Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rambling through Romans (11): 1:19-32 (III)

19 This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. 21 Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank him. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves. 23 They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal humans: birds, animals, and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them to their hearts’ desires, which led to the moral corruption of degrading their own bodies with each other. 25 They traded God’s truth for a lie, and they worshipped and served the creation instead of the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 That’s why God abandoned them to degrading lust. Their females traded natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual relations. 27 Also, in the same way, the males traded natural sexual relations with females, and burned with lust for  each other. Males performed shameful actions with males, and they were paid back with the penalty they deserved for their mistake in their own bodies. 28 Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. 29 So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, 30 they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. 31 They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy. 32 Though they know God’s decision that those who persist in such practices deserve death, they not only keep doing these things but also approve others who practice them.
 

Sex and sexual practices – Paul draws on them here to highlight the evident disorder he finds in a world run amuck.  It’s critical to note he sees sexual disorder as a consequence and not a cause of the crisis humanity has gotten itself into.  It’s not as though a campaign to rid the world of sexual disorders (however we define them) would restore us to genuine humanity under God.  Far from it.  Our problem cuts far deeper than that!  In fact, such a campaign of moral reformation only feeds the problem – our presumption that we can fix it ourselves.  That’s Adam and Eve and the snake all over again.

Only when we “hit bottom” and know in the depths of our being that we can do nothing to pull ourselves out of this morass is there any hope for us.  And that’s because it’s idolatry and not morality that is our fundamental problem.  Who or what we salute and obey rather than what we do is what troubles us.

That said, sex and sexual practices remain important matters to consider – duh!  Why is it that they can play such a decisive demonstrative role in Paul’s thought?  I’m sure there are a number of reasons for this.  But I want to focus briefly on one that makes a good deal of sense to me and that I believe is in line with the direction of Paul’s thought.

I propose that we think of sex and sexual practice as the most intimate picture of our soul that we present to the world.  A world filled with sexual disorders and malpractices is one that shows itself full of malformed and disordered souls.  It is not for Paul a matter of repressive morality or right of individual choice (though those will be reasons offered by many and too often, even Christians).  Rather, for Paul, there is an order in creation, a moral order, that when transgressed hits back.  Living out of sync with the Creator and his order diminishes and deforms our souls (hearts, whatever you want to call it).  And because we are embodied souls or ensouled bodies, our soul’s condition becomes visible in the use to which we put our bodies.  And while we can argue and debate and disagree over whether homosexual practice transgresses God’s order, or whether what we know as homosexuality is what Paul uses as an example of disordered sexual practice here in Romans 1, whatever Paul describes there crosses that line and we pay for it in our own bodies (v.27).

And if what Paul describes are perhaps the most egregious examples he has at hand, it seems fair to extrapolate and claim that other sexual deviances scripture names have the same effect on us.  And it is manifestly fair in that light to claim that or culture is liable to the same critique Paul makes of the Gentile culture of his day.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Rambling through Romans (10): 1:19-32 (Part II)

19 This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. 21 Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank him. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves. 23 They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal humans: birds, animals, and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them to their hearts’ desires, which led to the moral corruption of degrading their own bodies with each other. 25 They traded God’s truth for a lie, and they worshipped and served the creation instead of the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 That’s why God abandoned them to degrading lust. Their females traded natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual relations. 27 Also, in the same way, the males traded natural sexual relations with females, and burned with lust for each other. Males performed shameful actions with males, and they were paid back with the penalty they deserved for their mistake in their own bodies. 28 Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. 29 So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, 30 they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. 31 They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy. 32 Though they know God’s decision that those who persist in such practices deserve death, they not only keep doing these things but also approve others who practice them.
 

Paul lays great stress here on the effects of sin on our minds (vv.21-22, 25, 28, 31, 32).  This is what theologians call the “noetic” effects of sin.  Most commentators see that Paul is here offering an interpretation of Genesis 1 here in the interest of his polemical purpose (yet to be fully seen).  So it seems right to begin there in explaining the effects of our rebellion against God on our mental capacities.  Baxter Kruger expounds this for us nicely:

“The actual Fall came before they ate the fruit. They fell when they stopped believing the truth and believed the lie of the serpent. In that moment, the razor cut through their souls, assurance was shredded, and anxiety infiltrated the scene of human history. Eating the fruit itself was the first fruit, the first response to the great anxiety that swept into their hearts when they believed the lie. The serpent convinced them that God was holding out on them, that He was not giving them everything they should have, that they were not yet everything they could be. He convinced them that they were missing out. What happened to Adam and Eve’s assurance when they believed that lie? What happened to their security and peace when they believed that God was holding out on them, that they were not everything they could be, that they were missing out on the real glory? Their assurance and security and peace were destroyed, and their souls were baptized with the lethal roux of anxiety and insecurity and guilt. Adam and Eve suddenly knew good and evil. Moreover, the baptism of anxiety instantly colored the way Adam and Eve perceived the world around them and one another. That baptism produced hiding, self-protection and self-centeredness, which acted together with their colored perception to obliterate their freedom for fellowship.”

You see, belief on this lie has corrupted our view of God and our view of who we are. This lie has gotten to the core of us, and completely warped all that we hold dear. We are now left with the task of rediscovering and understanding what God originally had in mind for us. However, in order to do this we need to get rid of this lie that has been ingrained into all that we do, and see God for who He is.

