Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thesis #4 - A General Solution

Over the last 10 days since I starts "The New 95 Theses" project, I have found that many of us have a strong tendency to jump to solution. I would like to say that I seriously doubt that any of us really have the solution. The reason I make this claim is because the nature of the problems I have outlined are problems of practice, and, therefore, the solution can only be seen as proven through implementation. In this case the proof is in the doing. Secondly, the problems I have outlined are community-wide problems. Therefore, the implementation of the solution is an implementation of leading a community into a new story of purity and moral beauty. So, needless to say, we are all traveling down this road together.

You Don't Learn Gymnastics that Way
If our problem was one of widespread misunderstandings of the creedal tenents of the trinity, then the solution might be mapped out and proven through the proofs of axioms and ideas, but the problems I have intentionally defined are purely in the realm of practices and behaviors. These problems of materialism, sexual sin, and marriage and divorce (just to name a few) are life skills. Such wisdom and solutions are only vindicated by their children. Here is a principle that is essential to approaching the problem correctly.

The practice of Christianity is learned more like gymnastics than geometry.

Most current approaches to teaching Christianity focus primarily on the disseminating of ideas or the publishing of concepts. Having the concept right is very important in spiritual growth, but it is not the missing link in the chain which will lead us to the effective learning of Christian practice. You see you don't learn gymnastics that way.

The True Love waits campaign is a perfect example. The assumption of the campaign is that if kids learn the standard of God's Word, understand the benefits of living according to God's Word, and then present themselves to obey God's word through faith in the Gospel, then more kids will actually prctice God's Word. BUT the fact is the methodology of the True Love Waits Campaign competely failed to generate purity. The entire campaign shows no statistical benefit. A pastor or leader seeking to find an answer to the problems of Christian practice must take responsibility for the actual outcomes of his or her efforts. In light of such facts, the anyone seeking to become a "wise master builder" must humbly re-evaluate the entire process. The conclusion must be that the design of a new discipleship process is necessary!!!

Why does knowledge of the truth and commitment to the truth not necessarily lead to actual practice? The answer is because you don't learn gymnastics that way!! If you don't learn gymnastics that way, then why would you expect to learn any other skill that way?

Could you imagine a coach teaching young gymnasts by saying, "Ok ,this is a video of a double back flip. This double back flip is a beautiful act of athletic prowess. Now raise your hand if you are committed to doing a double back flip."
All the hands raise, and then the coach just says, "Great. We have a meet tomorrow, and I expect you all to attempt double back flips".

"But I don't know how to do a double back flip. I don't even know how to do a single back flip or even a cartwheel for that matter. "

Taking such an approach to learning how to live in purity is no less foolish. This basic truth about learning true wisdom and Godliness leads us to our next thesis:

Thesis #4: The current culture of the church approaches discipleship from a generally academic perspective. The church does not possess a viable approach to discipleship which is effective in transforming the practices of the church.

The approach to discipleship which views the learning of the Christian life in the same way as learning history or mathematics is doomed to be forever ineffective because life skills are not learned in the realm of the mind alone. Instead, Christian practices are learned through a method which must include teaching and practicing new skills in the context of a coach who is an expert at the skill the student is attempting to learn. Such a method must look at the actual methods Jesus, the master disciple maker, used to transform His original disciples from conversion to trustworthy leadership.

God Bless,

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Thesis #3 - Shalom in the Home - Marriage and Divorce in the Church

In response to the problems I have noted in Thesis #1 and Thesis #2, many readers are offering solutions, but I do not believe that we can at this point pretend to have the answers to what ails the North American church. The fact of the matter is that as we look at the facts we can only come to one conclusion:
We need an...
and we aren't talking about buildings!!!

The anemic witness of the North American church is part of all of our stories and is all of our responsibility. We are a people of unclean lips who live among a people of unclean lips. It is best for us simply to sit for a while in sackcloth and ashes and wait for wisdom. Leadership is needed. A word of clarity is needed. Such a word is a word that is most likely not spoken first with our mouths but is first spoken by our lives. To rebuild the age old wisdom, we must first live in the story of the new life for a season. Then, when our observable life is stunning, then we have the authority to speak to the rest of the body.

That being said, I would like to say a word about Marriage and the Evangelical.

