Post-Election Thoughts: Part 2

I have two observations after last night’s election. One is from the “secular” perspective, and the other from the “sacred.” Here is the latter:

(See Part 1)

This thought is primarily for my Christian friends. Non-Christian friends, feel free to observe in mute curiosity or ignore:

If you are a left-leaning Christian who thinks that the outcome of the American election somehow validates God’s endorsement of your views and represents a new reality for the future of the faith,

If you are a right-leaning Christian who thinks that the outcome of the American election s

omehow represents our inevitable decay toward certain doom,… then you have a very small god.If, however, we believe that God truly is sovereign and has revealed his will in his Son, then it is wise to remember that his purposes will ultimately come to pass, regardless of the human empires that currently struggle to dominate the lives of others. Our calling has never been and never will be to seek to wield the power of human institutions. It has been and always will be to love and seek God first, and out of that love people and guide them toward discipleship. Stick to that, and it will not matter who thinks they’re in power at any given time.

Post-Election Thoughts: Part 1

I have two observations after last night’s election. One is from the “secular” perspective, and the other from the “sacred.” Here is the former:

(See Part 2)

It was interesting to watch last night’s events through the lens of social media. I purposely avoided any traditional media coverage, other than online for incoming data. I primarily watched returns come in through Google’s page, but the AP feed was a little slow to update, so I supplemented with other sites for more current info.

Not listening to the talking heads on TV made for a peaceful viewi

ng of events, even to the degree that I was puzzled by the apparent stress of so many on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.It was also interesting to see the perspective each site represented from my own streams. Facebook was evenly divided between right-leaning and left-leaning people, perhaps skewing toward the right. Twitter was primarily left-leaning, with a few notable voices on the other side. Google+ was evenly mixed, showing more of an interest with the process than the result.

The end result: TV news media is irrelevant, and avoiding it is good for my health and sanity.

Simplicity

Today I saw the NYT article, The island where people forget to die.

I’ve read many articles like this one about people in places around the world who are known for their long and relatively peaceful lives. The focus of the articles always seems to be on how we can mine that culture and stamp it on our own to gain the results. The problem, though, is that our culture IS the problem, and no amount of copying parts of others or converting their food into a poor imitation here will give us the same result.

But if you read enough of these, the formula is almost always the same. Live a simple life. Eat simple food. Embrace a simple faith. Enjoy your community.

It reinforces the oft-made observation that our culture tries to do too much too fast. I want nothing to do with that kind of pressure anymore, and I hope I can help others escape it, too. It’s killing us.

Perfectly pointless, says the Teacher, everything is pointless.

Additionally: Because the Teacher was wise, he constantly taught the people knowledge. He listened and investigated. He composed many proverbs. The teacher searched for pleasing words, and he wrote truthful words honestly.

The words of the wise are like iron-tipped prods;
the collected sayings of the masters are like nails fixed firmly by a shepherd.
Be careful, my child, of anything beyond them!

There’s no end to the excessive production of scrolls. Studying too much wearies the body. So this is the end of the matter; all has been heard. Worship God and keep God’s commandments because this is what everyone must do. God will definitely bring every good deed to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or bad.

Ecclesiastes 12:8-14 (CEB)

 

to be positive for a change

Neil Gaiman offered the world a profound piece of wisdom when he told the University of the Arts graduating class of 2012 to “make good art.” The challenge isn’t in embracing the hard work needed to make good art. It’s in the necessity to forsake the sarcasm and cynicism that robs our will to do and to think and to create.

As bearers of the Divine image and likeness, however distorted we may be, what we do as sub-creators depends on it to produce those works that make people stop and see the reflection of the Truth and Wisdom that sustains us.

What is your art? Are you a painter? Paint. Are you a musician? Make a joyful noise. Are you a writer? Compose your words. Are you a doctor? Heal the sick. Are you a pastor? Shepherd people to God. Are you a prophet? Confront. Are you a scientist? Discover. Are you an engineer? Design and build. Are you a builder? Construct well-made things. Are you a mechanic? Make machines run. Are you a gardener, a farmer, a cook? Feed the world. Are you a human being? Love God with all you are, and love all as yourself.

Of course this is difficult, and you cannot do it on your own. Find your community, your tribe, your true family, and learn to live. Find your art. Work at it. Make it well.

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art on Vimeo.

Political Thought Exercise

Definition: Hypocrisy

  • n. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
  • n. An act or instance of such falseness.

