Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lowest Common Denominator

Nothing says fun like math. Think back for a moment to the fun world of fractions. I still try my best to avoid fractions to this day. But, when it comes to adding or subtracting fractions I remember that you had to first find the lowest common denominator before you could complete the process. This often meant reducing one or more numbers, so that everything could look the same, and be measured the same.

It seems this has become the practice in our world and not just with fractions. Everywhere I look I find standards are lowered so more people can clear the bar. In fact the standards are often lowered to the point that anyone can clear the bar. It appears as the education system is in this mode, along with sports. I have seen where they have stopped giving out trophies to the winning teams because they did not want the losing team to feel bad. While all of this is tragic, the real tragedy is when this happens in our relationship to God. It was not all that long ago listed among the essentials of the Church was the exclusivity of Christ. The essentials of the church are those things which are recognized no matter what theological cloth you happen to be cut from. The exclusivity of Christ is the understanding that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. It seems as the time has come when we no longer can have this in the area of consensus in the church. I realize this has always been in the air for some, however we have reached the point when we are engaged in the lowest common denominator practice with Jesus.

Let me be perfectly clear, this is not a mandate to disrespect other faith traditions, or the people who adhere to them. It is not a reason to go our and tell people they are destine for hell if they do not believe in Jesus. Further, I am not offering an excuse to act in hate and ignorance toward people who are different than ourselves. What I am saying is I have a deep concern that we have lowered the standard of Christ to the point where it seems anything goes as long as a person is spiritual. The greatest evidence of this, is the fact that the idea of all religions leading to the same God has found significant support in the church.

So you might ask, if a Hindu does not believe in Jesus, are they destine for hell? The simple answer, I have no idea. It is not my job to determine who gets in and who does not. I am not even sure that is the real question. What I am sure of is this. Whether, Hindu or Muslim, Buddhist or Shinto, Christian or Pagan, there will come a day when we will have to deal with Jesus. I think about Matthew 7 when Jesus talks about those coming to him claiming Lord, Lord, and Jesus says I never knew you. Religious people of all fabrics will come before God, and may recognize Jesus but having no relationship will find themselves missing the fullness of God. Outside of Jesus there is no salvation. Not simply a knowledge of who Jesus is, but a relationship with Jesus.

An important note. While there is no salvation outside of Jesus, we must remember the reach of Jesus to be beyond our comprehension and knowledge. That is to say, we are not in charge of anything in the kingdom, we are not in management. The role of a follower of Christ is obedience, faithfully following the lead of our Christ. Christ is the only way to God, yet we are not the only way to Christ, our understanding is not the only way to Christ.

We must stop lowering the bar. When we read the Gospels we find Jesus setting the standards pretty high. In fact so high I am unbelievably grateful for grace and mercy. When the rest of the religious world was lowering the standards, Jesus raised them. It seems once again we need to return to the high standard of Christ, not as a goal, rather as a way of living. It has become increasing politically incorrect to be exclusive with Jesus. Yet, Jesus has often been politically incorrect. There is much more room in the Kingdom of God than I often realize, and I am sure when the great reunion of Revelation 21 and 22 happens, I will be surprised to see some of the folks there, just as they will be surprised to see me. I do not make the determination of who reaches God, yet I know the one who does, he is the gate by which we enter, Jesus.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Love

We have come to that day when we talk about the one we love. Let's keep in mind this is an extremely painful day for some who have loved and lost, or who have not know love at all. This is the day when I take time to celebrate the love of my earthly life, Sarah who has put up with me for nearly 12 years of marriage. Without her the ministry God has given me would suffer, and without the support, I would have long given up. This is the day when we love the lovelies in our lives, break out the flowers, chocolates, and other tokens of affection.

I wonder today about how this Valentines love translates into our relationship with Christ? More specifically how we show love for those who God loves. On the list of greatest loves of my life, behind, God, Sarah and family is this thing called the church. For nearly 11 years I have had the opportunity to experience the love of church. There has been opportunity to laugh together, cry together, even have some debates and arguments along the way. Whether it has been in Farmington, NY, Wolcott, NY or in Cortland NY, I have loved being a leader in God's church. I wonder is those in the world around us get to experience that same love? Sure anyone can make the choice to join in the life of a church. Yet often when people think about the church, they do not think love. In fact increasingly when people think about love, the church is not even part of the thought process. Could it be that the church, the people, have lost their love for the people of God who are not yet a part of the church?

Sometimes they are called the unchurched. I have heard the term unconvinced. In some circles the words used are pagans, ungodly or lost. All poor ways to describe those who have not yet become part of the community of God known as the church. No matter how these individuals are described there is a simple truth related to them which the church must pay attention to; our passion for seeing new people engage the community of God is severely lacking. While there are some, not many people feel like they do not want any more people to attend their church. Even fewer people do not want to see more people come to have a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet in the group designed by God to accomplish this purpose we often have no passion, or willingness to live in such a way that we connect and invite others to experience the community of God.

I could list a whole bunch of excuses I and many others have used as to why this is the case. They are simply that excuses. What is comes down to is love. We love those who love us. More often we love those who do something for us. This is a common understanding, yet not a biblical one. With his lifestyle Jesus challenges us to love everyone. Those who love us, those who are not sure about us, those who we consider unlovely. On this Valentine's Day think about the people in your life, by acquaintance or notice that you deem unlovely. Show them love. This Valentine's I think it is time for a heart transplant for the church. We must get rid of our heart of exclusion, and replace it with a heart which shows love and beats for those who are not a part of the community of God. This is not about building the church, it is about helping others to experience Jesus Christ through the power of community which is centered on him. May we look back at this Valentine's Day as the day when it all changed. When hearts were turned to show the love of God to all those in the world. When the church of Jesus Christ became impassioned once again for those who are not yet a part of the community of God in its fullness.