Why me, God?

Originally posted on The Sharp End:

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I’m a nobody.

There’s nothing overly special about me. I’m not stronger or smarter than the average person. I don’t have some kind of special knowledge. I don’t love better than others. I don’t sin less than anyone. I’m abundantly average.

In fact, I feel like I am weaker than most. I don’t know nearly all that I want to know, and my wisdom isn’t very wise compared to those I look up to. I struggle with loving other people because of my innate ability to be selfish. Oh, and I sin – a lot. Maybe I’m less than average.

I didn’t always see myself like this. I used to think I was everything to everyone. I was God’s gift to the world, but then I grew up and the voices around me began to make headway into my own thoughts. I began to see myself in light of the…

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The Beauty of the Gospel

Originally posted on Resurrected Living:

compadres-blog

We are accustom to reading the Bible as truth, which it is, but if truth is the only thing we see then we are missing much of what the Bible has to offer. The Bible is also full of beauty. It reflects the glory we find in Jesus. To miss the beauty of Scripture is to miss the glory of the Son of God.

This beauty is found before the Messiah takes on flesh and is born in a manger. The Old Testament is full of beauty. The poetry in the psalms and the prophets contain echoes of better things to come. The Gospel of Luke begins with a story about a childless couple. The righteous prayers of Elizabeth and Zechariah are heard by God and he decides to act on their behalf. As Zechariah enters the temple, he is visited by an angel who delivers the good news. Zechariah…

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In Christ: Neither Democrat Nor Republican

Since the original sin, division has been the plight of fallen humanity. For many cultures, race and ethnicity has been a boundary separating people. Fortunately, in America, the walls of racial and ethnic division are coming down. This isn’t to say they don’t exist at all any more but to say that racial and ethnic discrimination is regarded as morally wrong and something society must overcome. But… Even as the walls of racial and ethnic divisions are toppling, are Americans erecting new walls based on their political ideologies?

Unless You’re A…

Let’s look closer at who Americans are choosing to associate with and where they’re choosing to live. In his book The Big Sort, author Bill Bishop says,

As Americans have moved over the past three decades, they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs, and in the end, politics. Little, if any, of this political migration was by design, a conscious effort by people to live among like-voting neighbors (p. 5).

He goes on to say that, “In 1976, less than a quarter of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide. By 2004, nearly half of all voters lived in landslide counties” (p. 6). This doesn’t mean that politics is the only factor Americans are basing their decision on where to live but it does suggest that politics has become an important factor, perhaps a very important factor.

Two days ago I read an editorial piece titled Is America Dangerously Divided? discussing how Americans are separating based on political affiliations. In the article, which is based on this recent Pew Research survey, we are told that:

More than six-in-ten of consistent conservatives and about half of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their political views. People on the right and the left also say it is important to them to live in a place where most people have similar political sentiments. And three-out-of-ten consistent conservatives say they would be unhappy if an immediate family member married a Democrat (compared with almost a quarter of across-the-board liberals who voice the same concern about the prospect of a Republican in-law).

Apparently then in a culture where tolerance is a preached, Americans have their limits and they’re spelled D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T, R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N, etc… So it seams that if I’m an _________ and you’re a _________ then we apparently can’t be neighbors, friends, not even family members.

One In Christ!

This is a great opportunity for the church in America except that many Christians identify themselves also as Democrats, Republicans, or some other political party. So maybe Christians – we who profess faith in Jesus Christ – need to think afresh about the gospel our faith is to be aligned with.

An ancient daybreak prayer of the Jewish male was, “I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” It was this kind of culturally acceptable thinking with its social distinctions that the gospel of Jesus Christ sought to obliterate and this aim is the issue that permeates much of the New Testament. Consequently, the gospel of Jesus Christ is as much social as it is theological. That is, just as the gospel is a theology statement about the God’s work in the world, so it’s a social statement about his intention for the world (Tweet that!). Thus, in Jesus Christ, God is not just reconciling all people to himself but is also reconciling all people to each other as well so that all people becoming one community belonging to God (cf. Eph 2:14-16).

