The Culture Speaks….

Culture. Country, ethnic group, state, town, family; there are cultures within cultures.

Culture is defined as all the values, beliefs, behaviors, symbols, and the way of life for a group of people. Think about the culture of your family, your work culture, groups you belong to. What are the “norms” of that group and what are the expectations of the members of that group?

Within any given culture the members conform to the cultural norms, right? People outside those cultural norms aren’t usually welcomed; if there is an attempt to welcome others into a particular culture, it is oftentimes half-hearted and the expectation is that the new member will conform in order to “fit in”. Cliques in school are a micro-culture; the training ground for entering the world at large!

The “church” has it’s own culture. I tried for years to fit in, but it required me to be someone I was not. The church, in my mind, should have a culture where everyone is welcomed, however many church cultures are exclusionary. That exclusionary culture is part of the reason many churches are dwindling in numbers and will likely result in their demise.

Some churches today are trying to be more inclusive by offering contemporary services with praise “bands” who rock out to Jesus, whose dress is casual, and the message is delivered in a relaxed style. I’m not knocking the effort by any means. In fact I have gone to a couple that I really like, but the bottom line is the underlying traditional culture is still there.

The belief system of many churches isn’t entirely scripturally based. Some issues like smoking, drinking, dancing, or tattoos are either not addressed by Jesus, or a scripture has been taken out of context and the activity now “banned”. In the days Yeshua (Jesus) walked the earth would He have shunned those who didn’t fit the “mold”? I’ll make it easy; the answer is no!

I used to teach Messianic Dance as a form of worship and I had a church ask me to teach a class. The pastor’s wife told me that it would be introduced as “exercise” since they didn’t believe in dancing. What???? Apparently God was going to be fooled by disguising dance as exercise. Wow.

What does the culture of many churches look like from the outside looking in? An “I have arrived” attitude is often projected from Christians steeped in Western Christianity, and yet the Bible clearly states that all have fallen short of the glory of God. No one has arrived! Some “Christians” are more knowledgeable about scripture, haven’t walked down as many rough roads as others, or were raised in a “Christian home”, but that doesn’t make them better than another by any means. Appreciating our differences would be a better “norm” to aspire to rather than forcing conformity. The church would become a rich tapestry of colorful threads that would complement one another!

What is the culture of the church you belong to, or have gone to? Where did you fit into that culture, or did you? If the church is going to survive, church leaders will have to take a serious look at what the culture of the church is and what it says to the outside world.

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Who Do You Say I Am……?

I am a lifelong student; I like learning. Lately I have been reading a book about the historical Jesus. One would think the historical Jesus, and the more familiar Biblical Jesus would be one and the same, but they are not. Some of what has been recorded of Jesus’s life is radically different from the Jesus of the Bible.

So does that make one more correct than the other? Not in my mind. Even within the Bible there are contradictions. Does that make the Bible null and void? I don’t think so.

The truth is that much of what we read in the Bible about Jesus was written by people many years after His death; and mostly by people who had never met Jesus. Did they embellish the stories of Jesus life; make it more “spiritual” ? Probably. The historical accounts portray Jesus as less than a Messiah, and neither does that make them completely accurate. Some stories are found in both the Bible and the historical accounts, so there is some corroboration of events.

I am not offended by any of it and here’s why: people interpret life thru the lens of their experiences and belief system. And it is my belief that the authors of the Bible and the historical writers were no different. Whether Jesus is the literal Son of God or not is up to you to decide. People claiming to be “messiahs” and “prophets” were not uncommon in ancient Israel, so Jesus wasn’t exactly unique in His calling of others to righteousness. Technically speaking, Jesus never once referred to Himself as the “Messiah”, others did. Shocking, huh! He did refer to Himself as the Son of Man, however; emphasis “THE” Son of Man.

In my mind Jesus was different than all the others before Him. His life split time; B.C. E and C. E. Who else can claim that? And lives have been transformed because of relationship with Him, because of prayers prayed by others, because someone believed, had faith, and trusted. There is something to this “Jesus” thing, otherwise we have to attribute the belief system of countless millions as a mass hysterical delusion.

Jesus asked His disciple Peter, “Who do you say I am?” That is really a question for each of us to answer, isn’t it? Maybe to you He is the Messiah, the Son of God; maybe just another historical figure, or maybe you’re undecided, or don’t care either way. I choose to believe Jesus is the Son of God.

