Wednesday, 29 April 2015

be strong and whatever you do, do it with kindness and love.

Keep your eyes open for spiritual danger; stand true to the Lord;
... be strong and whatever you do, do it with kindness and love.”
I Corinthians 16:13-14

Having a healthy faith comes down to honesty and integrity of the heart. Healthy faith uses the Bible to challenge itself not justify itself. People with a healthy faith look to be humbled, to surrender, to be held accountable, to be corrected and to be malleable in Christ’s strong but gentle hands. A healthy faith recognizes that God uses life experiences to do the hard work of transforming us into the image of his Son. Our lives enable us to develop a healthy faith in God. This pursuit is never ending and at times we may see tremendous growth and times of near stagnation. Yet through all times, God asks us to seek him as he seeks us so that we might develop a mature faith.
There are 8 core elements which characterize a mature faith.
1.      Trust in God’s saving grace and believe firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
2.      Experience a sense of personal well-being, security and peace.
3.      Integrate faith and life, seeing work, family social relationships and political choices as part of one’s ‘religious’ life.
4.      Seeks spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer and discussion with others.
5.      Seeks to be part of a community of believers in which people give witness to their faith and support and nourish one another.
6.      Holds life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural and religious diversity and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.
7.      Advocates social and global change to bring about greater social justice.
8.      Serves humanity consistently and passionately through acts of love and justice.

Imagine if everyone who claim the name of Christ could truly be said to possess a mature Christian faith. What a wonderful world we would live in! But we know that this takes time effort and energy. The first-century believers in Jesus did turn the world upside down—why can’t we?
Would you define your Christian faith as mature? Or maturing and in process of growing closer to God? In reading the list of core elements which characterize Christians of mature faith, which elements do you see yourself doing well? Which elements do you think need more attention? Maybe there are some elements listed above which you have not even thought about!
When we consider having a healthy faith, it is looking at these core elements and enabling balance to occur- self growth and caring for others. All are a part of one’s healthy faith and growth in relationship with Jesus and this is what each one of us is seeking-- A stronger relationship with Jesus.

PRAYER: Loving God, we thank you that we may grow closer in relationship with you and that through this life, our journey of faith takes on new ways to show you how much we love you. Help us to seek Jesus and to learn from His teachings each day of our life. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This reflection is based upon ideas of by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton More Jesus Less Religion: Moving from Rules to Relationship. Colorado Springs, Co: Waterbrook Press,2000.     Chapters 14- Epilogue

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Non-Defensive, Non-Judgmental and Respectful Faith

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you- who are you to judge your neighbour?  James 4:12

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Philippians 2:3

Non-Defensive, Non-Judgmental and Respectful Faith

            Has someone ever challenged you about your faith beliefs?
How did you respond? Those with healthy faith refrain from ‘defining the truth for others but offer what they have experienced in their own lives in order that others may understand and see for themselves what Christian faith involves. Healthy faith attracts people. Those who become touchy and defensive repulse other people; they forget how incredibly attractive Christ was as people were drawn to him.
            We are called to bear one another’s burdens and to forgive. Tolerate one another remembering that you, unworthy as you are, have been forgiven of all your sins by Jesus Christ. We forget this when we think we are better than others. But if we are to have healthy faith we are not to judge others. Healthy believers look for similarities of experience that might help establish a relationship. They also look at developing their own personal relationship with God that they have no time to judge where others might be in their relationship.
            How respectful are you in your faith? The church often sees “isms” as divisive factors—age- young and old, sex- male and female, unemployed-working. These are divisive because there is a need to take individuals as they are and offer respect because we are all brothers and sisters in Jesus. But do we do this? We often judge and then respond. We often counter anything suggested by those on the margin or lift them up to the extreme. But what happens too is that there is a need to know Christ. Respect His Spirit’s work in others and accept this for we might even grow through this too.
To be challenged in our faith enables us to question what we believe, to find out answers, ask questions for ourselves and talk with others who are Christians. They too experience what you encounter and from one each other- all will grow stronger.

Have you judged/ misjudged other people in your life and then later discovered the need to retract your thoughts about them or even your actions against them? What is it that causes us to do this? Not knowing how to communicate effectively or to be sensitive to the needs of others is often blamed. But one of the most important reasons we do things like this on impulse is because we just don’t know any better. We have not learned to listen properly, be attentive to the needs of others or even looked to others for help and assistance in discovering difference amongst people,
What might you do to grow in this and learn to have more tolerance?
God, you love us all- red brown yellow black white- male female—and you know us for who we are because you created us in your image yet made us to be individuals with minds to think and hearts to love. And you call us to love others as you do. But we don’t do this well. We judge and misjudge, we are not tolerant or willing to be tolerant and we do not always respect the faith of others nor do we always respect others. These are fundamental in how we relate to others as human beings and we fail to do this well. Help us, teach us as Jesus did. Show us how to love you and reach out in your loving ways. Be with us in our daily challenges we pray. Amen.