When Adam and Eve believed the lie and fell, they ran and hid themselves from God. When they took this lie and believed it, the flood gates of insecurities and guilt were opened up. I believe this belief in the lie caused them to have a perverse perspective… (http://timothywest.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/wanted-the-lie/)

More Kruger:

“I think sin is fundamentally a reference problem, followed, of course, by all manner of other rippling relational, social and moral issues. In the fall, Adam’s reference point moved from God to himself. He became self-referential, and thus developed a perception of himself, God and the world from a center in himself and his terrible fear. From that point the human race was trapped in its own way of seeing. If it does not ‘make sense to us’ it cannot be true. Our way of perceiving a person or a situation is the way it is. And that is the problem fraught with utter impossibility. Even the Lord’s presence and self-revelation, and indeed his way of thinking and saving, has to pass through Adam—and our—way of thinking, and thus the Lord himself and all his ways are subject to our judgment. He must make sense to us, or He is not correct, and thus dismissed. So we invent a god in the image of our own self-reference—which, of course, from the Lord’s perspective is utterly incoherent—and judge God’s presence and action by it.”

Friday, August 29, 2014

Meet Generation Z

Home > Resources > Blog > Meet Generation Z

http://www.churchandculture.org/blog.asp?id=6368



I’d like to introduce you to Generation Z. 

I know, some of you are still trying to catch up with Busters, or Generation X, or whatever we called whoever followed the Boomers. Or maybe you leapfrogged over all that straight to Generation Y (Millennials), on whom marketers have been focused for at least a decade.

 

Let me save you some time. Drop everything and start paying attention to Generation Z, who now constitute 25.9% of the U.S. population. That’s more than Millennials (24.5%). That’s more than Gen X (15.4%). Yes, that’s even more than Baby Boomers (23.6%).

 

So who falls into Generation Z? There’s still some debate on exact dates, but essentially those who were born after Generation Y. So approximately 1995 to present. At the time of this writing, it is the generation that is now under the age of 18.

 

Do the math, and you realize that they grew up in a post 9/11 world during a recession. They’ve experienced radical changes in technology and understanding of family, sexuality and gender. They live in multi-generational households, and the fastest growing demographic within their age-group is multi-racial.

 

And how has that molded them? According to the marketing research of Sparks and Honey, here are some “Z” headlines:

 

  • they are eager to start working
  • they are mature and in control
  • they intend to change the world
  • they’ve learned that traditional choices don’t guarantee success
  • entrepreneurship is in their DNA
  • they seek education and knowledge, and they use social media as a research tool
  • they multi-task across five screens, and their attention spans are getting shorter
  • they think spatially and in 4-D, but lack situational awareness
  • they communicate with symbols, speed and with images
  • their social circles are global
  • they are hyper-aware and concerned about man’s impact on the planet
  • they are less active, and frequently obese
  • they live-stream and co-create

 

I’ll stop there, because the list goes on and on. Bottom line: they are not Millennials.  So how do you connect with the largest generation on the planet? Marketers are way ahead of you. 

 

Here’s a top ten to consider:

 

1.  Talk in images: emojis, symbols, pictures, videos.

 

2.  Communicate more frequently in shorter bursts of “snackable content.”

 

3.  Don’t talk down…talk to them as adults, even about global topics.

 

4.  Make stuff – or help Gen Z make stuff (they’re industrious).

 

5.  Tap into their entrepreneurial spirit.

 

6.  Collaborate with them – and help them collaborate with others.

 

7.  Tell your story across multiple screens.

 

8.  Live-stream with them – or give them live-streaming access.

 

9.  Optimize your search results (they do their internet research).

 

10. Include a social cause that they can fight for.

 

Do you see a theme? I do. It’s all about talking in a way they will understand. Not watering down the communication of the message, just changing the method of communication. 

 

And with Generation Z?

 

It needs changing.

 

James Emery White

 

 

Sources

 

Here Comes Generation Z,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg View, June 18, 2014, read online.

 

“Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials,” Sparks and Honey, June 17, 2014, read online.

 

“Meet Generation Z: The second generation within the giant ‘Millennial’ cohort,” Bruce Tulgan and RainmakerThinking, Inc., read online.

Rambling through Romans (9): 1:19-32

“19 This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. 21 Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank him. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves. 23 They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal humans: birds, animals, and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them to their hearts’ desires, which led to the moral corruption of degrading their own bodies with each other. 25 They traded God’s truth for a lie, and they worshipped and served the creation instead of the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 That’s why God abandoned them to degrading lust. Their females traded natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual relations. 27 Also, in the same way, the males traded natural sexual relations with females, and burned with lust for each other. Males performed shameful actions with males, and they were paid back with the penalty they deserved for their mistake in their own bodies. 28 Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. 29 So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, 30 they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. 31 They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy. 32 Though they know God’s decision that those who persist in such practices deserve death, they not only keep doing these things but also approve others who practice them.”
 

Paul details the human condition apart from and against God in unforgettable ways here.  And it all flows from our sinful “silencing” of the truth with “injustice” (1:18).

We are no longer able to see God in the “Book of Nature” (though signs of his presence abound).  We are culpable for this ignorance.  Our minds are so clouded and shrouded with our folly and godlike pretensions that we can no longer honor God or be grateful.

