Bizarre Religious Practices

Some religions have crazy weird practices. In one religion, people hook someone up to an electronic device, ask various questions and track the meter’s movement to discover the person’s spiritual aptitude. What if your aptitude is off the charts, but you’re just not a good test taker?

In another religion, a live chicken’s head is twisted around three times, which naturally results in the twister’s sins being transferred to the twistee. Naturally.

Perhaps weirdest of all, and terrifying to think about, is the practice of dropping a one or two-year old child 50 feet off of a building to men below who catch the child in a sheet. This practice is believed to make the child smarter, healthier, and braver. I believe it’s an evil conspiracy thought up by therapists to ensure they have a steady stream of patients as these children grow up!

There are religious practices that make us scratch our heads, and yet, Christianity has some head-scratching issues of its own.

One area that has me scratching my head is how we preach the gospel and get people saved. There are three things in particular I take issue with:

1) Once we’ve persuaded people to “accept Jesus,” we tell them to “repeat this prayer after me.”

We’ve reduced the greatest and most mysterious transaction on planet Earth down to a simple prayer that is repeated once. We’ve reduced the very reason we were created (something you might assume would radically reshape everything about the rest of our lives) down to a one-time prayer that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this life but will sure give us some nice benefits once eternity gets started.

We’ve reduced being a Christian down to making a one-time decision rather than being a lifelong follower of Jesus.

2) Asking everyone to close their eyes so that new believers can safely and discreetly admit to their decision. 

This reminds me of one of my favorite youth group games… Mafia.

Mafia is one of the best games for Christian young people because it promotes killing. And then lying about it.

The key to a successful game is making sure everyone keeps their identities top-secret. Nothing ruins a game quicker than someone peeking around the room when everyone except the Mafia are supposed to have their eyes closed.

But how is being secretive about your new identity in Christ a good thing? “We’re glad you’ve made the most important decision of your life… and don’t worry, we’ll keep it our little secret!” For some reason I can’t picture the Apostle Paul doing this with new converts. For one thing it’s bad for marketing, and for another the Christian life is to be lived in community for St. Pete’s sake!

Right out of the gate, we’re indirectly communicating the idea that this Christian thing is something to be ashamed of.

3) Using the phrase “accept Jesus” to describe what we do to get saved.

Upon close inspection, this phrase seems backwards and subliminally reinforces the idea that God’s plan of salvation is all about us. I would argue that it’s all about Him.

If you had the opportunity to share a meal with the one person alive you most admire, whether that’s Chuck Norris, Joe Biden, or Justin Bieber, what would you say to them before the meal? “I’ve given this some serious thought, and I suppose it’s alright for you to spend some time with ME. I am willing to accept your invitation to have lunch with you. I accept you.”

(Personally, I can’t imagine myself saying that to Chuck Norris. He’d break me in half and have me for lunch.)

Of course you wouldn’t say that. You probably wouldn’t say anything coherent at all; you’d be mumbling nonsense words because you get to have lunch with your man-crush.

If we really believe Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that one day every knee will bow before Him, how can we have the audacity to say to Him, “I accept you”?

Which brings me to my last point: regarding getting saved (and every day afterwards), do we recognize who Jesus is or do we just focus on what He’s doing for us (in other words, are we obsessed with Him or ourselves)? Do we recognize Jesus as King Jesus? Do we relate to Him as would be fitting for a King?

I can think of a few stories in which the royal person, a king or a princess or a prince, is disguised and out among the common people. And then the point comes when their true identity is revealed. They are recognized for who they are… And everything changes.

Do I recognize Jesus as my King? Do you? Or is He just our Savior?

Dinner and A Lesson

Photo by dave.carswell

Once, a young man had the opportunity to go to lunch with a popular Christian leader he admired. The young man had anticipated the meeting for weeks leading up to the day, but as the meal progressed he found himself growing more and more disenfranchised by things the leader was saying and doing.

He was surprised to notice this Christian leader did not pray before eating and that some profanity was sprinkled into his conversation.

Finally, towards the end of the meal, he felt he must speak up and mention what was troubling him.

“Thank you for bringing those concerns to my attention,” the Christian leader said after a short pause. “But I must remind you that the things you find alarming are external and outward and not necessarily a reflection of the heart. Would you mind if I shared some observations I’ve made of you since we sat down, which by the way are commonly found in many good Christian people today?” he asked the young man.

“Certainly,” the young man said with a hint of nervousness.

