Wednesday, April 28, 2010

That "Love Thy Neighbor" thing...

Here's a really good bit by Dan Edelen, and not just cause he quotes me quoting Bonhoeffer.

And that graphic of the billboard....!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bankrupt the Idol-Makers

On the often debated issue between theological conservatives and liberals over social justice, Jared Wilson has this to say:
In Acts, we see the personal gospel taking hold of individuals, which grew the counter-culture of the church, which resulted in all sorts of cultural and social fallout, from care of the poor to the bankruptcy of idol-makers.
I like the term "social fallout."  It implies that what Jesus did was like dropping a nuclear bomb on the world.  It's an apt metaphor. The Gospel of personal salvation is simply too explosive not to transform a social order.  How the Gospel of Christ for personal salvation became considered separate from James' "religion that is pure and undefiled before God" is probably a sadder story than I care to investigate right now.   But Jared does a pretty great job(though brief, as a foretaste of his next book) at not losing either end of the deal.

If it's good news that Christ atoned for my sin personally so that eternal union with him could be mine, than it must be good news that he expects the Jesus community to "remember the poor."  This is not medicine that's good for you but tastes bad or something.  This is what people who have passed from death to life do.  As a matter of deep desire and conviction.  And in the process of valuing the people around us more than whatever the newest $20-a-week fad, the idol-makers go bankrupt (that includes the Christian music industry, btw).

The way I understand it, the Gospel of personal salvation continues to be a Gospel of personal salvation day to day, forever.  The question to us is, do we still think it's Good News, or have we found better news since then in the promise of having control over our lives and being well-respected by our in-laws?  If Christ is as valuable as the Gospel suggests he is, then it's not only possible to "sell everything you have and give it to the poor," it might even be fun.  If, that is, we really think it's good news.

But before we go joining a church or creating a ministry designed to give help to the homeless, do we know any homeless people as it is?  Before we introduce a new cog into the church machine to help the lowly, is the church itself made up of the lowly?  Is "mercy ministry" a way of "reaching down" to those who are implicitly understood as inferior and in need of our help, or is it horizontal "seeing and reaching towards" people who, in the shadow of the Cross, look much like we do?

Because if the face of Christ's suffering for us is the suffering of individuals, and because the injustice of men that crucified Christ is the macro-implication of the injustice that inflicts suffering on all human victims of sin, presently incarnated as the poor, then what we do about the suffering poor implies and displays our posture towards the suffering Christ.  And the suffering Christ will not be ignored.  An "I don't care" is outright rejection.  A "that's someone else's job" is a hard-hearted refusal to consider Christ himself worthy of our attention.  A Gospel that is witnessed as that which gets you into heaven, but does not continue to challenge (no, condemn!) man's kingdom and point to Christ's Kingdom is soon an obsolete Gospel in which personal salvation itself will cease to mean anything compelling.  I don't know how many generations. One...maybe two.  

Many of us who are saying this are fairly middle-class, white and priveliged. We went to college.  These things don't come naturally for us.  We're struggling to, at the least, allow Scripture and our own humanity to keep us uncomfortable with the way things are.

The missional movement is seeking to correct a mistake that evangelicals have been making for a century or so.  The best of the movement will remain both Gospel-centered and embody the Kingdom of God now. There's no lasting fruit produced by removing the Cross from the ministry of justice.  There's also no authentic interest in the Gospel itself (of the Kingdom or for personal salvation) if a human display of compassion for the weak does not proceed from faith.  These are not negotiable.  Both errors are compromises on the very thing that correct faith depends on.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Easter: The Non-submission of Jesus to Our Designs

Chaplain Mike notes (again) that Easter is a season, and there's a reason for that.  The Risen Christ walked the earth for several weeks, having been dead for days, until his ascension recorded in the book of Acts.  While the liturgical church observes the Easter season, I have mostly come to know Easter as a single day, one we often associate with springtime, chocolate eggs, flowers around the altar, churches packed with folks in the best clothes who normally never show up, feasts of ham.

So why a season?  Christmas has a season too- the joyful anticipation of "God with us."  Easter?  The slack-jawed, stunned walking, talking, eating, and abiding with Jesus after he has died.  That the man you spent the last 3 years with, who was brutally crucified and most definitely dead, is now alive in the flesh.