The Apostle Paul expresses one of the clearest statements of how the gospel of Jesus Christ upends the social-reality of the world saying in Galatians 3:27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NET). But given the increasing political division that is shaping American culture, might not the gospel also be there is neither Democrat, Republican nor any other political party, for Christians are one in Christ? 

Our Baptism Into Christ Professes…

This is neither to suggest that Christians are not entitled to side with a particular political view when they believe that such belief is right and for the good of society nor is it to suggest whether Christians should or should not vote. The concern is that in America many Christians, some more so than others, align themselves with one particular political party or another. This happens even as the gospel has often been absorbed into the various American political ideologies. So its seems that Christians would do much better to identify themselves from the point of their baptism rather than some political reality that belongs to the old dying world (or anything else belonging to this dying world).

So much needs to be said about what it means for Christians living into the reality that they are neither Democrat nor Republican but baptized into Christ. Yet for our purposes here, I’ll mention three quick implications. First, Christians don’t have any business in dividing from people because they are Democrat, Republican, or of some other political (socialist, libertarian, etc…). This includes deciding where we might live, whom we socialize with, and whom we marry (it’s a shame that any marriage could be affected by politics!). Second, Christians must also remember that the kingdom of God, to which we belong, and it’s values are neither red or blue, right or left, but wholly other. Our allegiance is to Jesus Christ whom we confess as Lord, as our baptism into Christ professes, and therefore our discernment and practice of what is right must emanate from this allegiance rather than from any affinity we have to a political party. Lastly, while this post has focused on the growing political divisions in America, Christians must remember that ethnic, gender, and social divisions are unacceptable. After all, the gospel is the redemptive work of God in Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, that creates a community of people fueled by the Holy Spirit who loves all people just as God does. It’s this good news that Christians must be witness of!

Maybe one day Americans will slowly begin to see why the gospel of Jesus Christ really is the good news!

Sex, The Sinner, and Jesus

In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector. Many of us are familiar with it… But maybe we’ve forgotten it. More on that in a moment.

Sex…

Over the last couple of days I posted some links on Facebook to some blog posts regarding the subject of sexuality titled Why I Didn’t Wait and Homosexuality: Have I Changed My Mind? The first blog, written from a woman’s perspective, explains the problem with treating sex as nothing more than a casual meaningless activity. The later blog post is written by a seminary professor who while remaining convinced that the traditional view of what the Bible teaches on homosexuality is correct, explains how his posture has changed on this issue.

I realize that the vast subject of sexuality is a sensitive and contentious issue, especially in a culture where there is such a diversity of views. Nevertheless, I posted the links because they both offer a short but well-written word from a perspective that seems to get lost in the broad conversations on sexuality among Christians (and I agree with them too).

Something’s Bothering Me…

As I said, I realize that the subject of sexuality is difficult but as I read comments and responses, something began to bother me. Well, it’s actually something that I known for a while but now is an occasion to say something. It seems that for some Christians who hold to a more traditional view regarding what the Bible says about all things sex, this view is held alongside a certain degree of self-righteousness. For instance, we might mention how Jesus hung around the “sinners and tax-collectors” – those Gentiles who were regarded as pariahs among the Pharisees in Jesus’ day – and someone will inevitably insist that this doesn’t have any bearing on how we engage LGBTQ people.

Sometimes, perhaps many times, it seems as though anyone whose sin is of a sexual nature is somehow more of a sinner than someone whose sin is not. If you’ve ever listened to someone’s fear of what would happen when their church finds out they struggle with pornography, have been sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend, have feelings of same-sex attraction and may have even acted on those feelings, etc… then you know what I mean.

I’m not trying to make light of sexual sin or any sin for that matter. But I do believe the grace of God is bigger than any of our sins. But when sexual sin is singled out or when we think we are on higher ground because sexual sin is not our sin, something is afoul.

Eyes Upon Jesus!

So let me come back to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector. The Pharisee stood in his self-righteousness and praised God that he was unlike those other sinners, as though his own sin wasn’t so bad. The Tax-Coleector caught a glimpse of God as he looked to heaven and knowing that he was a sinner, simply asked God for mercy.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this parable and I think it begins with the one telling the parable. Jesus. He’s the fullness of God’s self-revelation. When we see Jesus, we see God and when we the Righteous One, we see how unrighteous we really are.

