Monthly Archives: January 2020

Why Religious Conversion Is More Than Joining a Church

A Muslim man once confidently told me that everyone born in the United States is a Christian, unless his family is Muslim or Jewish. I did not ask him what that means for people from Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Sikh, or Baha’i families, nor did I ask what it meant for people who intentionally convert to one of these religions later in life.

A convert is, simply, a person who has been converted – that is, a person who has chosen to be altered or transformed. In religious conversion, a person who believed certain things about God and existence comes to believe other things and adjusts his or her life accordingly.

I know little about the way other religions view conversion or the expectations they consider appropriate for converts. If they are anything like those placed on Christian converts, they vary widely from group to group. Among the many groups that claim allegiance to Jesus, some require only a verbal profession of faith. Others expect regular church attendance, participation in instructional classes, and personal accountability in an ongoing relationship with a spiritual mentor.

Whether a simple confession or many months of intensive training, most Christian groups see the process of conversion culminating in the admission of the prospective convert into the church family, usually at baptism. This, I think, is a mistake, which does not serve the convert or the church, and does not align well with the biblical data on the nature of transformation. Continue reading

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Was Shakespeare Right: Is Love Blind?

Okay, so someone is bound to tell me it wasn’t Shakespeare but Chaucer who coined the phrase that love is blind. I’ll give you that, but Shakespeare popularized the phrase by his repeated use of it: The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Henry V all include it.

Before someone has the chance to object that some Persian poet who predated Chaucer really composed the line, I’ll concede the point, but the question remains. Was Chaucer and Shakespeare (and whoever else) right? Is love blind?

The answer depends on what one means by love. Eros, I think, is often blind. Friends and family watch the lover as he ignores glaring signals and stands poised to fall into a deep ditch. Love has made him blind to his situation and deaf to his friends. Continue reading

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I AM the Vine

But what is our part?

It can be stated in three words: Abide in Jesus. That’s job one. If we do that, we will be okay, no matter what else happens. We will produce abundant fruit. Christ’s life will be apparent in the fruit that grows from us. Our greatest danger doesn’t arise from trials but from failing to abide.

Jesus says in verse 4: “Remain” – that’s how the NIV translates the word the King James has as abide – “in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

To abide is to stay or remain or reside. According to Jesus, this is the key to being fruitful – that is, the key to experiencing fulfillment. Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit…”

Is abiding something mystical? Not really. I abide in my home. When I go somewhere – whether to town or across the country – I come back to my home. My life is oriented around my home. That’s where I eat meals, where I sleep, where I work, where I communicate, where I relax. I know how long it takes to get from my home to most all the places I go. I know how long it takes to get back. I plan my life around my home.
To be homeless is an enormous trial. It disorients a person. It throws everything off. Some people are spiritually homeless. They are disoriented in their spirits. They are not abiding – not residing – in Christ and so everything for them is unsettled. Continue reading

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I AM the Vine

Excerpt from I AM the Vine http://lockwoodchurch.org/media (Listening time: 21:00) An exceptionally popular pastor and writer came out with a book in which he criticized the church’s “incessant habit of reaching back into the old covenant concepts, teachings, sayings, and … Continue reading

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Nostalgia and Faith: Can They Coexist?

No one needs faith for something that has already happened. Faith, by its nature, requires a future component, a measure of uncertainty. In situations where there is no uncertainty – the package has already arrived, as promised, the test has been scored – faith is superfluous.

Does this imply that people of faith, like myself, will not be nostalgic, since nostalgia is about the settled past and faith is about the unsettled future? I hope not, because I sometimes wax nostalgic, particularly around the holidays. I remember winter mornings when my brother and I would run out on the front porch in our bare feet to retrieve the foil-topped bottles the milkman had left. We’d pour ourselves a glass, then chew the frozen milk crystals that collected on the top.

Such memories are pleasant to me. Nostalgia is not about times of loneliness and sorrow, but about times of peace and camaraderie. The past I remember seems simpler, gentler, and more manageable. Unlike the future, the past never incites fear.

When the term “nostalgia” first came into use in the 17th century, it denoted a kind of mental illness. The doctor who coined the term described it as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause.” It was thought to be a type of home-sickness – the term coming from the Greek roots for “returning home” and for “pain.”

In recent years, however, social scientists have discovered various benefits that accompany nostalgia. Continue reading

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