BLOG 2/20/18. “LOST IN THE COSMOS’ … OR ARMED WITH HOPE?

BLOG 2/20/18. “LOST IN THE COSMOS” … OR, ARMED WITH HOPE?

 The human quest for meaning is not a new one, but the current chaotic scene, that can easily breed hopelessness, has taken on new dimensions. The government no longer seems to be functioning as a structure of peace and order and justice. The top government official personifies all the things that George Washington warned against in his second inaugural address. People in places of influence seem to have lost their moral compass. And the church easily gets consumed with agendas and institutions that seem to have nothing to do with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The dominant cultural religion (as I have often said) seems to be something of a self-satisfied humanism. Too often the whole of life seems to be what one of my mentors described as: a boundless, bottomless sea of chance.

Add to that the growing escapism offered by the digital, iPhone, TV, hedonistic culture, in which you can totally ignore life as well as the treasures of literature and of history, even the threatening realities on one’s doorstep. Or, one can tune-out those sitting across the table, or walking next to them by becoming obsessed with the stuff on their iPhones. Connected but not communicating. A century ago T. S. Eliot wrote his remarkable poem: The Waste Land. A half-century later, Walker Percy probed something of the same issues in a renowned novel: Lost in the Cosmos. But if, and when, persons can (and do) create their own digital world that is usually quite narrow, so that the larger issues and questions of truth, meaning, knowledge, and moral guidelines can be ignored, or consigned to being somebody else’s territory. Life becomes ‘me and my own interests’, … a road to nowhere.

Or, one can all get lost in an intellectual parlor game of: what is truth? Or, is there truth? Or, “that may be your truth, but not mine.”

Yet, we who are the followers of Christ, are those who are to be formed into Christ’s likeness: in our thinking and behavior and our identity with the glory of God. We worship him who said: “I am the way and the truth, and the life.” We are unequivocal in that. And that embraces Christ’s love for the world, and for our enemies, and this world’s estranged personalities.  It also means that we rejoice in all of those who become the voices and agents of righteousness and justice.

Ah! But the flip-side of that (somewhat theoretical) look at our cultural scene is the heartening report of the moral outrage of those kids in Florida, whose 17 friends and teachers got killer by a troubled boy who could easily buy an AK 47, and become another episode in gun violence … and who, when the President and many adults refused to see gun control as an immediate need, became quite vocal. (As one writer on this generation observed: “They have a highly sensitive BS detector) They tweeted back to the President that all of his hesitations and his lame excuses were a bunch of BS. Then they set about to become an organizing voice immediately in order to begin to put pressure on the government to ban assault weapons.

What this says is that, at least these kids do have a moral compass. They have become a moral and ethical voice in this culture that has seemed so increasingly lacking in moral and ethical backbone. They are (self-consciously or not) saying that life has meaning, that there are standards of knowledge and behavior that are God-given. The story of these kids from the high school in Parkland, Florida indicates that many of them have been formed in Christian and Jewish communities.  And, I for one, am so very heartened by a rising generation who are vocal and principled and energized to be and do what needs to be said and done. This life for them, at least, is not to be that of those lost in the cosmos. I am heartened by their boldness, and their ethical vision. May their voices be the bellwether that make of this tragedy the beginning of a new generation fraught with meaning, and committed to social righteousness.

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BLOG 2/16/18. “AND COULD YOU DO IT WITH TENDERNESS, HORACE?”

BLOG 2/16/18. “AND COULD YOU DO IT WITH TENDERNESS, HORACE?”

In the mid-19th century there were two friends who were very devout and effective pastors in Scotland: Robert Murray McCheyne and Horatius Bonar. They would regularly get together on Monday mornings to compare notes on the previous Sabbath’s ministry. As the story goes, on one Monday morning McCheyne asked Bonar what he had preached on the day before. Bonar replied: I preached on “The wicked shall be turned into hell.” McCheyne’s response: “And, could you do it with tenderness, Horace?”