As godlike as we imagined ourselves to be, we are still creatures.  Still created to worship.  Only now our worship is perverted – we turn to creatures and imagine the deities.  These days we don’t worship the animal world.  No we’re more sophisticated than that!  We worship ideas, causes, movements – democracy, free enterprise, the Market, winning, success.  But we do worship!  And corrupted worship corrupts the whole of our lives and our humanity are distorted and perverted. (I’m not talking about homosexuality here; just the fact of distorted sexuality Paul uses here as his most vivid example of our disordered lives.  And there’s plenty of that around.  You can make up your own minds about exactly what Paul had in mind here!)

So, and here’s the tragic punch line, God gave us what we wanted!  Divine judgment here involves God simply letting us go, heart-breaking parental tough love.  Letting us “hit bottom” (to use recovery language).  If we want to live a lie and worship the creation (with ourselves at its center), so be it.  God allows it.

God let us go to our twisted minds and we pay the price in our bodies – false commitments and twisted values always have whole life consequences (v.27)!  Standing against God finally eventuates in standing against humanity (v.30).  No matter how grand our humanisms, they all lead in an antihuman, inhuman direction!  Though we know at some level we are courting our own destruction, we plunge headlong into the abyss anyway. 

And God lets us go! 

This is how it stands with Gentile humanity in rebellion against God.  But not them only!  Paul has set up here a powerful rhetorical trap they he about to spring.  But more on that next time!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

James, ‘the Rich,’ and the Complexity Argument

http://www.empireremixed.com/2014/08/27/james-rich-complexity-argument/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+empireremixed+%28Empire+Remixed%29


 
(A meditation at on James 4.13-5.20 presented at Wine Before Beer on August 26, 2014.)
You just don’t understand.
 
You make these stark pronouncements as if the issues are simple, but they are not. This is a very complex situation.
 
And your self-righteous moral pronouncements look like they are taking the higher ground but they are rooted in an arrogant ignorance.
 
You don’t understand the situation, with its complex history.
 
You don’t understand that if you start boycotting certain companies and products all kinds of people will get hurt.
 
You don’t understand that this whole system is the only bulwark we have against utter chaos, a reverting back to the anarchy of tribe versus tribe.
 
You may feel good standing there with some sense of moral superiority, but you achieve such a position only by ignoring the complexity of the issues and boiling it all down to your stark moral condemnations.
 
I can imagine someone in the first century, or someone today, responding this way to James and his condemnation of the rich in this evening’s passage and throughout his letter.
 
He just doesn’t get the complexity of the imperial economic order of Rome.
 
He takes a self-righteous moral stand against the structures and practices of global capitalism, railing against sweat shops, the tar sands, the rising disparity of income between the rich and the poor, the disproportionate consumption of finite resources by the wealthiest nations, the tax havens of the rich, the machinations of the stock market, government bail outs and million dollar bonuses, but, in all of his simplistic condemnations, he doesn’t understand how complex this whole system really is. He doesn’t understand that the alternative is much, much worse.
 
The complexity argument sounds so reasonable.
 
My wife, Sylvia, just got it in spades last week during a visit to Fort MacMurray and the oil sands.
She got it from the bishop and the folks in the Anglican church there. And she got it from the well-paid, incredibly smooth and competent public relations staff at Syncrude.
 
No point getting all high and mighty about the tar sands when you don’t understand both the complexity of the issues and the clear benefits of this economic system, together with the technologies of extraction and remediation, for all involved.
 
But here’s the thing.
 
That complexity argument with which I began was not modeled on the defense of global capitalism or oil extraction in Northern Alberta.
 
No, that argument of complexity versus moral condemnation was a rehearsing of the South African responses to the anti-Apartheid movement of the 1970’s and 80’s.
 
“Complexity” was used as a defense of Apartheid against outside critics.
 
The proponents and guardians of the Apartheid system in South Africa would dismiss international criticism of their socio-economic and political system by saying that the rest of the world just didn’t understand the complexity of the situation.
 
Complexity is a tool used over and over again to defend against moral condemnation.
James isn’t too interested in complexity when it comes to the rich.
James isn’t too concerned about sounding simplistic in his moral pronouncements.
James isn’t too keen on offering a balanced and more nuanced perspective on the socio-economic realities of his day.
 
“Come you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.”
 
But what else would you expect from a guy who had earlier said things like:
 
“Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in a field.” (1.9-10)
 
“Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into the court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that has was invoked over you?” (2.6-7)
 
James isn’t pulling his punches when it comes to naming the practices of the rich.
 
But his condemnation, while stark, is not simplistic. He does, in fact, understand the complexity of the issues.
 
In these few short verses James lists four reasons why judgment is coming upon the rich.
 
First, “your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire.”
 
Now it may seem that James is just piling up metaphor upon metaphor here in his anti-rich rhetoric. But in fact these metaphors of rot, moth-eaten and rust are rooted in a profound economic principle.
Things only rot when they are not consumed.
Clothes only get moth-eaten when they are not worn.
And while gold and silver do not in fact rust, they will tarnish only when they are not in circulation, not used.
 
You see, when in your greed you store up more of the food resources of the world then you could possibly eat.
 
