I wondered why Christianity had not typically embedded itself into these festivals, why we weren’t among the leaders of new cultural developments and wildly creative thought. Certainly God is wildly creative – enough to find his way into human hearts in other cultures around the world. But at these festivals, and in the newly developing cultures of postmodernity, there seemed to be so few people of Jesus.
Category Archives: Faith
Why do we dare to “take it all in” when our hearts are ready to epode with grief? Why do we sing when we mourn? Why do we adorn graves with flowers? Because we know that death can only be recognized by the living, sorrow can only be shared by those who grieve, and there is no shame in dying. Death may look like failure to those who worship life. The grave may appear as a dark reminder for those who seek repose in the busyness of daily demands. But, for those of us who have died with Christ Jesus, if his death teaches us anything it’s this: what looks like failure is really victory; what appears to be loss is actually gain; what seems to be shameful is the place where honor is found; and what sounds like the mourning is true worship. Believers call it a “sacrifice of praise,” for only those who are crucified with Christ can thank God for each, a fragrant aroma.
I realize, of course, by the nature of their questions that they have been listening. It’s because they understand very clearly that Paul’s world is different from our world, that Paul faced different challenges than we do today, that Paul’s assumptions do not translate directly into out context, they must ask “So what?” They want to take Paul’s advice seriously. It’s not enough for them to understand the historical meaning of Paul’s letters. They want to know-they must know!-if Paul’s gospel still matters today, especially since the apostle dealt with some of the same issues we face: gender battles, social contests, racial prejudice, marital struggles, sexual vices. Indeed, Paul didn’t hide behind vague theological ideas when he wrote his letters to the churches of the first century. He deals with the messy details of daily life for Christ believers. Do we eat this or that? Should I have sex with her or not? Do we have to believe everything you do? Should I get married? Should we help the poor who refuse to work? Because Paul’s instructions are so specific on his experiences and ideas about what the gospel should look like in his time, we can’t help but wonder: is Paul’s timely advice timeless?
Trying to answer the “So what?” question has brought Paul’s gospel into better focus for us-not just his theological ideas, but his personal experience of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his spirituality. Typically, Paul’s letters have been used as resources for his theology. We’ve grown accustomed to studying Paul for his theological insights, siphoning from his letters what he believed, distilling the contents for “hard doctrine.” Yet, for Paul, the gospel was not merely what he taught, but how he lived. He wanted his converts not only to believe what he had “received”; he expected them to follow “his ways” in Christ (1 Cor 4:17).
Yesterday, during the worship service as we celebrated Jesus’ birth and looked forward toward his arrival, the absurdity of it all hit me. It is absurd that Jesus came as a baby. Babies can’t do anything. They are completely dependent on others. They are helpless. They get sick. They need to be fed and changed. They are needy. They are powerless over their world.
As I pondered how absurd Jesus’ arrival was, I began to think through Bible stories I know and how absurd they are. God created people knowing they would rebel. He called a nation to follow Him and all they did was make a mockery of His name. He used a harlot to deliver the spies of Israel. He used a bitter prophet to call a godless nation into repentance. Even Jesus using twelve people to change the world and then the most competent one betraying Him. And it goes on and on. It is just absurd.
But then it hit me. It is absurd that God would show me complete acceptance based on Christ and not my own effort. It is absurd to love your enemies. It is absurd to forgive those who wrong you. It is absurd to trust God rather than our own efforts. It is absurd to live by faith.
Those who have placed their faith in Christ are called to live an absurd life. It is absurd to a lost and dying world. It is absurd to logic and strategic thinking. Many things in relationships are absurd. A person who has first experienced the emotion of love does absurd things…and it is wonderful!
The challenge is to live the absurdity of this wonder out on a daily basis.
O’Connor insisted that it was her Christian faith that kept her skeptical. She says that the cultivation of skepticism is a sacred obligation because skepticism keeps us asking questions. Against whatever flavor of brainwash is popular, skepticism “will keep you free – not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.” This redemptive skepticism is a religious commitment to avoid being swept up by bad ideas, especially ones that wear a godly guise and demand absolute, unquestioning allegiance.
I was talking to a homeless man at a laundry mat recently, and he said that when we reduce Christian spirituality to math we defile the Holy. I thought that was very beautiful and comforting because I have never been good at math. Many of our attempts to understand Christian faith have only cheapened it. I can no more understand the totality of God than the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me. The little we do understand, that grain of sand our minds are capable of grasping, those ideas such as God is good, God feels, God loves, God knows all, are enough to keep our hearts dwelling on His majesty and otherness forever.
Terry Storch gave a talk at MinistryCOM 2007 entitled “Communication Revolution.” In this talk he highlights how our culture is slamming into the traditional ideas of the way churches operate. He list the top five impact points as:
1) One Way Communication vs. Participatory Conversation – No longer is the expectation that you will tell me what I need to know. I want to be part of discovering what I need to know.
2) Service Times vs. On-Demand Content – Our world will not wait for us. They want the content when they want it. We need to provide access so that can interact with content at point-of-need.
3) Walls vs. People – We have tended to think about church inside the building. We need to move the practice of church out into the community.
4) Going to Communities vs.Being in Communities – The way we think about missions and outreach needs change. We need to change from going to communities to becoming involved in the communities we want to reach with the Gospel.
5) Asking People to Just Invite One vs. The Power of One Inviting Everyone – Addition through just bringing one friend is not overcoming the attrition churches are experiencing. We live in age when one person can invite so many more to experience Christ. We need to find and equip those people.
What do you want to change about your life? Go for it! You have 30 days!
What does love look like?
It could look like 50 bags.
50 jars of peanut butter
50 jars of jelly
50 loaves of bread
50 boxes of powered milk
50 boxes of cereal
50 notes to let people know, because of Jesus, that we care.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
If you love me, keep my commands.