I thought of that this past week when I got some thoughtful comments on my Blog on the subject of the ministry of rebuke and reproof. One person commented that it was one thing to utter rebukes to the grossly immoral from a distance … but something else to lovingly confront those with whom you interact every day, so that it becomes easier to just remain silent. Yes. So true. And yet, that doesn’t resolve the reality that it is an act of love to find some way to remind such persons that their words or behavior cross the boundary of what is constructive and purposeful.

I was reminded of that discipline again when noting II Timothy 3:16 the other day: “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, …” God knows that we need guidelines for our behavior and thinking in such a life full of contradictions, ambiguities, temptations, difficult personalities, and border-line ethics. I don’t have any simple formula. There are a whole lot of gray areas and marginal decisions out there.

But one thing I do know is that we do not forsake those fruits of the Holy Spirit as we confront others, those fruits of love and gentleness and goodness, nor do we forsake the gift of wisdom. I think, also, that our responsibility for rebuke and reproof rests mostly with those persons with whom we have good relationships. I think, first-of-all, of my own need of rebuke and reproof. I have the capacity to come on too strong often, or to overstate a case, and to be a bit over the line in dealing with questionable situations. Ah, but God gave me a wife, who could rebuke me with a simple pat on my hand, which communicated the unmistakable message: “Cool it, Bob!” I got the message. Or a gentle question: “Don’t you think you came on a bit strong with him?” Or, “you might have been a bit more sensitive to what he/she is going through.” She was a gift.

Plus, I had a wonderfully helpful and challenging friend for years, who early in our relationship insisted that we establish the “right to intimidate each other,” which gave us an honesty in our relationship and an openness with each other that was very fruitful over many years.

Rebuke and reproof are a ministry that is mandated in scripture, but it need not be brutal or insensitive. A gentle question, or your own response to some word or action spoken in love. Confrontation should definitely not be hostile, but then it also is part of the commandment to love. To rebuke and to reprove is usually linked with the ministry of teaching one another, and is always to be done with longsuffering, gentleness, and love.

I hope this may help. We need each other’s corrections. That is what we’re about in this community of God’s new creation. For those outside of the community, it might only be a gentle question over coffee/beer: “Would you be offended if I offered you a suggestion?”  We need to earn the right, then to get their permission. Then do it with tenderness. OK?

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BLOG 2/13/18. THE TRAVESTY OF MARDI GRAS

BLOG 2/13/18. THE TRAVESTY OF MARDI GRAS

Unless one has lived in a city such as New Orleans (or Mobile, AL, or Rio de Janeiro) it is difficult to comprehend the total madness that consumes the city in the annual observance of Mardi Gras. Today is Fat Tuesday, which is the climax of weeks of parades and revelry around which the whole city’s life revolves beginning on the twelfth night after Christmas. It costs the city millions of dollars, but is the event around which the whole city’s annual life revolves—and it is sacred to most of the traditional residents. I lived in New Orleans as a pastor for six years, and early on challenged it in a small publication, and was taken aside and rebuked by a very respected gentleman from our congregation and exhorted: “Pastor Henderson, I know you mean well, but you are not from here, and you need to know that Mardi Gras is ours. Leave it alone!” So there.

Here’s the background. Mardi Gras takes place during the church’s liturgical season of Epiphany. When the church began to develop the liturgical year its purpose was to annually remind the church of major dimensions of the Christian faith. It begins with Advent, which is the celebration of the birth of Jesus as God’s promised Messiah. That is followed (beginning twelve days after Christmas) by Epiphany. Epiphany refers to the appearance of the star which summoned a group of astrologers from outside the Palestinian-Jewish community to come seeking to understand what was the meaning of the cosmic event that they understood to be one born to be king of the Jews. That season is, then, followed by Lent, which is a season of spiritual penitence, and preparation for the observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is, then, followed by the long season of Trinity, which brings it again to Advent.