One good way I can think of to remove my attention from my personal problems is to see a dead man walking. For 50 days straight, no less. The Resurrection, and thus the "programming" of the church year with a season devoted to it, is designed to counteract the effective gnosticism that most of us are wallowing in when it comes to spirituality.  Instead of seeing "God in my life," it is now myself who is being located in God's life.  By way of illustration, imagine the tides, or the phases of the moon. There's nothing we really do to cause these things to happen, nor could we prevent them if we tried.  We are "located" within those realities. We don't make them submit to our lives.  In other times, cultures were shaped by these natural rhythms, bending and shifting to shape the life of the people around the ordained principles of the earth.  Like harvest time, nighttime walks under the full moon.  We could do three bad things with objective realities like winter, or the Resurrection: stand, eyes shut tight, in denial that there is a rhythm and design to the universe that we don't control.  Ignore them, as if they didn't matter. Or we could consider them to matter only as far as they're capable of serving our personal designs. This is the category we find ourselves in America's 21st century.

The Risen Christ among us marginalizes the petty distractions we like to prioritize and the designs we want to subject him to.  Like liberalism.  Or seeing healing miracles.  Or how to get our churches to "reach out" more.  Jesus' brilliant and sovereign choice to appear to his disciples in the flesh for several weeks gives them, and us, the gift of sight. Not of "spiritual" sight.  Sight in the flesh.  That's what the Easter season is for: for us, the Church universal beginning with the first disciples, to see with our real eyes, the in-the-flesh reality of Jesus' Risen presence in the physical world in which we find ourselves.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Talking About the "De-Churched"

Two BRILLIANT posts about the "de-churched" at Out of Ur:

Part 1
Part 2

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Martin Luther Beats the Offering Plate Over My Head

As someone who's knee-jerk response to talk of tithes and offerings is to break out in hives and start frothing at the mouth, I think I benefited a little bit from this Martin Luther quote over at Christ Is Deeper Still:
“I understand that this is the week for the church collection, and many of you do not want to give a thing.  You ungrateful people should be ashamed of yourselves. . . . I am sorry I ever freed you from the tyrants and the papists.  You ungrateful beasts, you are not worthy of the treasure of the gospel.  If you don’t improve, I will stop preaching rather than cast pearls before swine.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010


For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  Romans 11:32-33

If the riches of God's mercy in Jesus Christ were enough for me, I would see there is nothing I can lose that can take away what he has gained, and nothing I can gain that can reverse what I lost in my disobedience. And then I would fear no pain, no man, nothing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

pre-Easter, Easter, and post-Easter

22 Then the Lord God said,  “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand  and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden  to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.  Genesis 3:22-24

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.  Luke 24:1-12

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.   Hebrews 2:14-15

1. God instituted and ordained death as a preventative measure- kill them before they eat of the tree of life and live forever in their state of God-rejection.  Problem: sin.  Consequence: death(physical).

2. In a backwoods corner of the greatest empire on earth, unseen by the prestigious and powerful, Jesus physically rises from the dead exalts himself as King, reveals himself as the True Adam, validates his sin-killing work on the cross and reveals God's ultimate plan to abolish death. Given Genesis 2's handling of death, his conquest of sin must be a conquest of death, sin's consequence, as well.  It is an objective fact, not a metaphor for the pious to become sentimental about.  Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and never died again.

3.  For milennia, the fear of death has haunted humanity, throwing it into a continuous self-perpetuating spiral of sin- rejection of God, his design, his character, his will. All because mortal humans can't come to terms with the idea that life will end, all because of a multi-generational conditioned reaction against this final affront against the life they consider good.  Forgetting that God himself ordained it, refusing to trust that the God who committed this mass homicide is in fact good and that there is ultimate design in this curse. Exceptional cases are those like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago.

But now the truth is out: Jesus Christ, born of a woman, has submitted to death and come out the other side.  (side note: if you're thinking of resurrection as a "spiritual" reality, you'd better be giving a lot more airplay to the literal fact of Jesus' Resurrection.)  The result: He has disarmed Satan who has been wielding the fear of death against the children of flesh and blood for millennia and conditioning them with that fear.  By rising (in the flesh!) from the dead, he proves to any bit of humanity bothering to watch that God's design truly is good, that death is a speed bump, that fear is completely unwarranted, that the sin that caused death in the first place has been crucified, that dying is easy, far easier than being afraid of death ever was.  Fearlessness of pain and death, in the service of the Jesus-exalting, love-manifesting Kingdom, is now the norm for those who love him, and love the Resurrection "happening."

I know someone who climbs trees and jumps out of them.  Awhile back, she broke her wrist doing this and had to have a metal pin inserted to insure proper healing.  The whole process had to have been pretty painful.  Recently, after months of a broken wrist, the doctor pronounced her healed and removed the pin.  So what now? She's climbing trees and jumping out of them.

People who see Jesus risen, and rejoice over him, say things like "I will burn alive in a furnace before I will act out of the fear of pain and death, for that is the worship of idols."

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!