Monday, March 31, 2008

Post-Easter, Jesus-is-Lord Living

Jesus is Lord.
This is the earliest confession/creed/belief statement/doctrinal layout that we have from Christians. It was a political statement that flew directly in the face of the prevailing structures of the day ("Caesar is Lord" was a common piece of political propoganda in the days of the early church). You couldn't hide what you believed when you said it. To say it was to come out of the closet as revolutionary member of a revolutionary, anarchist movement.

It summed up the Church's understanding of Jesus and underscored the centrality of Jesus to their movement. No Jesus= no church. What's more it was a potent statement they lived, not just believed. That Jesus was Lord was (and is) a fact vindicated for them in Jesus' resurrection (someone who beats death must be the rightful Lord of the world after all).

Here's how they thought in light of the resurrection: 'If Jesus is Lord, extending his good reign over all the earth, then that good reign means that everyone ought to be able to eat. Have clean water to drink. Not have to die alone. Not be ostracized because of race, creed, gender or economic status. Experience love, kindness and compassion.' So they worked and lived and sacrificed as if the reign of Jesus were true--all in the face of pluralism and opposition.

I recently sat listening to Alan Hirsch talk about how the church in China has Jesus is Lord as their basic (and almost only) creedal statement. Now maybe we Americans think that is too "thin." As in how would you teach doctrine, interpret Scripture, provide staff, raise funds, etc? After all, the American church is growing by leaps and bounds and we place a high emphasis on those things, so that must be important, right? I've been wrestling through those questions since I heard Alan's talk.

Then I read this post by Bob Roberts. Here's his closing line from it: "I think we need more Muslims, Bhuddist, Atheist, Hindus, etc. so that we can focus in on the message of who Jesus is. Oh, oh, oh, could that be the secret of the church’s explosion in other parts of the world–its Christianity being forced to bump up against other religions instead of being an isolated religion."

So here we are in a pluralist society and world--a world racked by hunger, lack of clean water, disease, marked incivility and strife, anger, bitterness and rage--one week after Easter when we celebrated that Jesus is Lord.

How are we doing at living like it's true?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Loving the Truth, part 1

I've had in mind a series of postings on loving the truth. It's been a theme that's resonated with me as of late because of the prodding of Thomas A Kempis. In his seminal book Of the Imitation of Christ, he says that we ought to learn to love the truth for the truth's sake, regardless of where it comes from.
What results is humility. Patience. Kindness.

Since I find those to be in short order in my heart at times, I need this prodding.

I thought I'd start with something a bit incendiary--the recent hub-bub over what Barack Obama's pastor said from the pulpit. JR Woodward has an interesting post on how sound bytes distort the truth. Read the post and then watch the video of Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the bottom of the post--it's a broader context of one of the sound bytes that's been playing on the news as of late. Apparently (and this will be a shocker to many), the media isn't all that interested in the truth.

What would loving the truth mean for conservative Christians on this issue? For more moderate or liberal Christians?

In Search of a Big Gospel

BlockquoteA faith that only addresses the forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ on the cross, without addressing systemic injustice, is an inadequate gospel that is often viewed as quite shallow and self-serving to those outside of the faith

JR Woodward. His blog is here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Heaven is Important, But It's Not the End of the World

More by NT Wright on his book Surprised By Hope.
An interview he did with Preaching Today on the subject.
From the interview:

BlockquoteSome people are always going to be offended when you actually teach them what's in the Bible as opposed to what they assume is in the Bible. The preacher can try to say it a number of ways, and sometimes people just won't get it. They will continue to hear what they want to hear. But if you soft-pedal matters, they will think, Oh, he's taking us down the old familiar paths. There is a time for walking in and just saying what needs to be said. Sometimes you just need to find a good line. The line I often use—which makes people laugh—is: "Heaven is important, but it's not the end of the world." In other words, resurrection means the new earth continues after people have gone to heaven."

BlockquoteSo many people think preaching the Resurrection means doing a little bit of apologetics in the pulpit to prove it really is true. Others simply say, "Jesus is raised, therefore there is a life after death." This isn't the point! Those types of sermons may be necessary, but there's more to it than that. To preach the Resurrection is to announce the fact that the world is a different place, and that we have to live in that "different-ness." The Resurrection is not just God doing a wacky miracle at one time. We have to preach it in a way that says this was the turning point in world history."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Heaven - Not What Your Grandma Thought

I first saw this interview on Dr. Paul Fitzgerald's blog and would normally just link to it. But I think the topic is so important that I wanted to voice my support by posting it here. This is the full text of an on-line article at Time Magazine of an interview with NT Wright and his "radical" views on heaven.