This reflection is based upon ideas of by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton More Jesus Less Religion: Moving from Rules to Relationship. Colorado Springs, Co: Waterbrook Press,2000.     Chapter 9-10

Friday, 10 April 2015

Vulnerable Faith

Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:37-38

Vulnerable Faith

            Just when you think of Jesus and his perfection before God
we read a passage like the above and realize how vulnerable Jesus was. He did not want to be alone in this time of need. He needed his closest friends with him.And what did they do as he poured out his heart to God? They slept. But they did not leave him, yet. They were there waiting with him and watching for something to happen. They were unsure but Jesus knew, “the hour had come”. He was in a vulnerable position. He could have walked away but what would this have helped.
            We too find ourselves in times when we are vulnerable and it is easy to give up or walk away but if we disclose that secret vulnerable self to another the relationship that begins is incredible. Yes being vulnerable means taking risk but if we protect ourselves with secrecy and hypocrisy, we build a prison inside ourselves that locks away our hearts from others.
            But it is difficult to be vulnerable and open our hearts up because we’re afraid others will criticize, ostracize or even be disgusted at the ‘real’ us when they discover that we are not perfect or that our image does not match reality. Ironically however, those who hear our stories are not real to the image we project on them either. It is a matter of faith when we look to Jesus. He was overwhelmed and wanted his friends to be with him, just to be present. He was struggling and needed them.
            Healthy Christians can admit their struggles, their failures, their sins and their emotional weakness. They do not have to pretend they are always on top of the world. They can admit when they are wrong and they are real. We each need to be able to let God be in control  for we have nothing to lose by being real-except our pride.

Jesus was real as he prepared for his arrest and trial. He wanted his closest friends with him to watch. They fell asleep but he knew that they were present with him and did not wander away. Jesus was in a vulnerable position as he waited to be arrested and by opening his heart to his friends and asking their support, he enabled a closer relationship to develop. He made himself vulnerable so that others would draw closer to him. What is it that you need to do so that others see the real you? How often have you thought about the you that others see, and the real you? Is there a big difference in these? What might you do to change it? Sharing in prayer is the first step:
Holy God, you know e through and through; even better than I know myself, even better than my real self. Open my hearts and come and make me yours. I have many struggles, failures, sins and weaknesses but through O God, I may become well, stronger and better.
Show me who you are for me and enable me to draw closer to you as you come to me. Come to me O God of love. Amen.

This reflection is based upon ideas of by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton More Jesus Less Religion: Moving from Rules to Relationship. Colorado Springs, Co: Waterbrook Press,2000.     Chapter 8

Friday, 3 April 2015

Passionate Faith

We despised him and rejected him- a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by.
Isaiah 53:3

Passionate Faith

            Jesus had perfect faith and was absolutely sinless.
Yet he allowed himself to experience the heights and depths of human emotion. He knew great joy and he also knew depression and sorrow. He did not suppress his anger or hide his tears or even mask depression. He was not afraid to speak forth the deepest longings of his heart. He was passionate without apology.
            But what do we mean by passionate?  God and Jesus declared how much they truly love his people. God declared through Jeremiah “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) And in Hosea he agonizes over Israel- My heart is turned over within Me all My compassions are kindled. (Hosea 11:8)
            God showed his people (and shows us, too) that we should be passionate. David was passionate as he wrote the Psalms (6,31, 42) when down and when joyous.
            Jesus expressed his emotions freely and without shame. He embraced these emotions and revealed his love anger, sorrow, very openly. Hebrews 4:15—we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness—Jesus knew and experienced everything we do. He understands because he felt and experienced too.
            When Jesus saw the sorrow in Mary and Martha’s eyes over the death of their brother Lazarus, he wept and his heart was stirred. And he showed his anger to bring about change. Expressing anger is often needed but we should do so in a healthy way. One needs to deal with relational problems right away and not allow them to fester or seethe within us.== be slow to anger. (James 1:19=20)
            For many years women were taught it isn’t lady like to become angry. For men, they were taught not to cry. Yet if we are to have healthy faith, we need to embrace and affirm our emotions. |We need to recognize that unhealthy faith denies people the change to feel what they really feel. Healthy churches are healing centres where we can express our true feelings as well as find prayer support, accountability, appropriate forgiveness and cleansing.
            Unhealthy churches are filled with people who look good, say all the right things, and support an image of perfectionism.  Real feelings are abandoned for the “good ones” supporting the myth that the faithful have no problems.
            But to be genuine and healthy is to be able to embrace who we are as human beings. There is no need to hide emotions for Jesus experienced them all. Health faith allows us to embrace all aspects of our humanity and acknowledges our capacity to sin and make mistakes. There is no illusion of perfection, no need to be perfect or to hide when we fail. Health faith enables us to experience God’s grace and to pass it along. We then become like Jesus, a wounded healer.

Have you ever felt that you had to hide your feelings because someone in your church commented about how you expressed your feelings? What did you do? What should we be doing? Unhealthy churches exist because people are not honest with themselves nor about situations around others. Yet this may be changed if those who truly realize that they belong to Jesus, imperfections and all,  and tell another one who is unsure about their relationship with Jesus. Our goal is to have healthy faith and healthy churches. What are the steps needed for this to occur? What do you do for yourself and for others in order that your church be healthier?

Wonderful God we praise you for Jesus our Risen Lord and how he lived his life being human when he did not need to do so. We thank you for your Gift to us in Jesus and that he die and came to life once again. Through this saving act he truly showed us the way of perfection and love. Amen.

This reflection is based upon ideas of by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton More Jesus Less Religion: Moving from Rules to Relationship. Colorado Springs, Co: Waterbrook Press,2000.     Chapter 7