Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Authentic Faith

Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia was a Christian monarch who left a lasting legacy in that Northeast African nation. By the time he ascended to the throne – after years of delay due to espionage, civil war, kidnappings, imprisonment, and a jailbreak that would make a great Hollywood screenplay – he was on track to leave footprints that would stabilize the nation for generations to come.

During his reign:

Ethiopia’s first modern bank

First postal system

A nation wired for telephones

Paved roads for cars

Cities plumbed for modern efficiencies – whether they existed or not.

He lowered the crime rate by installing an electric chair. Not to be used as intended, mind you. The country had no power plants at the time to actually hook the thing up. Rather, he used the electric chair as his throne and it had the effect of discouraging crime!

Menelik was a successful ruler. We might call him “authentic.”

And he was a Christian. But his Christianity was not so authentic.

For the King’s Christian faith was not based in the Bible but rather in the pages of the Bible.

Menelik believed the Bible had the power to cure illnesses and therefore every time he felt sick he ate a few pages from God’s Word. After suffering a serious stroke, Menelick prescribed for himself a strict diet of 1st and 2nd Kings. He ate both books, page by page which led to internal complications resulting in his death. It was an authentic idea … but he should have stuck with Jell-O.

Authentic Christians – that’s what I’m after. I want to be real, just as Christ is real. And I think this is what Christ was praying for in John 17. Our text ends with the prayer that we all be one. One of spirit, heart, mind, and soul. Believing in Christ as our only savior.

This past week I heard of a lot two different kinds of churches, and of at least two different kinds of Christians.

But Christ wants us to be one. He tells us that He’s the only God. We’ve heard from Jesus that He’s the way, the truth, the life. If there is only one Christ, then it makes sense that there’s only one way to be a Christian, only one way to salvation.

How can we know what that way is? The answer is the Bible. Genesis to Revelation – in its original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts – are the inspired, inerrant Word of God. It is how we know of Christ. But unlike Menelik, we don’t need to literally eat the Word to receive its power. We do read, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God, but we do that by living the Word, doing what it says, not eating its pages.

As you do this, I think you will find that the Bible draws us together into One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, it doesn’t fragment the people of God into white Christians, black Christians, Indonesian Christians, German Christians.

Recently in the Thursday morning True Men Study we looked at the part of the Book of Revelation where John sees the Church at the end of time. People from every nation, tribe, and language. This is authentic Christianity, this is the result of authentic faith.

A word about authentic faith. Authentic faith is to believe in Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem, lived a perfect life without sin, was punished and killed because of our sin, and rose from the dead. And the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the power to live the life that He calls us to live.

Living an authentic life is a desire that is deep inside all of us. We want our lives to have purpose, to count. At the end of our lives, we want it to have mattered that we were here, that we made a difference. That’s a desire that is deep down inside of us. Don’t worry if you don’t feel that desire quite like that, though. People like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Condoleezza Wright, these people didn’t do what they did because they had some overt sense of wanting to make history. I mean, they didn’t wake up one morning and say to themselves, “I will become father of my country because I want to live an authentic life.”

That isn’t usually how it works. Rather, a person that wants to live an authentic life tends to wake up each morning and face the day with prayer and giving glory to God, with words like, “I yours, Christ, do with me what you will. I will live this day to your glory, in the power of your resurrection.” Maybe not those exact words, but that spirit.

Being an authentic Christian means not “eating the pages.” That is, it means not being one in name only but making your Christian faith a part of your whole life – and this is key – for the glory of God and not the glory of yourself. Of all the news reports that I’ve seen in the last week – giving reverends a bad name – it seems to me that the problem is that what is being said has been about self and not about Christ. This is nothing new and won’t end with this current news cycle. As people we are inherently selfish. After all, the original sin was about “me” and “my feelings, wants, and desires.”

But an authentic Christian faith transforms. Menelik was transformed by eating his Bible – he grew constipated, nauseated, and finally died because of it. But when we are transformed by the Word of God living rather than eating its pages, we become new men and women. We become True Men and True Women – what God originally meant for us to be. It doesn’t happen overnight. George Washington didn’t become the father of our country immediately – he went through 20 years of character transforming as a junior officer in the British Army and then leader of the Virginia Regiment –a part of the British Army in the French and Indian War.

Abraham Lincoln didn’t just show up to be president in 1861. He went through hard character transformation which included many failures.

The keys to this character transformation that is part of Authentic Christianity, is that God’s Word has a prominent place in your life. Making it a part of your everyday living. Another key is that you don’t go through transformation alone.

The Christian Church – of which Redeemer congregation is a part of – is a family that helps implement the transformation. Word and Sacrament is what we sometimes call it. Being a part of a family of believers, reading and discussing God’s Word (in small groups), and partaking of the gifts of Christ in the sacraments – these are all part of authentic Christianity that leads to transformation

There will be set-backs. There will be disappointments. Transformation to an authentic faith and life means that some things have to be “torn down.” An authentic life and faith is an “extreme makeover” of our lives by the Law and Gospel of God. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is one of our favorite TV shows at our house. What’s the first thing they do after they send the family to Disneyland? They tear down the existing house!

There are times when in our quest for the authentic faith and life that it will seem like we’re taking two steps back for every one step forward (which doesn’t move you forward at all). Don’t be discouraged. This isn’t going to be easy. Life is hard. As Wesley says in The Princess Bride, “life is pain. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.” And that’s so true! The “Prosperity Gospel” is a lie – if only you believe enough God will give you everything you ever wanted. “Liberation Theology” leads down the wrong path, because it focus is on liberation from oppression and not liberation from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You will fail. That’s for sure. You’re going to make mistakes. But make sure your family is around you when you do make those mistakes. They can help turn you around, pick you up. And family, help those who fail around you, help pick them up, carry them home – what a great example of that we had in women’s college softball this past week.

That’s what our family is for. To help each other get back up after we fall and to encourage each other to carry out our mission to bring the gospel to the world.

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