Christianity 201

July 25, 2011

The Least of These

This very powerful, very transparent article appeared earlier in the month at the blog, Faith in the Margins, under the title Listen to Lazarus.

As most of you know I have had a hard time in Institutional Church. The IC tends in the main to run as a business with a hierarchical model – much like the ‘world’ Also much like the world the poor, the outcast, the socially inept, the single parent, the uneducated, and the homeless get mistreated, ignored and deprived of having any real voice or influence. As a poor divorced single parent from the wrong side of town I have suffered untold and told abuse at the hands of those who supposedly are shepherds of the flock. It has been the same for every other person from my background that I’ve taken to church. So what’s that all about?

I was praying this morning and asking God why he allowed myself and my children to be treated this way in ‘His’ church? Surely anyone with only a minimal knowledge of the Bible knows that much is said about protecting, nurturing and leading the widow and fatherless gently….
So why God why did you let us be so viciously treated at the hands of your very own ministers and leaders?

If your face and background fit you will never see or feel the abuse. That’s the problem. IC can be a great place to be an ‘acceptable christian’ – if you find favour with the leadership because your lifestyle, family and background are considered ‘acceptable’ It’s also a bonus if you have some hard cash to ‘give’ on a regular basis. This is the truth.

One day those who abused me, ignored and shunned me because I didn’t have the ‘right’ credentials will have to give an account to God for their actions. The thing is I don’t know anyone else personally who has spoken up about the way they have been treated by IC – I have watched so many from my background go to church and leave quite quickly – but they don’t have the courage to speak out. The middle classes scare them. They baffle them with eloquent speech and long words. They have money and power and influence.The poor are aware of their shortcomings. The IC causes the poor the uneducated and those who don’t ‘fit’ the required and acceptable mold of a believer to feel even more inadequate. The last thing they will want is a confrontation – on every human level they know they would lose – so they leave.

I hope and excuse me if this sounds a bit harsh…. I hope that on judgement day Jesus will bring every poor, rejected, lonely, outcast, homeless and desperate person I took to church into the great hall. Then he will bring the leaders of the church in who rejected, ignored and shunned them and then I hope he will ask them for an explanation and then I hope he will judge accordingly. Sounds to me a bit like a story Jesus told here about the rich man and Lazarus – but of course institutional church portrays this as a mere parable which ‘doesn’t have to be true in all its particulars………..’!!

We – all of us are without excuse if we mistreat the poor. The Bible is clear as to what awaits for those who behave this way…

What surprises me is the way so many Christians concentrate on showing and telling the world about their blessings of wonderful husbands/wives and families and Gods provision of their amazing church/house/car/holiday/promotion etc etc. Now this I agree is ok as long as it’s used as a vehicle to reach out and tell those who don’t have all the above that God can intervene in their lives and give the same things to them. All too often the church keeps the blessings to itself. The members keep the blessings within the confines of the church family and congratulate themselves for being so holy and worthy to receive these gifts. Bullshit.

Do these Christians ever stop and think what their boasting does to those in the gutter who have lost their spouse, their homes, their jobs, their self respect and are struggling to survive?

I don’t recall Jesus ever going on like this. Hang on, I know, remember the time he walked right up to a disabled, homeless guy on the pavement and told him how God had blessed him with amazing legs so he could walk run and skip. Of course then Jesus went home and wrote all about it on his blog telling the world about how God had blessed him….. I think not. Jesus was too humble and thoughtful to do that!

If I ever do get ‘blessed’ with a spouse and my own home and the regular comforts all my christians brothers and sisters consider ‘blessings’ I will not speak about them as I would not want to cause even more pain and heartache for those who have not or worse still, had but lost.

These are the blessings Jesus spoke about so I have no problem with anyone boasting about these…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall exclude and mock you, and throw out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich!
For you have received your consolation.
Woe to you, you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe, when men speak well of you,
for their fathers did the same thing to the false prophets.

Well I didn’t plan for this post to go this way… but it has got me thinking about all those happy blessed, full and highly regarded christians out there…… who like to write endless blog posts showing just how much they have and how richly God has blessed them….. Taking into account the above verses the ‘blessings’ they so want to ram down our throats are not from God at all!!! I’m not saying christians shouldn’t write about Gods provision or Gods healing power or Gods intervention in their lives – that’s fine and good as testimony is always uplifting. But ‘bragging’ about a ‘blessing’ that God doesn’t even call a blessing is wrong and very hurtful to those who are struggling and suffering and ‘have not.’

