Being Christian

Read Acts 11:25-26

In our verses for today, we hear of a gathering of disciples in a place called Antioch. This is where Barnabas brings Saul to help teach people about Jesus Christ. We read here that the followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians in Antioch. This recording of the name given to disciples of Jesus led me to think about what it means to be called Christian.

Growing up in the church and attending Sunday School almost every week, I learned a lot of songs about Jesus, God, and aspects of following Jesus. One such song which was learned was “Lord, I Want To Be A Christian.” The author of the song is unknown and it is listed as an African-American melody. Here are the lyrics:

Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart.

Refrain 1:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart.

Refrain 2:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more loving
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart.

Refrain 3:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be more holy
In my heart.

Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart.

Refrain 4:
In my heart, in my heart;
Lord, I want to be like Jesus
In my heart.

As I recalled these lyrics, a few items stood out to me. First is the repetition of the phrase, ” in my heart.” The general understanding of the use of heart in relation to a person is that we are speaking about the core of a person’s life.Since the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, and blood is necessary to sust ain life, humans have viewed the heart at the center of our life. The desire to be a Christian in this song is a desire that our very core of life be identified as Christian.

Second, the progression of the verses is purposeful. The first verse communicates the overall desire to live as a follower of Jesus. The remaining verses detail how this will be demonstrated and acted upon. The song says that a Christian will be more loving, more holy, and more like Jesus. The song is actually a prayer that with the help of the Lord, the person may truly live from the core as a disciple of Jesus, given the name of Christian at Antioch.

May this be a daily prayer and good for each of us.

To Give or To Teach

Read Acts 3:1-10

There is a very old adage which has a much disputed origin. The adage is: “Give a man fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The concept of alleviating poverty by providing a means of self-sufficiency is found throughout history. Chinese philosophers, novelists, newspapers and charity workers have all been credited with some aspects of this adage. According to quoteinvestigator.com, Anne Isabella Thackery Ritchie deserves to be credited with the origin. Trying to be of service to someone in need is admirable. Choosing the best way to meet that need can be the biggest challenge. This adage causes us to evaluate the greatest action to choose with the opportunity to have longevity.

In the passage from Acts, we see Peter and John called upon to meet the needs of a man who was unable to walk so he sat at the temple gate begging every day. The man needed money in order to purchase necessities on which he could survive. Peter saw an opportunity to provide something which would be life changing, not merely life sustaining. Peter showed the man how to walk and stand.

We, like Peter, can provide a long-term change for people. The easy route when we are called upon to assist someone is to provide for the immediate need. This can be accomplished in the quickest amount of time and create the least amount of cost to us. However, we truly can make a meaningful difference if we invest our time in gaining an understanding of the source of the need. With this understanding, we then are able to provide whatever is necessary to reduce or eliminate the source of the immediate need. This will create a stronger possibility of the need not occurring again.

Let us follow Ritchie’s adage and Peter’s example.

Origins

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Acts 17:24-28 (NIV)

Many of us have had a desire to trace our ancestry. Websites such as Ancestry.com and myheritage.com have aided us in our searches for information. Now, with the advancements in DNA research, we have at-home tests which we can take then send into the company for analysis. Companies such as 23andme or Ancestry.com can provide these services for individuals. There is an increasing desire among us to know where and who we come from. As our world becomes blended more, our heritage seems to have gained importance. The stories that fill in our background help us to be more individualized. 

During Paul’s time there were no ancestry websites or DNA tests to provide answers to the internal question, “Where did I come from?” Paul is in Athens, the philosophical heart of ancient Greece. He is standing on a rock formation known as the Areopagus which was the location many philosophical orators would use to promote their philosophies to others. Paul is trying to tell the learned of Athens why they should believe in God. In the midst of his speech Paul shares thoughts about being offspring of God.

Paul tells the people that God, who makes everything, has no need for anything created by humans. Instead, God gives everything, even life itself, to everyone. God has taken care of all aspects of life so that humans reach out to God. We are the offspring of God, the source of our life. Paul’s answer to the question about our origins is stated here.

The ancestral research and the DNA testing does not go back far enough. This is because our origin is not found in our human ancestors but in the spiritual one of God. Every person finds his/her beginnings in God. We are all the offspring, the children, of God.

Commissioned

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)

Today is called Ascension Day in the church calendar. This day has been set aside in the Church to recall Jesus ascending into heaven. The day is always the fortieth day of Easter, or forty days after Easter Sunday. On this day, we reflect upon the account from Gospels (except John’s) and the recording of the ascension in the Book of Acts.

