The New Restoration

The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

imageIf I was to awaken you from a deep REM cycle and question your self-identity, how would you answer? Would it be a racial or ethnic label, political or alumni affiliation, or would your respond with the label of any one of the innumerable cultural tribes? If I was to ask this question of a younger disciple of Jesus, author Gabe Lyons asserts that the answer would most likely not be ‘Christian’.  As he says in the opening lines of The Next Christians, many of his generation were and are embarrassed by this label. Not because of Jesus, he is quick to add, but because of the negative cultural connotations that have become associated with the EvangelicalFundamentalLiturgical tribe.

Lyons spends the next two hundred pages outlining the efforts and leadership of a generation of Christ followers intent on restoring two things, the positive image of the Christian label and the influence of that tribe on the larger culture. Far from proclaiming that the Church is dead, Lyons identifies a strata of disciples who are investing their lives in the restoration of Christian transformation of the culture. The intention of the restorers is not to stand aloof from the world and point to its many corruptions from the safety of a sanctuary, but rather, to immerse themselves in the culture and change it from the inside out. The restorers take seriously the salt and light imagery given by Jesus.

There are many parallels between the missional movement popular a few years back and the restorers. The difference that Lyons highlights through the many people he uses to illustrate his points is that the missional Church was a top-down movement that affixed a label to a church in the hopes that members of that church would self-identify as well. The restorers are a distinctly bottom-up tribe, followers of Christ first and foremost who take their influence fearlessly into their vocations. If the Church at large should wish to follow, that would be fine, but the restorers are not waiting on any ordination of their ministry before following their calling.

The Next Christians serves the followers of Christ in two ways. It is an important cultural touchstone for the Church as a whole who need to understand and follow the new leadership that will arise and call them out of their fortresses. It is also mirror that can be used in your personal self-survey. Examine the lives that Lyons highlights. Test them against your theological and cultural understandings. The author doesn’t provide ten steps to becoming a restorer; those steps will be up to you and unique calling that infuses your life. What he does record are the lives of influencers, believers who are restoring one small corner of the world, and re-establishing the Christian label as a positive identifier.

I’m grateful to Doubleday publishers who graciously provided this copy for review.

Psalm 83 – That the Name of Israel Be Remembered No More

imageMay they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace.

Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord —

that you alone are the Most High over all the earth. (Ps 83:17-18)

An imprecatory psalm is not a rare find as you pore over the pages of the Psalter. Again and again, Israel cries out to Yahweh to destroy the enemies arrayed against her, for His own good! In 83 as elsewhere, the Israelites look out at their borders and see, what to them must have been, the entire world turn enemy. They find no hope within and raise prayers of violent redemption to God. Save us, they intone. Save us so that the world will see that You are God!

Wasn’t that supposed to be the witness of Israel herself?

In covenant relationship, Israel was to stand as an example of the good that comes from being the chosen of the Most High over all the earth. They’re repeated failures to do so are found in the same pages of the Old Testament that continue their pleas for the destruction of others. To read both Ezekiel and the Psalms at the same time is to read the same story from two different perspectives. The words of God who directs the punishment of Israel by her enemies go unheeded.

Is it possible we do the same today? Do we ask the Lord to remove the consequence of sin from our lives while continuing to ignore the demand for holiness that the Spirit reminds us of regularly? We fail to see the corrections that come into our lives as being delivered by the same One from whom we seek relief. We might do better to review the history before us in the pages of Scripture, and learn more about the way God works. Rather than prayers for relief, we should pray for insight into that in our lives that is displeasing to our Lord.

 

Grace and peace to you..

image by xdop

Psalm 79 – Will You Be Angry Forever?

imageO God, the nations have invade you inheritance;

they have defiled you holy temple,

they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble. (Ps 79:1)

The psalmist writes this opening line from exile. The verses that follow describe the horrors that filled their last visions of the promised land. The dead becoming food for birds, the Temple destroyed, much blood pooled everywhere; there was no end to the desecration of the Lord’s land or people.

And all of Israel knew that they were responsible for bringing it to the land.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?

How long will your jealousy burn like fire? (v4)

Was it appropriate to question the length their exile from God’s protection? The covenant shaped the boundaries of their relationship with Yahweh. He had upheld His end of the agreement and Israel had, time after time after time, utterly failed at hers. God had no responsibility to restore them to His fold, no covenant requirement to return them to the land and to prosperity.

Except that He loved them, just as He loves you today. Despite your many faults and failures. Despite your tendency to worship at other altars as the mood suits you. Despite the fact that you believe your sin to hide behind and opaque curtain. Despite the fact that your faithfulness to Him is questionable. He still loves you as a parent loves a wayward child.

The conditional structure of the psalm is disturbing to the Christian who is raised on the image of a merciful God. Calling for the crushing and destruction of one’s enemies does not normally occur to us (though we may privately entertain such thoughts.) It is the structure of the requests that trouble us. “Destroy them, curse them” says Israel and then we will worship you forever. Our modern eyes must read this carefully. The acts of destruction and carnage described are, above all, affronts to God. The call for retribution is a call to restore his Holy Name against those who demean it through their acts.

Psalm 79 speaks to responsibility. If we are lacking blessing, we need to return to the shadow of the cross so that, with sun blocked, we can see our own sin more clearly. Repenting, we can seek His mercy and praise Him once again.

 

Grace and peace to you.

image jamelah

Third Sunday in Advent with Micah – Restoration

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Israel longed for the promise of being made whole again after their internal corruption had ripped them asunder. Micah brought this promise to them but also reminded them that they must remain in the crucible a bit longer in order to reach the necessary purity.

I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.

I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. (v 2:12)

No matter what our personal situation may reflect now, the anticipation of the birth of Jesus kindles hope within us of a personal restoration. His gift of the Holy Spirit can gather our fractured souls together and restore us to what God had intended for us to be. We won’t be perfect, not in this lifetime but when we are all gathered home. . . that is a gift worth receiving.

Our thoughts in this season must move beyond this personal gift and extend it to others. When we become a part of a single body we move together as the representative of the Savior on earth. We become this face of restoration as we bind up the broken and invite them into the sheepfold to enjoy the love of their Restorer.