Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Litmus test

What is the litmus test for Christianity? What is your litmus test? Does your church have a litmus test--a bare minimum that declares the new believer is now "really" a "true" Christian? I am not a scientist, but from what I understand, a litmus test for chemicals in a liquid involves dipping litmus paper into the liquid and seeing if the paper turns a certain color. If it does, the liquid has that chemical in it. If it doesn't, then the chemical is missing. So, what do you use to measure the genuineness of a person's Christianity. What are the ingredients that cause your Christian litmus paper to turn into the color of Christian? What is the Bible's litmus test? What is Jesus' litmus test? Does your litmus test involve appropriate behavior? Does your litmus test involve a person's appearance? Does your litmus test involve minimal levels of repentance, or prayer, of commitment? How do you measure those levels?

I believe we all have litmus tests for others whether we admit or not. It is human nature. It is difficult to lose our humanness when measuring others. When I was in the ministry, we were bad about watching to see when people had "finally" made the commitment. We were worse about monitoring people to determine whether they still had it. Sadly, most of our measurements had to do with things we could see. (Of course that is the nature of measuring--you have to be able to "see" progress if you are going to measure it.)When we observed these changes in people's lives then they had finally arrived. It wasn't enough for someone to be "born again." They had to show proof of a changed life--and those changes had to be observed in many areas of their lives. I was even instrumental in developing programs to help people achieve these benchmarks. How we rejoiced when new converts had at last jumped through all the hoops that we had set for them. And if they could continue to demonstrate their commitment through their works and continued proper appearance, then we would laud them for being such good examples of "true" Christianity. Since leaving the ministry, I have found that I still have benchmarks for people. I don't trust the authenticity of their conversion unless I see the earmarks of what I now perceive to be "true" Christianity. By God's grace I am slowly learning to be less judgmental, but it is so difficult. I am just way too human.

What was the litmus test that Jesus used? What was the litmus test for the thief hanging next to him on the cross? What was his litmus test for the Samaritan woman at the well? What was his litmus test for Mary Magdalene? What was his litmus test for the woman caught in adultery? How did he tell his disciples to measure a person's commitment to him? If there is a litmus test in scripture for "true" Christianity, I believe it is our love for one another. I believe that is exactly what Jesus told his disciples. That is also what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians 13. Though we speak with tongues and sacrifice everything--even our bodies to be burned--and have not love, our faith is accomplishing nothing. I think it's significant that the main test for discipleship in scripture has to do with something that is difficult--even impossible--to measure.

Sorry for the lengthy blog, but I have one final thought on this. Why do we even have litmus tests? I think it's because we are human, and we like to measure things. As addressed in the previous blog, we like to "know" who is "in" and who is "out." It makes it easier. Of course, Jesus never meant to give us an easy way to determine who is "in" and who is "out." He just calls us to love one another. That is difficult to do when we are measuring each other. Do you have a litmus test? What is it? Tell me what you think about litmus tests for Christianity.

living in the gray

I think as humans we like things black and white, right and wrong, cold or hot. We don't like the gray, situational ethics, or things that are lukewarm. We like it when things are spelled out for us. We like to know whether we are "in" or "out." Are we "right" with God or not? But, in my opinion, that is the "carnal" way to live for God. It is "following after the flesh" (Romans 6). It is trusting in our own abilities and our senses to guide us. It is the way of the world. It is the way of the Pharisees. Pharisees were experts at drawing lines and making rules plain and understandable (even if noone could actually live by all  of them) It is comforting to "know." It is, after all, only human. Yet Jesus calls us to leave behind what we "know" to follow Him. He tells us that if we follow him, we may not know where our next meal is coming from, or where we are going to lay our heads tonight. He calls us to leave our homeland to go to a place that He has only promised us, and He doesn't give us a map or tell us the way. He only says to follow Him. He calls us to "live by faith" and not by sight. But we want to live by sight. How else will we "know?" That's the point. Faith is about trusting, not about "knowing." As I have learned from the teaching staff at Blackhawk Church, grace is messy. Life in the Spirit is scary at times because we don't know what is going to happen next. But we don't trust God because we know what His next move is going to be, or because he has given us formulas to live by--that always produce expected results--but because He is God, and we believe Him. We believe that He loves us. We trust Him. Fundamentalist churches that teach us how to live, and tell us where to go and where not to go are attractive to us because we crave direction. We want to know that we are on the right path. We need guidelines. But life in the Spirit is about trusting God to lead. Jesus said the only "rules" we really need are to love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. We get uncomfortable with that because that isn't clear. It's gray. So we go to the Old Testament--the Law--to help us understand what He meant. We run from the gray--and in so doing we run from trusting God, I think. The answers are there in the OT, but they aren't in understanding how to live by the Law. Paul said those who live by the law will be condemned by it. Life in the Spirit--a life of grace--is what we are called to. It is a life of trust--with only a lamp to guide our feet. A life of living by the law, by rules, by always having to "know" is a life of fear because we always fail. And we are never sure if we have done enough, if we have repented adequately, if we have prayed enough to "get right" with God, if we have truly "overcome" our flesh. It is a life of toil and weariness. Living in the Spirit, in grace, in the gray, by faith may be scary, but it is not fearful. It is freeing, exciting and refreshing. It's not easy, and it is not trouble free, but it is the life we are called to. And it is the life where we find rest. Do you enjoy the comfort of the boat--its sturdiness, its tangibility--too much to let go and step out into the deep with only Jesus to hold you up? My flesh does. But my spirit longs to be with Jesus. If I want to be with Him, I have to let go of what I know, of the things that are sure, and simply trust Him. That is life in the Spirit. That is living in the gray. What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

why "elephants of grace"

This is my wonderful family--those that continue to teach me about God's grace every day.

For my first post, I thought I would explain the title "elephants of grace." Actually, I chose the title for two reasons. First, my first choices were already taken: Naked Grace and Elephants in the Room. Regarding "naked grace," I spent so much time over the years qualifying grace whenever I spoke of it as a minister, that when it appeared to me in its "naked" unqualifed form, I was blown away. And I started to write a book that I titled "Elephants in the Room." This has to do with the questions that I ignored over the years that loomed larger and larger as grace was dawning on my consciousness. Sooner or later I had to face the elephants and honestly answer the questions that they posed. So, this blog is called "elephants of grace," because the questions that I had to answer all revolved around God's grace, and how I had qualifed, minimized, and even belittled it for over 20 years. In the coming weeks I hope to address those elephants in this blog, and maybe help others to address their own elephants. Something that my former pastor used to say is so true: "You don't have to be afraid of the truth." You really don't. In fact, the truth will set you free.