Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

28 October 2006

the gospel announcement 10-28-06

If you know anything about the word 'gospel', you probably know that it means 'Good News.' You may also know that it is the word ('euangelion') that a Roman herald would use in making the announcement that there was a new Emperor in the Empire. I love the way that Tom Wright points out that these Roman heralds were not offering an invitation, but rather making an announcement.

As Wright says, these heralds didn't ride into town and say, "In case you are interested in offering your devotion to someone, you may wish to try Caesar, who has recently become the Emperor of Rome. He would be delighted if you should wish to follow him." Instead, it would have been more like this, "We bring you the good news ('gospel') of Rome that Caesar Augustus is now our beloved Emperor, and demands your allegiance and taxes! On your knees!" In short, these heralds were declaring that Caesar was Lord!

The idea of 'good news' was certainly not just a Roman thing, however. The Jewish prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries ago about 'good tidings' for the poor, etc. (ch. 52 & 61 and other places). In fact, when Isaiah was translated into Greek (in the Septuagint), they used the same word ('euangelion') in these places! Indeed, the word 'gospel' had a very different usage when the New Testament was written!

Believing the 'Gospel' in the first century came complete with side-effects, and it wasn't simply that you belonged to a club that you didn't before. If it was the Gospel of Caesar, the side-effect was that you would swear allegiance to him as Lord - lived out by paying taxes and obedience to the Roman system. Whether you were an orator, civic benefactor, patron, client, land-owner, peasant or slave, obedience meant knowing your place and not rocking the boat.

With the coming of Jesus, the word Gospel took on new meaning - as did the side-efffects that went with believing it. For Jews, believing the Gospel of Jesus meant that the 'good news' of Isaiah had never been announced like it had been with Jesus. In the Roman world, however, believing the Gospel of Jesus was hazardous for your health! Believing that Jesus was Lord meant believing that Caesar was not! It meant believing that the 'good news' of Jesus made the 'good news' of Rome look like a cheap scam. It meant no longer living according to a system which really only served an elite few at the top, but rather living according to the character of a Lord, who is nothing at all like Caesar.

What in the world does this mean for us today? Possibly more than we care to know. I think it means that the Gospel of Jesus has little to do with an invitation that I accept (as if it were about me), and everything to do with an announcement that is true. Jesus really IS Lord. My life needs to give voice to that, and simply saying so won't do. Simply associating with others that say so (or not associating with those that don't) won't do either. Our spending habits, dreams ('american' or otherwise), time, money, standard of living, and much more - they all must bow the knee to the fact that Jesus is Lord. Announcing this is our calling. It will definitely require our words, but equally (or more) so, it will require our lives.


16 October 2006

building for God's Kingdom

I won't embarrass myself, but just know that I could share many stories of times I've done things 'for' someone and found myself eventually having to apologise and say, "Sorry, I was just trying to help!" However well-intentioned our actions may be, they can be un-helpful or even harmful. Even sincere people can be sincerely wrong.

From age 11-18, I spent my summers working for my Dad in construction. I learned a lot about building in those summers, but I also learned about working with a team. When you're building a house, you have to understand and appreciate the overall process in everything you do. You may have an idea that seems helpful by itself, but in the whole scheme of things can end up being unhelpful. It could make more work for someone else, cause confusion, or a host of other things. For example, I may see that some boards on the roof need cutting. By itself, this is fine for me to do. However, if someone else is already making preparations to do it, then one of us is going to be wasting time. Also, cutting boards on the roof creates saw-dust, which can cause people to lose their footing on the roof. What's more, there could be a reason that the boards haven't been cut yet - maybe on this specific house there is another design feature in mind.

Another example; I may notice that a stack of boards are on the other side of the job-site from where they are going to be used. I could save someone a lot of time walking back and forth by moving them closer. There could be several things I'm not considering, though. Maybe the area I would move them to is about to be used for something else. Perhaps moving the boards at all would just confuse the person who was going to be using them, etc.

As you can see, there's a lot that can go wrong on a job site. Intentions may be good and effort may be expended, but sometimes with distorted results. You could think it was wonderful that you cut a lot of boards, but maybe they were supposed to be cut later or differently. You may feel proud that you solved an apparent board location problem, but maybe that was the best place for them in the long run. Perhaps you can think of similar examples for other environments.

On a job site, these problems can be easy to deal with. In fact, the longer a team works together, the easier they are to deal with. You learn to ask questions and think before you just 'do' something. You learn how to see the big picture. You learn to work together.

In church life, however, the things we do are often close to or at the heart of our very identities. The tasks that we perform are marks of our spirituality and if the tasks that I'm doing are thought by others to be contradictory to the big picture, then we feel that our very spirituality has been attacked.

In the same way that simply 'doing stuff' on a job-site is not always the right thing, in the church also, simply doing things just because we can doesn't mean that we always should in view of the big picture. Could it be that sometimes we may be just 'moving spiritual boards' around the job-site when we need to be cutting them according to the plan and installing them where they go, etc.?

In the world of construction, corrections have to be made. The workers have to accept it, grow, learn, move on - and most importantly - get to building the right way! At least in some ways, it is no different in the church. We've got a job to do. Let's keep the big picture in mind. Let's communicate with one another. Let's not take advice too personally. Let's grow. Let's sharpen each other, making us sharper tools in God's hands. Let's get on with building for God's Kingdom.


13 October 2006

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4 October 2006

poor christianity

"And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John... perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of the fellowship, that we should go to the (uncircumcised) Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Jews). They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do."
- Paul in Galatians 2:9-10 NKJV

Wow. Welcoming those filthy, stinking, sinning, dirty Gentiles into the people of God, and such inconvenient, impractical and idealistic priority given to serving the poor?