That is, when you stock up your grocery shelves with food from around the world, food that could have fed people with very little food security, food that was grown in places for export to us, when the land could have more productively been used for local subsistence, then you end up with so much food that the dumpsters are full and the landfills have the stench of oppression. Food consumed by hungry people does not rot.
 
So also, clothes that are worn might get threadbare with time, but they will not be moth-eaten. The moths eat clothes that hang in the closet too long. Clothes in service, clothes that cover the naked and keep warm the cold, never are moth-eaten.
 
And the metaphors strike to the heart of our economic system when James talks about rusted silver and gold. Money in circulation does not tarnish. Money in circulation will wear down after a while, but it will not rust. Rusting silver and gold is a metaphor of economic resources that are not in service of real people with real economic needs of daily bread, of meaningful employment, of the common good.
 
Or let me put it this way. When money chases money to make more money – which is a succinct summary of what happens with some 98% of all economic transactions in the world every day – then that money is not just useless it is an affront to God, and always (always, without exception!)
exploitive and oppressive.
 
Money is tarnished, or to use James’ metaphor, it rusts, when it is not in circulation serving a real economy of real goods and services for real people in real need. And such money will be evidence against those who hold it when it comes to judgment.
 
And here’s the thing, says James, long before the judgment day, such money will eat your flesh like fire. That very wealth will curse you, tear you apart, destroy your marriage, and leave you in daily anxiety about making more money. It will eat you up like fire.
 
That’s the first thing that James wants to say in defense of his prophetic critique of the rich.
 
The second is this:
“The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
 
Come now, you rich weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you, because your wealth is based upon oppression.
 
Here’s the curious thing. In the Bible whenever there is wealth beside poverty the assumption is always that such wealth is rooted in oppression. And economic oppression is always a matter of those with the economic power defrauding, exploiting and oppressing those who are economically marginal, weak and powerless. There are consequences if you complain about oppressive practices in the work place. There are consequences if you demand a fair wage. There are consequences if you blow the whistle on exploitation.
 
But notice that before James says that the cries of the harvesters will reach the ears of God, he says that the withheld wages themselves cry out! The withheld wages are not just money in the bank of the oppressor. These wages are not mute, mere objects of economic transaction. No, these wages are active agents in economic life. You see, in a biblical worldview, economic resources – whether we are talking about Appalachian mountain tops, clear cut forests, clothing produced in sweat shops, or the very wages that should have been paid but were not – all have a voice in God’s good creation. These so-called ‘resources’ are eloquent in both their praise when they are employed for justice and in their loud and persistent lament when they are employed for oppression.
 
And so the wages themselves cry out to God. They cry out to be paid. They cry out to be economic resources employed for real economic well-being.
 
And, of course, their voice is echoed in the cries of those who have been oppressed.
 
Why should the rich weep and wail at the misery that will come to them?
 
Because the Lord of hosts has heard the cries of the wages and the workers.
 
The third reason that the rich should weep and wail, the third damning piece of evidence that stands against them is the very opulence of their lives:
 
“You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure: you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
 
My friends, if you are drawn to luxury, if you find yourselves seeking consumer therapy when you are feeling down, if somehow a life of economic and consumptive abundance is attractive to you, if you are more concerned about your own economic security and future then that of some of your most vulnerable neighbours, then watch out. James would tell us that such a lifestyle – perhaps especially when it gets sugar coated with a veneer of so-called Christian spirituality in things like the prosperity gospel – is a ticket to hell.
 
Finally, the fourth reason that James says that the rich should weep and wail for the misery that is coming upon them is because “you have condemned and murdered the righteous one who does not resist you.”
 
Talk about being stark.
 
An ideology and lifestyle of never-ceasing economic growth for its own sake, an economics of oppression and exploitation, an economics of affluence and luxury is always, says James, an economics of death.
 
Once you make an idol out of economic growth, once you bow the knee to Mammon, once you legitimate all economic activity by the bottom line, once you remove economic life from the common good, once you reduce life and all of creation to a narrow notion of economic resource, the end result will always be death.
 
Idols need sacrifices.
 
The idol of economic growth will require the sacrifice of this good creation, of countless species, of air, water and the very viability of life on this planet, and it will require human sacrifice as well. The bodies of those who work in our mines. The souls of those who will give their life day in and day out to keeping the system running. The children who will sew our clothes. And, let there be no mistake here, anyone who will dare to stand against this kind of economic idolatry.
 
James understands the complexity of the economics of affluence but will not be deterred by the
complexity argument to turn a blind eye to oppression.
 
And he knows that an economics of oppression is rooted in a discourse of autonomy. That’s why he first criticizes those who talk in a certain way. When you talk as if your life is under your control and the point of your life is to go here and there making money, then that arrogant talk will always result in an arrogant economics.
 
And he knows that in the face of such an economic system there will be suffering and pain. That’s why he calls for patience in the community, for endurance and for a life of communal peaceability because grumbling and enmity in the community will strip them of the resources to stand against the empire.
 
And he knows that the system will require certain kinds of oaths of allegiance and swearing by the gods. That’s why he says, let your yes be yes and your no be no. Don’t play by the rules of the system.
 
And he knows that as we await the coming of the Lord, there will be people who are broken and sick. That’s why he calls them to pray for each other and to anoint the sick with oil.
 
