If legalism had a face I would kick it in the teeth

This is the meaning of true love – to give until it hurts – Mother Teresa

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely abhor legalism.

Legalism is defined as “strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit”

I sometimes work with people who are legalistic, and their self-proclaimed legalism keeps them from giving freely out of their abundance. It can be rather disheartening to see these people give sparingly and with an ungrateful heart, my thoughts usually are “then WHY even help?” In a way, the people I know remind me of the Bible story of Ananias and Sapphira who decide to sell a piece of property and give the profits to the church, but the clincher is that they bring the money forward and say this is the entirety of what it was sold for and yet they held back a portion of what they made for themselves! So their intention was to hold back some of it in a dishonest fashion, and when they lied to the apostles God revealed they had lied and stuck both of them dead.

Now I’m not saying God will strike you dead for lying, but there is something to giving out of one’s abundance in a stingy way, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) and with what we can share with others God delights in our giving, but I’m quite certain he would rather have us give because we want to and not because we have to, let alone giving without love in our hearts.

But I also combating legalism through the lens of the Prophet Micah as it says in Micah 6:8:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?
– To act justly
– to love mercy
– to walk humbly with your God
I may not be the audience Micah was speaking to, but I think there’s something to acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. When brought to the light, being legalistic and having legalism goes against acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, so maybe with this passage found in the Old Testament it can serve as a litmus test to figure out if we’re doing right by God as well as others; if our hearts and minds are in check for what we’re doing and the attitude to which we’re doing things.

We should give out of love; love for God and a love for others, and sometimes it’s easy to see that we’re doing this and other times it is difficult. Regardless we need to give for the right reasons and not be caught up in our own legalism as well as others.

~Nathanael~

Why I take and make time to pray

As I think about it, my 2 favorite quotes about prayer are as follows:

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me. – C.S. Lewis

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and I asked him to forgive me. – Emo Phillips

Now I won’t say that C.S. Lewis’ polar opposite is Emo Phillips, but they certainly aren’t bedfellows. But despite their differences there’s something to be said about what their take on prayer is. C.S. Lewis’ reason for praying is one of recognizing his utter helplessness and dependency upon God, prayer is about him changing and not necessarily God. Emo Phillips’ take on prayer is one that says (satirically) that sometimes prayer isn’t enough, social action needs to be paired with what we offer up to God, and maybe that in itself is how our prayer gets answered (granted, stealing a bike isn’t right, but it is a clever analogy of prayer combined with social action).

Now when I think about the reasons why I pray, I think my number one reason is because if prayer is communication with God and all relationships are dependent on communication, why wouldn’t I want to talk to God and take time to be in his presence and even take time to listen. I also pray because I need a father figure in my life, and honestly God’s a lot closer to me than my father, I feel his presence and love and comfort in a world, my personal world, which at times feels completely FUBAR.

I usually address God as Father God due to some discomfort with the word “dad” due to my situation, but I am fine with others calling God “dad” or “Abba” or something else. I tend to avoid “Thanksgiving prayer” vernacular and length, I usually speak from the heart or the gut. The Psalmist David was at times all shot and no chaser, I too let God “have it” with my prayers, I’m glad he can handle what I have to say because sometimes he’sthe onlyone who can handle it…and who better than God, the creator of everything, to handle it all. 🙂

The other day at the church where I help out with the high school youth group, the leader & my friend of 18 years, Ben H led the students and the leaders into a time of prayer, quiet/silent prayer. It’s not the first time he’s led prayer in this way and it can be unnerving and unraveling to pray in silence. If we had more time I probably could’ve gotten lost (in a good way) in the silence, but we only did it for a brief while. It was good to pray in this way, and it was very encouraging to get feedback from the guy group as to what they thought about praying in this manner, some could handle it and some could not, but I think that every now and then it needs to be practiced whether it can be done or not, trying in this case matters whether one is successful or not.

Prayer is a vital part of my life, and like C.S. Lewis prayer primarily changes me and then God and like Emo Phillips prayer isn’t considering God to be a genie that grants my prayers as if they were wishes, sometimes the answers to my prayers is me by way of social justice and related. For these reasons and others I continue to pray.

~Nathanael~

The power of blessing others

In my own life, my mother blesses me, whether if its when I am leaving or if she gets a hold of my voicemail she offers up these words in prayer and as a blessing over me; “May God bless you with children who bring you joy, as much joy as you bring me, and that’s a LOT, in Jesus’ name Amen.”

Blessings are mentioned in the Bible, the one most Christians are familiar with is the one found in Numbers 6:22-27;

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

  “‘“The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

  “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

In the time frame of this blessing, God made the Israelites his one and only. God set the Israelites apart from everyone else at that time, he was with them as he guided them through the desert for 40 years and afterwards.

There’s also the account in the Bible of a blessing being stolen, Jacob swiped his brother Esau’s blessing out from under him, but still that blessing is recorded in the Bible, Genesis 27:27-29;

So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

“Ah, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field
that the LORD has blessed.
May God give you heaven’s dew
and earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.
May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.”

***

So what’s the application that I get out of these passages in the Bible? The way I see it is that blessings aren’t a placebo or a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, but a way to encourage someone by way of words. Another verse comes to mind in this, Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
What we say has the power to speak volumes into someone’s life in both positive ways or negative ways, and honestly there have been times where my words have brought people down, and the process to getting a person out of a hole created by negative words is harder than what it took to get them there in the first place. Working at uplifting others by way of words take time, but it must be done, and social action (if required) combined with positive words is the best way to go.

I have a blessing I bestow upon others, I don’t toss it out flippantly, I mean what I say and I say what I mean. I recognize that what I have to say by way of my blessing is sometimes the much needed glass of water. I also recognize that everyone is deserving of blessing, this isn’t a for Christians only kinda thing, so I do what I can to pronounce blessing over my Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, Jewish, etc friends. They are entitled to being blessed over as well, and so I will.

