Posts Tagged ‘Christianity

30
May
17

Why Not the Cross?

the-cross-300x261WIIFM. No. Those are not the call letters of a new radio station on the FM dial.

It is also not a funny way of saying the word for the goal of a baseball pitcher when facing an opposing batter. (Whiff ‘em. Get it??)

WIIFM is a shorthand version of a question that guides many of the creative decisions of people who work in mass marketing.

I am familiar with this secret code lingo because I used to work in that business.

WIIFM stands for: “What’s In It For Me?”

The advice given to an eager young marketer goes something like this: “It’s fine and dandy to stand up and trumpet all the things that make your product the best thing since sliced bread. Your customer doesn’t give two hoots about any of that. The only question they want you to answer is ‘What’s in it for me?’”

And you know what? The folks dispensing that advice are right.

When I am standing there in the middle of Home Depot, I really don’t care how many coats of paint or what kind of paint this barbeque grill has, or why the grate is such a marvelous design, or how many BTU’s it heats up to.

I just want you to tell me how my life will improve by buying this particular grill.

And honestly… if I am using my resources for anything more expensive than a pack of gum, my only question (well, besides “How much does it cost?”) is going to be, “What’s in it for ME?”

WIIFM is a question that works well in the mass marketing profession.

I guess that is why it is SO TEMPTING to try and use it when I am talking to someone about the Christian faith.

It is no secret that the fastest growing segment of the FAITH universe today is the group that checks the box labeled “None of the above” when asked about their religious preference.

Pastors, volunteer leaders, members of religious hierarchies of all stripes are wringing their hands and wracking their brains to figure out how to stem the tide of decline in the mainline church today.

When the first signs of decline began appearing, creative minds began spinning. And it seemed as if the church’s focus was not that different from our market-driven brethren. We tried to understand and respond to the “What’s In It For Me?” question posed by the growing numbers of the None-of-the-Aboves.

We offered rock music, light shows, comfy seating, free coffee, donuts, preferred parking, hand-delivered coffee cups, hip graphics, and video clips, toned-down symbolism, and much more.

And still the decline continued.

Our actions communicate a specific answer to the “What’s in it for me?” question. We seem to say, “Join the church and hear powerful, contemporary music in a comfortable, well-appointed environment, bond with like-minded people, get some motivation and inspiration, see and be seen by your friends, and get a great, rousing start to your week.”

Jesus had a slightly different answer. When he talked to people about following him and they asked, “What’s in it for me?” he said, “A cross. Hardship. Suffering. Ridicule. Rejection. Maybe even death.”

“Oh yeah… and eternal life, too.” (Mark 8:31-38, paraphrased).

In his lifetime, Jesus didn’t “move the needle” a whole lot on the evangelism front. There were a lot of curious bystanders, but not many who heard his recruitment pitch and ran forward saying, “A cross? Really? Where do I sign?”

His numerical results didn’t come until a lot later.

The apostle Paul knew the cross was a “tough sell” in his setting, too. He said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24, NRSV).

There’s no getting around it; you can’t follow Christ without the cross.

So why not just come out and say it and let God do the rest?

It seemed to work out pretty well before.

Abundant blessings;

11
Apr
17

It’s Not Fair!

Screaming child“IT’S NOT FAIR!”

If you are a parent and have NOT heard this phrase at least 65,000 times from your kids, you’re not doing it right.

In my experience, no one has a keener sense of fairness than those miniature people we call children.

They instinctively know when they have gotten the short end of the deal.

Whether the topic is serving sizes, bedtimes, Christmas presents, privileges, allowances, parental attention, or… I don’t know… exposure to sunlight; kids know what kind of distribution plan is fair and what kind is not.

And they will not hesitate to tell you when you have violated their finely honed sense of justice.

This whole subject of fairness crossed my mind the other day while watching a movie. This movie was set in Elizabethan era England. In one scene, a woman was in bed, dying of an ailment that had badly compromised her ability to breathe. The doctors gathered around sadly shaking their heads. It was clear that they were out of ideas and treatments and would soon be telling the woman’s husband about her tragic and premature death.

As it turned out, the woman was dying of influenza.

The flu.

The same flu that I drive down to my neighborhood CVS Pharmacy and get vaccinated against every October. The same flu that might – if I were to contract it somehow – put me down for three or four days.

And so I wondered: how is that fair? Just because this woman – and thousands like her – happened to be born 400 years before me, why did her life have to be cut short by something I treat with a simple shot in the arm today?

Or how is it fair, for example, that children of the early 1800s were forced to work in factories and mines and sweat shops, subjected to all kinds of horrible working conditions before we figured out it was wrong and made those practices illegal?

My own mother died in 1970 of a type of lymphoma that is readily treatable today with aggressive chemotherapy. So how is that fair?

And while it may stretch the boundaries of your imagination when I say this, it is also true that there were millions of people on this planet who lived entire lifetimes without once experiencing the miracle of the Internet.

Talk about UNFAIR!

So why all this injustice in the world?

The only answer I can come up with is the answer I used to give my own kids when they would hit me with the “It’s not fair!” complaint: “Sorry, kid… life’s just not fair.”

And it’s true. Life is not fair. In any sense of the word.

All of which brings me around to the focus of this week: the holiest week of the Christian calendar. This is the week in which Christ-followers around the world will remember and even re-create many of the events of the last week of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth… the one we call CHRIST or Anointed.

