In All Things Charity

I am amazed when I consider how some Christians handle conflict.

Some people seem content to throw the figurative grenade into the room, then pick up the pieces and see what’s left. No really, that’s pretty much a quote I was given as one person’s method of conflict resolution.

There are those who feel compelled to fire their Scripture-shotgun into the face of any opposition, no matter how tame. “I know what God says on this matter. I asked Him.” Or perhaps “I have a degree in Christian Ministry, so I don’t need your input on Christianity, kthxbai.”

Not exact quotes but close enough.

I attend a church whose stated vision is to “Saturate our city and our world with the heart of God.” My wife and I have been playing for the music ministry for about a year and a half now. When they announced a new members class, we realized “Oh hey, we should probably become members if we’re going to be up front leading worship.”

During the class, we covered the 16 tenets of faith held by the Assemblies of God (the denomination or association that this church belongs to). The pastor teaching the class made it clear that there’s a bit of room for disagreement, room for skepticism and other opinions. In making his point, he quoted an old phrase:

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

There are certainly some core beliefs that we as Christians have to agree upon. “I’m a Christian, but the Bible is rubbish.” Well, good luck with that. “I’m a Christian, but I’m not sure about this Jesus is the Son of God business… he was a nice teacher but he didn’t rise from the dead or anything…” Yeah, good job, welcome to heresy, your religion is pointless according to a relatively unknown Christian named Paul who wrote half the New Testament. We have to have unity in some essentials or else there’s no point in us gathering together.

Non-essentials, to me, are those things that aren’t going to seriously change my behavior. All the debate about speaking in tongues, or what sort of music is “right” for church, or whether there’s going to be a Rapture or will it be Post-Trib or Pre-Trib or so on… does any of that change how I pursue God in my personal life? Not that much. Even “Once saved Always saved” versus “We can lose salvation” is a silly debate to me, because our focus should never be looking backwards to see how close we can get to walking away from Christ without actually losing salvation. Our focus should be on following after Him. Looking backward to whether there’s a line, or at what point we cross that line–that’s a mistake. So in those non-essentials, when I disagree with a fellow believer, I get over it and do my best to get along with them in spite of our differences. There’s some liberty, some room for differing views.

Because in all things, we are called to practice charity. You are more important to me than your particular theological persuasion. When we discuss theology, my goal is not to crush your misguided view and show you how much more correct I am. My goal is to see another perspective on God, and refine my understanding to better match Truth. And I hope you get the same result out of the dialogue.

I don’t have a degree in Christian ministry. But I do have some guidance from that little known leader in the early church:

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition… (2 Tim 2:24-25 NASB)

Scripture shotguns and Gospel grenades just don’t make a lot of sense to me. “In all things, charity.”

Not casualties.

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My Monkeysphere

“I want Jesus to be in my monkeysphere.”

Okay, weird conversation piece, maybe. First, what’s a monkeysphere (if you don’t know), and second, did I go off the sacrilegious deep end or what?

1. The “monkeysphere” is a term for the number of interpersonal relationships a brain can generally maintain and care about. The term comes from monkey research where the scientists discovered that the monkeys’ brains would only allow them to form societies up to a certain number of other monkeys. A bigger brain permitted a larger society. They then tried using a human brain and ended up boosting the monkey’s “sphere” of relationships from 50 to 150.

Basically, the monkeysphere is the collection of people you actually care about and think about as real people… not just friends on Facebook, or nameless humans that intersect your daily life. A good example is the trash man, whose job dramatically affects your quality of life, but whose name you probably do not know or care to discover.

The wiki article about it seems to make it pretty clear.

Clear on that one? Good.

2. No, I’m not losing my faith or mocking Christ. My wife and I were talking about how we relate to God, and she made the comment that she really wants to remember the personhood and humanity of Christ. A Man, someone she cares deeply for, willingly suffered beating and shame. He chose to endure anguish and agony, and He accepted His own execution.

Jesus is the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the other soldiers in the trench (except multiplied by 20 billion or so).

If a person does that for you in real life, it’s kind of hard to forget it.

The fact that I can say it that way, and you probably understood and agreed – that says something about how we view Him.