The problem in the modern church age, as I see it, is that we are dogmatic; everyone must believe as we do without question. But what if I have questions? What if my experiences haven’t been the same as yours? Does that make you right and me wrong? No, and neither am I necessarily right. My relationship with God the Father and Jesus aren’t going to look the same as yours, and the truth is, they shouldn’t.

I have 3 natural born children. Each of them is the product of the same 2 parents, raised in the same home, and yet they are very different people. Each person is a unique being with their own thoughts, feelings, talents, abilities, etc. We shouldn’t all think alike, or believe exactly as another, nor should we be criticized for doing so.

As believers we probably need to agree on the bigger issues, but even that should not stop us from being united, as opposed to divided, over scriptural interpretation. And really isn’t that what it boils down to? Our interpretation, or choosing to believe another’s interpretation?

Realistically, the scriptures themselves are interpretations of each author since no one was hanging around videotaping Jesus as He traipsed the Judean countryside.
Paul and Peter are the recognized “leaders” of the church, and yet according to biblical historians, James, the brother of Jesus, was the recognized leader in the early years of “Christianity”. Paul and James were on opposite ends of the spectrum, disagreeing on many issues related to Jesus’s teaching during His time on earth. James being the brother of Jesus probably had the better handle on what exactly Jesus’s messages meant, but I don’t discount Paul’s teaching either.

There are writings discrediting Paul’s ministry; saying it was contrived, invented for his own purposes, and that James’s was the true religion. Paul’s ministry was predominately to the Gentile (those not born Jewish), and James’s was to the Jew exclusively. If we are to believe that James’s ministry is the only true religion, then we Gentiles are left to our own devices, without salvation. Apparently, some writers believe that James did, at some point, concede that Gentiles could be a part of the new religion, but reluctantly so. Who really is to know? Suffice it to say that there was, is, and ever will be, a swirl of controversy around the life and times of Jesus, and the subsequent outcome that we know as “Christianity”. That the subject is steeped in such controversy tells me that there is something to it, otherwise why would there be so much time and effort put into either proving or disproving Jesus and His ministry? People have died over this very controversy, and continue to do so even today.

So what’s the bottom line? For me, I have had too many “God” experiences in my life, and seen people transformed and healed enough times that I choose to believe this whole Jesus thing. There is something to it. Maybe the accounts of Jesus’s life and words aren’t exact; maybe some stories have been embellished. As for me and my house, we choose to believe……

Forgiveness…….Part 2

How does one go about the process of forgiving? That is an excellent question! It’s not easy, but few things are in life, am I right?

First and foremost forgiveness is an act of the will. We decide to forgive. In time, the feelings may line up with our decision and we “feel” like we have forgiven the offender; but that is not always the case. Remember I have said in the past that feelings are fickle? They are. Another thing to remember is that humans are fallible, frail beings, imperfect in every way. I am, and so are you. Unfortunately we, too, have hurt others, intentionally or not so intentionally. When we can acknowledge that we are also capable of hurting others intentionally or not, we can come down off the pedestal we have been standing on and recognize that we are all woefully human.

Take a moment to get quiet and think through the incident that caused pain. What happened? What were your feelings? How did you react to the incident? It is important that we can acknowledge the reality of the situation and how it affected us.

Every situation stretches us. We can learn from even the most painful events and grow as a person. Ask yourself in what way the event changed you; are you a better person because of the painful event? In what way? Do boundaries need to be put in place so that similar events don’t occur again? In a nutshell, we have a choice; we either adopt a survivor mentality or a victim mentality. Sometimes it’s a revelation to discover we have choices! Survivors acknowledge the pain, learn what they can from the event, release the pain and the person(s) who hurt them, and move on. Victims are trapped by the pain and eventually consumed by it.

Forgiveness is not, I repeat NOT, giving the transgressor(s) a pass and excusing their actions. Nor does forgiveness mean we dismiss our feelings about the incident. It hurt us plain and simple.

Do we need to keep that person(s) in our lives? Not necessarily. That is a choice we make once we have worked through the process. We have the right to set that boundary. Forgive, put the incident in the past, but sometimes we need to move on and leave those who have caused us pain in the past. It’s okay. Transgressors aren’t always on the same page as we are, and when they don’t choose to acknowledge the pain they have caused, we run the risk of continuing the cycle of pain without resolution. Being a doormat for others to wipe their feet on and continually inflict pain is not “Christlike”, contrary to what some may tell you.