Ron Sider in his book "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" notes the harsh reality of evangelical marriage. We the church need to let these facts weigh heavy upon our hearts. Please read the following!!!!:
• Divorce:
In a 1999 national survey, George Barna found that the percentage of born-again Christians who had experienced divorce was slightly higher (26 percent) than that of non-Christians (22 percent).7 In Barna's polls since the mid-1990s, that number has remained about the same.8 In August 2001, a new poll found that the divorce rate was about the same for born-again Christians and the population as a whole; 33 percent of all born-again Christians had been divorced compared with 34 percent of non-born-again Americans—a statistically insignificant difference. Barna also found in one study that 90 percent of all divorced born-again folk divorced after they accepted Christ.9
Barna makes a distinction between born-again Christians and evangelicals. Barna classifies as born-again all who say "they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today" and who also indicate that they "believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior."10 In Barna's polls anywhere from 35 to 43 percent of the total U.S. population meet these criteria for being born-again.
Barna limits the term "evangelical" to a much smaller group—just 7 to 8 percent of the total U.S. population. In addition to meeting the criteria for being born-again, evangelicals must agree with several other things such as the following: Jesus lived a sinless life; eternal salvation is only through grace, not works; Christians have a personal responsibility to evangelize non-Christians; Satan exists. Obviously this definition identifies a much more theologically biblical, orthodox group of Christians.
What is the divorce rate among evangelicals? According to a 1999 poll by Barna, exactly the same as the national average! According to that poll, 25 percent of evangelicals—just like 25 percent of the total population—have gone through a divorce.
11 Does it make no difference to evangelicals that their Lord and Savior explicitly, clearly, repeatedly condemned divorce?
"Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Matthew 19:4–6 (NRSV)
Professor Brad Wilcox is a Princeton-trained, Christian sociologist who specializes in family issues. Wilcox has studied two sets of national data: The General Social Survey and The National Survey of Families and Households. The result? "Compared with the rest of the population, conservative Protestants are more likely to divorce." He also points out the divorce rates are higher in the southern U.S., where conservative Protestants make up a higher percentage of the population than elsewhere in the country.
A story in the New York Times in 2001 underlined Wilcox's findings about the unusually high divorce rates in the South. In many parts of the Bible Belt, the divorce rate was discovered to be "roughly 50 percent above the national average" (italics mine).13 Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma pointed out the irony that these unusually high divorce rates exist in his state, where 70 percent of the people go to church once a week or more. "These divorce rates," Gov. Keating concluded, "are a scalding indictment of what isn't being said behind the pulpit."

Could it be that making a commitment to Jesus Christ makes no difference in the most important area of life - our relationship with our spouse? We can point to any number of causes. We can blame men. We can blame women. We can blame pastors. We can blame the world and the flesh and the devil. But none of this blaming will help us to turn these trends around.

The fact of the matter is this: People are going to church and going home and fighting and arguing. These people are not equipped with the tools to get themselves into a joyful marriage. Worse than this where is the church as these marriages fall apart?

My father always told me, "In the church there should be no broken fences". What this means is that if a single mother had a broken fence, the church would know about it and fix it. How much more is this principle applicable to the church??!!??

Pastor, did you visit a hurting couple today? Does your church have divorces where both members are church members? Does our churches have discipleship groups for couples? Is it working?
Before reading these facts, I must admit, I had no idea that divorce was so prevalent in the church

Do you argue with your spouse? Are you getting counseling from your pastor? Do you have an accountable relationship where people see and speak to you about your marriage?

Thesis #3: The church does not have a discipleship process that is effective to lead people into the Kingdom of God in their marriages. The church is not discipling married people in to the ways of peace and Shalom in the Home. The fact is that divorce is as common among believers as it is among non-believers. This lack of a discipleship process that is effective undermines the testimony that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and that Jesus Christ is the savior from the bondage of sin.

The church must unite to solve these problems, or we cannot expect to be salt and light to our culture. The need for reformation is urgent.
God Bless,

Update: continue to Thesis #4 - A General Solution
And the sermon that was the result of this week's blogs.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The New Monastic

Summer (Gideon Strauss's daughter) has asked "what would a new monastic life look like?" in the comments to Gideons post on the need for a new monasticism.

Just this weekend I made what I hope to be a monumental decision to begin living this monastic life in earnest. I make many such decisions and do not follow through BUT I have asked others to hold me accountable this time so I think this time may be different.

Here is the question I ask. What areas of life do i wish to model to the men I wish to disciple? To this I answer:
1. Devotional life
2. Family Life:
a. managing the home with my wife
b. educating my children
c. times of playing and learning other skills together
3. Doing missionary work in our neighborhood and beyond
4. The one on one discipleship process itself.

If you are a pastor or a leader, can you model these areas of your life to others so as they could live with you and would learn a new way of life that manifests the kingdom of God? This is the new monasticism!!!