And he knows that sin is never far away from any of us. He knows that we will fall into sin, maybe even the sin of an economics of affluence. That’s why he calls us to confession, prayer and mutual accountability.
 
In fact it is striking how often James mentions prayer at the end of this letter. Some six times he calls them to pray. It is almost as if he is saying that the discourse of autonomy needs to be replaced by the discourse of prayer.
 
How ought we to talk? Prayerfully, James says, prayerfully.
 
In the face of the rhetoric of empire, the propaganda of the dominant worldview, the chatter in high places, the rarefied lingo of the academy and spin of the public relations officers, James calls us to be a people who talk in different cadences, with an alternative imagination, a discourse of love and justice, the language of prayer.
 
So speak and so act, says James, as to fulfill the law of liberation.
 
May it be so dear sisters and brothers, may it be so.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rambling through Romans (8): 1:18

18 God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodly behavior and the injustice of human beings who silence the truth with injustice.

*************************************************************************

What’s love without wrath?  How could a lover, especially a Divine Lover, not be outraged, hurt, disappointed beyond measure by a Beloved’s betrayal, rejection, flouting of all the Lover stands for?  What kind of a relationship would they have if such behavior elicited no response?

You see, wrath is not the opposite of love, indifference is.  Wrath is love’s “tough love” for incorrigible partners or children.  Humanity has behaved with wanton disregard from both God (“ungodly behavior) and other human beings (“injustice”).  Yet God’s love for us has not cooled.  It has not turned to indifference.  Rather he keeps on reaching out to his alienated creatures to reclaim and restore them to right relation (justice) to him and to each other.

We experience his “tough love” (wrath) as being left to our own devices and desires and having to live with the consequences. More on that in a future post.

Here Paul notes the effect on and in us of living in rebellion to our Creator/Lover.  We actively suppress the truth of our creaturehood as God’s beloved children by living out of sync (injustice) with him and his created order.  Paul unfolds this throughout the rest of this chapter. 

The heart of the fall, our sin, is a broken relationship more than it is a legal violation of a law.  It is the latter, of course, but it is the former aspect of sin that dominates the biblical story.  Sin is more about God’s heartbreak and heartache over our relational dysfunction than his offended sense of rightness. He wants to be with us, close to us, in fellowship and communion.  God keeps reaching out to woo us and win us back to him.  And he will never stop. 

The rest of ch.1 explores all this is greater detail.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Is Church Too Easy?

 

Brain research says our efforts to make church comfortable may backfire. 

My six year old daughter is the most competitive personality in our home. While the other kindergarteners on her t-ball team are picking dandelions in the outfield, Lucy remains vigilant and “baseball ready” to make the play of the game. She recently came home from a summer backyard Bible camp disappointed. “The games were too easy,” she insisted. “They need to make it harder to win.”
Lucy’s desire to be challenged reveals a fact often neglected in our culture--we only grow when we are uncomfortable, and too much comfort is not only be harmful but can be downright dangerous. For example, a recent FAA study found that pilots are losing critical flying skills because they are under-challenged by state-of-the art planes that virtually fly themselves. Ironically, the push for safety through computer flying is leading to more accidents as pilots “abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems.” 
I wonder if the same issue is present in the church? With the best of intentions, we have tried to make church gatherings a comfortable environment for both believers and seekers to learn about God. From the cushioned theater seats with built-in cup holders, to the spoon fed, 3-point sermon with fill-in-the-blank pre-written notes--the only challenge most of us face on Sunday morning is actually getting our families to church. Once through the door, however, we can relax and switch on the auto pilot. 
If our goal is to “teach people to obey” all that Jesus commanded, then we may want to rethink our commitment to comfort on Sundays. Recent brain research has shown
 

Rambling through Romans (7): 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
 

Faith is another of those religious words we throw around but aren’t very clear about what they mean.  And in Christianity faith has a particular meaning.

Paul uses “faith” four time in these few verses.  Faith is the way human beings find salvation (v.16).  Whatever exactly the phrase “through faith for faith” means, it is clear that faith is intimately tied up with God’s passion to set all things right (the “righteousness of God,” v.17).  And faith is the means of living out that same passion (v.17).

But what does Paul and the other biblical writers means by faith?  Faith means:

          -reaffirming the truth as we have come to know it in and through Jesus Christ.

          -entrusting ourselves to God the Father through Jesus Christ.

“Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” This classic statement from the Barmen Declaration written against the Nazification of the church in 1934 nicely captures both these aspects of faith (hear, trust, obey).

-being betrothed to Jesus Christ.

Faith connects us to Jesus Christ, the one who loved us to the uttermost while we were enemies.  Such love evokes our love and makes us Christ’s forever.

Truth, trust, and troth – these are the three aspects of biblical faith.  Too often faith is reduced to affirming truths which results in intellectualism.  Faith is also often reduced to troth, which results in mere sentimentalism.  Faith as trust alone usually ends up in legalism or moralism. 