The hardest person in the world to forgive is yourself. I have done things in my life, made poor decisions, that have hurt others deeply. Sometimes the “others” have been family members. Were those things intentional? No, but every decision we make, right or wrong, has consequences and impacts the lives of others. There have been days when the gravity of the hurt I have caused others, specifically family, weighed so heavily on my heart I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. No one could ever punish me as much as I punished myself. I felt unworthy of forgiveness; unworthy of God’s forgiveness. The good news is that God doesn’t feel that way; we can be forgiven of anything, save for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, we need only ask and accept God’s forgiveness.

Forgiving ourselves involves the same process as forgiving others; acknowledging the pain, processing the feelings, and learning what we can from the situation. As the transgressors we need to admit our wrongdoing to those we have hurt and ask their forgiveness. Sometimes we are forgiven and the relationship can be repaired, and sadly, other times not. I believe God changes hearts, however, and I believe even the most damaged of relationships can be repaired when God is involved on both sides of the relationship.

The final step in forgiving ourselves is accepting God’s forgiveness, and that can be a daily step-by-step walk. It’s not easy. God’s forgiveness is freely given, without strings attached, and available to whomever asks. The work is all done on our side; we must ACCEPT His forgiveness. The Bible says that once forgiven He doesn’t remember the transgression any longer. If God doesn’t why do we hang onto it? The truth of the matter is that it is a slap in the face to God not to accept His forgiveness. Ever given a gift to someone you loved and that person handed it back to you and said, “no, I’m not going to accept that, I’m not worthy of such a fine gift.” Same deal. Walking in forgiveness of self is difficult, but not impossible. See it from God’s perspective; He doesn’t remember.

The disciples asked Yeshua (Jesus) how many times to forgive another. Yeshua answered, 70 x 7. The point being it is important to forgive others……….and yourself.

Forgiveness…… Part 1

If you have been on this earth more than 10 years you have had to forgive someone for something. Am I right?? Maybe that realization didn’t even take that long, but whatever the case, most people find it hard to forgive others. Forgiving big things or small things is hard, it just is. We don’t want to. We reason, “why should I have to forgive someone who wronged me?”

The reality is that we do have to forgive others; others who have hurt us, cheated on us, lied about us, taken something from us, the list is endless. Why? Because in the long run unforgiveness hurts us.

The Bible tells us in Matt 6:14, “For if you forgive others their offenses, your father in heaven will also forgive you (The Complete Jewish Bible). Our forgiveness by God is linked to our forgiving others. That hardly seems fair, does it? We are being forced to forgive so that we can be forgiven, is that it? Yes, that is the message. What if I don’t believe in God, the Bible and all that holier-than-thou stuff? Forgiving others still works in our favor, so there is really no excuse not to forgive.

You see, it’s pretty simple really. Forgiveness benefits us more than the one(s) being forgiven. If we choose not to forgive the seed of bitterness takes root in our hearts, the center of our being, and it grows there unseen, unfelt, until its very presence begins to affect every area of our lives. The tendrils of bitterness wrap around our hearts, it’s thorns pierce our tender spirits, and over time the wounds scar and harden our hearts. Our attitudes change toward others, toward ourselves, and toward life. Hope is replaced with despair, positive thoughts morph to the negative, and in a short time we have stopped living life, absorbed in the transgression and our feelings toward the ones who hurt us. Medicine has noted that unforgiveness often leads to depression, anger, anxiety, affects our immune system and overall health. Life is hard enough. I don’t need anything in my life that depletes my energy and makes me sick mentally or physically!

I have watched unforgiveness and bitterness consume people; it’s not a pretty sight. And there is nothing we can do to help the one being eaten up by unforgiveness if that person chooses to embrace the wounds. Forgiveness is a choice; so is unforgiveness.

Forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t progress in a neat, clean line from unforgiveness to forgiveness. Some days it is two steps forward and one step back. It takes time, and work. Forgiveness is a decision; an act of the will. Forgiveness is not a feeling. Feeling differently toward the transgressor may happen at some point, but feelings are fickle. We cannot afford to base forgiveness on feelings.

So far the picture I’m painting is rather bleak and dark, isn’t it? No worries, it’s going to get better! Hang with me and in the next blog we will walk thru the process. Maybe, just maybe, the picture will brighten a bit!