Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How should we then live?

Reading back over the last several months of blogs I realize it would be wise for me to restate the purpose for this discussion forum. The Gospel or good news that Jesus taught has captured my heart like nothing ever has. It is such a phenomenal way to live that I want to sell everything I have if only I can have all that Jesus promised. And not only do I want to possess this priceless pearl I want my friends and neighbors to own this as well.

You will have to forgive me, if in my excitement I speak of the Gospel in a way that sounds impossible to live. That's OK. If the kingdom were something we could live toward in our own strength it would be no different that any other world system. The very nature of this other-worldly value system is that it looks to us like Mount Everest. It looks like an ocean we could never swim across. Here is a truth that every Christian should think long and hard about. If our encounters with Jesus don't leave us with more questions than answers we are having an inferior experience. Encountering the kingdom of heaven at each turn will call deeper levels of faith out of those who are serious about following Jesus.

We are learning something that is totally contrary to the habits of our flesh and the thought processes of our mind. I think it would be wise to resign ourselves to a lifestyle of unresolved conflicts and unanswered questions.

So what is the good of encountering Jesus you ask? I didn't say we don't resolve conflicts and we don't get answers. On the contrary, the follower of Christ will have more stories of God's miraculous intervention and more answers to life's questions. It's just that these events will lead us deeper into God where the conflicts are bigger and the questions go deeper.

Jesus invites us into a relationship with him where we join his heart to love, serve, forgive, sacrifice, and even suffer on behalf of those who are lost, lonely and trapped. Attacking and undoing the things Satan has done to people in this world is the most exciting and fulfilling activity I can think of.

Let's love deeply, serve passionately and give generously; forgiving always, sacrificing joyfully and pursuing always.

In short, let's build a community of followers of Jesus who live in such a way that others would happen upon us and think it foolish not to join us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What is the Good News?

Have you ever played whisper down the lane? Isn't it fascinating that someone can whisper a coherent sentence to a friend and then watch as that sentence changes slightly as it passes from person to person. Get enough people involved and by the time the sentence has been whispered all the way down the lane it sounds nothing like the original message.

I am concerned that we have experienced something like this down through the ages of church history. The Gospel or good news that we preach today is an interesting variant of the Gospel we have recorded in the Bible. Am I suggesting that I know some secret that is unavailable to the rest of the church? Of course not. I simply believe that there is an honest way to read the Bible and there is a dishonest way to read the Bible.

First, we must recognize that the writers of Scripture had an agenda as they wrote. Each writer chose the words, and chose the stories he or she (after all we are not really sure who wrote Hebrews) wished to include for the purpose of making their point. So in reality we have five major Gospel stories. We have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul. Paul, you say? Yes, Paul. After all, it is the message of Paul as he preached the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles that has largely become our Gospel today.

It is Paul who teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
It is Paul who teaches that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life.
It is Paul who teaches that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved.

Matthew wrote a story that was largely concerned with how Jews heard the Gospel.
Mark wrote a very condensed story that hit the high points and didn't include as much material as the others.
Luke put together a story as accurately as he could so that his friend Theo would have an accurate account of Jesus.
John had an agenda vastly different than the others as he spoke of the "Word of God" and how this was revealed as Jesus.
Paul was specifically packaging his message to reach Gentiles. Remember, the people who heard Paul's Gospel did not have the advantage of having a New Testament. Paul was all they knew about Jesus.

In short, trying to synthesize these Gospel stories is to ignore the intent of the Scripture writers. I believe it is dishonest to look at these five "witnesses" as though we are looking at a crime scene and are trying to recreate the "whole" story. It is much more honest to ask ourselves why each of these writers told the story the way they did.

Second, let's not refer to the Gospel of Jesus unless we are referencing the stuff Jesus taught. Too many ideas get ascribed to Jesus that simply weren't his. For instance, most of us think that sin and salvation is a largely personal or individual event; that the kingdom message is one of repentance from things like stealing, sexual promiscuity, and rude behaviors. If you read the Gospel according to Luke you will find that repentance and righteousness are ideas and activities contained in the messge and ministry of John the Baptist. These are preparatory for the coming of Jesus. John's ministry was to prepare people for Jesus. Somehow, John's ministry has become the message of the kingdom, instead of the stuff Jesus taught.

