Jesus

The 'In' and the 'Out': How Some of Our Churches Operate More like Night Clubs

Neon Lettering:  koya979/Shutterstock.com
Neon Lettering: koya979/Shutterstock.com

The bouncers proceeded to look us over exactly one time. No more. No less. Upon making their assessment, we were informed the club didn't cater to our type. I guess a green v-neck shirt, cammo shorts, and sandals didn't appear affluent enough to afford anything the club had to offer. In their defense, their assessment was spot on.

On the trek back to our hotel, at the opposite end of the strip, I had a good deal of time to think about what had transpired. That's when it dawned on me, our churches operate a lot like that night club.

Allow me to explain.

For starters, the church thrives on exclusivity. As an institution, it spends an awful lot of time and energy differentiating between the "in" and the "out."

Not This Time -- A Reflection on the Resurrection of Lazarus

Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com
Resurrection of Lazarus by A. Badile. Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post is adapted from a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Nixon.

Some of us have stood at a tomb, faced an open grave, scattered the ashes of one beloved. We know what it’s like to be confronted with the stark reality of death and the flood of conflicting emotions that comes with it. I’ve stood at different sites at Dry Creek Cemetery in Boise, Idaho, and the Veteran’s Cemetery next to it, to bury my father, my brother, my nephew, my step-father and-step sister, my brother-in-law, not to mention my beloved piano teacher, and a dear high school friend. Not so long ago I stood by the open grave of Patrice Heath as her casket was lowered into the ground. We prayed and wept and celebrated her life, but it is not an easy thing, under any circumstances, to lay a loved one to rest.  

The ancient story of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11:1-45 is just such a situation. It’s also another occasion to encounter Jesus in his divinity and his humanity. It’s a long, complicated story. You have heard it read. I will not attempt to unpack it all.

A Crash Course: Australia, Refugees, and the Politics of Jesus

Mdesignstudio/Shutterstock
Mdesignstudio/Shutterstock

Here’s a crash course to understand what’s happening in Australia with refugees and the politics of Jesus.

Imagine for a moment that in the lead up to the next U.S. elections, a political party changed immigration policies and took the relatively small number of people seeking safety on boats from, let’s say Cuba, and locked these persecuted people up on Guantanamo like criminals — elderly, men, women, and over 1,000 children. You would expect outcry from people across the political spectrum. Indeed there was. Only the fear campaign was so effective, the blame game so seductive and the election win so decisive, that the majority of politicians on all sides sacrificed their principles on the altar of popularity. Not to mention these desperate people — tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free — … these now homeless who were literally tempest-tossed on boats sacrificed on this bloody idol of false security. Of course behind closed doors, elected officials will confess to you, as a Christian, that they personally find it abhorrent but for the sake of the party and all the good they could do when they get into power they rationalize with the logic of Caiaphas and get the same results: the sacrifice of the innocent.

Sound too far-fetched? This is the recent history of Australia. Thanks, Paul Dyson, for the Cuba analogy.

Pope Francis' Glaring Omission: Why Spiritual Leaders Must Champion Workers' Rights

According to Timothy King, chief strategy officer for progressive Christian advocacy group Sojourners, these are conditions which run entirely contrary to the intent of the Divine. “God is a laborer and part of what it means to be made in the image of God is that we are co-laborers,” he says, something that gives labor inherent dignity. Just as importantly, however, it is not solely work that bestows this dignity. “God labored for six days, God rested on the seventh. The idea of a ‘sabbath’ was radical at the time. [Everyone] had time to rest. Even the land was supposed to rest and be laid fallow every seven years. While there is dignity in work, it is not all we are created to do and be.”

Palm-Powered Protest

Courtesy Odyssey Networks
Palm-powered protest. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Have you ever noticed that society allows fans to do things that, short of fandom, we would deem absolutely crazy? When do grown adults have permission to paint their faces with logos except on the day of the big game? When is hugging perfect strangers acceptable? After a 3-point shot of your favorite team beats the buzzer, it’s expected. Screaming at the top of our lungs is perfectly acceptable when we’re in a crowd of thousands doing the same.

