we walked, the first thing you notice—you can’t miss it!—is a man shouting awful things over a bullhorn. Then, as you reach the entrance, emergency vehicles surround it, lights flashing, since traffic needs to be managed on these nights. At this entrance are a dozen or two folks aggressively passing out literature to everyone who passes by. (I was glad when they did seem to allow for refusals, though.)

Once you have passed through the somewhat foreboding entrance, you are greeted by many friendly, costumed folks who will direct you wherever you’d like to go, if you desire. No aggression here, just welcome.

Yet, the angry, shouting voice marches on. His bullhorn is directed at the seated crowd, inside the event.

“It’s 19th-century fiction! Joseph Smith was a [insert several negative things here]!!”

Jen and I proceeded to the popcorn stand (she loves snacks while taking in a show!) and waited there in line, marveling at the very strange environment. The yelling man (actually, there may have been at least two) continued, audible over the sounds of a passive crowd of hundreds, and thousands.

As the line progressed we noticed that one of the helpers was wearing a baseball shirt from our home school sports league! We did not recognize this boy, but introduced ourselves and had a nice chat with him. He and his sister were helping their grandparents serve the popcorn and Pepsi. (Apparently not all Christians feel the need to venomously denounce every person at this event?)

When the show began, the yelling stopped. I was grateful; several times throughout the night I noticed and was grateful that the grating (degrading?) invectives had ceased being launched from just outside the peaceful confines of the temporary outdoor theater.

The Pageant itself was equally fascinating to me, a non-LDS person. We are perhaps more familiar with the LDS church based on our living in this town, and our friendship with members of that church, but I had never seen that presentation before. The thing that most struck me is how the story seemed to mimic so many familiar Bible stories, but with different names and places. The story’s elements seemed to be “drawn from” (or at least be very similar to) sections of both the Old and New Testaments. The general story is the tale of a family of Israelites heeding the prophets’ warnings of the destruction of Jerusalem (pre-exile2) and eventually finding their way to North and South America, and all that transpired there, all the way up to Joseph Smith being shown the location of the brass plates containing the stories we had just been told of that family and their descendants.

It really was fascinating.

But even more fascinating—and my main point here today—was the angry voice(s) starting up again as soon as the stage show was finished.

Mormon protesters in Village of Palmyra during Hill Cumorah Pageant in July
Photo credit: rochester.ynn.com
I really don’t fault the motives of these folks. They are sincerely wanting to help people whom they see as on the path to hell. In their minds and hearts, it is vitally important for the folks they are “helping” (and maybe for their own consciences?) that they speak out as often as possible against this boldfaced lie.

The trouble is, sincerity and right-motives don’t always align with truth and liberty—not to mention religious freedom that we so value in this country.

C. S. Lewis said the following regarding “having others’ best interest in mind” as the motivation for your actions:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”—C. S. Lewis

I don’t think this need only apply to governments and tyrants. There seems to be a desire to control deep in the heart of mankind. It affects all of us, but perhaps some more than others. And when it is fueled by either a divine directive or just a love for your fellow man …

well, it really gets quite messy.

What I wish I had said to the man with the bullhorn was, “Why on earth are you so angry? What do you hope to accomplish by shouting such nasty things at these people with such audible and visible animosity?” I did not. I honestly was mostly in shock at how anyone could find a logical reason for such actions.

But I do wish I had.

If you are reading this now and you were there this year (2013) or previous years on either side of that protester fence, I’d love to hear your comments as well. I plan to ask our friends who are involved with at least one of the protestor groups how they think they are helping people. They (our friends) were not shouting … so perhaps their group is different?

Regardless, the issue comes down to a religious need to be right.

The article linked below from Slate.com, written in July 2012, posed the same question that I have been asking since Saturday night (my emphasis added):

“The contrast between their messages of intolerance, their anger and hate, and our music, sense of fellowship and community does a lot to highlight our message of Christian love. They say we’re not Christian,” he continued. “But who’s acting more Christian now?”—Volunteer security guard, Hill Cumorah Pageant

Westboro Baptist church is often maligned for its tactics: shouting hateful things, wearing and hoisting those messages on clothing and banners. These people seemed to be doing the same thing.

When will we Christians learn to let Holy Spirit do the guiding into all truth?3

Perhaps we never will.

do what is right, love mercy,
and walk humbly with your God
—Micah 6:84


For further information and research, please click these links. There are articles and videos that shed more light on what I have written here above. Always good to have a bigger picture!

  1. Thankfully, the people who are friends of ours were only handing out literature with one of these groups, they were not shouting angry, hateful diatribes at everyone passing them by.
  2. See Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the stories in the history books, Kings, Chronicles, etc.
  3. 1 John 2:27, John 16:7-9, etc.
  4. Micah 6:8

Christianity, or Jesus? (Aren’t They the Same?)

Our family is currently making our way through the book of Luke together. We’re taking our time, but I do enjoy reading in larger chunks, so we will often read what might be the subject of an entire series of sermons in one sitting.

Tonight, we read through the fifteenth chapter: the three stories of lost and found.

Though we’d often read more than that, it’s such a good three-part story—with the most famous, the Prodigal Son story at the end—that I thought it would be nice to stop and discuss.

The kids are reading and learning about “unreached people groups” with Mom during the school days, and both of the older boys picked up on the “lost” theme that Jesus’ stories held.

