Tuesday, August 15, 2017

On Charlottesville and Listening

James 1:19 tells us, "Know this, my dear brothers and sisters:  everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry."

In Philippians, Paul tells the church to 'adopt the mindset that is in Christ Jesus' when we are dealing with conflict with one another. That means that we are called to serve one another and put the needs of the person we are talking to before our own. It does not mean to pretend we do not have a different opinion.

I have thought a lot about what to do in our current situation with the increased racial tensions. Here is my first step in being a community of Jesus whose first commandment is to love:

It is time to listen. To listen to people who disagree with you, with me. It is time to listen to people who are of a different race and culture than mine. It is time to seek out and listen to those who are the victims of racism on a regular basis and still feel their life does not matter to the rest of the nation. It is time to listen to republicans and democrats and what they think about the world. It is time to listen even to white supremacist and hear why they are so angry and what we can do to love them as well (if you question the importance of this listen to Megan Phelps-Roper's TED talk). It is time to listen to conservatives and liberals and everything in between. What does listening cost you? Little and less, and it might be the key to healing our nation, or at least the first step. Listen to other's stories and share your own.

Scripture says it: quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.  Let us put that into practice. To me, it is self-evident statistically and personally that racism is still real, especially toward our minority brothers and sisters. If you disagree, let us start a conversation!  I want to be a part of the solution and I hope you do too. Comment on this blog, send me an email, let's start communicating with one another.

I invite you, as I will as well, to start diversifying your relationships. If every one of your friend group, church group, and family looks, thinks, talks, acts and believes like you, then its time to meet some people of different backgrounds and different viewpoints and be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bombs, Coffee and Cobalt

I was going to blog this week about drinking coffee; I just decided to be a coffee drinker because I am spending a ton of time in coffee shops because I don't have an office. I decided that I should drink coffee and so I am! I had a blog prepared to discuss how being empowered by the Holy Spirit relates to coffee. I will have to save that for another day because there is something else I feel like we should discuss.

On social media I witnessed a lot of anxiety about the world around us, there seems to be a very real concern about nuclear war. So I feel compelled to talk about something political, but first I am going to share my views on faith and politics (very briefly). As Christians, we have a strange balance with the government in that we are to both engage the government without indulging the temptation of trying to be the government. Quite simply, Jesus was tempted to take control of everything, yet his kingdom is not (yet) of this world (John 18:36). Yet we are called to act subversively to help build that kingdom while waiting on Jesus to fulfill it. Much of Mark is about Jesus warning the Jews that if they continue on their path of warfare with Rome, they would be destroyed. He was right, and they were destroyed.  We also respect the political authority as we are told to do in Romans 13, but we can't be afraid to critique it (or even oppose it if necessary) and we can't take it over and we can't run away from it. Whew! Another way to put it is that we are called to be political without being partisan, to focus on serving Jesus the King. This is not about being a Republican or a Democrat, but about being a follower of Jesus.

My political statement for the day:  I believe we are called to have a consistent pro-life ethic. This is incredibly important because much of what I see in the world and in the news is death and destruction. We are called to protect the unborn, we are called to protect children, we are called to oppose war except in extreme cases (although there has always been a non-violent stream of Christianity), we are called to not use the death penalty (United Methodist stand against the death penalty), we are called to help young pregnant women who are considering abortion and help them spiritually and financially so they will choose another path. If we are pro-life we also have to care about the stuff we buy and how it is made. For example (thank you Tambra for posting an article about this) search cobalt mines. Cobalt is used in lithium batteries and is mined in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. This should be a boon to their economy and help people rise out of poverty. Unfortunately, the mines are using children as laborers and cobalt is very detrimental to people's health. We must send a message to the companies that we buy from that that is not ok! A pro-life ethic means we stand up to those who abuse children.

We also need to send a message that, as Christians, it is unacceptable to use or threaten to use our nuclear weapons. This article tells us that even a small nuclear war would make the world uninhabitable. So why does the US have 6800? Russia 7000? Nuclear war isn't even the last resort, it would be the last choice we ever make. Add to that the millions of innocent men, women, and children who would be killed in even a limited nuclear engagement. We need to stand up and let our politicians know that nuclear weapons are not even a negotiation tool. They are way too dangerous for that.

I believe that Christ is calling us to a clear, complete, pro-life ethic. Jesus tells us "I came so that they could have life, and have it to the fullest (John 10:10)." We need to stand on the side of life, because this life, every life, is precious to our Lord. And talking about that is much more important than talking about drinking coffee for the first time.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

This world IS our home and it DOES matter when we lose the battle...