“Since we sat down,” the Christian leader began, “you have not said one kind word to our waitress, not even smiled at her, or acknowledged in any way that she, too, is a person created in the image of God.

“Since we have sat down, you have mentioned story after story of how you serve God in your church, but you have not once acknowledged your personal need of Him, or expressed gratefulness for what He has done in your life, or praised Him for who He is.

“Since we have sat down, you have used all the current Christian buzz words, but you have not once mentioned concern for your neighbor, or the oppressed, or the poor. You have overtly shared how God has blessed you, but you have not cared to mention how you are in turn blessing those around you.

“You seem to understand quite well what it means to be a Christian, but I have not gotten the impression that you have spent much time with the Savior Himself.”

(Based on Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisee in Luke 11:37-44.)

Do you think we might have some things in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day?

Do you think we might care too much about some silly things while not caring enough about some of the most important things? What might those things be?

Why do we have a tendency to focus on the behaviors that come easily to us rather than opening ourselves up to God and allowing Him to perform “heart surgery” on us?

Make Yourself Comfortably Uncomfortable

In certain situations, being comfortable is the worst thing possible.

If it’s Ice-Age-cold outside, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

If you’re working with extremely dangerous equipment that could easily alter your figure or your DNA, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Sile...
Image via Wikipedia

Or if you find yourself sitting across the dinner table from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

In these cases and many others, being uncomfortable is a good thing…
it might even save your life!

We all like being comfortable, but we should recognize comfort can be a slippery slope. A little comfort is a good thing and enhances life. You could even argue a certain amount of comfort is necessary for survival.

But with too much comfort, something happens. Our senses become deadened, we slip into a coma-like, almost-vegetative state, and turn into medicated-zombies. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

When we like our comfort too much, we become obsessed with protecting and maintaining it… at all costs. We’re constantly on guard against anything that might rock the boat.

When we like our comfort too much, there’s no way we’ll do something that might make us uncomfortable. We have a tendency to walk through life half-asleep, with our head in the clouds.

When we like our comfort too much, we’re happy with how life is. We ignore the facts that we are not yet who we are to be, that the world is not yet what it is to be, and that we have an active role to play in these things coming about.

When we like our comfort too much, we’re not very interested in making a difference, of serving, of living for another.

We must remember we were not called by Christ to be comfortable or complacent. We were called to count the cost, to serve the least of these, to be living sacrifices.

The best thing for you and I is a healthy level of dissatisfaction. Of discomfort. Of longing for what is to come. At least enough to get us off the couch…

So how much discomfort can you handle? How much do you want?

What Really Matters

Here is a succinct summation of what really matters:

Now if you and I can just unpack what that means in our moment-to-moment daily lives!

Finding the Kingdom of Heaven

A passage of Scripture that has been on my heart and in my mind lately is Matthew 13:44.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

This passage tells me discipleship is an all-or-nothing issue. It is difficult but 100% worth it.

I am still wrestling through what it means to “give up everything.” However, I’m afraid the real heart of the issue is I am not so much wrestling “through” as I am wrestling “with.” I am resisting and pushing back against any idea to radically overhaul my life, and I’ve been using this idea of “processing” as my vehicle to procrastinate.

I fear that I have grown too accustomed to comforts and ease, trivialities and entertainment. If Christ knocked on my door and told me to do something radical for Him, it would be hard not to obey a “standing-right-in-front-of-me-and-in-my-face” Jesus… at least for a while. But the Spirit speaking softly to my heart is too easy to ignore and too often drowned out by all the other voices.

But if my brother in Christ shares with me where he is at in this process of following Christ, the Holy Spirit who is speaking softly to him, speaks to me through him, and suddenly the Spirit’s voice is amplified to me and I am encouraged and strengthened in my resolve.

Christ might not knock on my door anytime soon, but you can be Christ for me and I can be Christ for you and we can pursue Christ’s call to discipleship together.

Can I Trust You?

Photo credit OdeToJoi

Sometimes my kids can be irrational. There have been times when they were convinced that they couldn’t do something (say, for instance, that even though everyone else in their swimming class is happily jumping into the pool, they can’t). Times when they were convinced that something was going to happen (say, for instance, that over and over again, night after night after night, they are convinced that the blinking light on the smoke detector means that there’s a fire). And there have been times when they stubbornly refused to do something no matter how much we pleaded (say, for instance, refusing to drink anything even though they’ve thrown up ten times and are dangerously dehydrated).

