Lent 2009 – 15 Steps to the Cross

PeterSteps

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (1 Peter 1:22-25)

How would you rate the love and fellowship in the Church? In your church the fellowship might be genuine and loving, but what about the church at large. There is a fellowship crisis that mirrors the alienation of the larger culture. This runs contrary to Peter’s exhortation to realize the before and after of one’s conversion. Those redeemed by the Savior have a new heart, a heart that is now capable of deeply loving others despite their human faults and struggles.

These last few verses conclude a passage on how holiness is something that we are to pursue and something that we are. The purification that comes of obedience to the Spirit within has as its result a holiness that becomes more Christ-like as we mature. This new nature has as one of its fruits the love of even the unlovable. Whether it be within our church or out in the streets, love must become one of our identifying characteristics.

Have you expressed holy love today?

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Life After Church by Brian Sanders

imageOne of the things many positive traits that Christians should be known for is doing everything with excellence as we strive to make the Imago Dei within us known. As Brian Sanders writes in Life After Church, this should include our leaving church if the Spirit moves us to do so. To some, this suggestion is sacrilege on the order of the pastor declaring that he is leaving his wife because God wants him to ‘be happy.’ Leaving A church is not the same as leaving church, Sanders is quick to remind throughout his work and it is not a confrontation of God. Rather, it is a way of reconciling the internal movement of the spirit within a particular Christian’s life that does not align with the direction of the body in which she worships and has community.

One of the most important things that the author asks us to consider is how we define church. Can a redeemed believer ever leave The Church? Theologically, no. Our membership in the body is sealed at our surrender. To be able to fully deny Jesus and profess unbelief is not the call of this book. Sanders asks the Christian who is considering a move from their current church to no church or to another congregation to consider the form that the soon to be ex-church takes. Three components are needed to declare a body to be ‘church’: worship, community, and mission. He gives three examples (which I quote directly) against which to compare our church:

  • A group of men who meet in a bar after work to talk about living deeper, more surrendered lives in which they take time to pray for their families and invite their nonbelieving friends to share a meal and the gospel would be church.
  • A Sunday morning service where a great organ resounds the glory of God and the music and preaching move thousands of unrelated people, who return the next week to have the same experience, never engaging the mission or each other—this is not church.
  • A group of mothers invites other mothers to a park after school and builds relationships with them and their kids, hoping to share Jesus with them. They also meet to pray for each other, listen to struggles, cry together and recommmit to the goal of living for Jesus and reaching every mother at that school. That is church.
  • The church softball team plays in a church league, worships together on Sunday and even enjoys good fellowship before and after the games with Christians from their own team and from other churches. This is not church.

The Spirit rebels against a ‘church’ where God is not honored, people aren’t in community with each other, or they aren’t reaching anyone. This is what causes the unrest in the Christian’s soul causing him to consider the jump into the unknown. The absence of one or more elements cannot be made up for by the overemphasis on the others. Again, I quote Sanders on falling into this error;

  • Just Worship: hypocrisy. If our spiritual life is confined to a privatized worship that’s sincere but doesn’t lead us into mission or into deep relationships with others, we face the threat of hypocrisy. We offer ourselves to God but don’t put into practice what his presence and his Word would require.
  • Just Community: idolatry. If we pursue deep relationships but fail to live those relationships in the light of the mission of God or to submit those relationships to the headship of Jesus, we risk idolatry. Deep relationships unmediated by a concern for the kingdom and mission of God will take over our hearts, taking a place that should belong only to God. These unbalanced relationships will quickly become unhealthy and detrimental to our spiritual life.
  • Just Mission: pride. If our spiritual life is confined to independently pursuing mission but not open, accountable friendships or dependence on God, we risk becoming our own God. Taking the mission on ourselves without realizing our need for God or the people of God will certainly lead to error and egomania.

Without all three, the place we find ourselves is not church. 

This book didn’t generate the buzz that others have over the past year since it was published and I must admit, this sat on my shelf for some time before I picked it up to read. While it is messy in the way that our lives as Christians are, Brian has filled the book with so many nuggets of wisdom and insight that you want to read with a pencil or marker in hand to underline or highlight those thoughts that you will want to go back to again and again. The final pages about leaving well reveal his true heart for The Church; we are not to leave to damage but to rebuild or strengthen. Selfishly leaving for the satisfaction of injuring others is not an acceptable action for the people of Jesus. We leave in love and concern for those left behind.