While we can't reduce Christianity to these two characteristics, they remain at the very heart of the types of attitude and action that should characterise Christians.

Welcoming Gentiles Today
It's hard to imagine just how wrong it would have felt to many faithful Jews at that time even to entertain the idea that Gentiles could be justified by God simply by faith - no Jewish-ness ('works of the law' - Gal. 2:16) required. The accomplishment of Jesus had not only surpassed every hope of the Jews, but had also come with a sharp word of prophet-like judgement to them as well. All nations were supposed to be blessed in Abraham and by Abrahams decendants. Instead, they had taken on some of the characteristics of the various empires that had continually been oppressing them. As N.T. Wright brilliantly puts it, God's rescuers needed rescuing themselves. The invitation to Gentiles had always been open throughout Israel's history, but for the most part, it was an invitation that wasn't getting delivered.

The language of the New Testament is vibrantly coloured by the tension of Gentile-Jew relations, but the language of our world isn't. Perhaps this can keep us from noticing how often we can take up the same attitude towards people who do not share our faith in Jesus. Our self-rightousness is often disgusting. In the same way that Paul talks about Gentiles 'doing the things contained in the law' (Romans 2:14), many people today are doing great things for the world with no faith in Jesus at all. True, God's people are identified only as the ones that have faith, but this doesn't give us the right to make it harder for people that don't look like us to come to this faith. Not only will we have to be more willing to allow them join us in our work, but we may have to humble ourselves and join them in their work.

Remembering The Poor Today
The leading apostles gave the 'Gentile side' of the ministry to Paul and the one thing that was of utmost importance to both of them was care for the poor. One does not have to read the Bible for very long to see how God is angered when His people don't care for the poor. Multiple prophecy-warnings by prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus in the Gospel narratives, and the New Testament all confirm this concern of God that is to be our concern as well.

What keeps us from 'remembering' the poor? Allow me to suggest that our minds are on other things. If you live in a Western nation in the 21st century, that means that you are bombarded with advertising images and slogans that are determined to keep your mind on whatever it is they are trying to sell you. We need to re-capture the eager-ness of Paul and his fellow Apostles (or more importantly, the eager-ness of Jesus our Lord) to care for the poor. Comfort, convenience, home-improvement, investment (let alone drowning in debt), fashion and the like should all take a back seat to our eager-ness to remember the poor. There are countless ways to serve the needs of less-priveleged people around the world. We must make it our priority.


2 October 2006

come, part mental eyes!

The phrases 'christian life', 'spiritual life', 'family life', 'work life', 'prayer life', 'devotional life' and many others are very common. What I'm talking about is our tendency to divide up our lives into bits that don't blend together or overflow into one another. It's when the various 'parts' of your life have little or no effect on the other 'parts.'

I'd like to (big surprise) focus on the Jesus 'part' of our lives. Why? Because I believe that the person of Jesus, with all of the depths of meaning that He embodies, ought to have no small effect on our lives. We should not be able to encounter Him as He truly is and not be shaped, challenged and moulded! How is it that He so often doesn't have this effect on us?

Among the many things that keep Jesus from having His full effect on us, I wonder if a significant barrier to us being re-worked by Him may be our tendency to (perhaps unintentionally) divide our lives into bits. Here are a few ways that I think we do this...

Spiritual v. un-spiritual
While most of us would agree with the statement that our whole lives are meant to be 'spiritual', we still attach a greater spirituality to some parts of our lives than we do to other parts. Activities such as church services, conferences, bible-study and the like are seen to constitute our 'spiritual life' while ones like eating, working or driving are 'just life.'

I think this is deeply problematic. Our entire lives are meant to be 'spiritual.' We don't hop and skip from one spiritual moment to another, instead we are to be continually being filled with God's Spirit and continually overflowing in service, life and love to God, others and the world. And this continual spirituality isn't necessarily always dramatic or emotional. I think that some of the most spiritual people in the world live gloriously unspectacular and wondrously normal lives. Our whole lives are spiritual.

Postively positive
Most of us have heard Matt Redman's song 'Blessed Be Your Name' by now, so we're familiar with the reminder from the story of Job. Praise God in the good and the bad. We agree with this mentally. Fine. That's great. But why do we still tend to attach greater spirituality to the 'happy' moments? Something great happens and someone says, "God is great!" After an exciting worship-singing time someone reports, "God showed up!" I'm thinking that God is always good, and that He hasn't gone anywhere.

Knowing God with heart, soul, mind and strength means more than just agreeing with theological statements. It has less to do with being the most exited person in a church service and more to do with how you live outside the church service.

God is in this place?
Every Sunday morning, we often hear someone thank God for 'being with us' or hear a prayer that God would 'meet us here.' I understand the concept of God 'drawing near', but when we attach a greater spirituality to our church building on Sunday morning, we've taken this too far. I've heard people pray before church services for 'hearts to be changed as people enter the building.' This a good example of seeing the church building as too important. It's not that the church building doesn't matter at all, it's just that it ought not to matter any more than the rest of God's creation.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the time was coming and had already come that worshipping God wasn't about being in the right place (Samaria or Jerusalem - see John 4), but about knowing who we worship - God. Spirit and Truth know no boundaries. And in case you're wondering, the church building is NOT the modern day equivalent of the Temple in Jerusalem. Our bodies are. That, my friends, ought to make us stop and think.

Our lives aren't the sum of a bunch of parts, but is meant to be entirely spiritual. Paul says that our lives are 'hidden with Christ in God.' May we live every moment in Him. May Jesus our Lord be truly Lord of 'all' in our entire lives. May He reign in us totally and wholly.