But, back to Epiphany: In its origin and essence, Epiphany was to be a reminder of  God’s love for the nations of the world, of those “still walking in darkness” who had never heard of his love for them. It was to be a reminder that the church is to be the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. It was to be a time of reflection on the church role in God’s love for every nation, tongue, and tribe. But it is here that we encounter the travesty that is Mardi Gras. Rather than reflect of that event which summoned spiritually hungry and curious astrologers to Bethlehem, it rather became an occasion to co-opt the image of the oriental wise-men and subvert all of that into an occasion of revelry, parades, and social elites creating exclusive clubs/krewes with their own parade floats, and balls, to become the high point of the year.

Anything having to do with the church’s mission, or of the spiritual hungering of those outside of the Christian community, was totally lost in such a distortion. Mardi Gras, rather, became a time of revelry, a civic orgy and excess which consumes the city for all those weeks.

Then … tonight in New Orleans it all comes to a climax with the two most prestigious krewes having their balls. At midnight, Mardi Gras is over. The city will, right away, clean up tons of debris and wash down the streets, and at 6:00 a.m. on Ash Wednesday, throngs will go to the Roman Catholic cathedral to begin their season of penitence, have the mark of the cross placed on their foreheads, and, ostensibly renew their devotion (don’t count on it!). It’s a weird, but entrenched perversion of a liturgical season.

The season of Epiphany is, may I remind you, a time refresh the church calling to its mission.

_________

[https://wipfandstock.com/homebrew-churches.html]

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BLOG 2/9/18. “BE READY … REPROVE, REBUKE, AND EXHORT”

BLOG 2/9/18. “BE READY … REPROVE, REBUKE, AND EXHORT/TEACH …”

There are a couple of most practical texts in the New Testament that don’t get much press:

  • “… be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (II Timothy 4:2)
  • “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:15)

These became existential with me in my early pastoral years when I inherited a very small-minded, vocal, and destructive person, who also happened to be an Elder in the congregation. He had been responsible for all kinds of conflict in that small church, and was something of a self-appointed judge of everything, including me. But, by the grace of God, I also had a wonderful and encouraging and wise friend who happened to be a mid-life convert to Christ, and who happened to be a tough labor-negotiator for an international labor union. I was running by him my dilemma with this troublesome personality, and asked what he thought I should do. He, thereupon, quoted to me that II Timothy passage (above) and said: “Bob, it may be out of season, but you need to confront him and rebuke him unmistakably.”

I took his advice, and with stomach-in-mouth invited this guy for coffee and laid it out for him. He seemed not to even have heard what I said, but only asked what we could do for the good of the church. I told him to stop sowing discord. He smiled and thanked me for coffee as though deaf to my word, but later that year he and his wife quietly left the church.

Another illustration that was helpful to me was that in the very early days of television, before the days of mega-churches and evangelical superstars on television, there was Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen. Sheen was a Jesuit priest with a rapier sharp mind, and on a television set against a plain curtain as background, would without notes, quietly stride back and forth, piercing eyes always on the camera, but giving these remarkable Biblical insights into the ethical, social, personal, and political facets of real life, and could gently rebuke and reprove most helpfully. Years later, I was invited, with a few others, to have breakfast with (by then) Archbishop Sheen and saw what a profound person he was, and to learn of his personal disciplines that focused on the body and blood of Christ. (His fellow Jesuit, who is now Pope Francis also has a gift of boldly confronting and rebuking those in high places who are engaged in highly questionable decisions.)

So, when I read in the news this week that the Washington group of Christians which has sponsored the Presidential Prayer Breakfast for 66 years had invited our unbelieving, amoral, untruthful president the courtesy to be a speaker, I was chagrined. Somehow that organization seems to have lost its integrity. Their best ministry to the president would be, perhaps, to invite him to be their guest, but to invite as the primary platform speaker who could in love offer the president the ministry of rebuke, reproof, and solid teaching.  That’s my reaction. I could be wrong. Naïve? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I would love to hear from others. It may be “out of season” but such spiritually, morally, and truthfully unfocused, and contrary to the teachings of Christ, leadership does, indeed, need the blessing of godly rebuke.

https://wipfandstock.com/homebrew-churches.html

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BLOG 2/6/18. HONESTLY, ALL OF CHRIST’S PEOPLE ARE IMMIGRANTS

BLOG 2/6/18. HONESTLY, ALL OF CHRIST’S PEOPLE ARE IMMIGRANTS!