John Wimber used to say with respect to gifts, "Everyone gets to play". The 21st Century Reformation will happen where there is a monastic style of discipleship where, likewise, "Everyone gets to play"
God help us dig deep as we build high,
God Bless,

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Benedict and Francis

Blue Goldfish points us to the role of the MONASTIC. I agree 100%. I would add that Francis of Assisi is the greatest monastic leader. I am convinced that the rediscovery of how to live the gospel as a "religious" community is the key to the 21st Century Reformation.

Gideon Strauss quotes Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue with this quote:
A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of the imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognizing fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without ground for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a God, but for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.

It is for precisely this reason that the call is not so urgent to save the political realm from its fallenness, but the urgent and vital task, the task at hand, is to shore up the church. The renewal of the church is a foundational necessity that MUST precede the preservation of civility (i.e. civilization). If the church does not take serious the need for reformation, if the church loses it's saltiness, how can the church renew the culture?
God help us as we dig deep and seek to build high,
God Bless,

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Humility 2 - Owning My Responsibility

I am on a business trip and actually this allows for more prayer time than at home.

This morning I was contemplating my next sermon on Romans 6 and "no longer letting sin reign in your mortal bodies". My sermon is on the "How to do this".
My thought was that the church doesn't teach often how to do this putting off. Paul later explains the process as "if we by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh". The question is:

Has anyone ever explained this process to you?
Do you think the leaders in our churches know how to teach others how to do this putting off and ultimately bring others to victory?
If an addict came to you, could you lead him to victory and liberation?
If a person was struggling in their marriage with arguing, could you teach them, over say 6 months, how to find self-control and the means to be delivered from the impulse to anger?

If we can't do these basic discipleship tasks, are we making disciples?

I think that we might be able to get folks baptized and into the church but becoming a Christian isn't leading many of them into the life of the Son of God. Many enter the church but few are entering the kingdom life. Is this true? If it is, could it be that this is what Jesus meant when he said,

"You will travel around the world to make a convert, but when they convert they become twice the son of hell that you are." - ??

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Thesis #2 - Looking at Ron Sider's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience"

If you didn't read yesterday's post, Humility and the 95 Theses Project please do before reading this post. I feel that post was important to this project.

Today's post:
Bloggers spent about 2-3 days reporting on Ron Sider’s book and the related article in CT - "The Scandal of the Evangelical ConscienceWhy don't Christians live what they preach"? Did you miss it??

Just a few notes: What really is important in the world and the church? What alarms us and gets the church and Christians praying and writing and talking? The problems Sider addresses are the real problems and facts Christians need to stare in the face. Let's contemplate our priorities and our attention span.

From the statistics Sider sites, I come up with my
Thesis #2:
The church in North America is not providing the believer a life of discipleship which liberates the 21st Century Christian from sexual sin.

(note:I do not think this wording will be the final wording nor will this be the order of the theses as I think statements on "being a disciple" and "kingdom" need to be stated early on under which this thesis will be a sub-thesis.) - John at Blogotional has submitted a thesis regarding making kingdom a priority.

Sider runs down a litany of statistics that show that American Christians lack moral distinction from the world to which we are called to call minister to.

The Witness of the Church and Cultural Renewal
Sider’s theory is the same as mine and the same as Jesus’. Basically, our salt has lost its saltiness and, therefore, we are getting trounced in the culture.
Sider says:
If Christians do not live what they preach, the whole thing is a farce. "American Christianity has largely failed since the middle of the twentieth century," Barna concludes, "because Jesus' modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus." This scandalous behavior mocks Christ, undermines evangelism, and destroys Christian credibility.

Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most "Christians" regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.

Sexual Disobedience
Sider’s writing:
Popular evangelical speaker Josh McDowell has been observing and speaking to evangelical youth for several decades. I remember him saying years ago that evangelical youth are only about 10 percent less likely to engage in premarital sex than nonevangelicals.
True Love Waits, a program sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, is one of the most famous evangelical efforts to reduce premarital sexual activity among our youth. Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. Are these young evangelicals keeping their pledges? In March 2004, researchers from Columbia University and Yale University reported on their findings. For seven years they studied 12 thousand teenagers who took the pledge. Sadly, they found that 88 percent of these pledgers reported having sexual intercourse before marriage; just 12 percent kept their promise. The researchers also found that the rates for having sexually transmitted diseases "were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not."

Barna found from a 2001 poll that cohabitation—living with a member of the opposite sex without marriage—is only a little better among born-again adults than the general public. Nationally, 33 percent of all adults have lived with a member of the opposite sex without being married. The rate is 25 percent for born-again folk.

These facts cannot be denied. Therefore, it follows that:
Thesis #2:
The church is not providing a life of discipleship which liberates the 21st Century Christian from sexual sin.