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Rembrandt in the Mud

John Burke’s first book No Perfect People Allowed solidified a lot of my ideas about ministry and in his new book, Soul Revolution he’s just as good. I came accross this paragraph on my first read,

Imagine you found a Rembrandt painting covered in mud. You wouldn’t focus on themud or treat it like mud. Your primary concern wouldn’t be the mud at all, even though it would need to be removed. You’d be ecstatic to have discovered something so valuable. If you tried to clean it up without the expertise, you might damage it. So you’d take the painting to an expert, who could show you how to restore it to its original condition. When people begin treating one another as God’s masterpiece waiting to be revealed, God’s grace grows in their lives and cleanses them.

The more I think about this, the more I love this.

Advent Benediction ~ The Song of Mary

image Rejoice in the presence of the Lord, may His face shine upon you.

May you walk in anticipation of the promise kept,

and may you fall to your knees in humility and repentance.

 

May you join with your sister Mary and your soul glorify the Lord, your savior.

I pray that you will be known as people of mercy as the Lord works through you

and that you will give to others the same love that He has given to you.

 

May you remember to be merciful, humble, and faithful,

even when you face uncertainty as Mary did.

May you trust in Him as His ways are perfect.

Amen

Four Knows for Talkin’ Theology

Writing blog entries about theology seems so easy on the surface. Identify a particular point or doctrine that you want to share, defend, or critique and lay out your thoughts. The thesis can be drawn from Scripture, a systematic, or the writings of another theologian followed by an explanation of the position that the writer wishes to stake. The words that underscore that position can be the author’s own or quotes/texts pulled from other sources and cited. All of this is well and good, but theology is not the same as discussing baseball, it has life altering implications.

image Because theology concerns God, we who choose to write on the topic have a responsibility that goes far beyond the ethic of the normal social contract. Theology impacts lives even when it is unstated and has become a cultural norm. Before we defend, critique, or even propose a specific theological construct or an entire framework, we must consider the impact of our position in light of its impact on God’s people. We are not operating in a vacuum where these beliefs and behaviors affect no one, a fact that we need to carefully consider before pushing the first words out into the cybersphere.

While I’m certain that I have exhibited a disregard for each of these at some point in my time as a theologian (and we’re all theologians), here are four rules that I try to apply to anything I do in this sphere, whether it is writing here or for publication, in preaching, and in the way I live out the theology. You might find them helpful as well or may have some additions that we can all utilize.

Know Your Theology Beyond Proof Texts

God did not limit his revelation to specific texts in the Scriptures. The first rule in theology is to consider every doctrine or position in light of the entirety of God’s revelation. Though you may disagree with his theology, Wesley utilized what has been labeled his Quadrilateral as a way of studying and organizing his understanding. This included the use of the complete Scripture (OT & NT), Tradition in the form of church history and the Spirit’s movement, Reason in the form of rational thinking and sensible interpretation, and Experience in examining a Christian’s personal and communal journey in Christ. Proof texting often fails to consider the ever widening circles of context and more often than not, another text can be found to show the point in a different light.

Know Any Theology That You Are Going to Label as Incorrect

I am less and less surprised at the number of critiques that I encounter in which the author rails against a certain theology or doctrine by using caricatures or incorrect representations of the belief (this happens with political discussion as well.) Before taking a critical position, we must have a relatively thorough and accurate knowledge of the development, the scriptures, and the persons involved in the doctrine we critique. If we rely on the opinions of others or a surface deep understanding of the doctrine, knowing only that it differs from our own, we do not serve God well in simply creating dissent among the body. Worse yet, we promulgate a shallow belief system that risks getting adopted by others. As an example, survey the number of times that Mormonism is declared heretical by an author who does not know the history of belief system or how many times Arminian belief is associated with Pelagius.

Know the Practical Application of Your Theology

All theology is practical. Every aspect of God has some effect on His relationship with His people. We are incorrect to treat theology as separate from life. The doctrines and beliefs that we hold are meant to affect our lives in practical ways, shaping the way in which we interact with the world, other people, and God himself. Arguing the different views of Atonement is one thing but how often do we think about the practical impact of believing the Penal substitution view against the Ransom, Moral Influence, Example, or Governmental positions? Each of these beliefs has a different impact on the worldview of the believer and how he or she interacts with God and the world.

