Tag Archives: Christianity

A Churchless Cross?

A Churchless Cross?

I recently participated in a one-day pilgrimage that focused on the symbol of the cross. We explored its centrality and importance in Celtic Christianity, and had opportunities to consider our own life of prayer.

It got me thinking about the cross.

It’s a rather ubiquitous symbol, even outside of the church grounds. In fact, in some cases, it’s more prominent outside of churches than in them.

I always cringe when I find a crossless church. I have been in many modern sanctuaries and places of worship where a cross is hard to find, perhaps only represented in silhouette or by the negative space created by some architectural ingenuity. Sitting in my church during this day of reflection, I counted 9 crosses visible from my place in the pews. I was satisfied.

Rightfully Associated - The Cross and the Church

Rightfully Associated – The Cross and the Church

But perhaps even more disturbing should be the presence of a churchless cross. One can easily find necklaces, earrings, t-shirts, paperweights, greeting cards, ornaments, and all manner of paraphernalia displaying a cross. But I wonder: how often are those crosses–and their owners–completely detached from the Church? How often do these crosses exist in isolation, symbols presented with no intention of them actually pointing to anything of substance?

That’s not to say that we can’t use this symbol outside of the churchyard. But do we use it with intentionality, with a desire to be reminded of the heritage, the community, the truth of our faith in Jesus Christ?

Some might say that this display of overt religiosity and intentionality would be offensive. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? A device for execution redeemed to represent the victorious Christ and majesty of God and presented with firm conviction isn’t likely to be welcomed by the world. But we seem to be trying our hardest to make it so.

We cannot rightfully separate the Cross from the Church. The sacrifice of God without the people of God is void. The people of God without the majesty of God are bereft and hopeless.

Let us hold both the Church and the Cross, the community and the Christ, as intimate aspects of our life and perspective, our worth and our worship.

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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Theology


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I Just Can’t Get Out

I Just Can’t Get Out

It seemed so futile.

While sitting at my desk today, my ears were perked by a frustrated buzzing sound.

As I looked at the window in front of me, I saw the wasp that was desperately trying to get back out doors. He walked up and down the window pane, wings fluttering constantly in case he should finally step off of this invisible barrier and achieve his goal of the great wide open.

So close, but yet so far.

So close, but yet so far.

For 12 minutes he paced the glass, often times wandering farther away from the open window and his only escape to freedom, his only path to achieve his heart’s desire.

I occasionally tried to usher him in the right direction, using the window curtain or a piece of paper. To no avail; he was certain that if he just kept where he was, he would eventually get through. And had he moved 6 inches to the right, he would have succeeded. I wondered if it would ever happen. I considered whether or not I should just crush him against the glass, ending his frustration (and my own).

But I didn’t. After some minutes he made it to the top pane of glass, then shifted so that he sat just above the opened window. I could see that hope was in sight; would he take that final step down and around the window frame obstacle and find freedom?

He did!

While watching this wasp, I realized this was a perfect sermon illustration…5 months too late for a message that I gave earlier this year (which you can listen to from my Writings page; just scroll down to Sermon Audio).

In that talk, I reflected on how we can get distracted, even blockaded, from attaining the very good purposes we may have by becoming fixated upon the means, rather than the goal.

This wasp couldn’t get out the window because he was stuck on dealing with the window.

Similarly, we sometimes may struggle to attain the goal of really walking with God, engaging deeply with Him, because we may get distracted by the very avenues–spiritual disciplines, our own experience, worship, testimony, prayer, even Scripture–that should enable us to encounter God. All of these “windows” are excellent avenues for us to get a vision of relationship with God, and are effective means for us to meet with Him. Or at least they can be. They can also become a distraction to us if we end up obsessing over the means, and set aside the ends.

The wasp got out eventually. I don’t know how bruised he was after bashing himself against the inside of my window for nearly a quarter of an hour. I don’t know what emotions he encountered, what wounds he acquired, but I do know that he wasted a fair bit of time and energy…especially for an insect with a lifespan of just 12 days.