I think there is something in the human psyche that tends toward what is familiar, regardless of it's veracity ("It's what I was taught", etc.). And we will fight and claw when that familiarity is challenged, even by what's true.

N.T. "Tom" Wright is one of the most formidable figures in the world of Christian thought. As Bishop of Durham, he is the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England and a major player in the strife-riven global Anglican Communion; as a much-read theologian and Biblical scholar he has taught at Cambridge and is a hero to conservative Christians worldwide for his 2003 book The Resurrection of the Son of God, which argued forcefully for a literal interpretation of that event.

It therefore comes as a something of a shock that Wright doesn't believe in heaven — at least, not in the way that millions of Christians understand the term. In his new book, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne), Wright quotes a children's book by California first lady Maria Shriver called What's Heaven, which describes it as "a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk... If you're good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]... When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him." That, says Wright is a good example of "what not to say." The Biblical truth, he continues, "is very, very different."

David Van Biema, religion writer for Time Magazine, recently interviewed NT Wright.

Wright, 58, talked by phone with TIME's David Van Biema.
TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a "distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope."
Wright: It really is. I've often heard people say, "I'm going to heaven soon, and I won't need this stupid body there, thank goodness.' That's a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.
: There are several important respects in which it's unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, "Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven." It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?
Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says "the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God," and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

TIME: But it's not where the real action is, so to speak?
Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: "God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves." That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God's presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ's kingdom.

TIME: That is rather different from the common understanding. Did some Biblical verse contribute to our confusion?
: There is Luke 23, where Jesus says to the good thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." But in Luke, we know first of all that Christ himself will not be resurrected for three days, so "paradise" cannot be a resurrection. It has to be an intermediate state. And chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation, where there is a vision of worship in heaven that people imagine describes our worship at the end of time. In fact it's describing the worship that's going on right now. If you read the book through, you see that at the end we don't have a description of heaven, but, as I said, of the new heavens and the new earth joined together.

TIME: Why, then, have we misread those verses?
: It has, originally, to do with the translation of Jewish ideas into Greek. The New Testament is deeply, deeply Jewish, and the Jews had for some time been intuiting a final, physical resurrection. They believed that the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again. Belief in that goodness is absolutely essential to Christianity, both theologically and morally. But Greek-speaking Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right, but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies. The church at its best has always come back toward the Hebrew view, but there have been times when the Greek view was very influential.

TIME: Can you give some historical examples?
: Two obvious ones are Dante's great poetry, which sets up a Heaven, Purgatory and Hell immediately after death, and Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine chapel, which portrays heaven and hell as equal and opposite last destinations. Both had enormous influence on Western culture, so much so that many Christians think that is Christianity.

TIME: But it's not.
: Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.

TIME: That sounds a lot like... work.
Wright: It's more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul's letters we are told that God's people will actually be running the new world on God's behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it's a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation.

TIME: And it ties in to what you've written about this all having a moral dimension.
: Both that, and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their "souls going to Heaven." If people think "my physical body doesn't matter very much," then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn't matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of "traditional" Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won't be going up there to him, he'll be coming down here.

TIME: That's very different from, say, the vision put out in the Left Behind books.
: Yes. If there's going to be an Armageddon, and we'll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn't matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.

TIME: Has anyone you've talked to expressed disappointment at the loss of the old view?
: Yes, you might get disappointment in the case where somebody has recently gone through the death of somebody they love and they are wanting simply to be with them. And I'd say that's understandable. But the end of Revelation describes a marvelous human participation in God's plan. And in almost all cases, when I've explained this to people, there's a sense of excitement and a sense of, "Why haven't we been told this before?"

Monday, March 24, 2008

TED conference & World Data

A fascinating look at world data and its implications for development.
Listen for his phrase, "the improvement of the world must be highly contextualized."
This is from the internationally acclaimed TED conference and a description of this presenter can be found here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tim Keller at UC Berkley

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC spoke at UC Berkely.
Good stuff.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

John Wesley Rides Again, part 3 of ?