You might be wondering what this blog is about today, or you might have already connected with the title with two popular Christian songs on the radio: Home by Chris Tomlin and Greater by Mercy Me. Both songs represent a theology that is an epidemic among popular Christianity today.

Many Christians believe that this world is not really our home, that it is just a temporary place that we are passing through and (hopefully if we found Christ!) we go TO heaven and not experience eternal conscious torment in hell. That allows us to say (as it says in the song Greater by Mercy Me) that if we lose the battle with doubt or sin, it doesn't matter because we have the grace of God and so we still get to go to heaven (side note: this isn't exactly what the song means, but it is what it says. The song seems to be saying that because we are redeemed we don't have to earn grace. That is true but it overstates the point).

The Christian world has focused on eternal salvation, however following Jesus is about so much more than simply getting saved so we can escape hell and end up in heaven. When we have that as our theology, we believe that our choices don't matter because ultimately all that matters is going to heaven! That is an awful way to live. I am going to unpack this a bit using an email that a friend forwarded me from Kurt Willems. Feel free to check him out at theologycurator.com. I would link the blog but I can't find it online and it may be emailed content.

The lyrics of Home say this, "This world is not what it was meant to be..." This statement is absolutely true. We believe that God designed and ordered, sin-free world but humans chose to walk away from God, causing sin to flood into our existence. The song loses me when it starts talking about wanting to go home to heaven to run away from the problems right here. Thankfully God did not run away from the problems in our world but rather sent Jesus, the son of God, to become flesh and dwell among us (John 1)! God's plan isn't to provide an escape ladder but rather to be a part of this world and show us how to live. Yes, Jesus died for our sins! Yes, Jesus saves us so that we can be with God! No, that isn't the sum total of what God is about. God wants nothing less than all of the creation to be reconciled to God through Jesus. Romans 8:18-23 tells us that creation itself is groaning in anticipation of the coming glory from God.

What we believe about death is a two stage event: when people die they get to be with God, we call that Heaven. That is temporary! We believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead (Paul says this is such an important belief that if there is not a resurrection of the dead, then don't bother believing Jesus was resurrected from the dead 1 Corinthians 15:12-13. You can find Paul discussing this in Acts 24:15, Philippians 3:10, and all of chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. That is not all the discussion but it is everywhere). We expect to be resurrected as Jesus was because he is the first fruits of the resurrection and then we will come later. Revelation 21 describes a new heaven and a new earth where God is coming to live with the people here! Ancients did not see heaven as another location but rather an invisible interlocking sphere with our own. Yes, we go to heaven but that is also temporary. The goal is a reinvigorated creation with humans fulfilling their God given vocation as stewards and rulers, being ruled by Jesus.

What we do now matters because it matters to God. To say that because of graces our mistakes don't matter is simply cheap grace as described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. (Cost of Discipleship)." If we make mistakes, we will be forgiven, but those choices still have consequences. I am sure the guys at Mercy Me agree with this, we just have to be careful with what we say, especially when it will be sung in church. Bonhoeffer says, "Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is because Jesus says, 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'" Bonhoeffer knows about cheap verses costly grace. He chose to go back to Germany to oppose Hitler and it led to his death. As a follower of Christ, he could not choose another path.

Escapism leads to cheap grace where we don't actually care about being a light into the darkness. That is simply not the good news that Jesus preached. Willems has an interesting point on our role as partners with God in what God is doing to restore all of creation. He discusses Tim Gedderts translation of Romans 8:28 where the Greek word sunergei denotes two parties working together rather than just God doing the work. God doesn't need us, but God chooses to partner with us. So perhaps 8:28 should be translated as "In all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good..." What we do now matters. What we do has an eternal impact on us, our neighbors and the world around us!  Rather than saying "This world is bad, I can't wait to get to my condo in the sky!" We should say, this world is my home and I have a responsibility to partner with God through the power of the Holy Spirit to clean up the sin, the death, the destruction, the exploitation. What we do matters because we say the Lord's prayer "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on EARTH as it is in Heaven..." As Christ followers, we have a choice. We can choose to act in God's will and we make earth more like heaven; or when we choose to sin, we can make hell on earth.

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, are you ready to stop trying to run away from a broken world and be a part of the solution to reconcile it? If so, the church is the place for you. We don't always get it right, and eventually, it will take the act of God to fulfill the promise. Until then, I choose to serve God and work to shine the light of the Father into this world!