There is so much political flap these days about what to do with the surge of immigrants and refugees, what with so much total insensitivity to the humanitarian needs and the sheer tragedies that have provoked such…that is those of us who intend to live faithfully as the followers of Jesus and his teachings need to take a deep breath and remember that we are all of us fall into this category, according to the New Testament documents (I Peter 2:11 in loc.).

There is a historical document from the 2nd or 3rd century, The Letter to Diognetus, that reminds us that from the very beginning Christians were often in dispersion as misunderstood strangers in the various localities of the Roman Empire. The writer explains to his superior: “For Christians are not differentiated from other people by country, or language, or customs, you see, they do not live in cities of their own. … They live in both Greek and foreign cities, wherever chance has put them. They follow local customs in clothing, food, and other aspects of life. But at the same time, they demonstrate to us the wonderful and certainly unusual form of their own citizenship. They live in their own native lands, but as aliens, as citizens they share all things with others, but like aliens, suffer all things. Every foreign country is to them as their native country, and every native land as a foreign country. [Readers can Google the rest of this letter].

We keep forgetting this reality. Those of us who are Christ’s followers in these United States are not primarily citizens of this nation, but are citizens of the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Our primary allegiance is not to this earthly nation, even though it is our calling to live out the ethics and lifestyle of God’s New Creation responsibly as we engage this place of our sojourn. What I am saying here is not a new thought. A generation ago, William Willimon and Stanley Haeurwas co-authored a whole book that spelled this out marvelously (Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony).

This has got to be a self-conscious understanding for us who are Christ’s followers in this confusing political and social moment of United States history. A current author (David Cay Johnston) has lamented that not only have the highest officials of this country lost their way, but that so many of those in the legislative branch have “lost the moral compass.” It is fitting in this Black History Month to recall what a magnificent model Dr. M. L. King, Jr. was of this understanding. When he was challenged that his protest movement violated the laws of the community/land, his response was: “But I appeal to a higher law!” Yet with that declaration of Kingdom of God loyalty, the problem only got worse and he was vilified, and many of his followers suffered. So, … we are aliens and exiles. We are not always appreciated. And after Dr. King became a Nobel laureate, he challenged this nation’s disastrous involvement in the Viet Nam War, and was further vilified. Yet these generations later his statue stands in the Washington Mall as a reminder of moral courage.

Christ’s followers, in the midst of the often/usually complex social and political realities of our place of sojourn, need to have our moral compasses finely-tuned to the ethical teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only so are we those who the incarnations of his New Humanity, and are the salt and light of the world. … We must never forget that we are aliens and exiles, but called to live-out his New Life where we are and at this moment.

And, to conclude, we must pray for a new generation of leadership for this nation, who are people of moral courage, and who are committed to peace, and order, and justice. Amen!

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BLOG 2/2/18. I AM A GRATEFUL AUTHOR OF A NEW BOOK

 My most recent book: Homebrew Churches: Re-conceiving the Church for Tomorrow’s Children, has just been released by Wifp and Stock Pubclishers. [https://wipfandstock.com/homebrew-churches.html] I commend it to my  Blog readers, with the huge appreciation I have for the encouragement and endorsements by my four friends noted below, along with other data off of the back cover. Herewith:

About

With the continual appearance of evidence that the emerging generation (the iGens) is not at all enamored of institutional churches, and is ignoring or forsaking them, it seemed a good time to take a step back, take a deep breath, and take a fresh look at what the church was intended to be and do in the New Testament document. The author spells out the landscape and reviews the profile of recent generations, and then sets about to set forth the church as the communal component of God’s new creation in Christ. He engages in some challenges to the traditional understanding of the church, but sets forth a lively proposal in which every participant becomes interactive with the others, hence small fellowships. The younger iGens are into relationships, not institutions. This book portrays the church in relational terms, i.e., a church delivered from captivity to institutions and church professionals, hence a book that is controversial and perhaps a bit “cheeky” . . . but constructively challenging. The title is somewhat highjacked from the phenomenon known as the homebrew computer club, which is made up of six early computer scientists from whose creativity and relationship emerged much of the present computer and internet age.

