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Thank God Christians are not all like me

As a Christian, I have gotten to know a wide variety of people that I wouldn’t have even met otherwise. Left to our own devices, we tend to make relationships based on rather superficial commonalties. Our reasons for gathering are sometimes downright petty. There are groups for people who like the same music, or who enjoy drinking beer and watching cars race around in circles, or who own the same brand of recreational vehicle, but when Jesus draws people together to worship and learn to live a new way, a wonderful chemistry occurs.

Opposites, when it comes to people, often really don’t attract; they fight or simply avoid one another, but this sometimes volatile mix is the only way the church has the potential for expressing the incomprehensible vastness of God’s character. Jesus’ original bunch of disciples was an odd mix who wouldn’t have naturally liked each other. Fishermen, tax collectors, egghead intellectuals, and common proletarian types all gathered around the One who called them in the first place.

If we put aside our differences and cling to Christ, we find plenty of common ground as well as a diversity that broadens our narrow lives. Some churches, perhaps by design, tend to attract the same types of people. There are churches favored by artists, intellectuals, punk rockers, professionals, old folks, and other non-spiritual preferences for being together, but I have always desired more variety in my churches.

For a while, I led a small group based on a college campus, which I found artificial and strange. I missed the babies, families, and old folks. Currently, a lot of my Christian friends are different from me, and I like it that way. Even though I’m a teacher and a bit of an intellectual goofball, my friends include engineers, contractors, carpenters, mechanics, and even an art dealer. Some of them have read very few books and watch movies that I consider lame entertainments, but I love them anyway.

Some of them are younger than I am, and they keep me energized. I especially love the older ones, though, who can look from the other side of careers and parenting and share their wisdom. I’m thankful for all the good Christian folks I have known over the years. Some have enriched my life for a season and moved on, and with others I have made it a priority to stay connected. Most of all, I thank God they were not all like me.

I can remember overhearing two guys talking about opera after a men’s meeting. Now, I admire the talent of such singers in a purely removed and academic way, but really don’t like opera in the least, and I’d almost rather be deaf than have to listen to that stuff all the time. But these two men, with whom I had shared good fellowship, they were going on and on like opera was the greatest experience in the world. It wasn’t until then that I realized how culturally different we were, and I almost wept because I knew I would never have even met them if Christ had not been so gracious in bringing us together.

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Theology and its limitations: Part two

Getting too analytical and taking everything apart for examination can cause us to lose perspective. I’ve had wonderful friendships with Reformed Presbyterians as well as Free Will Baptists. Having hung out with both camps, I know that in reality they agree on much more than they disagree about, and I have learned much from their own peculiar doctrines, even if they do have different ideas about what election, predestination, and perseverance mean.

On one hand, Reformed thinking taken to its extremes casts God as some sort of dictator who picks and chooses who goes to hell, and he pretty much micromanages all the goings on in this crazy world, both good and bad. On the other hand, when we take Arminianism (that’s the fancy word for the free-will side of the issue) and really run with it, we can make God seem impotent, hamstrung by man’s feebleness, and our own salvation can be a rather tentative arrangement.

Now, the theologians out there will argue that I’m oversimplifying their concepts, which I deliberately am just to make a point, or that I am completely misunderstanding them, or that I’m simply an idiot. Perhaps I am an idiot, but I am God’s idiot, and I have delved into various theologies pretty extensively. On points where they are polarized against one another, opposing camps have their Bible verses lined up, and they have their explanations for what they believe.

I choose to cling to what is precious and plain and simply let God keep some of the details to Himself. The Apostle Paul wrote down many of the very ideas all these divergent theologians use for their doctrines, but even he knew that he didn’t have everything sized up completely by exclaiming in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable are His ways!”

While I may sound like a mush-headed mystic, I want you to know that I’m not at all against theology. We all need some of it, to be sure. Certain truths must be taught, guarded closely, and defended passionately, but beyond these nearly universal basics of the faith held by most Christians, their apparently divergent theologies are mere lenses through which we may view reality.

We can certainly glean insights from many different theological constructs, but like any lens by which we view truth, each has its limits. I can use a microscope to see strange organisms swimming in my spit on a glass slide, or I can use binoculars to spot a deer I wouldn’t otherwise notice in a grove of trees, or I can use a telescope to view Saturn’s rings, but these tools can’t be used interchangeably, and they don’t help me one bit if I’m trying to tell my wife how her makeup looks before we go out on a date. Sometimes it’s simply best to use what God has given directly–His written Word and His Holy Spirit–and leave everything else alone.

Granted, the Bible can be hard to understand, and the Holy Spirit, or rather our perception of His work, is rather subjective, and that is where the theology guys start arguing their worth. Still, I can’t escape the fact that I’ve known and loved people with rather diverse theologies who all loved and served God well, nor can I escape the conviction that no single theological approach can answer all our questions. Much, we simply must leave to God.

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On being Christian

I’m a born-again Christian, but I don’t like to introduce myself as one. It’s not that I’m ashamed of Christ. No, it’s just that some people who aren’t Christians assume we’re all ultra-conservative, judgmental, Bible-thumping morons, and having been all those things at one time or another, I know how unattractive those traits can be to people who don’t share my faith (or even some who do). Worse yet, the term has lost a lot of meaning here in America where even a lot of Christians don’t seem to really understand the whole “born again” experience. It could be that we’ve reduced the Gospel to a basic transaction, as awe-inspiring as buying a product with a credit card.

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