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.

Is This It?

Seems that not a day goes by anymore which does not contain some message about death. Recently I have heard about the deaths of individuals who I attended worship alongside. There have been deaths of celebrities. Tragic deaths such as the ones occurring in California at a garlic festival and those of hikers in Canada have made the national news. Locally, living in a large metroplex, death from accidents and violent acts of humans are daily mentioned on the television or in the newspaper. At times, it seems that death surrounds us all the time. Actually, that is more accurate than we may wish to acknowledge.

I have been thinking about how we respond to death. These thoughts have included both our societal responses and the responses we have as individuals, specifically in regard to our faith. I worry occasionally that as a society we have become so accustomed to death that we hardly even notice it anymore. Yet, I also am aware that some of our apathy towards death stems not solely from the frequency of encounter but also from our unwillingness to look at it honestly. We do not wish to affirm the reality of death because in doing so we have to face our own mortality.

Facing our mortality requires us to think about what we concern regarding the afterlife. Since there is no solid proof about the afterlife, we are afraid. For a large number of people, this fear leads us to ignore or push thoughts of death out of our thinking. We adopt an attitude of if we do not confront death, we do not have to think about death. Death seems too unknown to us and the fear is overwhelming, so we attempt to push it aside.

As a society and as individuals, we often want to hide death. One example is in how we talk about death when a person is deceased. We use phrases such as, “He has passed on,” or “She has parted.” Our avoidance of using the word death is a way to lessen the reality. By reducing the finality of death, we can evade dealing with it.

I have a much different view towards death. My view of death is very dependent upon my understanding of my faith. Through my reading of the Scriptures, the development of my beliefs, and my own experiences, I see death as a transition. There is no finality in death for me. Instead, there exists a belief that at death a person transitions from an earthly existence into a spiritual realm. Since I believe in a bodily resurrection, this does not mean that a person only exists as a spirit in this spiritual realm but that the same joining of the body and spirit which occurred during our earthly birth happens within the spiritual realm. I also believe that in this spiritual realm a person experiences the fullness of God.

Due to my understandings and beliefs in regard to death, death is not something I fear either for myself or those whom I love. Just because I do not fear death does not mean that I do not grieve when a person dies. I grieve though not because I fear what happens at the point of death and after, I grieve because I know that for a period of time I will be separated from that person. Once fear has been removed, the grief is a little easier to bear. Once fear is removed, you can talk honestly about death and the afterlife.

The Christian and the Atheist

I have a good friend who identifies as an atheist. He was raised in a Christian church and went through all the rites associated with the Christian belief in God. It was not until he was older and witnessed his father die a horrific death caused by cancer that he decided that there is no God of any kind.

Atheism is defined as the absence of belief in any deities.

By this definition, my friend is an atheist. His reasoning is that if a god did exist, especially the Christian understanding of God, then his father would never have died in the manner in which he did. My friend would not be the first to make such a claim. Not everyone who states this thought begins to identify as an atheist however.

As a Christian leader, how can I be friends with an atheist?

My answer to that question is pretty simple…because I believe in Jesus Christ. My understanding of what my Lord taught is that all people are children of God, even those who do not acknowledge God. If this is true then I am already in relationship with my friend because he is my brother in God.

Another important lesson which I have picked up from reading Scripture is that I am not empowered to choose who receives God’s mercy and love. The choice of who receives and who does not belongs solely to God. We see this in the story of Nineveh and Jonah. We see this in the story of the woman charged with adultery and Jesus. God retains the power of who God gives mercy and love. With me not having to make that decision and my belief that God has chosen to give ALL people mercy and love, then I am free to love even those who identify as atheist.

My understanding of my commitment as a Christian is that it is not my responsibility to save anyone. I am not even sure what someone would need saved from other than maybe themselves. Once again, the saving has fallen into the realm of God. What I am called to do as a Christian is to do my best every day to demonstrate the love and mercy of God to others as I have received it. The reason that I strive to do this is not because it impacts my receiving of love and mercy but in response to having received that love and mercy.

I have heard some people state that there is no way they could ever be friends with an atheist. Why they feel that way is only known to them. However, I can speculate that for some it is out of fear. The individual may be afraid that if they befriended an atheist, that friendship might weaken or damage their faith. If that is the case, then I think they need to examine their understanding of faith and work toward a healthy faith.

Others may argue that being friends with an atheist would shed a negative light on them when viewed by their Christian friends. This argument has problems abounding. First, you would need to question what type of Christian friends you are associating with if they do not view extending love and mercy to others is in opposition to Christ’s teachings. Second, using the example of Jesus, a follower should never allow the viewpoints of others to limit reaching out in relationship towards others, especially those termed undesirable.

A Christian and an Atheist

I am a Christian. I am a leader in the Christian church. My good friend is an atheist. We have a wonderful relationship in which we can share ideas (even opposing ones), laughter, jokes, and some coffee. I no longer get to see my atheist friend anymore since we live in different states now but I think of him often. I look forward to being able to see him again soon.

The Fit

Have you ever had to pack for an extended trip? The challenge always seems to be having enough room in the suitcase for everything you think you need to take along. Most of us have seen the cartoons or sitcom episodes which make us laugh as we watch a character sit on their suitcase to try to close it. The challenge of trying to get everything in while remaining under the weight limitations is real.

This probably arises differently for many Christians regarding God. Often we have an image of God that has been created from our reading of Scripture, our Christian education experiences, listening to sermons, and being guided by other believers. All these sources are excellent in their own way but all lend themselves to the potential of creating inaccurate images. Whether we start with a correct image or not, there also is the problem of trying to make God fit the image created in our minds.

The issue at hand is one of reversal. In the creation story found in Genesis, we hear of how God created humanity…

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

Clearly we are to understand that humanity was created in the image of God. Unfortunately, people often want God to be created in their image. We often attribute to God characteristics which we experience in ourselves and others. Characteristics such as anger, hatred, discrimination, favoritism and vengeance. To be fair, Scripture allows God to be viewed with these characteristics at times. However, I would remind you of two important truths: Humans wrote Scripture, and humans interpret Scripture. Another challenging aspect is that in Jesus we do see God as a human, the whole incarnation thing. Jesus did display some of these human characteristics. Some human characteristics Jesus did not display.

Another challenge which confronts us when we try to have God fit into the image we have created is that if God does fit that image then we have a God with limitations. Why this is a problem is that if God is limited, then can God truly be considered a god? The image that I may be able to create in my mind is generated by my own experiences. As a person, I have limited experiences and capabilities. Yet I confess a belief in God who transcends the limits of time, space, cultures, and religions. This means that my image of God, no matter how informed, could never accurately incorporate the scope of God who I confess.

My final concern with the idea that any human, or group of humans, could ever fully say what God looks like or how God would act in a given situation is that this would remove power from God. If God fits the predicted expectations of humans, then God is not all powerful. Removing any power of God lessens God, and yet I declare that God is the source of all power.

As a Christian, I confess God to be the creator, giver, and sustainer of all. I confess God to be beyond human understanding and limitations. My confession includes my understanding that God loves all which God has created and that love extends to every person, animal, and aspect of the universe, known and unknown. You see, God is too big for me or anyone else to fit in a human-made image. My challenge is trying to live into the image in which God has created me.