Dr. Doublas Groothuis, Christian, philosopher, ethicist, and apologist extraordinaire provides his list of 49 imperatives or propositions for this year. We would all be wise to pay heed to his counsel. See the list here. Note especially 1 and 27.
and fed His lambs? When the Lord returned from the tomb, He had a conversation with Peter: (John 21:15-17)
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
He gave similar instructions to the disciples in Matthew 25. We are to see His image in all people no matter how corrupted or marred that image may be. Because of this, when we feed, clothe, comfort or visit another, we are doing it directly for Him. So what if the Church took these instructions to heart and made it a key component of our mission. Specifically, what if we started by feeding His lambs. Not just once a month or once a week, but every day. Not possible we hear, we don’t have the resources, it’s too much, etc.
Well, wait a minute…
This is the tiny vegetable garden that we nurture in our backyard. Not very big at all and nurture is hardly the right word. My wife and I are not urban farmers, to be sure. We dug up the dirt, stirred in some manure, poked the seeds into the ground and gave a little water every so often. That mass of greenery at the back of the picture is four little squash mounds; two Zucchini and two Yellow Squash. These plants, with all of the lack of attention that we can muster and all of the abuse they receive by getting clipped back so that they stay in the yard, being walked through by the dogs, and the searing south sun and upper nineties temperatures we have had nearly every day this summer, these plants provide more produce than several families can eat! We share the bounty with the neighbors and friends and still we have fresh vegetables and herbs beyond what we can use. After we have shared and eaten vegetables in every conceivable recipe, we still find ourselves with leftovers.
If an inexperienced gardener like myself can produce bushels of fresh vegetables far beyond my own needs I’m led to wonder why the Church can’t replicate this on a larger scale for the good of those around us. Many churches, especially suburban and rural churches, are surround by some measure of unpaved area covered by grass, shrubbery and trees. What if we took a small (or large) section of this ground and turned it over to a productive purpose such as growing low maintenance vegetables for the benefit of the community. They could be shared with the immediate neighbors of the church, taken down to the rescue mission, canned and placed in the food cupboard, or cooked and served to those in desperate need of a good meal. The possibilities of this ministry are endless. The gardeners could teach others to cultivate some simple plants (like those monsters in my garden) to provide for themselves. Mission teams can take the lessons of low-requirement, high-yield farming to those they wish to serve.
I’m certainly not proposing anything original here. The Spirit moved me to take a look at the possibilities and I saw the abundance I have through fresh eyes. The Bible confronts me every day, as it must everyone, with the words of God. One wonders why we don’t always take them seriously.
I don’t make any secret of the fact that some of my favorite music is Punk rock. Not the MTV, stuff but the old-school, hardcore, Mohawked, three-chord PUNK RAWK that is guaranteed to get a circle going if more than two people are listening. Some look at the music and musicians from a distance and pass judgment saying that no Christian should be anywhere near this kind of music. In general, I have to say they’re wrong. There might be some overly nihilistic bands that feed the undercurrent of despair among their fans but by and large, the Punk genre has an ethos that fits well with the Lord’s message.
This past week I have been witness to an unprecedented amount of finger pointing that screamed ‘Why don’t you care about this or that situation’. The trouble is, it stops right there. You rarely see people act on the injustices that they criticize you for crossing to the other side of the street to avoid. The punk ethos is different. While it criticizes the social wrongs of this world, the folks of this tribe are also know for acting on the problems as well. Rather than pointing my finger at you and whining because you don’t care about poverty or the homeless or the elderly I going to do something about it and then encourage you to join me.
Jesus could have sat off at a distance pointing to the myriad of brokenness that he surveyed and then implored his disciples to do something about it but that wasn’t His style. He got down in the dirt with the woman about to be stoned, He crossed the racial and gender dividing lines at the well, He touched the lepers and so many other act of mercy and grace. His style is my style and we hope it will be yours as well.
But I’m not going to pull my ‘Hawk out and wonder why you don’t devote yourself to the same concerns as I do. The Spirit works His ministry differently in all of us.
There is immense privilege inherited by members of a majority group that is often not available to others. The majority identification may come from racial differences or something as minor as the demarcation between member and visitor in a church but regardless, it is there to be mitigated or removed by the Gracist. David Anderson continues his examination of 1 Corinthians 12 as it applies to the Gracist, “our presentable parts need no special treatment.” The Gracist put this into practice by saying ‘I refuse to accept any favors or perks that may hurt you.’
This is an especially grace-filled notion because the perks, in and of themselves, pose no threat to others who do not receive them. Accepting them however, puts a gap between me and the person who has no access to them. Anderson gives an example that is immediately recognizable. In gatherings at the church or in member home, some are always invited to be the first to partake of the buffet. If I, as the pastor, were to jump to the front of the line and enjoy this little perk it means that the food may in shorter supply or a bit messy by the time the last person takes a plate. Something as simple as putting that person first spreads grace that can then extend to other areas of life.
This applies in countless areas where gaps based on race or gender or socio-economic status exist. I can not only refuse to partake of a perk but I can find a way for someone who has no access to that benefit or privilege to gain access. Being a Gracist is not hard and on this fine weekend morning, it is a good time to find a way to bring life to Paul’s teaching.