I’d like you to consider for a moment a religion. This religion has a core set of beliefs such that one’s choice to disbelieve them puts them outside the boundaries of that religion. To be within this boundary makes one orthodox, and to be outside the boundary makes one unorthodox.

There are other beliefs important to this religion around which its adherents disagree, sometimes vehemently. While those holding differing views may be in error to one degree or another, their particular belifs, however deviant from the accepted norms, do not disqualify one from membership.

Let us consider a second religion. This religion was founded on the beliefs of a self-appointed prophet who claimed to have special revelation from the Divine. This religion claims it is the true manifestation of the first, yet its central beliefs, as stated by its founder, place it firmly outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

This second religion is labeled a cult by members of the first, or by others still it is labeled another of the many religions in existence. Regardless what label is applied, and regardless what similiarities it has with the first, it is at best unorthodox, and at least a different religion that borrows ideas from the first.

Let us now consider a vocal minority of orthodox members of the first religion who exercise their right and ability to participate in the political sphere of their culture. For a number of years, through several decades, they have supported a political faction made up primarily (but not exclusively) of members of their religion. That religious heritage has been a mainstay of their support for the political faction.

This group has actively campaigned in their culture to have their ideals ratified in civic law. In the same way, they have actively campaigned against ideals that they believe are contrary to their religious belief, in matters both orthodox and important.

Now let us consider a contentious election season in a time where the population has become polarized along the line of two opposing political philosophies, yet dominated by individuals with a will to power who will use those philosophies to their own corrupt ends. On one side is an individual who proclaims membership in the first religion, yet demonstrates practices from an interpretive stream which is greatly opposed in many ways to our vocal minority among the orthodox. On the other side is a member of the second religion who espouses a political philosophy that more closely aligns with our minority.

A primary tenet of our vocal minority is to consider the Divine figurehead of their religion to be the true ruler of all people, and to subordinate themselves to any other power that is in conflict with this ruler is to commit an act of gross sin. As such, they have vocally opposed the second religion as a dangerous cult. Yet in this political election, they are giving wholehearted support to the member of the second religion. In itself, this is not necessarily a forbidden position in the public sphere. However, prominent members of the vocal minority have suspended their critique and scrubbed reference to it during the time of the election, for no other apparent reason than the desire to help the candidate win on the dubious promises to implement law that supports this minority.

In essence, their willingness to compromise their long-standing critique of the second religion for an act of political gain puts them at odds with their closely held beliefs. This puts them, in practice, of commiting an act which they claimed (until recently) was unacceptable. In other words, it is an act of hypocrisy. Whatever justifications are offered, they are accepting the notion that the ends justifies the means, yet they do so at the risk of acting against the core beliefs of the religion they claim takes priority against any political system.

Call it whatever you wish. It is disgusting, and it is why a person like myself decided to forsake affiliation with such a political party several years ago. Even more, it is why a person like myself is on the verge of leaving behind any affiliation with the vocal minority position of the religion. This is not to leave one’s religion, but to value one’s orthodoxy and allegiance to the true ruler over any temporary perceived benefit, especially when history has demonstrated that such allegiances often fail to yield any real benefit, and are in danger of becoming, if in fact they are not already, a form of idolatry.

Discipleship > Evangelism

I saw a link to www.multiplymovement.com and it got me thinking about the one evangelism class we had. I don’t know anything about this program, so my comments specifically do not address it.

I do have to say, from the class, and from most evangelism training and theory I’ve looked at or been a part of, how distressing it is to me that it universally has an individual focus. In other words, it’s about the lone “evangelist” going out to convert all the heathens to become good little cookie-cutter evangelicals.

Neil Cole’s LTGs are about the closest thing I’ve seen to a method that not only says it emulates what it sees in the New Testament, but actually does.

The big thing I see in most methods and programs is a distinct lack of community and partnered work, and an unhealthy focus on conversion, proselytism, and cheesy sales tactics, rather than the gathered people of God being salt and light in their community, spreading the good news about Jesus by actually BEING what he commanded: obedient disciple-makers.

Except for those few who demonstrate a Spirit-given giftedness to share the good news and lead people become Christ’s disciples, I emphatically do NOT believe the typical “everyone’s gotta be out there banging on doors, chatting people up, and acting like outgoing sales droids for JEE-ZUS” is the right way to behave in our culture. It’s a put-on, and sane people know it.