March Madness wraps up this week and a tournament champion will be crowned. Whatever the outcome of Monday’s championship game, we can guarantee that there will be screaming crowds at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (The final may break the record of largest crowd ever to attend a NCAA basketball game with 75,421 attendees.)

Crowds change social norms. Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.

Next Sunday, April 13, 2014, is known as Palm Sunday. Around the world Christians will gather to wave palm branches.

Telling a Resurrection Story

THERE IS NO controlling a story once it’s out. Even in the times before cell phones, the internet, and Twitter, news traveled a similar route through participants, eyewitnesses, and those with the privilege to eavesdrop upon rumors and reports. Details get scattered, but the facts stand out. Many stories can be told about who, when, and how the story leaked. But all those specifics remain secondary to the spectacular announcement. For example, in 1903, how did The Virginian-Pilotscoop other newspapers to be the first to cover the beginning of the aviation age? No one really knows. Orville and Wilbur Wright believed their hometown Dayton newspapers should make the announcement. Indeed, on Dec. 18, the day after the first flight, the Dayton Evening Heraldreported the news—directly based on a telegraph sent by Orville Wright. But three other papers had already reported this world-changing occasion based on TheVirginian-Pilot’s story. Though filled with inaccuracies, the original accounts correctly announced the single important fact: There had been a flight!

Two thousand years earlier, the witness of a few women called forth centuries of testimonies that describe a progression from lack of recognition to full recognition of Jesus the person, as well as the significance of his death and resurrection. The cross and the empty tomb are not self-explanatory; they require interpretation. On the other side of the Lenten journey, Easter provides opportunities for the church to reflect on the biblical witness concerning the rumors of the resurrection. These texts highlight not only the necessity of interpretation, but also the sources and shape of valid interpretation.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

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For the Love of God, Love Others

WDG Photo/Shutterstock.com
Jesus was the sacrifice. WDG Photo/Shutterstock.com

“Christianity” is often used to manipulate, control, shame, judge, and hurt others. It’s influenced by politics, popularity, wealth, success, pride, hate, fear, selfishness, and a desire for power. The poisoning of our beliefs — or theology — happens subtly, under the pretense of tradition, teaching, education, discipline, authority, respect, and religion.

We often treat theology similar to politics, where our beliefs and doctrines are based on which ones benefit us the most.

We strive to get everything we can from our faith, and this can lead to spiritual narcissism, where we become obsessed with maximizing the benefits for ourselves while withholding them from others.

Rarely do we adhere to — or agree with — theological ideas that benefit someone else more than us. Sacrificing our own comforts for the sake of others is absurd — which leads to a sense of divine favoritism.

May God Have Mercy on Fred Phelps

Amy Tracy is a writer for global mission at David C Cook in Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Amy Tracy. Via RNS.

A “fringe hatemonger” — that’s what I called Fred Phelps in a letter to the editor of The Washington Times in 1999. In response he announced in a news release that he was coming to Colorado Springs to protest the “… false prophet James Dobson and his fag-infested Focus on the Family scam.”

It felt almost “out of body” to pull into the Focus campus one morning and see people holding explicit neon signs telling me I was going to hell. I was a fairly new believer at the time, and managing media relations for Focus on the Family. With my salvation came the holy conviction to begin the difficult journey to battle against my own same-sex attractions. The chants, the signs, the venom — it all felt uncomfortably familiar. Christians were once again protesting me. I couldn’t get away from it.

It also challenged my immature understanding of theology. “What if Phelps is right?” I worried. I buried these thoughts for years — though truth be told, they’d surface at nearly every mention of his name.

Jesus Is A None: 5 Things Christians Need To Know About The "Nones"

The first time I heard the phrase “Nones” was from my friend Jim Wallis, who wrote about the release of a Pew Forum study documenting the growing number of people who responded “none of the above” when asked about their religious affiliation. As I wrote in a response back then, “Calling people ‘Nones’ is a mistake.” I’m even more convinced of this now — and I think it’s especially a mistake for Christians to adopt this moniker. Here’s why:

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