Endorsements & Reviews

“The church would be Christ’s new community if everyone in the church loved it like Bob Henderson! In his newest book, Henderson’s love is channeled into the determined and creative labor of trying to re-conceive the church for the twenty-first century. Gripped by the love of Jesus Christ for a changing world and generations, Henderson raises just the critical questions for fresh consideration and action that we must all take seriously.”

—Mark Labberton, President, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California

“At the height of the civil rights movement, Robert Henderson turned the church upside-down when he began integrating his Raleigh-Durham congregation. Ever since then, Robert has passionately urged the church to return to its central mission in the world. Inspired by Silicon Valley’s early roots, Robert offers a provocative design for the Christian community that’s relevant to the emerging generation and enables the church to flourish.”

—Sherri Hutter, Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives, Salesforce

“With the same wit and humor that characterizes his earlier works, Bob Henderson prompts us to reimagine the church as small, creative, intentionally relational communities . . . Henderson persuasively argues that reclaiming the church for the next generation requires dealing with its institutional baggage yet continuing to proclaim God’s love for humanity as his new creation.”

—Erik Vincent, Director of Global Studies, Holy Innocents High School

“Robert Henderson’s Homebrew Churches is an incredibly valuable read for everyone who cares about the future of the church. In it, readers nudged to remember how we were created for community and called to be agents of God’s new creation. As someone on the frontline with tomorrow’s children, I can assure you Robert gets it! I am both challenged and refreshed by this book.”

—Troy Earnest, Area Director, Young Life East Atlanta

________
I commend this to my Blog readers, with the hopes that it will be helpful to you.
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BLOG 1/30/18. RESPONSE TO RELIGION: DISMISSIVE DIS-INTEREST

BLOG 1/30/18. RESPONSE TO RELIGION: DISMISSIVE DIS-INTEREST

I have sometimes written that the dominant religion among the emerging generation is self-satisfied humanism. Maybe I need to revise that and designate it as dismissive disinterest. The fact stares one in the face all the time. ‘Religion’ doesn’t even register with such a huge swath of the emerging generation. It doesn’t matter if they have grown up in the proximity or the context of some Christian institution – even if they were baptized in infancy, they can be totally ignorant of the data of the Christian faith, but even more, not at all even interested in it. They are more likely to be consumed with their iPhones, or in a culture that has little place for contemplation of history, or of the meaning of life, or ultimate reality.

A couple of generations ago, British missionary Lesslie Newbigin (whom I quote in the blogs frequently) returned from a fruitful career in South India to England, and observed that it was much more difficult to communicate the gospel in the West than in India since the West had known the gospel, had built up anti-bodies against it, and were now seemingly impervious to it. But even before him, British World War I chaplain and poet G. A. Studdert-Kennedy, said it more colorfully in a poem entitled: When Jesus Came to Birmingham (England):

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged him on a tree.

They drove great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary;

They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were his wounds and deep,

For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.

They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;

For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,

They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’

And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;

The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see.

And Jesus crouched against the wall, and cried for Calvary

Here we are again—a generational culture so often expressive of this dismissive dis-interest. It is quietly and perniciously invading and infecting what one would assume were places of Christian influence. Professing Christian parents don’t guarantee immunity to this cultural darkness. We need to be realistic about this, but not succumb to helplessness. The Spirit does create curiosity and spiritual hungering through the lives that incarnate God’s love and good works, and their knowledge of God’s New Creation (even though these dismissive and disinterest persons may have no category with which to process it).