What about us? What are the goals of our own spiritual lives? What avenues do we have for walking those paths? And are we utilizing those avenues well, or are we enabling ourselves to become distracted? Are we caught up in some nuance of Scripture that’s preventing us from hearing God? Are we concerned about the format (or formula) of our prayer, rather than actually having a conversation with God? Are we embarrassed by our singing voice or lack of rhythm, rather than worshiping God? Are we spooked by the labels that others may ascribe to us, rather than enjoying a spiritual discipline as an opportunity to meet with God?

What windows are we butting up against, rather than walking through? In what areas of life are we internally proclaiming, “I just can’t get out”?

In addition to the sermon mentioned above (entitled “Windows & Rainbow Stickers“), another resource I’ve found helpful for this question is a book entitled Designed for Relationship, which looks at various aspects of who we are, and addresses challenges and opportunities for growth in each that can enable us to have the kind of interaction with God that we were intended for. Definitely recommended.

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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Life, Prayer, Theology


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The Sin of the Tree of Knowledge

The Sin of the Tree of Knowledge

Contemplating mankind’s errant ways and need for restoration can lead us into all kinds of metaphors, analogies, myths, and fairytales.

Amidst all the musing, the central issue can easily get lost, or even completely missed and never discovered.

From my foundation of Christian faith, I have regularly heard the terms “sin” and “salvation,” and often encountered all kinds of courtroom, debt, and slavery analogies.

Each may be helpful to a degree, shedding a ray of light onto a mystery that seems somewhat graspable, and yet not entirely explainable.

But I still think that there’s something missing in all of this, as we try to understand the circumstances of humankind and the nature of our brokenness.

It wasn’t until a friend shared an incredible insight with me that the pieces became more clear. And as another friend has done more writing on the subject of relationship recently, I think I’m getting a clearer picture than ever.

What is the main issue? What is the big mistake that Adam & Eve committed in the Garden of Eden when they listened to the snake and grabbed the fruit off of the forbidden “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”?

Their problem was this: they were seeking to know apart from God, apart from relationship with Him.

Rather than continuing to walk with Him in the garden during the cool of the day, chatting it up about whatever they wanted to know and whatever He wanted to tell them, they tried to take the quick and dirty way, the non-relational way.

They were trying to erode the mystery (what will happen if we go against what God says, if we leave Him out of our thoughts and actions?), trying to just gather the information and cut to the chase rather than learn progressively, as a result of walking daily with the Sovereign of the Universe.

They tried to become self-defined: we are the ones who know, the ones who have eaten of the fruit.

The result was indeed self-definition…an isolation and separation from God and a shame and concern for self that they could hardly bear.

They got knowledge alright. They got awareness.  But they didn’t get the right kind, the right way.

I’ve heard that instead of calling it “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” it might be better understood as “the tree of good and bad knowing.”

Some philosophers may claim that all knowledge is good and virtuous. But clearly, there are some things that we are really better off not knowing–like how to make nuclear weapons. And there are other things that are not worth knowing in the way that we came to learn them–gruesome human experiments in Nazi Germany come to mind.

No, there is good knowing and bad knowing. Good knowing comes from walking in relationship with the One who forms, owns, and runs the Universe. Bad knowing comes from going our own way, pursuing the knowledge we want by the methods we choose, rather than learning the things we need to know from the one Good Teacher.

There was a tree in the middle of the garden that represented a choice: good knowing was available and enjoyed. Bad knowing was out there. Instant gratification. Delightful to the eyes. Food for the body and mind. But not for the soul.

Humanity’s main issue is that we tried to learn and grow apart from God. We tried to define for ourselves what we should know–and thus how we should live, and even who we should be. And these things run exactly contrary to the essence of good knowing, of walking the path that God has for us, of learning the lessons He teaches us, of becoming the people He has intended for us to be.

The sin of partaking of the tree of knowledge is not merely disobeying the commandment of God (as if that weren’t enough), but rather the plotting of a course of self-definition and self-determination that is not ours to plot. We don’t belong to ourselves. We were bought at a price. And we were created for relationship. To turn our back on these things, to turn our back on this God, is at the root of our ongoing need for restoration, for deliverance, for salvation.

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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Theology


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