Modesty is not a term often associated with discussions of race but David Anderson makes an intriguing point in the next chapter of Gracism. The discussion of modesty derives from the next verse in 1 Corinthians to be applied:
…the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty.
Modesty, in context, is more than just a reference to one’s manner of dress or personal actions. It is a reference to the covering of one’s vulnerable areas. David gives the example of clothing and how it can be alluring and expose parts of our bodies better left covered or it can be a shield of sorts, offering cover for those areas of our bodies that we don’t want seen or that need a bit of protection. As he brings the metaphor to bear on the body, we read the passage as saying that before we express judgement or decide to expose areas of the body of humanity that are unsightly or need covering, we consider the gospel impact of offering a covering first. In others words, there are some issues within the the Body of Christ such as race or culture that are best dealt with behind closed doors, behind a drape of modesty. David is quick to point out that this modesty is not the same as sweeping sin or abuse under the rug.
Special modesty clothes the manner in which we speak about other cultural or racial groups because we place the unity of the Body as our highest priority. Division within the Church, whether it be racial or theological, does nothing to forward the gospel and everything to diminish our Lord and the love he offers. The Gracist is committed to giving our all to contribute to the dignity of others regardless of our differences. We focus our energies on making each other look good rather than exposing our vulnerabilities. Christ is glorified.
Changing the world doesn’t always have to come in monumental undertakings. Sometimes, it’s the little things that you and I can do to change things for the better. Good Magazine has a story about the renewal of small strips of urban blight. Read on…and then go do something about something.
While Rick Warren and the Saddleback community take a beating for their theology or supposed easy believism, Kay and Rick have done yeomon’s work in using the momentum of their community to address the AIDS issue. Here is a great profile in Good magazine on Kay and the ministry. Many will argue that having perfect doctrine in the non-essentials is the most important thing but, as I read Matthew 25, Jesus does not say examine your doctrine because there will be a test at the end. The only test I see Him mentioning is whether or not we saw Him in the oppressed, the downtrodden, and those in need. Is your theology making a difference?
Later this summer, I’m teaching a section of Religion in America in our Themes in Religion and Culture curriculum. The course examines the intersection of various religious traditions and the pluralistic culture of America to see how each contributes and affects the cultural religion of this society. In order to contribute to this discussion, students will need to be clear on the boundaries created by their personal definition of religion and cultural religion. Since many very smart people drop by here from time to time, I would like to enlist your help. Can you provide a definition for both of these terms?
Labberton comes to the end of The Dangerous Act of Worship with the answer to the question that has been gnawing at the reader from the first page; how? We have been reminded on each page that everything that matters is at stake in worship. The nudge that opens our eyes to see the world as God does comes through worship. Our hearts rent for justice are a result of worship. Labberton repeats his earlier assertion that we are to be people who heed God’s call to live out our worship in such a way that justice becomes an identifying mark, a testimony to Jesus and His transformative power. And yet, we remain asleep, drowsy from a lack of direction. He offers four concrete steps to rousing ourselves.
First, we must decide for ourselves to worship fully and faithfully. Worship is not measured in attendance and praise singing, it must be a way of life. A worshipful life involves full submission to His Lordship, to dying a little bit to gain a bit more of Him. In doing so our eyes open wider and wider, preparing us to…
Second, choose to see the injustice around us that cries out to be addressed by the transformative power of Jesus Christ. As our blurry vision clears, we must make the effort to focus it on the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the oppressive forces that put God’s people in those positions. We see it and as an act of worship…
Third, we choose to engage it. It does no good to simply see injustice, to have viewed it for emotional purposes like a painting in a gallery. Unlike walking away from the picture and promptly forgetting the details, Christ’s brothers and sisters should choose to keep the injustice in clear view. We examine it from all angles in order to restore justice to the situation from as many perspectives as possible. Our vision is filled with the needs of others, trusting in God for our own, so that we can worshipfully…
Four, choose to actively love others as Jesus Himself loves them. We will choose to love in full acceptance and in forgiveness. “When we choose to love in the name of Christ for the sake of justice, we allow our compassion to take us to people and to places for the sake of the other person, in advocacy for their need, out of a compassion for their suffering, even when it means sacrifice and suffering for us.”
Is our worship dangerous to our lives as we have known them? If not, the moment to begin is now. We have the promises of the Father for the future but a vocation to fulfill here in this broken world. It is through true worshippers that justice is restored. Labberton concludes with these questions that we must all ask ourselves:
Are we who follow Jesus Christ believing and acting out what God considers the matters of first importance? Or are we, as I fear, asleep to the real passions of God and the real needs of the world? More specifically, do our lives and practices of worship lead us to live in the ways that matter to God?
Peace be with you.
I have an article in the latest PRISM magazine. It talks about the fallout from the Rick Warren invitation to Barack Obama to speak at the Saddleback AIDS conference. My contention is that we as a community led by Jesus need to put aside denominational and perhaps faith differences in order to seek to good of the city (as Jeremiah would put it.) Give it a peek and let me know what you think.