As I wrote yesterday,
I am aware that there are many causes and suggested causes but I think we simply need to simply allow the weight of the problems to sit in our hearts for awhile. Time will come for analysis and solutions. For now lets just sit before the Lord and cry out:
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips..."
God Bless,

Humility and Problem Definition - The Heart of the "New 95 Theses Project"

Isaiah 6:5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips..."

I have begun asking myself a very specific question with a very specific deliverable as the questions answer.
The question: What are the most vital areas that we the church are in need of change?
The deliverable: How can these vital few areas be expressed in a series of theses in much the same way as Luther presented his call to reformation?

Prophetic or Pathetic
Immediately in even asking such a question, my mind is filled with caution. First, there are a million critics in the church. We all, if we have spent any time in the evangelical churches, have met the dissatisfied. We hear calls that, "The church doesn't pray enough"; "the church is Laodicean"; "church leaders are controlling and we need to break down the barriers between clergy and laity". Or we hear the basic consumeristic criticism, "The worship is too slow"; "The worship is too fast"; "The preacher preaches too long"; "The sermon wasn;t biblical"; "I like application"; "I like expositional preaching"...

Two problems with criticism:
1. Prescribing solutions. It is a poor strategy in implementing change to act like an armchair quarterback. Problems are always far more complex than we usually assume. Before we prescribe solutions, we need to have dialogue on what the problems really are.
2. Taking ownership. Being disgruntled is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Humility on the other hand is the spring from which all virtue flows. God gives grace to the humble. I have discovered the problem and it is me. "I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips".

I have a few suggestions:

Defining the Problem
1. Start with facts. I say here "start" with facts. Most of the comments of criticism that is made regarding the state of the church is of the "if we all got together and did this or that the church would meet its mission or be the church according to God's plan". Such statements are solutions. Solutions are not anywhere so simpler. If we are to have a discussion that could generate change, the discussion cannot start with solutions. Instead it is vital just to gather the facts and make clear simple statements that define the problem. At this initial stage, simply looking at the facts as they actually are is very helpful.

2. Be very precise about the real problem. Throughout church history men have attempted to define "what are the distinguishing marks of true religion". Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is the quintessential example of being precise about the real problem. Take Matt. chapter 7 as an example. Is a lack of evangelism the problem? Should we go "door to door" like the Jehovah's Witnesses? Well , Jesus says no. In fact, many will call Jesus 'Lord' and do great ministries and yet not know God at all and are actually "doers of iniquity". Jesus says instead "the wise man is the one who obeys these commandments (the things of the Sermon on the Mount) and teaches others to do them". Jesus is saying true righteousness is not always what we expect. Beware of religious forms and miss the true areas that need salvation. What areas of change are really needed? How can we be prophetic to really take the vital signs of the church and not just be spewing forth opinions and brokenness?

So let’s be slow and objective!!

Next post. I will o a little round up of other bloggers who are blogging on the "New 95 Theses Project"
God Bless,

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Business Trip this Week - Light Blogging

I might post from my hotel room, but I doubt it. I will work on the "95 Theses Project" or organizing my Morally Beautiful Community book out of posts from this blog.

The New 95 Theses Project - Bloggers and ADD

Evangelical outpost had an article on blogging as a short attention span media. Every day, the topics change. Well, my hope is to create a wave of bloggers looking to create a bit of a "new 95 Theses". This project will require a long attention span and a bit of community dialogue. I think the purpose is to describe the problem. The Theses do not give solutions but simply give problem definitions. Having agreed on the various objective problems, can not bloggers and chuch leaders get together to in unity solve some of these issues which disgrace the name of our Lord?

Blue created a new 21 theses. These are written similar to Luther's which are all related on a general topic. Because I think what is needed is pretty far reaching, I would summerize Blue's Theses into a few Theses. His main issues are the substitution of entertainment for worship and the money that is spent to maintain such entertaining enterprizes.
God Bless,

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I Have Been Liberated from My Political Exile

After reading this post on Civil Political Discourse from Through a Glass Darkly,
I think I just figured out why I do not blog politics.
1. I think church renewal is the real root of our societal problems BUT
2. The above post emphasizes that Christians need to remain humble and civil in all political discourse. This is my reluctance. Politics is simply not very gracious and to me spirituality is so much about being humble and gracious.
I will post on this later from the teachings of Jesus, but, in the meantime, read this great post.
God Bless,

What a Beautiful Thing This Would Be

A fulfilled Jew as Pope.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Link to Under the Acacias - Series on Justice

Does this call today from Keith, a missionary in Burkina Faso, sound familiar.