In parting, my blessing to you the reader is the one I pronounce over others.

Be blessed and continue to bless others,
~Nathanael~

Of pickles and churches; being a part – being apart

Recently a friend of mine invited me to “like” his new company. A pickle company. In the info for said company it made known that he lost his job as a graphic designer in August and he decided to do something “new and exciting”…perhaps not what I think when I think of pickles, but whatever floats your boat.

I’m not Donald Trump, but in a way I am a skeptic when it comes to smaller companies, and lately, smaller churches. My skepticism (which I’ll address first in terms of the pickle company) is as follows; what sets your pickles from other pickles? That is, what do you have to offer that isn’t currently available for people who purchase pickles? Why would compel someone to purchase your pickles over an established brand, say Mr. Pickle or Claussen?

I also inquired of my friend that I bet he rather have investors over someone liking his Facebook page for his company. Word of mouth is important, but you have to have a product to back up people liking it, and even when word of mouth gets out, negative word of mouth will spread faster than positive, so is his product up to snuff to compete in the “pickle industry” as it were?
(I hope he gets back to me and my questions)

***

Now here’s how churches are added to this mix in this post. Church size, while not a true indicator as to how well a church is doing, is in a way a barometer to a church’s function within the local community, the community at large and even on a global scale – is the church and its members there for themselves or for others?
Now in my church experiences over the years I’ve been to a LOT of diverse churches; for a semester I attended Willowcreek and I actually got something out of the “mega church” scene, in another semester I attended a church that had less than 40 people in attendance.

Yet in both cases, the body of Christ in attendance was very involved outside of the building in which we gathered on the weekends, granted on a smaller scale in the smaller church, but still they did what they could to add to the quality of life to those who weren’t in attendance and who didn’t show up on Sunday mornings.

My issue is this, when small churches exist only to fulfill their own needs, when they’re intentionally apart of what’s going on outside the church building instead of being a part as they and we who are followers of Christ…that isn’t what the function of the church should be and that is NOT why Christ came in the first place; the petty self-serving natures of some churches pisses me off, and personally (personally mind you) I think churches like that should close if they’re doing that…

Yet, if small churches could strip the layers of prejudice & church politics, and come together in consolidation and unification to bring honor and glory to God, to serve Christ by way of serving others, to act glocally (locally & globally) there may be hope for small churches of this nature yet!
I think that this isn’t some pipe dream, but an achievable goal for churches that are small and want to change, that want to do as Christ did and take the message outside the building to where it truly belongs. Ego’s need to be cast asunder, attitudes and behaviors need to be examined and possibly reexamined.

Being a follower of Christ isn’t so much about what I want to get out of it, but what I can do to give back, to be the hands and feet of Christ where needed be, to be a voice for the outcasts and marginalized in society where I can.
I do have plans to further my education in the form of an M.Div, and while it is not necessary, I find that it will be beneficial to me and those I minister unto even more so than if I didn’t have the degree.

I have hope that small churches who are apart rather than a part have a chance at getting it right. It may be a season or two of change that’s painful, but sometimes change is painful but necessary, and if change didn’t hurt we’d be more apt to change. To root out desires and traditions that get in the way of loving God and loving others is necessary, furthering the work of God, now that’s what we’re called to do!

~Nathanael~

In wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death; my 2 cents as a follower of Christ

So by now you’ve seen the news reports stating Osama Bin Laden is dead. If this be true my initial thoughts come from a Bible verse that you may or may not be familiar with:

“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”

and in a similar fashion, we should have prayed for him, because you know what? Even though he committed some of the most heinous crimes against humanity in recent years, he was made in the image of God.
Let me say that again,

Osama Bin Laden was made in the image of God.

I might receive flack about this, and God knows as I look at the many statuses/stati I see on my Facebook account the sides are divided on this issue. Some are saying “yay America!” and some are divided and some are inline with the verse I mentioned…
Here’s one of those times where my views as a follower of Christ conflict with those of my American views. I’m praying through this, praying for him and here’s another thing…

Only God knows Osama Bin Laden’s heart so we can’t say right off the bat that Osama Bin Laden is in Hell. God knows, only God knows… It also doesn’t help that some people are saying he finally got what he deserves, if this were true aren’t we all deserving of what we deserve? We might scoff and say “well at least I wasn’t as bad as Osama Bin Laden” and granted our deeds might be less atrocious than his, but who are we? Are we the judges of our scales and how they might tilt in this life or even the next? Again, God knows Osama Bin Laden’s heart.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” might go on to say “and those who are a thorn in your country’s side for many a year” or “and those who wreak havoc upon your country”.

I do remember 9/11, I remember it as it were yesterday and I even had a friend on the first plane that hit the Trade Towers in NY. But I also remember God and how he made everyone in His image.

If Osama Bin Laden accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, if he truly believed you know what? God would run to Osama Bin Laden as if he were the father to the prodigal son, he would be the one to make the first move – I like that parable because it has the one who’s in the right (the father) making the first move of reconciliation with the one who’s in the wrong (the son). In the same way God would move towards Osama Bin Laden if he made that choice.

This is what I’m dwelling on and praying about in this moment of division, may God open your heart to what He has to say in this matter. Say a prayer, take some time to reflect but please PLEASE PLEASE…don’t strip away the Imago Dei, the Image of God, from Osama Bin Laden. What he did was bad beyond words, but if he is defined as our enemy and someone who persecuted us…pray, pray for Him and think and wrestle this one out, get angry at God and let him know what you’re thinking and feeling, He can deal with it.

~Nathanael~