Paul’s use of faith in our passage reflects this multilayered reality.  Faith connects us to Christ who is the truth in whom we believe (v.16).  Faith connects to God’s passion for setting all things right and we consequently trust this passion as the way to move toward the kind of world we know God wants (v.17).  And faith also is the way we experience and embrace the love of God that captures us body and soul for God.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our Thoroughly Modern Enemies: ISIS in the 21st Century - Ross Douhat

IN his remarks on the murder of James Foley, the American journalist decapitated by the terrorists of ISIS, President Obama condemned Foley’s killers, appropriately, as a “cancer” on the Middle East and the world. But he also found room for the most Obama-ish of condemnations: “One thing we can all agree on,” he insisted, is that the would-be caliphate’s murderous vision has “no place in the 21st century.”
 
The idea that America’s foes and rivals are not merely morally but chronologically deficient, confused time travelers who need to turn their DeLorean around, has long been a staple of this administration’s rhetoric. Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and tyrants in general have been condemned, in varying contexts, for being on the dreaded “wrong side of history.” Earlier this year, John Kerry dismissed Putin’s Crimea adventure in the same language Obama used last week: “19th-century behavior in the 21st century,” foredoomed by its own anachronism.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rambling through Romans (6): 1:16-18

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
 

“Righteousness” is one of those big religious words we hear in church a lot.  And usually wrongly used!

We been taught to associate the words “righteous” and “righteousness” with morality or moral character, or “uprightness,” to use an older English word.

So, by this understanding, the gospel shows God’s moral uprightness, of which we fall far short and, thus, stand in need of his mercy and forgiveness.

However, “the righteousness of God” in the Old Testament, where Paul gets it from, means “God’s passion to set all things right.”  It’s what drives God to deliver, redeem, restore, forgive, discipline, heal, and make everything just the way he intends it to be.

The “righteous” person, who lives by faith, is one who shares and participates in God’s passion to set all things right.

That’s why Paul calls the gospel “the power of God”!  The gospel tells us God is on the loose upsetting the way we in sin have ordered the apple carts of our personal and social, economic and political, sexual and family, and even church lives.  From the bedroom to the boardroom, my house to the White House, God’s gonna set everything right. 

And we get to help!  Faith in Jesus connects to this world re-ordering God and he sends out fully equipped to “show and tell” the world what God is up to save it.  And salvation is precisely the privilege of participating in God’s upsetting and resetting of the world.

Let's get "Vile" for Jesus!

Most of us Christians need to become more "vile."  If fact, I think "vileness" is both a fruit of the Spirit and a spiritual gift, not to mention a spiritual discipline!  If I was still preaching I'd preach on "vileness" this Sunday!
 
What is this "vileness" of which I speak?  George Whitefield taught and inspired John Wesley to become more "vile" with his innovative practice of preaching in the fields to the miners going to and coming home from work in the mines.  Willingness to get out of the church and in the trenches with the people is the vileness Wesley learned.  And I suspect it is the vileness most of us must learn today as well.

How Practical is Relevance?

Posted on August 21, 2014 by Lawson Stone

 

 
The cry to “make the Bible relevant to today’s world” not only implies that the Bible itself lacks relevance, a point discussed yesterday, it also makes another assumption that is quite startling. This has to do with the allied demand that “making the Bible relevant” involves making it “practical.”
While several problems haunt this claim, I’ll go for the big one: this preoccupation with relevance and practicality  borders on idolatry.

First, it implies that our lives, and our needs, form the entire domain in which genuinely valuable truth can exist. If something is not immediately relevant or evidently useful to us, we judge it unimportant. But seriously, do we want to make our own felt needs the ultimate standard, indeed, the final filter, for what is true? That approach to life gave us polytheism—rain gods, fertility gods, war gods, love gods and the rest. Or that approach gives us atheism: if we only believe in or about God as we need to, what if someone decides they don’t need that? Is our faith just the projection of our needs into a fabricated Therapist and Fixer In the Sky?

Second, demanding that all biblical teaching and preaching be obviously “relevant” and immediately “practical” collapses all of truth into stuff we can “use.” But if our relationship with God is one of personal devotion, faith and even intimacy, is “use” really the central thing going on there? Seriously, did you marry your wife because she would do your laundry? Did you pick your husband because he could repair stuff? That’s practical, that’s relevant, and these are admirable things… but you don’t want your spouse to have chosen you because of that! Do any of us in our most important relationships really think that “use” or “function” is the main point?

Imagine having an acquaintance who never seems to be interested in you, your actual daily life, beyond a bit of chitchat, until they need something from you? They don’t seek out your conversation, show no signs of relishing your company.  Then suddenly it’s “Hey, old buddy…!” and when the crisis is past… crickets. They are more like clients than friends, projects, not builders in our lives. Of course all of us have people we love to help partly because it really is rewarding to help people out.

But authentic relationships circle around things that go deeper, that aren’t always “practical.”
I wonder what God thinks when we skip parts of the Bible that talk about the mysteries of his ways, the peculiar eternal intimacy between the Father and the Son, the deep wisdom that lies behind the creation, the great purposes of God for the universe… Or we skip over his detailed descriptions of how ancient Israel was to live and function as a worshiping, serving community in the word (like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy!) and say, “Forget that stuff, can you help me improve my self-esteem?”

I love Franz Kafka’s statement about reading and books:
If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? So that it shall make us happy?…we should be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill-fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.* [italics added]
In the end… if the Bible does not seem relevant to my life, maybe, just maybe, it’s my life that needs to change.