My faith confession is that Jesus is Lord of my life… meaning he is IT. It all starts and ends with him. There is no higher authority than Jesus for my life.

I further confess faith in his life, his death, and his bodily resurrection from the grave… even though that last bit defies rational, scientific understandings of the way things work. Because faith means being OK with the idea that some things can be true even if they don’t add up scientifically.

Finally, I confess to you here today that the truth of the resurrection of Jesus totally TRANSFORMS the lives of those who “buy it” – that is, who believe in his resurrection and have faith in God’s ability to overcome all obstacles… even an obstacle as formidable as death.

The reason I believe in the transforming power of the resurrection so strongly is because I have SEEN it… with my own eyes! I have seen it in my own life! I have seen it in the lives of friends… family members… total strangers.

This all started as faith, but then became SIGHT.

Which causes me to circle back to the question of fairness. And so I ask: if the life, death, message, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has this kind of healing and transforming power (and it does!), what about the folks who never had a chance to hear it and say “YES” to it?

What about the people who lived and died before the time of Jesus? Faithful people like Moses and Abraham and Isaiah and David and Isaac and Daniel? Or even just random farmers and shopkeepers named Fred, Tom, Elizabeth, and Stuart?

What happened to them? Are their souls lost forever? And if so, how is that fair?

Or what about people living today who – for whatever reason – have never had the opportunity to hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Are they eternally condemned? Where is the fairness in that?

Somehow I cannot accept that the God depicted in the pages of the Bible would look at each of these folks, shrug his divine shoulders, and say, “Sorry, kid. Life’s just not fair.”

It cannot be that the God described as “… merciful and gracious,” in various places, and who, we hear, “… forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit,” and “… crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” could be satisfied to just write off countless generations because they were born at the wrong time or place.

I am sure he isn’t. And I’ll be darned if I know how it would work that THEY would get to connect with Jesus, too.

That whole topic is WAAAAYYY above my pay grade.

All I know for sure is this: Jesus Christ is alive. Forevermore. And the reality of his life holds the promise of eternal and abundant life for every single one of us.

Hallelujah!

And Happy Easter.

28
Feb
17

Grapes and the Dude

grapes-and-vineI remember a sketch from Saturday Night Live a few years ago that caused me to laugh out loud… and wince a little bit, too.

This sketch was called, “Short Attention Span Theater.” It featured fictional plays and dramas that were all somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five sentences in total length.

In other words, the perfect duration for those of us gifted (or burdened) with short attention spans.

I laughed at the sketch because it was pretty funny.

But I also winced because it hit uncomfortably close to home.

It is awkward to admit, but I regularly find myself being the poster boy for “short attention span syndrome,” or SASS (in case the full name is a little too long for you).

Sometimes I wonder if SASS might be affecting more folks than just me.

It seems we often live in a world driven by highlights; don’t make me watch the whole football or basketball game… just show me a collection of the most exciting plays from it. Please don’t make me watch you chop up that entire onion… just show me the finished product in a little glass bowl.

We often seem driven to live life in bursts of frenetic motion. We cannot STAND sitting still for too long. We jump feverishly from activity to activity, fearful that something important and exciting might happen over THERE while I am preoccupied over HERE.

The social media app Twitter is the perfect tool for our “life in bursts” culture. With a limit of 140 characters per tweet, it caters to our short attention span perfectly.

And have you tried watching a television commercial lately? Just for fun, try counting the number of different scenes or images that are crammed into a 30 second commercial for anything. It is enough to make your head spin!

And while I acknowledge that my response might be due to my increasing age, I can’t help but wonder if something isn’t lost when we find ourselves living the short attention span life.

Things happen in the world around us and we decide that it is more important to respond QUICKLY rather than THOUGHTFULLY. We fear something might be lost if we take the time to allow an event or an observation to sit and percolate with us for a while.

We seem to believe that if we take the time to allow life to penetrate too deeply into our hearts and souls, we will miss some other opportunity or moment.

As a result, everything we offer from that impatient mindspace tends to be quick… clipped… visceral… abrupt… something we feel we have to offer now and – if necessary – apologize for later.

All of which causes me to wonder: are we losing the ability to practice ABIDING? Do we even see how abiding might be important in our lives? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines abide as to: “… continue, remain, survive, last, persist, stay, live on.” It is a patient waiting and watching… a non-rushing approach to life.

I was rthe-big-lebowski-white-russianeminded of the importance of abiding on a recently completed mission trip. A friend offered a devotion one morning based on one of my favorite movies of all time: The Big Lebowski. (Insert STRONG parental advisory here). The main character in the movie (played by Jeff Bridges) is The Dude. And the dude’s watchword is, “The dude abides.”
Jesus also talked a lot about abiding. In John 15:4 he says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” And then in verse 5 he elaborates a bit and says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

The kind of abiding Jesus is talking about is a steady watchfulness that does not demand instant results or instant responses. It values constancy… purpose… thoughtfulness… patience.

Lent – which begins tomorrow – is the season of abiding. We often think of it as a time to sacrifice or “do without” something.

But I think the real purpose of the Lenten fast is to help force us to downshift a gear or two… to be less frantic and urgent… and to become more serene and thoughtful about who we are and what in the world we are doing, anyway.

And so my prayer for you today is to allow this to be a day of abiding… and bearing fruit.

ABIDE




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