Any thoughts or responses?
Why is it that when we go on retreats it is always to rural areas? We always go out into the country to meet and hear from God, but why don’t we ever retreat in urban contexts? Can’t we also take time to intentionally dwell in the city to hear God? Does God only speak to us when we go to less populated and less developed spaces? Or is it just a Christian bias that we all have bought into…
Maybe instead of retreating from the city we could actually retreat to the city. There might actually be some advantages to retreating in the urban context! What can God teach us in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of life? How might we see Jesus anew surrounded by poor and systemically oppressed people? How might God shape and transform His people in the urban setting? What could an individual or communities time look like as they seek God submerged in the hood? I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives on this. Freestyle with me…
Just thought this was a intriguing comic on the whole Arizona Immigration law, given that land once belonged to Mexico. Honestly, I think it is a complex issue and I refuse to fall into either the liberal or conservative camp on this one. I liked what Robert Gelinas asked on his blog… not whether or not we agree with the law, but rather what Christian principles were people applying to arrive at an faithfully christian response. Obviously, many people found scripture to justify both sides of the argument. I just wonder if God is pleased with either answer. Ultimately, whatever our response is to the law, we must be convinced that it is a demonstration of our love to God and our love for others (specifically, undocumented immigrants).
Did you know that Jesus only talks about being born again one time, and it is to one specific person (Nicodemus) and only found in the Gospel of John. On the other hand Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God countless times throughout the gospels (mostly Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew because they showed so much reverence to God’s name). Even when Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again, he mentioned the Kingdom twice, explaining why one must “enter” the Kingdom. I think we should focus more on what Jesus ACTUALLY said, and less on the Evangelical tradition’s infatuation and limited focus with this one biblical metaphor.
We need more of a Christ centered, and scripturally faithful theological approach. This does not mean discard the “born again” metaphor Jesus uses. It is both great and biblical! But lets keep things in focus and not major on the minors. When we talk about being born again and divorce it from entering the Kingdom of God (which Jesus did not do) we justify our individualism in which our faith in Christ is only about us. When we teach entering the Kingdom of God, we are subversively telling people that you have become a part of something bigger than yourself.
Once you are in God’s Kingdom, you must live as though Christ is King, and are now free to live free as a loved child of God. No longer enslaved to this world (its things, its appeal, it’s threats) but now may participate in what God has ultimately created you for… mission with God (to liberate, to save, to redeem, to reconcile, etc.) and community with God’s people (while sharing love with one another). And we do this while we await the final return of our King to fully establish His Kingdom here on earth.
Given this, the thing Christians should explore is what it looked like for Jesus to do Kingdom ministry in the 1st century, and what that might look like for the church now in the 21st century.
Most churches seem to have their members on a short leash. Think about it, while most churches “teach” that the members need to go out and witness to others, they have everyone shackled and busy inside the church. Who are considered the most faithful people in the church? Usually they are the ones who commit the most time serving and ministering inside the church. Shoot, there is Sunday service, and of course if you are good you also attend communion and Sunday School. Most churches have a wednesday night bible study at their church. Of course, if you are really serious you will give up your time and serve on some committee, comission, church board, or meeting once a week. Don’t forget rehearsal for the choir, worship teams, band, drama, etc. Then we got our fellowships for the men, for the women, for the young adults, for the youth. We also got singles stuff and stuff for married folks too. If you are a “faithful” church member, then you are lucky to have even a few evenings home with the family. At the end of each week, surprisingly we find no time to reach, serve, and love neighbors and strangers in our community. (I don’t blame the members, I blame us leaders for this problem).
This doesn’t seem to be what is going on in the New Testament. And please, don’t get me wrong I am not saying that all those things are inherently wrong. However, I believe the primary role of the church is to equip and unleash the Church for mission locally, regionally, and globally. And when I say that I am not thinking primarily of evangelism events and missions programs. What I mean is that the Church ought to be released to go out and interact and engage the community naturally as God’s people. Whether individually or collectively we are to be the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus in our community.
