26 January 2011

What's the Least You Can Believe and Still Be A Christian?

This article that was written by United Methodist pastor Martin Thielen was so good that I just had to share. You can read the article in full here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-thielen/whats-the-least-you-can-b_b_811353.html

When I first met Danny, he said, "Preacher, you need to know that I'm an atheist. I don't believe the Bible. I don't like organized religion. And I can't stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians."

I liked him right away!

In spite of Danny's avowed atheism and my devout Christian beliefs, we became close friends. Over the next year Danny and I engaged in numerous conversations about faith. During that time Danny softened his stance on atheism. One day he announced with a laugh, "I've decided to upgrade from an atheist to an agnostic." Several months later Danny said, "I've had an epiphany. I realize that I don't reject Christianity. Instead, I reject the way that intolerant Christians package Christianity." A few weeks after that conversation, Danny said, "Martin, you've just about convinced me on this religion stuff. So I want to know--what's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?"

"What's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?" What a great question! Danny's provocative question prompted me to write a new book, using his question as the title. Part one of the book presents 10 things Christians don't need to believe. In short, Christians don't need to believe in closed-minded faith. For example, Christians don't need to believe that:

• God causes cancer, car wrecks and other catastrophes
• Good Christians don't doubt
• True Christians can't believe in evolution
• Woman can't be preachers and must submit to men
• God cares about saving souls but not saving trees
• Bad people will be "left behind" and then fry in hell
• Jews won't make it to heaven
• Everything in the Bible should be taken literally
• God loves straight people but not gay people
• It's OK for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious

On the other hand, there are things Christians do need to believe, which is the focus of part two of my book. They need to believe in Jesus -- his life, teachings, example, death and resurrection. A great benefit of these beliefs is that they provide promising answers to life's most profound questions including:

• Who is Jesus?
• What matters most?
• Am I accepted?
• Where is God?
• What brings fulfillment?
• What about suffering?
• Is there hope?
• Is the church still relevant?
• Who is the Holy Spirit?
• What is God's dream for the world?

Like Danny, many people in the 21st century hunger for an open-minded expression of Christian faith. That's especially true for young people. For example, in a recent episode of the popular television show Glee, several high school students explain why they are turned off by religion. From their perspective, the church is down on gays, women and science. When you add to that the arrogant and judgmental attitudes found in many religious-right churches, it's easy to see why people are repelled by religion. If the only faith options are fundamentalism or no religion, many people will opt for no religion. Thankfully, a better alternative exists -- vibrant, open-minded, grace-filled, gender-equal, life-giving, centrist, moderate/mainline faith. Promoting that kind of faith is my greatest passion in ministry.

11 January 2011

A Sense of Urgency

Last week I had an intensive course in theology every day from 8am to 5pm. You think I would have learned a lot about theology. Instead,I learned more from talking to the other students than I did from listening to the professor for 40 hours.

One man I talked to told me about his job and how it at least "paid the bills." Just minutes later, I talked to another man about his job. His disposition toward his work was completely different from the first. His entire demeanor changed as he excitedly told me about all that God was doing through position. His passion was contagious. He had a sense of urgency for doing God's kingdom work.

Two men. Two jobs. Two completely different outlooks on them.

One man viewed his job as a necessity that provided money to live. The other viewed his job as an important instrument of God's kingdom.

I think that our country heavily stresses the "American dream" where we successfully build our dream career and do what we want for a living. And end up really rich in the process. When we achieve less than this we are "just paying the bills."
Both of these perspectives are inconsistent with Jesus' view. "Seek first God's kingdom," he says, and all your basic needs will be met (Matt. 6:33).

God's kingdom comes before my wants.
My desires.
My career.
My bills.
My dreams.

I feel like I am very much at a major crossroad in my life. There are several different career paths I could take, many of which are exciting to me. But I am realizing that I cannot choose what I want to do and then subsequently make it fit into God's kingdom as an afterthought. Sure, God could use and redeem that vocational choice, but He doesn't say to seek His kingdom second.

Everything I do must be centered on the idea of welcoming God's kingdom into my life and the world around me. God's kingdom is too urgent for me to satisfy my own desires.

God's kingdom come, God's will be done, in my vocation as it is in heaven.

01 January 2011

For God's Sake, Think! - Antichrist(s)

"Hermeneutics” is a fancy word to describe the process by which someone interprets the Bible. Every so often I blog about contexts behind certain biblical passages so that we can better understand God’s Word. I invite you to think critically about what the biblical writers are trying to communicate as I explain a passage’s background material.


When people think about "antichrist" they typically add a definite article to it and correspond it with end times, catastrophic events, and Nicholae from the Left Behind series. The problem with this association is that it is completely unbiblical. Nowhere in Revelation is the term "antichrist" even used, much less described in our present day's expectations. In fact, the only place where "antichrist" is used is in I John. The description of an antichrist is alarming. Not only can there be more than one antichrist, but you and I can possess such an office.
I John 2:18
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
John is certainly not foreseeing an incarnation of Satan in this passage. Here's John, 2000 years ago, writing that an antichrist is coming and that there are already many antichrists present.
John continues to describe just who an antichrist is:
I John 2:22
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist - he denies the Father and the Son.
This is a pretty broad definition. An antichrist, then, is anyone who denies that Jesus is the Messiah. This may be an explicit or implicit denial. Some people verbally disbelieve in Jesus; others implicitly disbelieve Christ by their actions.
Each one of us possesses the possibility of being either for or against Christ. We can be like Peter, who opposed Jesus' plan to suffer and die and was commanded to "get behind" Jesus (Matt. 16:21-23). Or we can be full supporters of Christ's kingdom plan and "get behind" its implications for our lives.

The choice is ours. We must make a decision, for there is no middle ground. Either we accept Christ's message and plan for humankind entirely or we "get in front of" Christ and assume that our plans are better than his. May this New Year challenge you to reevaluate your lifestyle and surrender all of it to the control of Jesus. By aligning ourselves under the direction of God's kingdom we can be for Christ instead of anti-Christ.