At the same time, there is no guarantee that a ‘Christian church’ or a ‘Christian home’ will produce Christian faith. Somehow, those living in such churches and homes need to be intentionally informed about: 1.) the tribal religions of one’s cultural setting; 2.) the basic data of the life and teachings of Jesus and the implications thereof; and 3.) or have their eyes opened to the fact that they are drifting rootlessly in conformity to so much of the rest of humanity, whose response to Jesus is to “simply pass him by” with dismissive dis-interest. Stay tuned …

[Again, my latest book: https://wipfandstock.com/homebrew-churches.html.]

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BLOG 1/26/18. HOMEBREW CHURCHES: RE-CONCEIVING THE CHURCH

BLOG 1/26/18. “HOMEBREW CHURCHES: RE-CONCEIVING THE CHURCH FOR  TOMORROW’S CHILDREN”

The good folk at Wipf and Stock Publishers have just released my latest book, and like a proud parent I am eager to share its arrival with the readers of my Blog.

https://wipfandstock.com/homebrew-churches.html

Maybe three things need to be said by way of clarifying my design and purpose in writing it.

  1. What is often misunderstood is that generational cultures are true cultures. Whenever the church is contemplating its missional context it should, of necessity serious exegete its cultural context in order to understand its nuances, and the most effectively way of communicating to that particular culture socially, linguistically, ethnically, economically, politically, etc. What is evident in the emerging iGen or GenZ culture (those born after the late 1990s) is that they are products of a digital, internet, iPhone phenomenon that is being discerned at making them much more connected, and with more access to information than any previous culture, … but also with less capacity to communicate. It is a culture (generalizing, to be sure) that is not taken with institutions, but is more focused on relationships. This means that the venerable church institutions of the era of Christendom, which were meaningful to former generations are not meaningful to them. This is the cultural landscape of this book.
  2. At the same time, it was essential to my writing to divest my readers of the concept of the church in its traditional form from the past millennia and a half (at least) what with sanctuaries, custodial clergy, participants un-equipped to be agents of the mission of God, etc. That meant for me to seek to help my readers, both tomorrow’s children, and any others interested, to discover the Biblical components of God’s intent for his New Creation community—for an authentically missional church. That meant ‘de-professionalizing’ the gifts of the Spirit, and the counterpart which is that of equipping every member to be an essential agent in the mission of God for the church.
  3. And, then to resolve your curiosity about the title. I actually ‘hi-jacked’ that partly from the early history of the computer development. It seems that in the mid-1970s, there were about six early computer scientists who were fascinated with the potential of the early micro-processor, and so met in one of their garages in Menlo Park every other week to compare notes and to dream together. Out of that gathering came much of the whole emerging computer industry. They were called: the homebrew computer club. The emerging computer giants, to this day, are significantly based on small creative working groups of not more than twelve, since any group larger than that is not able to interact creatively, and to understand each other’s thinking. One of the current giant figures (maybe Bezos) calls them “two pizza working groups” and insisting that any such working group too big to feed on two pizzas is too big.

I have been encouraged by early readers, who are convinced I have nailed the issue. Maybe you will also find it provocative. I’d love to hear from you.

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BLOG 1/23/18. OUR OBLIGATION TO OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS?

BLOG. 1/23/18. OUR OBLIGATION TO MUSLIM NEIGHBORS? LOVE AND HOSPITALITY.

I am constrained, what with the remarks by some prominent national leaders (not to mention some ostensible Christians of prominence) making prejudiced and demeaning references to Muslim immigrants as well as to Muslim nations as though they were the source of wickedness.  To be sure, there are some in minority Islamic sects who engage in extreme behavior, … but then there are those within the Christian orb who are also engaged in behavior that is an embarrassment, alas!

Such demeaning and prejudiced references need to be challenged forthwith. Our discipleship, as Christ’s followers, is that of responding to the New Creation that he inaugurated by his life and teachings, and his cross. We are those who are the followers of him who came to “seek and to save the lost” after all. We are those who live with his commission to make disciples of all nations (people and ethnic groups). And did I miss something? … Was it not our Savior responding to a God seeker assuring him (and us) that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall be saved”?