When I asked what everyone heard in Jesus’ stories, Ian replied first, “I think it shows that God cares about every single person: if even one in a thousand is lost, there’s a celebration when he realizes he’s wrong and returns to God.”

“Yep. So right, Ian.” I affirmed.

Alex chimed in next, “Or, like if one person in the 10 million in Japan who are buddhists or other things turn to Christianity. It’s like that, even.”

I smiled and affirmed Alex’s insightful answer, too. But something didn’t sit right with me, the way he had phrased that answer.

Ian and Mom both explained what they had been studying—unreached people groups—and I realized what it was that bothered me: the lost returning home story is not about conversions to Christianity, it’s about the Good News that Jesus is life and nothing else.

I tried to lovingly expand on that thought to Alex, but I guess maybe it didn’t come out quite right. Jen didn’t think I was saying it correctly, and by offering further instruction at that time, kinda squashed Alex.

jesus-christ-in-stained-glassAnd, honestly, she doesn’t really agree with my instruction, that Christianity is not the same as Jesus.

I told Alex that the somewhat subtle distinction between someone “turning to Christianity” and someone meeting Jesus (The One true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent) are often, even usually very different things.

One is a religion. Plain and simple, Christianity is not in the Bible. (Really! It’s true!) In this sense, Christianity is no different than Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, and so on. Jesus never talked about establishing a religion (though he did mention building the Church) and I can’t think of anywhere that the word “Christianity” or “Christendom” can be found on the pages of Scripture. (Though other people called the Church, “Christians”—Acts 11, and Acts 26—the only other occurrence of the word is in 1 Peter 4:16.)

Returning to a loving Father is a different story. Realizing our need to be connected to the Vine; understanding the limitless, boundless love that God has for us, wanting from before the foundation of the world to adopt us as his own children; understanding how the cross restores our friendship with God by destroying sin and death and shame once and for all…

That’s a different story. (And doesn’t “sign you up” for anything.)

Now, I’m certainly painting with too broad a brush right now. Firstly, only a chapter or two before, Jesus addressed his disciples and the crowds following him, making sure they understood the cost of being his disciple. The cost is… everything. He said we need to be willing to give up everything (even family, wealth/possessions, a home), even our own life.

But the key is, nothing else matters outside of his Life. Nothing.

And that’s the point. Converting to a religion often satisfies our own accomplishable goals and benchmarks. There are “measurables” with Christianity. You can check things off like, reading your Bible, or having quiet time, joining a prayer group, or some other “small group”, going to services, volunteering for a ministry… or five ministries. All of those things can become “feathers” in our caps.

Jesus asks us to volunteer to be last, though. To not be noticed. To give up our dreams, turn the other cheek… all of that. And all because there is nothing we need or could ever want more than to know him.

Paul knew that, and wrote:

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. —Phil 3:8

Honestly, I could be convinced that I’m straining out gnats here. OR, I could be convinced that this is the pivotal, most important, fundamental part of the Gospel: Jesus matters.

It’s him. And nothing else. Not a religion (Christianity), not a building or an organization (First Christian Church of Wherever), and not even a set of benchmarks that you set up for yourself to take your spiritual temperature.

Do you trust him? Then you’re in. And your life will never be the same. If you believe that Jesus is Immanuel, God made flesh, the Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life… buckle up!

That might be the same to you as “Christianity”, and if that’s the case, I’m really glad. My experience has been different. We people are good at maintaining control, and I think Jesus wants—longs for—us to relinquish that. Most often systems with fancy names—Christianity—don’t allow any room for that to happen, and even worse, they keep us in the “performance” mindset, where we’re always trying to “do better… for God, of course…

But Jesus’ words were always simply, “Follow me.”

I think it might really be that simple.

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

Being a fan of documentaries, and, having many thoughts on the nature and condition of the church, I was intrigued enough by the title and description of the movie above to click the play button on a recent visit to Hulu.com.

As the video began, I wasn’t entirely sure which “side” was being presented. I like that! I continued to watch and felt that the issues addressed were handled fairly and with an open mind. That’s pretty rare. Usually you just have to filter out the bias, but they really did a decent job of doing that themselves.

There were many eye-opening scenes depicting the blatant ignorance of Christian men and women, young and old, who were simply unaware of the arguments—no, the people—of the “other side”. There were also some incredible moments of true connection between people who really don’t see the world the same in most ways.

One particularly powerful scene was when the filmmakers set up a “Confession Booth” at a gay pride event in Portland, except, rather than taking confessions, they gave them. They confessed (and asked forgiveness for) the church’s treatment of homosexuals, its stance on AIDS, and other related actions taken by the church. The result was a unanimous (at least, what was shown) open, emotional, welcome response to someone for whom they previously harbored great contempt.

What happened was, they listened to each other. Each found a place where they could meet, and treat the other with loving kindness. It’s amazing how powerful that is: in life, and just to watch it unfold on the screen.

When you have some time—a goodly amount of time—I recommend a thoughtful viewing of this documentary. Particularly Christians, but I think the point the filmmakers are trying to make is that it sure helps when we listen to each other, no matter what our worldview. So there’s a bit of something for everyone, for sure.

Also, the filmmakers’ website: www.LordSaveUsTheMovie.com