I recently had some correspondence with a christian (no-one who reads my blog!) who constantly goes on about ‘his’ and ‘his’ families ‘blessings’ I challenged him about this and explained how it could be very hurtful to those who had nothing. He disagreed and was very self righteous with me so much so it had me quite tearful, I deleted his last message as I am not clever enough to respond using the kind of language he uses and also as a woman who has already been so abused and downtrodden by the IC I just don’t have the strength to fight what he says. He has a huge following in the States and is well respected, maybe I’m wrong or misguided – i don’t know, all I know is that Jesus measures our Christianess by how it impacts (for the good) on the ‘least’ among us. (Matthew 25:31-46)

This is an unfinished post which has sat in my drafts for 6 months. I’m posting it anyway today as it is as I continue to grapple with the issues mentioned here myself.

May 21, 2011

Henri Nouwen on Social Progress

This is a long weekend here in Canada, and the tendency is to kick back spiritually as well, to get into that “summer mindset” or what we call here “cottage mentality” and forget that our relationship with Jesus doesn’t take a day off or a weekend off.  (Read more about churches that “power down” in summer here and here.)  Nevertheless, I’ll grant that today’s piece is a little lighter, or at least it is on the surface.  We tend to worship doctrine, but don’t think that items about the outworking of that doctrine, or orthopraxy, or ministry ethic is really all that deep.  Perhaps it is really most profound.

January 8, 2011

God, You Are So Many Things: Psalm 91

Heard this for the first time just minutes ago at 96.5FM in Australia.  Thanks to the video people who post these songs.   Because the lyrics are already in the video, what follows is Psalm 91 from The MessageThis particular blog post had a lot of different tags as suggested by the lyrics.  If one of them brought you here, kick back and enjoy the music for a few minutes.

You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
drop like flies right and left,
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
watch the wicked turn into corpses.
Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!”

November 24, 2010

Maybe They Weren’t Saved in the First Place

For our Canadian Readers:  Giving to Those Less Fortunate — You see them in the malls and big box stores every year.   Volunteers manning the donation kettles on behalf of the Salvation Army.   But in a world where everybody pays using plastic cards, who has change to drop in the kettle?   And what about the people who shop online and don’t see the collection kettles at all?   That’s why we started doing a Salvation Army iKettle.  This is a great program for our Canadian blog readers to take advantage of; what’s more, the money you give stays with the Salvation Army Family Services in your community.   Be among the first to donate by clicking the following link:  

http://my.ikettle.ca/personalPage.aspx?SID=2834666&Lang=en-CA
~Paul Wilkinson

The way to resolve the argument seemed so obvious to me.  I was much, much younger and we were discussing the issue of eternal security.   If they were truly saved, how could they sin blatantly, or how could they walk away from their faith?   It’s obvious:  They weren’t saved in the first place. This is sometimes called the “semantics” solution since it’s about words.   We called this individual or that group of people Christians, but obviously we were wrong to do so since he, she or they weren’t really partakers of Christ or they wouldn’t have done what they did.

[Insert, the “But what about Judas?  He walked and talked with Jesus for three years…” argument here.]

I actually want to talk about a different application of the “semantics” issue.  The one raised in James 2:24, translated traditionally as “Faith without works is dead.” I think what James is saying here is that the semantics test does work here.   If people don’t manifest spiritual fruit, spiritual gifts, etc., in their lives, we do in fact have good reason to say, “Maybe they weren’t saved in the first place.”

In the Evangelical stream that I was nurtured in, we’re relatively new to social justice.   We spent years developing the best teachings on doctrine and theology, but largely ignored the poor.   When non-Evangelical churches did, we dismissed them by saying, “They only preach a social gospel.” Both types of churches were — and some still are — out of balance on this issue.

James isn’t saying we’re saved by works, but he’s saying — especially in the broader context — that works darn well better be in the picture. …It seemed an appropriate thing to write about today, as I posted our online Salvation Army iKettle for our Canadian readers.   I’ll repeat the iKettle appeal here once a week leading up to Christmas, and all three of my other blogs.

James 2 (The Message)14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

19-20Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

21-24Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

25-26The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

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