For most of us, and especially for the more reserved among us, the idea needs to be reclaimed, respected, and promoted that humble service and love of neighbor in Jesus’ name is perhaps the most powerful form of evangelism one can encounter. When you love people because you love them (not because you want conversion notches on your belt), people will want to know about Christ because you have demonstrated to them what it means to be his.

Should my discernment process continue down the path of gathering with a few to plant a church community, this is the primary way we will approach things. No street corner evangelists. No slick media campaigns with yard signs and glossy mailers. No big budgets. No rockin’ band (excellent musicianship, yes, but grown SLOWLY and from the community, not for entertainment or sales). No big name head pastor (even I as the organizer of the plant would be just one of the team of people given to the task of teaching and shepherding – again, it’s a community thing).

That’s just a little thinking out loud for a Friday morning. Any of you church planters, pastors, or other disciples out there, whether engaged or burned out, I’d love to hear your thoughts. This is very much a living concept, and open to suggestions.

Impossible Hope

I have the privilege of speaking this Sunday on Mark 10:17-31.

As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.

“Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life – houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment) – and in the coming age, eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”

(Text from the CEB)

Though my sermon focuses on the latter, two things struck me as I re-read this passage.

First, Jesus looked at the man carefully, and he loved him. It is all too easy, and I’ve heard it preached this way, to see the evils inherent in the accumulation of excess wealth, and that evil is then put upon the man in the narrative. And this is ironic, considering how unbelievably wealthy a culture we live in today, where even many of those who are poor among us live at a level that is the envy of those on earth who are desperately poor, oppressed, and starving. But Jesus isn’t like us. Jesus loved the man. Jesus’ love extends to people far beyond anything we can imagine. Shouldn’t we do likewise?

Second, I never get tired of contemplating that as impossible as it is for us to figure out a way to restore our broken relationship with God, it is not impossible for him. When we give up the silly notion that we can un-break ourselves, and trust the One who created us to fix us, peace comes back to our lives. Not only is it possible for God, he acted on the possibility, and through that Possibility – Jesus – we are invited to be reconciled to God. That reconciliation has the result of allowing us to love God, and enabling us to love others. Is there any more that we need?

The Goal

When I’ve talked about organic church, I’ve struggled to define it well. Even after reading much, it’s difficult to articulate what I mean. Thankfully, I no longer need to worry about this. I’m reading Frank Viola’s Finding Organic Church, and he gives the perfect definition:

This is a living, vibrant, face-to-face community that has no other pursuit but Jesus Christ Himself. Members are being “built together” into Christ the Head, the are experiencing the cross of Jesus, they are discovering how to live by His indwelling life, and they are fleshing out the biblical vision that the church is the family of God. Such churches are a testimony to the world, to one another, and to principalities and powers that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed alive – alive enough to be Head over His own church. Christ is the church’s centrality. He is her passion. He is, as it were, her obsession. Members specialize in nothing – except Christ. Their goal is to make Him visible in their community. Their hallmark is their growing knowledge of the Lord. Their testimony is their openness to all of God’s people, their humility, and their unmistakable love for one another. (p.119, Kindle Edition)

It seems idealistic, but I can do no less than to strive after this, no matter what situation I inhabit. Whether I accept a call to a traditional church, or go on to plant a church, this is the ideal goal of the kind of community I have longed after for some time.

For or Against?

The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse;
all the families of the earth will be blessed
because of you.”

–Genesis 12:1-3 (CEV)

So begins one of the great promises of God to Abram, and by extension to his descendants and those who are his. Did you notice that while God is active in both blessing and cursing, Abram is only addressed regarding blessing?

Why is it, then, that we are all too often known for our pronouncements of judgment on others, or for those things we are against, rather than our blessings and what (as well as Who) we are for?

The more I think about this, the more I would rather be accused of being soft on sin in favor of lifting up Jesus and offering blessings and service in his name, than to be known for all the sins I’m against. God knows I have enough of my own sins without being preoccupied with the sins of others.

This is not to excuse or make excuses for sin – by no means. Rather, it simply acknowledges that to point out the sinfulness of humanity is an exercise for Captain Obvious. It it far better and more important for us to stand together seeking the Lord who forgave us.

Colossians 1:9-23 (CEV)

I took out the word “things” to get it off the picture. I’ll be preaching on this passage for the first of three chapel services at our church’s annual Labor Day weekend family camp. (And yes, I used good old Wordle to make this.)

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