Matthew’s account is what we focus upon here. This passage at the very end of this Gospel is often referred to as the Great Commission. The eleven remaining apostles have gathered at the mountain where Jesus has told them to meet him. Most scholars believe the location is the Mount of Olives but Matthew does not name it specifically. Once gathered, Jesus commissions the apostles to go into all nations. He instructs them to make disciples of all people, baptizing in the name of the Trinity and teaching them his commands to follow. Matthew does not say if Jesus then ascends or not. The first chapter in the Book of Acts indicates his ascension was during a meal he was sharing with the apostles. The writer of Matthew emphasizes the commissioning and the promise of Jesus’s eternal presence.

For the Church, and all followers of Christ, these words in Matthew are the marching orders. Jesus commissions all of us and tells us what we are to be about. He calls us into action with the action word “go.” We are not to be idle but in motion. Then he tells us where to go, “all nations.” Our activity is not to be within the walls of the church but in the world. We are to teach, welcome people into God’s family and show what the life of a follower should reflect. Each of us are given the promise that while we are engaged in living out our commission, Jesus is present in our lives and forevermore.

On the day we acknowledge our belief that Jesus ascended into heaven, we are mindful that we have been commissioned. Each of us has been commissioned to continue Jesus’s ministry in the world. We are to actively go into this world and share Christ wherever we have been sent. We are to teach, welcome, forgive, demonstrate, listen, respond, and love as Jesus continues to do in our lives.

Lack of Relationships

I am now in the midst of a blog post series attempting to name Why Church No Longer Works. In addition to the introduction to the series, I have stated that one reason is the church has a Lack of Authenticity. Today I share my second observation which is the church has a Lack of Relationships.

Some of you may want to disagree with my observation by stating that you witness all types of relationships in the church. Your arguments might include that everyone at your church is friendly with each other and know each other on a first name basis. Another argument might be that the pastor knows every person and makes a strong point in meeting new individuals who may be visiting or new to the neighborhood. You may even state that you have been at the church a long time and watched some young adults as they have grown up, maybe even be able to tell about when the children were baptized. All these arguments, and more that I am sure you can make, certainly appear to show that there are relationships in the church. I would even agree with this point but would argue that these are only surface relationships.

What I mean by surface relationships are those type of relationships where one can state easily observable characteristics, traits, or highlights about another person but there is not a deeper knowledge. We experience these types of relationships with our co-workers, employees of a business which we frequent, or maybe even some of our neighbors. What these relationships lack is anything beyond the basic facts of a person’s life. There exists no understanding of what the individual’s hopes and fears might be. You are unable to name what struggles the person has overcome or may even still be experiencing. An ability to articulate why a person believes what she/he believes does not exist. No depth in the relationship is found.

I am sure that some of you reading this post could state to me the names of one or two individuals with who you have more than a surface relationship. However, I am confident to say that this is the exception and not the norm regarding relationships in the church. Connected to my earlier post dealing with authenticity in the church, a majority of relationships within the church are not authentic.

Why is a lack of relationships important?

In my study of the Bible and the stories about Jesus, I am convinced that it is all about relationships. We hear stories of the relationship between God and God’s creation, especially humans. There are stories about the relationships between humans, both family and strangers. Jesus spends a great deal of time discussing relationships and demonstrating how to be in relationship with others. Even our theological concept of the Trinity as interpreted from Scripture is about relationship. This indicates to me that relationships are a central theme in the Christian belief system. So relationships should be very important to the church.

If relationships are so important in our faith, the lack of them leaves us with something hollow. When we do not take the time to go beyond the surface in someone’s life, we communicate that the individual is not that important to us. Having a feeling that I am not important to others can encourage me to leave that setting in search of a place where I do feel I am important in another person’s, or group of people’s lives.

As I have read articles about what brings value to a person’s life, I have often come across statements which show a strong desire of individuals to feel like they belong. A desire exists to feel connected and meaningful in the lives of others. We were created with an inward drive to be in relationship. Humans will search long and hard to find some way to feed this drive. The drive requires more than just a sense of being known on the surface.

When the church does not offer a place for and strong encouragement to develop authentic, deep relationships, people will walk out and search elsewhere. My observation as I read through the Book of Acts and the letters found in the Bible is that these were the type of relationships which existed among the followers of Christ at the beginning. The gatherings were small and intimate. There was a sense of knowing the deep desires within the hearts of the people. A meeting of the needs of all people was emphasized, including the need to belong through relationships.

In order to correct this situation, the church is going to have to work on some important goals:

  • Create a place where trust can be established and protected
  • Remove the judgment from our structure, our sermons, our liturgies, and our statements
  • Encourage and develop times for relationships to be established, grow, and sustained
  • Practice grace above any and all rules, polity, and traditions
  • Follow the example of Jesus, the Christ

Jesus was all about relationships, maybe it is time that the church learns from Jesus and does likewise.