For the neighborhood I live in I imagine people spending time with neigbors on the block or on the corner. I imagine Christians out at the basketball courts hanging out, or choppin it up about current events in the barbershop. I see christians having their favorite local bar where everyone knows their name and where they are building relationships with people that most church members would never encounter regularly. This can never happen if we are on a tight leash spending most of our time keeping church programs afloat. More than ever I think it is time for the church to disciple and equip its people in sacrificially minded community (opposed to consumer minded communities) so that it may be unleashed to bear witness to Christ to a world that needs it.
It seems that the goal for most Christians is to separate themselves as much as possible from the world around them. The thought process goes like this… “I am supposed to be sanctified and holy. I cannot allow the world to corrupt me from living in righteousness and drawing me away from having a clean and pure heart. Therefore, I will only listen to Christian music, read Christian books, have Christian friends, see Christian movies, talk to other Christians, and go to Christian gatherings.” And it is usually the case that each of those Christian things that people are engaging in, only encourage them to even more continue separating themselves more and more.
For me, I think the mere labeling of everything being either “Christian” or “secular” is a false dualism that has perverted the church and allowed it to lose its saltiness and effectiveness in our communities. We have been hoodwinked and bamboozled by main stream Christian culture into believing that the Christian bubble lifestyle is somehow a faithful attempt to bear one’s cross daily just as our Lord did. I disagree terribly. In fact, more and more I find some aspects in “secular” culture to line up more with the teachings of Jesus than many of our so called Christian products that we sell in the Christian Marketplace. While I am amazed at the enormous consumer power of those who call themselves Christians, could that consumer power be put to better use? And while it’s nice that we consume ourselves trying to be more holy, have we neglected our moral responsibility to engage and serve a world that is broken and in need of the love of Jesus? Can it be that in attempting to be more spiritual and faithful, that we have actually become more like the Pharisees and Sadducees described in the Gospels, and have actually departed away from the life of Jesus who engaged the people, becoming like them in such a way that he could empathize with them.
This is not a challenge to lose our distinction as the people of God, nor to stop pursuing God through Christian interaction, reflection, and community. Yet the unbiblical approach that has become a standard way of thinking in American Christianity continues to erode the very core values Jesus taught. I think the time is now for us to get out of the pews and onto the corners, what do you think, freestyle with me?
When I vacation with my family it is not strange for us to pick one day and play board games. After much convincing to plunge into a long game, we often whip out an old favorite… Monopoly. You know the deal, each player is trying to “monopolize” the whole board, until eventually everyone has folded and you have complete control of the board.
In theological circles, the same practice of monopoly has been going on. White western theologians dominate the theological conversation dismissing voices from poorer countries as well as domestic voices as fringe. When they themselves do theology it is self-labeled “classical”, “neutral”, “objective”, and “biblical”. On the contrary, when others have different insights into the biblical text that they miss, these folks get these labels… “Black theology”, “Latin theology”, “Asian theology”, “pacifist theology”, “social justice theology”, and “feminist theology”. The intent of these labels is to dismiss these bright theologians by asserting which context they are speaking from, which supposedly explains why the message they speak is distorted. They on the other hand, are “supposedly” not influenced by their race, socio-economics, or culture, and therefore should be seen and understood as neutral in their theological assumptions.
In pushing this agenda, white/western theologians have been able to claim a monopoly on interpreting the Bible. The truth is that much of what is understood as “orthodox” now in evangelical communities was not apart of the understanding of early Christians in the first 300 years of the church. The closest there was to what we have now comes from those who took the “Tertullian” approach, who as a lawyer communicated much of the biblical narrative in legal terms. Yet even his understanding was very different over all from what is now considered orthodox. On the other hand, there was plenty of diversity among the theological understandings of the faith back then. They made distinctions between core essentials (trinity, full divinity and full humanity of Christ, etc.) and doctrinal differences.
In fact, the first 300 hundred years of the church was hugely impacted by African theologians. Nonetheless, theologians from Africa, Europe, and Asia all participated in theological development. So now as we look at the present situation, I ask my fellow white theologians, are you willing to loosen the grip of monopoly? Can you step away from being in the center of the theological dialogue and join everyone else around the table where we can all participate as equals? This is hard, it means denying the privilege and position one has, while simultaneously empowering important voices of those who need to be heard. It is a tough Christ-like and sacrificial act, but it will strengthen the unity, voice, and witness of the church.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Honestly, I question our understanding of good church. Do not get me wrong, I think God desires for us to come together regularly in His name. In fact Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should not neglect coming together, however we should not so easily skip over verse 24 as many are in the habit of doing.It says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (TNIV). The emphasis of the verse doesn’t seem to care as much about the nature of our coming together, but the fruit of our coming together. It seems clear that the fruit of our coming together, is the producing of a community that is loving others and is doing good deeds. Our gatherings are not for the purpose of feeling good on the inside nor merely just becoming better people.