Maybe the problem of relevance is not the Bible, but ourselves.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Five Points of Bitterness Common in the Missional Church

http://thev3movement.org/2014/08/five-points-of-bitterness-common-in-the-missional-church/

Forging communities on mission has been a refreshing and exhilarating experience.  I’m a strategist and futurist by nature, so I have the propensity to convince myself I’ve sized up all the challenges that will come my way, before they come my way.
There was one issue that I was not prepared to run into so regularly and widely… bitterness.
Over and over again, our team has collided with the thick smog of bitterness that saturates many conversations and any intentional gathering related to Christianity.  I’ve studied up on Post-Christianity but nothing could ready me for the discipleship challenge of very real and raw people being riddled with bitterness and cynicism.

Outside the Tent

For as much theological space and diversity our community embraces, for as relational as our ethos is, for as organic as our church ecclesiology is, we’ve found no way around colliding with deeply entrenched bitterness.  I had a bit of a fantasy that because we were unlike institutional, hierarchical, consumer-oriented, more conservative expressions of church we would avoid this reality.
But bitterness travels.
Our bitterness goes where we go and it paralyzes our energy for mission and community. Any team pioneering ministry outside of evangelicalism will suddenly find themselves outside the “Big Tent.”  It’s out here in this wide open terrain, that does not appeal to church-shoppers, that you will meet countless people who’ve seen, experienced or been through Christianity. They carry massive wounds from that experience. For them the church was crueler and colder than expected.

The Prevalent Poison

A missional church must come to terms with the overwhelming number of people that carry a burning-bitterness.  In many ways, their inner turmoil towards the church and its extensions are justified. There is no erasing the experiences that they lived through.  Many of these angers have been untouched but quite possibly have been stoked by others who are just as turned-off and angry.
I am so thoroughly convinced that bitterness and cynicism is the most prevalent poison in our times.  When we are hurt, dashed, and royally let down, a villain is erected.  It becomes a sub-conscious controlling figure that clouds our choices, opinions and spiritual trajectory.
Bitterness slowly burns a consuming mark on our outlook of the future.  Emotional disappointment, if unaddressed, renders us perpetually frustrated and disillusioned even if the scenery changes.

5 Common Points of Bitterness

Here are some tangible and personal points of bitterness we’ve discovered in the city we love.  In no way am I trying to stereo-type or demonize.  In some ways, this is an over simplistic presentation.  I find it a privilege to be in the presence of people who are genuinely skeptical. Still, these are real-life touch points that our missional church has encountered up close and personal.

1. Bitterness Towards Leadership

A Christian leader really let them down, dashed their hopes, made promises they never followed through on, used power for personal gain, treated them like a number, or gave them bad counsel.  Their experience with Christian leadership colors their whole feeling towards authority.   
 
Missional Challenge: For as gracious, hospitable, trusting and peaceable that your current leadership might be, often times you will still be viewed through that skeptical lens created by bitterness.  Their radar is on high alert looking for signs that you are not who you say you are.  Often they are expecting the other shoe to drop, feeling spiritual abuse is just around the corner.

2. Bitterness Towards Christian Parents

Parents gave them a faith of obedience that gave little space for exploration, mystery and independence.  Their parents went to church regularly and even had leadership roles but were judgmental, unloving and selfish.
 
Missional Challenge: There are sores around this paternal relationship making it hard for them to cozy up to church, because in some way it symbolizes the faith of their parents.

3. Bitterness Towards Structure

Institutional Christianity may have tried to push them through an assembly line to produce a cookie-cutter Christian man or woman.  Church seemed forced with subtle manipulation.  If they had doubts, there was no room for them.  If they had questions, there were glares directed at them.  The black and white presentations of the church did not fit with the complications of everyday life. The Christian music, events, sermons and Christian lingo seemed like a sheltered sub-culture.
 
Missional Challenge: These realities make people skittish about any type of intentionality; meeting on a regular basis, regular teaching, regular stewardship, rhythmic community or purposeful mission.  It is hard for them not to establish a posture of overreaction to protect themselves against previous oppressive modes of church.

4. Bitterness Towards Stifling Theology

The Theory of Evolution was called heresy, woman were relegated to children’s ministry, God was a detached Almighty who controlled everything including suffering, the Bible was a rule book, God was first feared then followed, a personal relationship with God didn’t seem all that personal.  There are embedded visceral emotions connected to this brand of theology that they perceived alienated them.
 
Missional Challenge: This is not a god they want to be associated with at all.  Recovering a better image of God is hard because of their ingrained response to the God of their youth.  They are a bit embarrassed to be aligned with God even though they are drawn to him.

5. Bitterness Towards Community  

Christian friends let them down, they got offended, and then found no reconciliation.  Their expectations were never met and they were perpetually disappointed with a lack of intimacy.  It seemed liked few ever reciprocated when they reached out for connection.
 
Missional Challenge: Being connected with Christians seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. Their first position is one of distrust that keeps them cautiously distant.  Unknowingly their thoughts on community are filtered through idealism and expectations no one can meet.

A Space for Recovery

Time does not often heal these issues.  In many cases, time builds deeper tracks for bitterness to ride on.

Missional Communities need to become incubators of grace, patience and carefulness for the sake of long term healing.  Eventually, you will need to address bitterness within discipleship.  You cannot dance around this issue for too long because it eventually will sabotage partnering with God and each other.