I find I happily recognize and recount the transaction, the theology, the spiritual “chemical” reaction that took place at the Cross. My sins were washed away by His blood, my inky stain of death was turned scarlet, and my scarlet sins were washed clean. I can quote the scriptures to say what took place: He died for all, that those who live should live for themselves no longer, but for Him who died and rose again… if through one man, death reigned in all men, how much more shall life reign through the one Man Christ Jesus… for there is no other mediator between God and men… and so on.

It’s a historical fact. On such-and-such day, the battle of Gettysburg was won by the Union. Abraham Lincoln wrote a powerful speech about it. And on such-and-such day way back in 33 AD or 29 AD or whatever, the battle over sin and death and hell was won by the Messiah. And Paul the Apostle wrote some really powerful speeches about it. I like to quote them, just like I enjoy hearing “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

Hopefully my point is becoming clear.

I find it easy to recognize Jesus’ unique place in history and theology.

I find it all too easy to stop there.

I don’t want a historical figure. I don’t want a relationship with a spiritual principle, nor an affection for a moving quote.

I want a personal relationship, a constant interaction, a recognition that there was a Man… and not just any Man, but my best Friend… and when the enemy opened fire, He jumped in front of me, arms wide, to protect me from every deadly shot.

You don’t forget that sort of love. And neither do you recall it with cold distance. It changes your life.

Oh, and don’t forget, dear self… all those other monkeys outside my sphere? He did the same for them.

Maybe I should care. Because He does.

Under a Blanket

Quick break from my posts on building a “fire” of worship in ministry…

There’s an indie publisher game coming out soon called Pinstripe, and an interview with its creator caught my eye.

His comments about the story he wants to tell in gaming sound very much like my intended description of spirituality and faith in God on this page. It combines my interest in videogames with a discussion of spiritual matters, so I thought I’d post it here.

From the Penny Arcade Report:

“I’m not trying to be cool,” Brush prefaced his comment, “but everytime I’m making a game I want people to feel the way they feel when there’s a massive thunderstorm outside, but they’re inside underneath a blanket.”

“It’s that sublime feeling of ‘there’s terror and craziness outside, but I’m cozy inside and I’m safe.”

That comment sums up my time playing Pinstripe and talking with Brush. He’s part of a new generation that wants to be more gentle and welcoming with Christian messages and themes, but the message is still there, like that thunderstorm raging just beyond the walls of safety.

The Journey

“It’s a journey, not a destination.”

Today, that was a friend’s comment on happiness. I’ve heard that said about relationships, about financial responsibility, even about being a whole person who lives the way the Air Force wants its Airmen to exemplify.

I’ve even said this phrase. Two days ago, for the H entry, I mentioned the hope we enjoy, knowing that we can strive for a closer relationship with God and a deeper spirituality. We’ll never arrive at a point where we can say we’re done, but every day, we can take steps in the right direction. I also made the same point about a fitness lifestyle on my other A to Z blog.

With that in mind, today’s joint topic on both this blog and the fitness blog is: the journey.

So what does this really mean?

For me, it means asking not only what goal I have in sight but also where am I actually headed. If we are believers in Christ then it makes sense to say that we will have Christ and some form of Christ-like living as the goal we home in on. But having that as a stated goal doesn’t mean we’re making progress toward it.

Campus Crusade for Christ uses a tract with a graphic meant to depict the difference that takes place in our lives after we accept Christ.

Three examples of our spiritual nature

Three examples of our spiritual nature

The first picture reflects our state before we were saved, where Self sits on the throne, Christ is out of the picture, and we do as we please. The black circles of various shapes and sizes are meant to portray our efforts and interests. In the first state, we do what we please.

The second shows the idea of a “carnal Christian,” someone who has “faith” as a part of their life but still does what they please. Christ is in the circle, but Self is on the throne.

The last circle puts Christ on the throne and Self at His feet, with interests and efforts balanced, ordered and directed by the Savior, not Self. That’s the ideal for a believer in Christ. That’s part of going on the journey.

But that’s not all. There’s a key point I believe we must understand.

When we think about spirituality, we often assume that the closer you are to God, the more spiritual you must be. A mean-spirited lustful slob of a man is pretty far away from Christ, where we might look at a faithful pastor or public figure and assume they’re pretty near to Christ. This is a faulty assumption. Sometimes the non-believer is more spiritual than the believer. How can that be?

Where you're headed matters.

Where you’re headed matters.