As Christians, as those who profess to follow Jesus, we need to keep our eyes fixed squarely upon Jesus. When we do, we become keenly aware of our own sins and lose our ability to pick up the metaphorical stones. For when we fix our eyes upon Jesus, we realize that we have too many of our own sins to be casting stones at any other sinner (including the person guilty of sexual sin). When we fix our eyes upon Jesus, we recognize our great need for the grace of God in our lives and the lives of others. When we fix our eyes upon Jesus, we learn to, as Preston Sprinkle so wonderfully said, “Not, love the sinner and hate the sin, but love the sinner and hate [our] own sin.

When we do so, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, we’ll learn how to engage people who need Jesus as much as we do (and be sure to read The Irritation of Incarnation by Dan White Jr.). These days I have more questions than I used to have. However, though I still hold to a traditional or conservative view regarding what the Bible says about sex, there is nothing about the teaching of scripture that precludes a generous and hospitable demeanor towards others. Maybe then we’d create a culture in our church where people could find the courage to let others bear their struggle with them without fear of condemnation.

Fix our eyes more upon Jesus and be thankful that he has a seat reserved for us all at his table!

Give a Man a Fish

Originally posted on From Dust:

       Today is my turn for the post in the Compadres’ Summer Blog Tour. The Compadres is a group of Christian leaders, many of which have blogs, and so we decided it would be good to try and put our enjoyment of writing together for the cause of Christ. The theme we have chosen to go with is events in the scripture that glorified Jesus. I decided to take a stab at John 6:1-15, Jesus feeding the 5,000. Before reading this post, I would encourage you to go read these 15 verses.

       John 5 ends with a sermon by Jesus, and chapter six begins with Jesus leaving the crowd, and going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus goes up on to the side of a mountain with his disciples, and as he looks up and out, he sees a large crowd…

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The Eclipsing of Christ!

Every year seems the same. Come Christmas and Christians are all giddy about the birth of Jesus Christ and remembering “the reason for the season.” Then as Easter approaches, we observe lent and focus our attention on the death and resurrection of our Lord. But then… The weather warms up as spring gives way to summer and Jesus is left on the back-burner as Christians turn there attention to national holidays. Patriotism eclipses the gospel. And maybe it’s just me but in recent years it seems that this patriotism has become more nationalistic, glorifying America as though it is the source and sustenance of life (idolatry is what that is). Honestly, I sometimes wonder if some Christians even understand the gospel. Allow me to explain…

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul describes Jesus as the peace that has mended the division between the Jews and Gentiles, a division that involves both ethnic and nationalistic pride. This is a very important aspect of the gospel but it’s something too many Christians are missing. The purpose of the gospel is the creation of one new humanity who are reconciled to one another and God. These reconciled people have a new identity that is found in Christ: they are  members of God’s household! What matters now is neither ethnic nor nationalistic identity because they belong to God. This is what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ, as the identity of every believer is now understood from their inclusion in Christ.

What was true for the Ephesians should be true for us who confess the name of Christ. But it’s not. Instead we claim our Christian identity while simultaneously carrying on our nationalistic identity, as though we can live for both nation and God. As I already alluded to, it is ironic that we are so worried about the removal of Christ from the holiday season but seem more than willing to allow the name of Christ to be eclipsed by patriotic fever.

Part of the problem is that to a large degree we have separated ourselves from the church (and notice how I just used “church” in the 3rd-person voice). Church is somewhere we go rather than who we are. So we see ourselves as Americans who also happen to be Christians that go to church rather than people who belong to God and just happen to live in America. Simply put, we tend to view ourselves as American Christians rather than Christians living in America. This is why, for example, during the American Civil War Christians were able to kill other Christians because those they identified more with the state than the church. That is, they saw themselves belonging to either the Union or Confederate State rather than to the household of God.