Jesus' message was one that addressed societal sin, value systems, powers and authorities. Jesus confronted what the world values and offered another way. Yes, personal salvation is part of the good news. But it is portrayed (at least in Luke) as the doorway into the kingdom. It is not the kingdom message.

What is the good news? It's right there in our Bibles. Let's stop playing whisper down the lane and dig for ourselves until WE hear the good news that Jesus brought from heaven.

Just some stuff that we should talk about!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

the argument culture

Something has been growing in me for the last year, like a mold that I cannot get rid of. It appears to me that I have been invited into a discussion time and time again that is designed to frustrate me. Like every human who has lived before me I inherit the ideas, philosophies and doctrines of those who have gone before me. As I consider this discussion I am beginning to realize that the deck is stacked against me.

Over the years I have been passionate about many things - and my passion has led me to read, research, discuss, listen and then express my feelings on a matter. It has not been until recently that I have realized I have joined a game that has no winner. I have joined a culture that is satisfied with choosing sides. It's as if what you believe is more important than the world those beliefs create.

Let me give you a few examples.

Who is right, the conservatives or the liberals? Most of us are not so closed minded as to be totally in the conservative camp or totally in the liberal camp (although some are and I apologize for the "close minded" comment). We recognize a predisposition in our souls to agree with the majority of ideas coming out of a particular worldview. We agree with principles and ideas originating in a place inhabited by thinkers who wish to either preserve traditional, tried and true strategies, or who wish to challenge the status quo and try out new, "cutting edge" strategies. And discussion (better known as arguments) are a series of polarizing ideas in which we draw the battle lines on either side of an issue and then point out the weaknesses on the otherside.

Who is right, the capitalists or the socialists? We all know that freedom and competition are the ingredients that go into invention and excellence. After all that is what makes this country so prosperous. Or is it? Why do more and more people seem to be falling behind and why are specific people groups not thriving in this environment? Maybe the wealth should be shared; with those having so much sharing with those who have so little.

If I throw this meaty bone out into a group of interested parties you can imagine the healthy exchange of ideas that would ensue. We would quickly be forced into one of the two camps by the questions and accusations of the other and before long there would be an argument between two polarized groups.

Who is right the Christians or the non-Christians? We as Christians realize that ours is the revelation of Scripture, ours is the truth of God, ours is the moral authority. So much of what we say and how we package the "Gospel" is a drawing up of battle lines. WE know the correct position on issues like marriage, raising children, sexuality, basic morality, etc. It's our job to get this information out to the world that is so mistaken and so ignorant of what God intended.

Before long we have a polarized discussion between the holy and the un-holy. Is it any wonder that we are known more for our moral and doctrinal positions than for the nature of our character?

We have unknowingly chosen to participate in this argument culture, seeing the world as a serious of choices to agree with one side or the other. I want to suggest to you that Jesus gives us another option.

All human arguments are predicated on the assumption that power is exerted from above. In other words, winning an argument is virtuous and establishes a superior power in our belief while losing an argument is a failure and requires that we discard our inferior belief.

But what if power can be exerted from below, from a place of weakness, without fear of "losing"? Jesus regularly took polarized arguments and inserted a different perspective. It was if he surveyed the battle field and was constantly able to lift the conversation out of us vs. them into a higher realm. Insiders or outsiders, haves and have nots, religious or pagan, Jew or Samaritan, free or slave; Jesus' teaching always trancended these polarized groups and suggested a different way. A way of serving, forgiving, loving and submitting.

What would it look like if we elevated the one we disagree with above our need to be right? What would a community look like that valued connection based on serving from below instead of being right from above.

Here in the Flathead we are coming to the end of a prayer vigil by well-meaning Christians who are praying to end abortion. We see these prayer warriors night and day picketting the abortion clinic, peacefully and with great faithfulness. I personally admire these brothers and sisters in faith. But I wonder, what would happen with those who seek an abortion if there was an unexhaustible supply of Jesus followers who regularly opened their homes to pregnant teenagers and single mothers. If our energies were directed at the people who feel the need to seek an abortion from below - from a place of serving love instead of from above - moral superiority?

Just some stuff we should talk about.