With a journey, it’s not just the goal that matters. It matters how you’re progressing toward that goal.

When my wife and I are headed to a new place in Omaha, we sometimes pop open maps on the iPhone and turn on location services. A little blue ball pops up to show us where we are, and it moves along as we drive. We might be really close to the red ball marking the destination on the map. But if we’re driving away from it, are we better off by virtue of being “on a journey” toward the destination? Of course not. Not at all!

Spiritually speaking, Christ is our destination, and He is moving and doing things in the world around us. Is our little blue marker slowly moving toward Him, moving with Him, orienting to Him, even if we’re on the other side of town? That’s healthy spirituality, recognizing that we may be nowhere near the level we want to be, while keeping focused on how to get there.

On the other hand, we might see Christian figures who are “so godly” in public and yet find out that they stopped moving toward the red location some time ago and started doing their own thing. Maybe they were really close compared to me, but it doesn’t matter, because they aren’t moving toward the goal, staying in line with Christ. They’re driving away.

“It’s a journey” doesn’t simply mean we should enjoy the process along the way. It means we should know where we’re headed, and roughly how we go about getting there. Then we should point ourselves in the right direction and take steps. No matter how far away we are from the mark, if we’re aiming for it and moving toward it, that’s what makes us “spiritual.”

 

Beliefs: Worship Vocabulary

I’m currently enrolled in a Chinese Mandarin language refresher course. About six hours a day, five coworkers and I sit in a classroom, practicing reading, writing, speaking, and hearing Chinese. We get homework and additional material to review, much of which is vocabulary lists of unfamiliar words.

The vocab review is absolutely essential to success.

I can know how all the grammar works, how all the sentences get put together, and so on. I can speak perfectly, with no accent and accurate tones. I could write beautiful Chinese characters that look like calligraphy you might buy at a store. But If I don’t know the words, I won’t understand much, and nothing I do will make sense.

Give it a shot. What does this mean to you?

耶稣基督爱你。

If you don’t know the vocab or haven’t learned the language, you won’t get the message, let alone be able to communicate it yourself.

For the worshiper, that’s where beliefs come in. Our doctrine and our beliefs are the skeletons, the framework that holds up what we do and why we do it. If I accurately understand something of who God is and what God has done, then that is fuel for my worship of God. If I know what Scripture teaches about who I am in relation to God, then that makes His grace amazing.

Songs can’t communicate to us something we don’t already grasp. We won’t appreciate the value if we don’t have the vocab. David Crowder can sing “He is our portion and we are His prize” (John Macmillan, How He Loves).

But if I’ve never seen that in Scripture and never digested the thought that – for whatever reason – God has set a very high value on you and me–

Then that will just be a nice turn of phrase in the song, something to get us to the next rhyme.

But if I look at Matthew 13:44 and see a Savior who sold everything to take hold of a treasure… If I consider 1st Peter 2:9-11 that claims we are a special possession cherished by God… And I see how that passage points back to the Old Testament and God’s covenant with Israel… And then I recall verses like Isaiah 43:3-4 where God promises He would sell the whole world to get His people back… Oh, how sweet Philippians 2:5-11 becomes, where I read about all that Christ gave up, all that He laid aside for the sake of God’s plan of redemption.

When I am familiar with the depths of love revealed in Scripture, and the costs God endured to lay hold of the treasure on His heart – namely you and me – well, that gives me some vocabulary words to use to express my gratitude!

Then when my church sings “Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness” and “Humbly You came to the earth You created, all for love’s sake, became poor…” (Tim Hughes, here I Am to Worship)

Now I get it. Now I can take that song and make it mine, pour my heart and my emotions and all my love and thanks into it, and truly respond in worship to what God has done, not just sing in the musical portion of the service to try and sound good.

Picking “Bible” for the A to Z challenge would have been too easy, but it’s still accurate. The Bible informs our beliefs, instructs us in doctrine. Why? So that we are prepared for evey good work God has called us to accomplish. 2 Tim 3:16-17

Time and again, surveys show a woeful lack of understanding of basic Christian doctrine in the West, especially in this “Christian nation” called the United States. As worshipers, as those seeking to encounter God’s powerful presence, it behooves us to get well-acquainted with some key words and concepts about God and our relationship to Him.

How strong is your vocabulary? I know I’ve got some reviewing to do.