Today when we gather as the church on Sunday’s, we partake in the bread and wine as the family of God… proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again. We also dream of heaven where the life we know by faith will be known by sight. Yet we miss the fact that as the church we’re meant to be a portrait of the heavenly life to come so that the world can see what the purpose of the gospel is. But we can’t be that so long as our purpose is oriented towards nationalism, as we can’t act out two different stories simultaneously. So it would seem that if we are so interested in the heavenly life that we would have more interested in that life now and expressing that life now.

Grace! A Scandal Among Christians?

Hang around almost any church in America and it won’t be very long until you hear something said about the grace of God. It’s one of the most cherished and fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and yet this grace is a scandal.*

Grace is Much Deeper, More Earthy

You see, though salvation is by the grace of God, grace is much deeper and more earthy than a few hymns and a doctrinal statement. The grace of God is rooted in and finds its grandest expression in the incarnation of God… in the Son of God, this Galilean born in Nazareth among a barn, born to a mother whose unwed pregnancy stirred enough scandal all by itself.

We know him as Jesus, the Messiah. We believe in him. We pray in his name, sing praises about him, and apparently we’ll even rent out entire theaters to watch movies made about him. I guess you can say that we love the stories told about Jesus, the ones in the Bible. In fact, every preacher knows that he or she can’t go wrong in preaching about Jesus. After all, we’re Christians… We have a friend in Jesus, who all of our sins and griefs to bear

We adore Jesus and we adore all those stories we’ve read about Jesus in the Bible. We hear the stories of Jesus driving out demons, healing a leper, feeding five-thousand hungry mouths, eating lunch with sinners and tax-collectors, forgiving a woman caught in adultery, washing the feet of his friend-become-enemy named Judas Iscariot, and even promising paradise to the condemned criminal as Jesus himself was being crucified… And our hearts melt! When Jesus spoke from the cross and said, “Father, forgive them…” (Lk 23:34), we hear his grandest expression of love and mercy. For even as he was dying a cruel and shameful and death he didn’t deserve, he never abandoned the character of God’s grace.

But… Malarkey!

The Apostle Paul wrote that even as we were “sinners” and “enemies” of God, Jesus died for us to save us (cf. Rom 5:8, 10). We love it, cherish it, stake our faith upon it. When it comes to us, we’re never beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy. It’s not that we think we’re somehow deserving of God’s grace. We just know how much we need the grace of God, so we relish in knowing that God loves us and is merciful to us from the boundless riches of his grace.

But what about the other person whose sins are different than ours, whose struggles are more apparent than ours, whose life is much more of a mess than ours? What happens when we encounter a homeless veteran who only knows how to numb his pain with lots of drugs and alcohol? What happens when we encounter a flamboyant LGBTQ person suffering from AIDS who’s angry towards Christians because of the rejection he or she encountered among the church of their youth when they were struggling with their sexual identity? What happens when we encounter our Muslim neighbor whose ideological outlook on life appears unAmerican? What happens when that family whose skin color differs from ours, whose language isn’t American English, moves into the neighborhood bringing with them their culture from back home?

This is where the test of how well we really embrace the grace of God is proved. But truly embracing the grace of God is not something all Christians have an interest in doing. Some will go to great lengths to evade practicing the same grace they revel in as believers. When it comes to showing mercy, loving one’s neighbor and even their enemy, and practicing hospitality with the stranger whose sin is reviling, some Christians turn to their ever handy and favorite ad hoc proof-texts from the Bible. With their favorite proof-text in mind and coupled with a big dose of utilitarian reasoning, they dismiss the example Jesus lived – this life we are called to follow Jesus in living. I even heard one Christian point to King David from the Old Testament, as though we’re called to follow David rather than Jesus… as though the example of David is greater than the example of Jesus.

This is malarkey! When we resort to such evasive tactics, we become like the Pharisees and other religious authorities of Jesus’ day who knew their Bibles well but missed the very heart of God revealed in Jesus. The grace of God, which is most palpably expressed in the life Jesus lived, must transform our character so that we learn to think, speak, and act with love and mercy towards others regardless of what condition or decisions they have made in life. When it doesn’t, then the scandal of God’s grace apparently becomes too big of a scandal for even us to embrace.

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* This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (June 4, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.