More thoughts on the life of the great John Wesley, who in the 1700's traveled 250,000 miles on horseback, preached over 25,000 sermons and changed England. His heritage in our day and age includes the Church of the Nazarene, and local, innovative churches like Granger Community Church and the Church of the Resurrection.

  • He sacrificed his personal preferences for the sake of the mission: after 33 years of open-air field preaching to the unchurched, confessed that "To this day field preaching is a cross to me. But I know my commission and see no other way of 'preaching the gospel to every creature.' " Doesn't this challenge the status-quo thinking in our day that I should minister "where I am gifted and feel most passionate?" Mission is bigger than preference.
  • He thought big. His goal were to "renew the church", "spread scriptural holiness", "reform the nation." All of which he achieved.
  • He was a behavorial scientist. Always asking, observing, questioning to understand people--not foist his already developed opinions about what he thought was best on them (ouch!). To that end, he conducted thousands of interviews with people. I would imagine he asked questions like: "What do you need?" "What is the biggest hindrance to your life right now?" "What helps you connect with a sense of the divine?" What are the hurts in your life?" Then he listened.
  • He loved the truth: "Let us make a conscience of magnifying or exaggerating any thing. Let us rather speak under, than above, the truth. We, of all men, should be punctual in what we say; that none of our words may fall to the ground."
  • He didn't start with the powerful and influential. From his journal: "...preached at Haddington, in Provost D's yard, to a very elegant congregation. But I expect little good will be done here, for we begin at the wrong end: religion must not go from the greatest to the least or the power would appear to be of men."
  • He knew about incarnational ministry and being missional before it was a buzz-word: The Wesley's realized that any form of outreach had to "fit" a people's cultural form for them to "hear" the message at all. That said, he and brother Charles met people on their turf and sacrificed their own preferences and upbringing to do so.
  • They put the cookies on the bottom shelf: "The most obvious, easy, common words, wherein our meaning can be conveyed, we prefer before others, both on ordinary occasions, and when we speak of the things of God."
  • George Hunter says that much of Wesley's strategy can be broken down in these four maxims: (1)Preach and visit in as many places as you can. (2) Go most where they want you most. (3) Start as many classes (small groups) as can be effectively managed. (4) Do not preach where you cannot enroll awakened people into classes (small groups).

Many of these thoughts are from George Hunter's article on John Wesley the Strategist that can be found here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter in the Developing World

My college roomie, Scott, is a missionary doctor in PNG (Papua, New Guinea), by no means a developed country. He and his wife Gail (a nurse) work regularly to overcome superstition in the treatment of people who are enmeshed in a supernatural view of the world (spirits cause everything to happen). It's a real challenge.

We think that worldview is backwoods and ignorant (and it is on some levels--keeping people very trapped), but I think they have something to teach us. We remain backwoods and ignorant of the unseen--the place where love and hate, good and bad, compassion and darkness are created, nurtured or destroyed. The Bible calls this world, "the heavens." And it's interesting to note that in the scriptures, God speaks from this world, reigns in this world, and will one day wed together that world and this world in a "new heaven and a new earth."

For one thing, their imagination and longings have not been captured by choice and consumerism. I suppose something is lost when you have two aisles of tooth-paste and each passing holiday brings aisles and aisles of things to "make the spirit bright." The places of the spirit are shoved with material goods and we become disordered as a result. Our hearts become stone, closed to the heavens. Their hearts, while wrestling with their own dis-ease, seem to be more tender.

Scott and Gail are here in the states for an extended break called furlough, and I recieved this email from Gail the other day highlighting the difference between there and here.

Anyway, being in the states at Easter and seeing 4 rows of candy and pastel items at Wal-mart gets me down. When my friend Judy emailed me this...I started to cry!
"Sunday night they showed the Jesus film in the church (at PNG). It hasn't been shown for 8 or 10 years. Everything was going wrong with the equipment - first the generator, then the DVD, then the projector then everything.

It felt like a lot of opposition. Finally it all worked at the same time. They had to stop the film at the crucifixion and have an altar call so many people were crying. There were probably about 1000 people crowded in. The altar was 15 people deep. Ladies were climbing over the pews to get to the altar. They prayed for a long time and then started the film again and showed the resurrection. It was very wonderful!!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Enough Said

BlockquoteChristianity…has become a religion of private comfort and blessing that fills up whatever small holes in life that pleasure, money, and success have left open, what Bonhoeffer called a “god of the gaps.