Do We Really Need a 21st Century Reformation?

I am proposing that Christian bloggers and leaders take a deep look at the problems and opportunities facing the church(below). Jesus says we are "the light of the world". Paul proclaimed, "you are dead to sin..."

BUT the statistics show the church just isn't reaping the benefits of the "power of God unto salvation"....See Wesley Blog's review of statistics from Ron Sider's new book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience
Let's not be scared of the truth. Let's face the truth face to face..(John 14:6)

A New 95 Theses - A Short List in the Making

Blue over at Blue Goldfish has started the discussion by asking the question:
How can the various (Christian) bloggers and church leaders create a basic list for changes (i.e. a 21st Century Reformation) that we do agree on?"

So reading Tod Bolsinger's post this morning, I decided the reformation can start right here by joining together to do the mission here. This first bullet is not necessarily the most foundational of all the needs for change in the church but it is the one I am moved to emphasize today.

My list of one so far...(94 to go) is this:
Thesis #1. The church is not morally distinct with respect to love for those suffering around the world. Our witness is diluted by our materialism and the quest for economic security. We call the churches to engage the problem of poverty and development as a witness to the Love of Christ and our faith in His provision for us as His children. Therefore, we risk our own economic security for the immediate needs of others and to help secure the economic security of those who are in greater imminent danger of the loss of life's most basic provisions of food and shelter.

What is your short list?
Let's start the revolution..Pray for the reformation and join together with others who are already doing the stuff. I personally am going to ask Tod B. how I can get involved.
God Bless,

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Art, Technology, and the Story

Tod Bolsinger just got back from Malawi. He tells a great story about watching the Jesus Film in a village he visited. It is encouraging to see people respond and participate in the telling of the story. My question then is "How do we create art that is fresh and elicits such a response in our entertainment saturated culture?" This is a great challenge. I saw U2 last weekend and was challenged again. I believe the church has the gifting to create art that is easily as engaging as U2. I am being challenged to pick-up my guitar again and start writing fresh music.

I even went out and bought a drum machine to inspire my creativity. For me, it is all about the emotive quality of rhythms and the power of new technology to create fresh rhythmic textures. Also, the church needs to fully embrace the ability of digital audio to move air and create huge phat bottom end impact.

We are called to be excellent in every area of life and the our cultural artifacts can express our message of the GOOD with all the ingenuity of our God given talents. Worship the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls and all our technological and tool making minds.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What Makes us Distinct - Presenting Yourself to God as a Slave of Righteousness

In Romans 6, Paul, in light of who we are through our identification with the death and resurrection of Christ, exhorts us to " offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness." Again Paul explains to the believer that we "have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."

Christians have a different status with respect to sin and righteousness than the world. Mankind is caught in eternal struggle between his desire to do good and his capacity for evil .

We are altogether free with respect to sin and free to live as righteous people. BUT it seems that so often and certainly as young believers we completely miss the heart of God as to the heart of righteousness.

What Righteousness is Not
Success vs. Failure
Is righteousness defined as the freedom to say no to addiction so that you can save your money better than the proverbial Jones'? Certainly, no longer following youthful lusts is a big plus, but many, I dare say most, unbelievers have the same life pattern too. We experiment as kids, and then, when the responsibilities of life come upon us, we grow up and put childish things behind us. For those who have a history of failure in life or were born in poverty, freedom from oppression and poverty seems like the promised land, and the temptation to call this liberation the freedom Christ promises is very emotionally seductive. Succeeding in life is still not yet righteousness. Success is better than failure no doubt, but Jesus didn't set us free from failure to make us alive to success. Jesus died to set us free from our sinful nature to make us alive to righteousness. So what is righteousness?

I could go on and on about confusing the American dream with the promised land. The cry of the urban poor and the global realities call us to a righteousness far greater than just being free to succeed. To hear the call to righteousness, we must put the call to succeed behind us and press on to the upward call.

Making the Good Confession with our Words
Is being Righteous maintaining our good confession? Bob, at Mr Steadfast, posted a few days back on the value of our testimony that "Jesus is the Son of God". This testimony is a great and valuable pearl. The testimony is a light to the world. But is this the light we are to shine? At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, from which we get the call to be lights to the world. Jesus warns us that confessing "Jesus is Lord" is not in and of itself a commendable service to His cause. Ain't that the truth!!! Jesus closes by saying, "He who hears THESE commandments and puts them into practice..this one is like the man who built his house on the rock." So to be righteous and to present ourselves to God as His instruments does not mean to carry the confession in our words. To talk the talk can be obnoxious to others, and to God too, without a presentation of righteousness. So witnessing with our words is not the distinctive quality of righteousness that can be considered presenting ourselves to God as His instrument of righteousness.