Underlying cynicism often creates a spirituality that is afraid of connecting to actual people doing actual mission.  Bitterness legitimizes keeping a distance from loyalty, giving us space to stay critical.

To the degree that we are unable to admit we are bitter is the degree that we are impaired in our clarity of vision.  When unearthing this, we might find we don’t want to let go of something that we feel justified to hold onto.  In many ways, bitterness can get all intertwined in how we’ve identified ourselves being “against certain things and certain people”.

We desperately need to help each other pick through the clutter of past worship, bible-studies, sermons, relationships, and spiritual experiences to find something of value.  We need to gently and patiently coach each other to forgive, to let go of grudges and discontinue our railing against the villain in our emotional memory.

This work cannot be avoided or we will fragment and choose an autonomous spirituality that doesn’t root in actual flesh-and-bone community.  It becomes very difficult to submit to Jesus if we cannot make peace with the past.  It becomes very difficult to work peaceably for His Kingdom if we are constantly bated by the present Christian buffoonery that assails overhead.

Cleaning the slate is mission imperative.

Huckabee and the Heresy of Americanism

by

August 21, 2014        


Cross Spangled Banner

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Three Cheers for the Trinity!

Mark Sandlin, an influential progressive Christina blogger, is presently blogging on the theme of:  This Collar Is Too Tight: Heresies From a Southern Minister.  The second installment is titled “No Trinity for Me, Please.”

There is nothing new in the case Sandlin makes against the Trinity.  It’s been standard fare from the time of the early church to today.  And I respect his right to state his views.  And he holds no brief against anyone who believes in the Trinity nor is he trying to “convert” anyone from belief in it. However, there is an agenda beyond a personal faith statement at work here.  Sandlin wants “a larger acceptance of theological diversity in the Christian Church.”

Two questions frame his desire to promote this diversity:

-why do we make it (the Trinity) so important? and

-Why is it a dividing line of who is in and who is out?

And he goes on to say “Frankly, I am not deeply interested in the answers to those questions. I’m much more interested in the validity of those questions.”  And he then seems to claim that because valid questions can be asked about the Trinity, this reduces it to a category of a “theory” and, thus, not something that should divide the church, if I understand him aright.

Since he’s asked these questions in the interest of “heretical” (his own category) answers to stretch the church’s theological parameters, it does not seem out of place to offer a responses from my perspective as one who does hold the Trinity to be important and believes it is a nonnegotiable demarcation between Christian views of God and all others.

Nothing in my response will surprise Mark, I’m sure.  I have nothing new to add to the church’s understanding of the Trinity even as Mark’s case against it brings forth nothing new.  I’m not interested in waging a debate with Mark.  I simply think it appropriate to reaffirm the Church’s theological tradition based on its reading of Scripture in a similarly public way as Mark has stated his beliefs.

Mark questions the importance of the Trinity for its “lack of biblical witness.”  Neither Jesus nor the biblical tradition have anything “Trinitarian” about it in his estimation.  He concludes, “. . . if the Trinity is that important, doesn’t it seem like Jesus or the book of Acts or Paul or James or Peter or John would have talked more directly about it?”

Well, not really.  No one claims that there is a doctrine of the Trinity in the biblical material. There is the raw material of such in it (e.g. Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:13), but no “doctrine” like what we find in the Nicene Creed of the 4th century. 

The reality of the Trinity, however, is the heart of Jesus’ lived experience.  When we say his name, we invoke the Trinitarian reality of his life.  He lives in conscious dependence on his Father and in the power of the Spirit.  He is who he is, as the Bible presents him only in this Trinitarian context.  We may think he is wrong or misguided, or that the Bible misleads us at this point, but there can be little question, I believe, that this is the way the Bible presents his life. 

In truth, there’s very little “doctrine” about anything in the biblical tradition.  That’s why doctrines arose – to summarize, clarify, and analyze the assumptions and implications of biblical “raw material.”  The Bible doesn’t teach doctrines in that form; it tells the stories of faith concerning God’s involvement with humankind as the writers experienced and/or remembered it.  The church developed doctrines to help it order itself and respond to the challenges of its time and place.  That’s painting with a broad brush, I realize, but I think it’s basically what happened.

In the course of those first four centuries, however, the church realized its identity was at stake around two particular “doctrines” – the Trinity and the Incarnation of God in, with, through, and as Jesus of Nazareth.  The outcome of all these discussions and debates (admittedly, not all of which are very edifying) was that these two “truths” became recognized as dogmas, that is, the foundational and definitional basis of the church.

These dogmas answer the questions of “Who is God?” and “Who is Jesus” in such a way that to deny either is to be thinking outside the realm of Christian Faith.  For good or ill, the church staked its ground at these points, based on its reading of its scriptures, and thus established the parameters of legitimate Christian theology.

To wind this up, it’s entirely possible to query every element of this development as Mark and many before him have done.  What it doesn’t seem possible to do is to change or deny them and still be thinking Christianly.  I don’t claim that those who do this are not Christians, that neither my place or within my ability to make such a discernment.  We often believe better than we say or think.

Mark asked:  “Why do we make it (the Trinity) so important?” and “Why is it a dividing line of who is in and who is out?”  I hope my brief response here at least makes it clear why the church has done so.