--Chuck Colson, God & Government

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Cancelled (or, why new paradigms aren't always good ideas)

I'm sitting at home when I should be sitting in Columbus, OH. (Note the useless boarding pass in the photo).

I booked a very cheap ticket on the much ballyhooed "internet only" (those being the two key words) airline, Skybus. Our flight was just cancelled.

Now when they call themselves "internet only" what they mean is...internet only.
No ticket agent.
No 1-800 number.
No one to help you navigate a frustration in your schedule.

Everything is done online (I think a pilot might fly the plane from his living room by watching videos of the cockpit posted to YouTube). To their credit, they fairly quickly posted info online and let me rebook for later tonight.

But to make it frustrating, I got up at 5:45 this morning to be there. I pulled an all-nighter on Friday night pursuing a wild-hair resource idea for our April series on discipleship that I needed to have done before I left, so I was operating on 6 hours of sleep in 48 hours. Pretty tired.

Now granted, they didn't force to pursue my idea, and Ohio just got hit by the worst snow storm in 96 years, but I'm wondering about their long term viability. Basically, because there was no one there to help anyone. With "those other airlines" that actually employ humans, I'd at least have an assurance that my flight tonight will happen (even if I were to be bumped to another airline), but I've got to say that my confidence level is low about tonight's flight. I love the price I paid, but now I'm questioning it's value.

I can just hear the conversation that spawned the airline.
"What if we started from scratch on this whole airline thing? This is the 21st Century, we do everything online, why not fly that way? Those stodgy big players won't even know what hit them. It's their overhead that's killing them and their rigid paradigms of what's 'needed' that keep people from trusting them! Ticket agents? Just a useless salary on legs. Call Centers? Excuses for people to surf the internet while on the job. How about a whole new paradigm in air travel. We'll clean up! Who's in?"

Of all people, I am game for challenging the status quo, but this is making me think that maybe all quantum paradigm shifts in method aren't good ones. We'll see. I'm off to catch a few zzz's before my (potential) flight tonight.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

ReThinking (or realizing what Christians have actually always believed about) Heaven

I'm in the middle of Bishop Tom Wright's splendid book, Surprised by Hope (it sounds so smashingly British to call something splendid).

Recently, he was interviewed by ABC News about the ideas in the book, demonstrating that nothing is more incendiary than the truth. A higher res version of the interview can be found on their site.

The book is a popularized version of his weighty 800 page Resurrection of the Son of God where he does the exegetical, historical, theological and philosophical spadework to underscore his idea (and which I'm still working through and will likely finish in something like 2011).

From the book:
All language about the future, as any economist or politician will tell you, is simply a set of signposts pointing into a fog. We see through a glass darkly, says St. Paul as he peers toward what lies ahead. All our language about future states...may or may not correspond very well to ultimate reality. But that doesn't mean it's anybody's guess or that every opinion is as good as every other one. And--supposing someone came forward out of the fog to meet us? That, of course, is the central though often ignored Christian belief.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Gift of Life

I gave blood yesterday. I hate needles and can't even look when they put it in and take it out.

But people need blood more than I need to nurse my fears, which I suppose isn't a bad metaphor for doing the important things in life--leading, being in relationships, contributing my gifts, loving, etc. At any point I can say no to those things because I might get hurt. But (and this is universally true), people need my gift more than I need to protect it.
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."
1 Corinthians 12:7

Saturday, March 01, 2008


I'm trying out a sort of new category of blogging. I often want to blog on a certain idea, thought or experience but then don't because I know it will end up being way to long. So I'm taking Scot McKnight's lead and posting some on some meandering thoughts and places I've been.
  • Take Scot McKnight's Hermenuetic's Quiz and see what you think about the Bible. I scored a 74, which isn't surprising to me at all.
  • Read this interview with Tim Keller, uber-pastor in New York City. I really like what they do and the way he thinks about things. His first book, A Reason for God, is #18 on the New York Times list. See this article in Newsweek about him, his church and the book.
  • From the interview when asked about being a megachurch:
    "...We actually pound into people that we’re not here to meet your needs but
    to serve the city. So we pound that into them, that we’re not a consumer place, that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city."
  • This is coming up in a few weeks, and I couldn't be more thrilled that we're undertaking it as a church! Plus I get to spend a few days with my college roomie as a result.