What about shunning the culture around us?
I have an on-going discussion with G. over at Blue Goldfish. I like System of a Down and Morrissey and I wish we could play music like both in church. I am a total music junky. I am downloading my Stiff Little Finger's CDs onto my iPod as I write. (I am switching over to "The Buzz*&^%" as I write.). So am I worldly because I like the cultural artifacts of the world. Paul says it is nothing to enjoy the by-products of idol worship. Paul literally says it is no big deal to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Think about that. We eat the Lord's Supper. This symbol is holy and to some has power in and of itself. To a pagan, such a mystical connection to a magical substance was an easy leap to make. But Paul says, "Nope, the meat is nothing. Eat it if you like. Now if there are still superstitious Christians around you who can't make the leap to put all this superstitious thinking behind them then eat the idol meat at home. But certainly the meat isn't actually unclean."

What a great analogy to music. To some, System or Morrissey is just pure devil music. Both groups are into eastern mysticism and certainly Moz isn’t voting the family values ticket. But, just because one likes the artifacts of Satan worshippers doesn't mean one is worshipping Satan. In fact, their Angus is just sometimes better than our Angus. Certainly, when it comes to music, this is true.

So, shunning the cultural artifacts of the world isn't worldliness, and burning all your old Black Flag records isn't the path to righteousness. Trust me. I know this from personal experience.

So the question remains, what is righteousness and what does it mean to be a distinct light in the world? Well that will have to wait for tomorrow.
God Bless,

Christians Ethics in a Pluralistic Society - Evangelical Outpost

I am going to enter this essay contest at Evangelical Outpost. I entered Joe's last symposium and did rather well. This time I am going to write either on my own anabaptist and pietistic emphasis on the renewal of the church as the primary means of Christian influence, or I will write on the role of values in the "values-based company". I work for a values-based company that is obviously influenced by either American civil religion or maybe even east coast presybeterian Calvinism.
Maybe you should write an essay too.
God Bless,

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Our Identification with the Resurrection of Christ and Our Sense of Ourselves

We are currently in our church working out what it means to participate in the Victory of God accomplished through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Tomorrow, I will attempt to preach this theme from Paul's explanation of baptism as our union and identification with the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul is saying that in the Gospel event, the cross and resurrection, God has delivered His people, the people of faith, from sin and granted then new people a new life.

This new identity as people delivered from sin and delivered from the problem inherited in Adam is not given solely to Jews and it is not racially bound but is to ALL who believe.

Christians are to have an identity as people delivered from the bondage not of Egypt or Rome or some other political tyranny or slavery but delivered from Sin, the real enemy of our communities and our families.

As a Christian and a father, my children can be raised to understand this Christian identity as those delivered through faith from sin and its system, the world, to righteousness and its "system", the kingdom of Christ. My point in writing this post is two-fold:
1. This message is radical. This message of a people delivered by the covenant keeping creator God is a message that proclaims people of faith to be different. This message invades every area of life. It demands that I reckon this reality so in my thought life, at my dinner table, in my attitudes toward my fellow man and woman, that in everything I am to be morally and spiritually distinct.
2. This message is a message of a radically new consciousness of self. Such an awareness is more caught than taught. Our Christian sub-culture should model this newness in all our saying and doing. For my children to possess this righteous identity that is distinctive and to be able to walk in this awareness requires a culture that models this reality. It is for the sake of my children and their identity people who are kind must be known through a testimony of kindness in our people. For my children to identify a love for all people as their own, we must be a people who love in a manner that is distinctive and all inclusive. For my children to not enter the mind driven by self-preservation, we must be a people who think of others well-being and not our own. Such a proclamation of our identity in Christ calls for radical church renewal.
3. My new personhood in Christ, my new life, is an essential static, immutable, reality. Life itself and my dullness makes living in this reality in the dynamics of life easier said than done. Paul will answer this plaguing dilemma by introducing the need for the Spirit in our daily, dynamic life. Nonetheless, the unchanging foundation of my new identity is as unchanging as the reality of my past baptism and, upon this reality, we build our life of victory.
4. A proper identification with the resurrection of Christ is displayed also in an identification with His suffering. The crux of any display of moral deliverance is in one's response to suffering in this life. The one who is truly delivered from sin is also delivered from the drive to preserve self. To follow after Christ and enter into His life through our identification with His cross and resurrection is to "take up our cross". We are called to display this moral distinction in our ability to love and love while we suffer. This love while suffering is what is impossible in the flesh. Love of friends and fellow-thieves is easy. Even Mafioso's and gangsters do the same. But love of those who get in the way of our quest for personal power and success, this type of love is a daily battle.
So where do we go from here...How did we as a people fall so far from this reality?