It goes way beyond that, we gather to get something going, to jump start a movement. When we gather we are supposed to be inspired, provoked, and ignited. However we are not provoked merely on how to pray better or read our bible more. (Important things to do, don’t confuse what I am saying). If our coming together only provokes our personal piety, personal spiritual lives, and personal morality without breaking into the sphere of loving others and doing good deeds then we have missed it. It seems that our coming together regularly should be shaping us as a people that go out into our communities bringing relief to those with aids, adopting children who have been neglected, standing up against injustice, living counter-cultural lives that challenge powerful institutions that oppress their workers.
Our gatherings need to be formed for the very purpose that “we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” And if that is not happening when we gather, then we have hardly had some “chuch”. Maybe our having good church is less about what goes on inside the walls of our facilities that we gather in and more about what happens once we leave. Maybe it’s about our engaging our neighbors with love, helping that elderly woman fix that broken faucet in her house. Mabye it’s about taking some time to spend with that young boy who wanders the streets at all hours, without any guidance and mentors involved in his life. Maybe it’s spending the time to help someone create a good resume and help them network to get a job. (Since getting a job is more about who you know, than what you know.)
Hardly do we see Jesus inside the synagogue, and the few times he was, there were attempts or at plots on his life because he taught or stood up for justice. If Jesus spent most of his time and “ministry” outside the walls of the church engaging people, meeting them on their terms while trying to liberate and empower them from the burdens, sin, and sickness of life, why have we revolved our lives around what goes on inside the church. I think its time for us to encourage one another that we can’t spend all our time at church meetings and services throughout the entire week, but instead urging each other to be active in our communities as salt and light as we love and do good deeds. Once the church has left the building, and we are in our communities serving and loving folks. We can call each other up on the phone and talk about how “we had some church today!!!”.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are extremely important days in the Christian calendar. All around the globe believers will be taking this time to focus on the sacrifice that Jesus made through his death on the cross as well as the hope and assurance we receive through His resurrection.
Typically this time is seen as our time to be grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, for the fact that we have our sins forgiven, and because we are justified before God. While I agree and affirm all these things, I do wonder if gratitude meets God’s desires from us as a response, or if He expects more. Should the cross be something to merely be thankful for, or should this time of reflection also include our personal reflection challenging ourselves on how our lives can be shaped by the cross as well?
If our response to the cross is limited to (or mostly focused on) gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice, could it tend to promote a Christianity without cost? We all must ask ourselves whether the cross is something merely done for us, or is it something that we are also called to? If it is just done for us then we can be thankful, and as well be comfortable because we are good to go… however if we are called to share Jesus’ death and resurrection then there is a cost assumed as well. What is this cost? What would a life modeling and imitating the cross of Jesus look like in the 21st Century?
In America, we are known for being a bit petty… we have the habit of associating anything that does not go the way we want or anytime we are not completely comfortable, with the term suffering. Our heater breaks for a day in our house and we call it suffering, we wear a Christian T-Shirt and get funny look and we call it suffering, we don’t get a good parking space on Sunday morning close to the church and we call it suffering. Someone has the sniffles when they wake up and they are suffering. I do not want to trivialize many of our daily struggles, however I think our excessive comforts in America make it hard for us to envision living a life of the cross biblically in our context. And while I do think we can suffer as Christians in America, I am not quite sure taking prayer out of schools, or removing the 10 commandments from the courthouse can adequately be termed suffering when we remember Jesus’ death, the first 300 years in which the church was persecuted, or the global persecution that Christians face all around the world currently.
Freestyle with me on this, what does it mean to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus in our time and context?
A lot of religious frontin goes on in the church. Decide what you want “A Religious Front or Spiritual Depth”. Here is my most recent sermon…
Freestyle with me…