Christianity is confusing. There are so many brands to choose from and so many ways we are shown to express it. For some of us, Christianity is saving the world here and now. For others, it is being charitable and kind. Then there are those who say that following Jesus is for our own personal peace of heart and mind. Still others proclaim that being a Christian is all about being blessed "in basket and in store." The big question with all of these approaches is simple. Where does being “holy” fit in? Let’s take a step further back to basics – what does it even mean to be holy? Unfortunately, a strong biblically-ased answer to this question is sadly lacking in the lives of many who follow Christ. While grasping holiness is not an easy task, we fortunately have God’s own word to help us understand!
Without communication, human life would cease to exist. We need to express ourselves and absorb the expressions of others. People need to be heard. The need to share thoughts, feelings and lives with one each gave birth to the phenomena of Social Media. We need to pause and consider. Somewhere along the line, our ability to actually communicate has gone down a diminishing pathway. At the same time our desire to “be seen” and “weigh in” has blossomed. This trend affects all generations, but it seems to be especially powerful among those who have never known anything but the internet. In our desire to seek consensus and belonging, we seem to have forgotten our need to effectively communicate one-on-one. How do we stop the trend and rekindle the deep and life-sustaining value of sincere mutual understanding?
On March 20 this year, Jewish people will celebrate the annual festival of Purim. This festival commemorates the defeat of Haman's plot to massacre the Jews as recorded in the book of Esther. This book reads like a movie script - we have a beautiful, courageous heroine that was way outside of her comfort zone (Esther), a fearless hero (Mordecai), and of course, the dastardly villain (Haman). It’s a story of faith, bravery, suspense, betrayal and palace intrigue. We read about a forgotten good deed, a dazzling reward, perfect timing from God, and a just punishment for the evildoer, setting up a satisfying ending. For us today, the lessons of Esther should give us comfort that God is in control of history and what might seem unanswerable now will make sense in God’s timing and in God’s way.
Nobody likes a hypocrite. Nobody likes it when you proclaim yourself to be a certain way or stand up for specific principles or speak up in support of a clear ideology and then display yourself to be a walking contradiction. Nobody likes lip service or pretend support, especially when there are circumstances that require firm conviction. For followers of Christ, the mere thought of being seen as a hypocrite is at very least cringeworthy. Yet throughout history up to our present time, it is evident that Christian hypocrisy abounds. How does this happen? What provokes someone to be two-faced and therefore unreliable? More importantly, how can Christians avoid such a trap? If we have already fallen into the hypocrisy trap, what does it take to get up, get out and get going?
We often look around at the world and think about how horrible things are. Being wicked is in vogue. Yet, more people have more advantages now than at any time in history. The average life expectancy throughout the world has dramatically increased, and in most countries technology is in the hands of the average person. All of this as the desire to live in a God-honoring Christian way has severely decreased, especially in developed countries. If so many good potentials for the human race exist and Christianity is on a downward spiral, then is it logical to conclude that life without God and Jesus is better for humanity? I’ll bet you didn’t expect that question!
As another year rolls around, many of us feel like it's time to shake off the lethargy of our most recent habits and experiences and dive headlong into the "new me." THIS time I’m gonna make those changes! This time I’m gonna see it through! This time I’m not going to let circumstances or feelings or habits or others distract or discourage me! Lots of determined thinking and talk, and it turns out that it may well end up as lots of hot air. According to several sources (business magazines and periodicals) no matter what we say or resolve, about 80% of us stop trying to keep our New Year’s resolutions by mid-February. Now, there are lots of reasons that might happen from setting the bar too high to a basic lack of commitment. But, what if the issue is that our comfort zone is just too comfortable? What do we do then?
We all know the often-quoted scripture that highlights Jesus’ birth: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." This announcement is stirring for many reasons, not the least of which is the comprehensiveness of its scope. It is a message to ALL people, and further, it is a message of joy to all people! With all of the wonderful lessons and characters that surround this proclamation it is easy to lose sight of the simple presence of joy – great joy. It is easy for us to confuse joy with happiness, but they are not the same! What does it mean to live joyfully? How did those involved in the story of Jesus’ birth find their joy? How do you live yours?
Every Christian acknowledges the evil that permeates our world, though explaining its depth and purpose can be challenging. We always say it is a result of sin and Satan – and that’s true. The harder question most don’t ask or want to ask is whether or not God is responsible for evil. If He is the Almighty and far above all He created, then surely He must bear a generous amount of accountability for what we see around us. We believe God is powerful enough to stop it and chooses not to, so by definition He must own some blame for all that evil produces. As a Christian, (and this may be a surprise to some) I do believe that God is accountable for evil. However, if we are going down THAT road, then there are other roads of accountability justice requires we go down as well, because it would be unfair to only tell half a story!
As Christians we are always talking about faith and its indispensable role in our lives, for without it we really are not true Christians at all. We are always looking for ways to inspire our faith towards higher and more mature levels. Finding this motivation does not have to be a difficult task, as the Old Testament is full of individuals whose faith and actions were God honoring and incredibly heroic. If we observe and study their lives we will find a treasure trove of faith-strengthening tools and examples for our practical everyday use. How much did they know of God’s plan when they were tested? What were the obstacles that they were beset with? What kinds of social pressure did they have to deal with? Were their choices along the lines of "good, better, best" or were they clear black and white decisions? What does all of this mean to us?
Fundamental to all of Christianity is the foundational teaching of salvation. The problem is that the actual interpretation of salvation shifts dramatically depending upon which denomination or group you belong to. For some, it is speaking words of acceptance and offering a simple prayer. For others, it is belonging to a specific church, and for other groups it is a gift that will find you whether you seek it or not. So, what is salvation – what are we saved from and how does it work? Can everyone have it? If so, why and if not why not? Is it only offered now in this life or is there some way it can be offered after death and resurrection? Finally, if this teaching is SO important then why does it seem to be so elusive?