Are we to proclaim such a fundamental deliverance and newness through faith in Jesus Christ? Has Jesus Christ set His people free from sin? I believe this is the message of the gospel. How do we go about becoming a people who identify ourselves and truly reckon such a reality to be so.
God Bless,

Friday, April 08, 2005

Did I forget to Mention I saw U2 last Weekend - Review

Well, the worship band members and I went to see U2 on Saturday night last weekend. As you can imagine, it was glorious. I would like to make a few simple comments here:
1. Bono comes across as very likable and not pretentious at all. He is in my mind the greatest pop musician of all time. He handles his success with incredible grace and, more importantly, has leveraged his fame to promote the welfare of the poorest of the poor. His voice is obviously the best, but we all know that. One funny thing though is "that boy's booty is broken". The man cannot dance. LOL
2. The positive vibe of U2 is just to die for. When I started my first band after becoming a Christian, I wanted to make music that was inspiring and moving but also beautiful. U2 is the great example of making music that is inspiring and emotive but also points to the GOOD. They are a great inspiriation that a musician doesn't have to sell out to the lowest common denominator of human nature to fill arenas and be artistic. God bless these guys.
3. Edge is the greatest. The Edge's guitar tone (learn how to re-create his tone here) makes the band just sound fantastic live. His sound has that beautiful chime, and all that delay fills the hall so well. Also, his sense of melody and his skill at playing memorable lines just comes through wonderfully live. Bono's lyrics and Edge's tone are just a match made in heaven. Here, the tonal qualities match so well the theme of the music. Knowing how they usually work in the studio, it is, I believe, often the tone that creates the inspiration for the lyric. Bono usually starts to sing and write lyric AFTER the groove is already being laid down. This fact in itself is a testament to the power of music to have a directional influence for good.

I hope all you worship leaders out there are listening. Excellence and craft is vital to moving and inspiring a congregation toward positive and productive moral action.
God Bless,

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Mountaintop Experience with Poverty - Bring it All Back Home

Tod Bolsinger is visiting Malawi on a missions trip with World Vision and other church members and churches. In today’s post, he quotes, Charles Ringma, Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen:
Henri) Nouwen reminds us that ‘being poor is what Jesus invites us to, and that is much, much harder than serving the poor.’ If we wish to journey with the poor, we need to become poor ourselves—poor for the sake of the gospel and poor for the sake of our neighbor…at a deeper level.

This quote raises an essential question for Christians, "Is there a beatific blessedness in becoming poor?" Before we respond with a defensive and superficial "No!!" let us examine what might be a good or gospel poverty that indeed can be a means of living morally beautiful lives.

1. Poverty itself isn't beautiful. Involuntary poverty is certainly neither a virtue nor a free pass to blessedness.
2. By becoming poor, Nouwen means becoming incarnational with the suffering of the world and even one's own various forms of poverty. Becoming poor isn't a private virtue but a public and relational act of relating to the evil of the world. You cannot have this beatific life without having compassion as the core virtue of this spiritual discipline of "gospel poverty". Gospel poverty is not simply simplicity.
3. Can one be incarnational with the poor and live luxuriously?

Looking at this quest for the heart of God and a new monastic witness to shine forth in the church, we must take these questions very seriously. Personally, a life of compassion is a life I need to seriously contemplate. How to I enter such a life? How can this life of compassion be the rhythm of my family and the DNA of our church? What changes do I need to make to lead others into this Morally Beautiful life?
God Bless,

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

This Makes Blogging all Worth It

I met a new friend, and fellow blogger, over the weekend. His blog is follow the sheperd.
This fellow blogger visited our church this weekend as a bit of a test to see if our little church is really into comunity like I suggest on this blog. Well, his story is quite encouraging. Thanks, Newton, you made my day.
God Bless,

Saturday, April 02, 2005

More than Conquerors - Reflections on the Death and Dying of Pope John Paul II

It is true that it is Christ who is our champion. Christ is our "Joe Louis", our hero, and we are called to indentify with the victory of Christ. But often, God gives us men and women of who are examples to us of how to identify with the suffering and the victory of Christ. The Pope, John Paul II, was a glorious example of how to both identify with the suffering of the world and in all this be more than a conqueror just like our Lord Jesus Christ.

For a billion Catholics, John Paul II was the Malcolm X and the Joe Louis of their faith. He was a radient example of what it means to be a Christian.