From their perspective they are being rational. The way they understand the world makes sense to them. If only they could trust what we say, especially at those times when it conflicts with what they think they should do.

I read a parenting book recently in which one of the key points was that while it is important that a child prove to a parent that she is trustworthy, it is much more important for parents to prove to their child that they are trustworthy. A child who knows that she can trust her mom and dad grows up in an environment of security and stability that she needs for healthy development. In addition, imagine the pain and troubles that could be avoided if our children trusted and obeyed us even when they did not want to! How heavenly those teenage years would be!

If only life were that easy.

Have you ever been on a ‘Trust Walk’ where you’re blindfolded and someone else is directing you? With each step you take you’re sure that you’re about to step into a hole or bang your shin against a boulder or get run over by a semi, but the person keeps telling you to step forward. Are you able to fully trust them, or do you have to take a peek and reassure yourself that you’re alright?

It is extremely hard for us to place total trust in someone other than ourselves. It’s just the way we’re wired. And we bring this inability to trust into our relationship with God… at least into those situations in which our perception of what is best for us differs with what we hear God calling us to do. But isn’t that the very definition of trust?

Think about Abraham. Good old Father Abraham. Over 100 years old and doting over his son, Isaac. The child of the Promise. Then one day God says to him, “Take your son up the mountain. Build an altar and sacrifice Isaac upon it.”

How do you imagine Abraham responding? “Hmm, well yeah, ok. I was kinda already thinking I might do that this weekend, so I’m glad you’re telling me to. No problem, I’ll get right on that.”

Of course not! He’s thinking, “What?! That’s madness! What will my wife say?! I can’t kill my son. What about God’s promise about my descendants through him?” But Abraham believes that God will raise his son up from the dead, and so he trusts God and he obeys God, even though I’m sure everything inside him was screaming at him to stop. That’s trust.

(In case you don’t know how this story ends, God stops Abraham right before he kills Isaac and provides a ram as a substitute sacrifice.)

Trust and obedience are joined at the hip. They are tied to one another. Trust is proven real by our obedience. In some things it is easy to obey; in others it is much harder. There have been and there will be times when following Christ seems like madness. But the path of following Christ, the path of discipleship, is simply obedience. To trust and obey.

And if anyone has proven himself trustworthy, it’s God. So keep the blindfold on, keep listening, and keep walking!

He Never Said It’d Be Easy

Matthew 8:18-20

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

This is a pretty interesting reply by Jesus. Here you have a well-respected individual telling Jesus that he will follow him anywhere. If it was me I’d be all excited and like, “Sweet! We need influential people like you. I’m so glad you’re willing to join our team!”

But Jesus says in effect, “Are you really sure you want to follow me? You need to know that this is gonna be a lot harder than you realize. For one thing, I don’t even think we have a place to sleep tonight. Following me will be demanding and strenuous, and might even be bad for your health…”

And then another guy comes up to Jesus and makes a similar statement:

Matthew 8:21-22

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

This guy, too, is ready and willing to be Jesus’ disciple, but… he just needs to take care of one small thing. And it seems to me like it’s a pretty important thing. It is good to take time to grieve our loved ones who have died.

But again, Jesus’ reply is odd and even comes across as harsh. I think however that what Jesus is saying is understandable in light of the importance of his mission: “If you want to follow me, that’s fine. But the work that I am about is so important and urgent that there is not even time for you to glance over your shoulder. If you’re my disciple, then be my disciple. I say jump, and you say how high. Now are you still willing to sign up for this?”

Jesus is saying that following him is a big deal. It’s not all sunshine and cotton candy. And it’s an all or nothing kind of thing. And he wants us to know this up front… straight out of the gate. He doesn’t hold any punches.

He actually makes it harder on these two guys to choose to follow him. He’s telling them to count the cost.

How about you? Do you think it’s worth it to follow Jesus? No matter the price? Why?

The CALL of the Cross

Read Matthew 7:13-14 as a family. Discuss what you think these verses mean.

So what did you come up with? Are things as black and white as Jesus is painting them?

If we take Jesus’ words simply at face value, what are the implications for our lives? How do we respond appropriately to this?

The Christian life is more than just believing the right things, memorizing the right things, and following Jesus “in your heart.” The Christian life is a LIFE that is lived for Christ!

The CALL of the Cross is “to come and die.” To daily kill off your sinful self, and live for Christ. To love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul.

Do you agree with the above statements? If so, discuss as a family some practical steps to take as you journey together on the narrow road to Christ.