Know God

This would seem to go without saying but it is so easy to find ourselves devoting enormous energy to knowing about God and less and less time knowing God. I can express my thoughts about my wife and child very well because I know them intimately. I have a deep relationship with each of them and have lived in close proximity for many, many years. Writing about your family would be much different because I can know only what you let me know or I can observe for myself. The same applies to those who choose to write about God; we must know Him intimately. We must be in tight relationship with Him and His Spirit. Not only will the Spirit guide our work but will also help us in withdrawing from battles that our worldly reactive side would choose to engage.

God bless each and every one of you who furthers the work of the kingdom in your writing and thinking. If I’ve missed or misstated something, I’ll look forward to reading your suggestions.

The Year of Immanuel

The name Immanuel is familiar to almost all Christians, though it appears infrequently in the Bible. We first encounter the name in Isaiah 7:14, most recently heard as a part of the Advent readings:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isa 7:14)

Here we are generally provided with an explanatory note that the name given is actually a combination of words, important ideas, that spell out God is With Us. The fact that the young women will name her child so is either an expression of faith in the face of adversity or a prayer for mercy and help (God Be With Us). Of the coming of our savior satisfies this sign as Jesus becomes one of us and is with us. Is this ideal just a sentiment of is it a theological fact that remains true today?  Theologically, God is with us as believers in the Holy Spirit but in a greater sense, God the Father is present with us intimately every moment of every day. Our response to this promise and its reality to large numbers of people is often quite different.

Many times we are guilty of living as though the Father was distant in heaven, tabulating our behavior from afar, listening to our prayers but not present. We do not consider His immediacy when we sin and we fail to acknowledge his presence surrounding those we do not minister too. Would we bypass the homeless man sprawled out on the sidewalk if the Father appeared as a specter, beckoning us to polish the imago dei for a fellow person? Would we casually continue our bigotry, divisive theological wars, oppression of gifted women, et. al. if we sensed that truly God was with us?

God with us is a profound theological truth that has many implications for our lives and ministry in our current day. It is our call to make it clear to the world at large that not only is God alongside and around us, but as Christian believers, He is in us! We live without condemnation for our past sins and we are empowered to turn from our daily temptation. We can walk into any situation as the Spirit leads without fear — God Is With Us. Why then, don’t we live this truth out in such a meaningful way that we change the world radically so that it nearly shimmers with kingdom values?

God with us has implications for our personal piety as well. Often we see the walls around us as come kind of shield between the God who is with us but not near us. If we truly sensed the presence of God, how would our pursuit of personal holiness be affected? Would we take sin more seriously? Would our devotion to personal and constant worship increase? Would we know in the depths our hearts that God is Truly With Us?

This can be our year of Immanuel, a year of radical change in ministry and a monumental transformation in holiness. I, for one, will be aligning my ministry with the burdens that God has placed on my heart. My pursuit of holiness will be an increased priority. God is With Me is going to be the most profound theological truth that I will pursue this year.

Join me.

The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer

Required Reading for Every Single Follower of Christ

shaeffer

Go to your library. Right now, this very moment. Scan the titles and covers. Do you find the book shown at the right? Look carefully as, at 59 pages, this slim volume could easily be hidden by larger, more ponderous volumes attempting to convey similar messages. Did you find a book by the same author entitled The Church at the End of the 20th Century? If the answer is no, you must obtain a copy of The Mark of the Christian as quickly as possible. Don’t tarry, for each moment the Body continues headlong into history without absorbing this message we move further away from one of the Lord’s most important messages,

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35

Love is to be our mark. Love within the Body is to be a light that illuminates the world showing that there is a different way, a better way. Each and every action that the world sees, both within and without of the Body, is to marked by this Love. Shaeffer turns our eyes toward the evangelistic purpose of this bond of love in John 17:20-21,

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

And if our actions toward other Christians fall short of this ideal of love? Shaeffer indicates that we should interpret this as a dire warning; the world has every right to judge US as not being true Christians. We cannot expect the world to believe in the truth of the Lord Jesus if they do not see the mark, the distinctive imprint of oneness within the Body. Read this book. Monthly if necessary until your mark is so indelible that the world will not mistake it for anything else.