In death, John Paul II died with dignity and strength. He told us all that this life is not all there is, but, even in the end of this life, there can be victory.
Paul likewise was such an example of dignity in suffering. Hear Paul's testimony in Romans 8:
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is victory speaking in the midst of gospel suffering, suffering for the sake of the world.
Hear the Gospel again in the example of Paul:
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this allsurpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The Pope John Paul II exemplified all of this victory and faith in his living, in his dying, in his sickness and, ultimately, in his death. May all Christians see in this man an example of living the story of the Gospel and becoming the Gospel for the sake of the world.

God Bless, brad

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Hebrew Narrative and the Proclamation of Paul

I am very tempted to quote a huge portion of N.T. Wright’s “The New Testament and the People of God” where he explains Paul’s story and Paul’s use of the Jewish story as the framework for his telling of the Gospel.

Wright’s argument at this point is to show that the earliest 1st century writings are essentially a retelling of the Jewish story and flows from the Hebrew worldview. To Wright, one’s worldview and one’s understanding of the story of history are two sides of the same coin. For example, the enlightenment story is one of the progress of human freedom as a result of the ascendancy of human reason. This is the modern story and this story makes up the modern worldview.

To understand the mind of the New Testament and therefore the mind of normative Christianity, we need to understand the narrative context of the preaching of the Gospel in the first century. In so doing, we come to understand the worldview of normative Christianity. This process of discovering the New Testament faith is the protestant tradition of sola scriptura. The prototype of the new testament faith is the foundation laid by the apostles, and to understand the faith of the first century Christians and the theology of the New Testament we must understand the relationship between the text, the implied story, and worldview.

Well, to make a short story long, I am going to attempt to make a small little quote and then place it in it's context followed by my foolish and ecstatic commentary.

So here is the quote, “Paul’s theology only makes sense within a large-scale retelling of the essentially Jewish story, seen now from the point of view of one who believes that the climactic moment has already arrived, and that the time to implement the great achievement is already present”.

So what is the “essentially Jewish story”?

Here is Wright's answer to hat question from the context of the above quote:
Torah holds out to Israel life and death, prosperity and exile, and then (in Deuteronomy 30) speaks of new life on the other side of exile/death. Israel chose exile/death; the prophets warned that this would happen, and happen it did. Again, Paul is on common ground with his kinsmen according to the flesh. But again he subverts the Jewish story from within. (Note here how N.T. Wright starts sentences with the word “But” just like I do – LOL. I am experiencing grammatical liberation. Now if he would just leave in all the typos in the published text I would be in blog heaven)…(back to the quote)…

The end of this exile, and the real return, are not now future events to be experienced in terms of a cleansed Land, a rebuilt temple, and an intensified Torah. The exile came to it’s cataclysmic end when Jesus, Israel’s representative Messiah, died outside the walls of Jerusalem, bearing the curse, which existed in exile at the hands of the pagans, to its utmost limits. The return from exile began when Jesus, again as representative Messiah, emerged from the tomb three days later. As a result, the whole complex of Jewish expectations as to what would happen when the exile finished had come tumbling out in a rush. Israel’s God had poured out His own spirit on all flesh; His word was going out to all nations; He had called into being a new people composed of all races and classes, and both sexes, without distinction. …Paul’s theology only makes sense within a large-scale retelling of the essentially Jewish story, seen now from the point of view of one who believes that the climactic moment has already arrived, and that the time to implement the great achievement is already present”.

The fulfillment of this expectation is key to the understanding of the new life presented in the Good News. How anathema to the life of normative Christianity it is when we lack faith that the time to implement the great achievement is already present. How often I hear the unbelief of our hearts saying, "the testimony of scripture is that we will always return to exile and failure". Has the great victory of God occured in the cross of Christ or not? The very cancer of the curse has been removed from the society of the church. What then is the great achievement other than the building up of the people of God to be that city set on a hill?

How great a diversion it is to attempt to build upon a foundation other than the one built by the apostles which is the story of the Gospel and the People of God. Oh, how I long for a church, even a church as small as my own family, that lives not in the residue of Adam but the newness of a people of the presence of our God.

Paul's theology cannot be understood outside the context of his life story, the story of the People of God and, therefore, Paul's foundational worldview. Paul is not a gnostic ideologue or a stoic philosopher nor a politician. Paul is a Hebrew prophet and a New Testament Apostle. His vision is understood, and His work and the life of the church is understood, in this context of building Morally Beautiful Community. This task always has been the work of the Hebrew prophet and the New Covenant missionary, a task in which all Christians are called to co-labor.

God Bless,