… or that we are to love even our enemies?

… or that Christ’s followers were to literally live-out the Beatitudes, even is what is so often a totally inhospitable world?

… and that those Beatitudes include one that asserts that we are blessed when others revile us and persecute us and say all kinds of evil against us or his account?

… or that his kingdom people are always to be peacemakers.

… and that we are to minister to strangers in his name.

… and that our daily armor is to include having on our feet the gospel of peace.

There are in this world of ours 1.6 billion Islamic people, those heirs of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. They are distributed over a score and more nations across the world. Most are sincere, god-seekers who respond to their culture–all they have ever known–in which they are formed by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed (just as our western culture is formed by Hebrew-Christian traditions). It is all that they have ever known. They have produced remarkable cultural contributions. Not to menion that western-Christians, who have lived in Muslim-dominant countries, have often testified of how hospitable their Muslim neighbors have been to them.

Now, with the turmoil in that whole area of the world where Muslims have lived, there is a surge of migrants seeking a better life, and our country is frequently their goal. Then there is the omni-present influence of social media, so that Islamic people are not isolated from what is going on elsewhere. So, we now find that Islamic/Muslim folk are our neighbors, that they are the clerks at the check-out counter, staff for those companies that provide us services. There are mosques springing up in our American cities. More American people are curious about the Quran, and about the vast diversity of the Islamic community in the world, about the Shia and Sunni divisions that determines so much of the turmoil in Islamic nations.

What then is to be our response to Islam? to our Muslim neighbors? My answer that is that it should be the same as to all: love and good works, genuine hospitality—especially hospitality. Invite your Islamic neighbors and friends to your home for tea. The quest for God, for meaning, for a center and some creative source is true of them as it is for us. Yes, we believe that the Islamic faith is based on fulfilling their law, and that God, in Christ, came in grace bring forgiveness and acceptance through Christ. But our Muslim will discover that primarily if they see it demonstrated in us, in our caring lives of love and good works. … Stay tuned.

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BLOG 1/19/18. WHO INTERPRETS THE GOSPEL TO THOSE OUTSIDE?

BLOG 1/19/18. WHO INTERPRETS THE GOSPEL TO THOSE OUTSIDE?

   By way of introduction, just to be certain we’re all on the same page, one of the ‘giants’ in the field of Christian missiology in this past century was certainly Lesslie Newbigin. His monumental book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society was a game-changer. What I intend to bring to you, in my own digested form, is his answer to the question in the title of this blog. It is comes in his thesis of the congregation as the hermeneutic (interpreting agent) of the gospel. It I worth copying and adding to your prayer notes. Herewith:

“The only effective hermeneutic of the gospel is the congregation (Christian community) which believes it. Insofar as it is true to its calling, it becomes the place where men and women and children find that the gospel gives them the framework of understanding, the ‘lenses’ through which they are able to understand and cope with the world. Insofar as it is true to its calling, this community will have, I think, the following characteristics:”

  1. It will be a community of praise: a) celebration rather than sullenness and hyperactivity. b) Thanksgiving … a people recipient of grace.
  2. It will be a community of truth. The reigning plausibility structure can only be effectively challenged by people who are fully integrated inhabitants of another (i.e. missionary confrontation).
  3. It will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of the neighborhood.
  4. It will be a community where men and women are prepared for, and sustained in, the exercise of the priesthood in the world: a) The congregation has to be a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of the priestly ministry in the world. [Note: the church is called to be a “kingdom of priests”] b) The congregation must recognize that God gives different gift to different members of the body.
  5. It will be a community of mutual responsibility. “If the church is to be effective in advocating and achieving a new social order in the nation, it must itself be that new order.” (p. 231)
  6. And finally, it will be a community of hope. “The gospel offers an understanding of the human situation which makes it possible to be filled with a hope which is both eager and patient even in the most hopeless situation.” (p. 231)

“Is the primary business of the clergy (ordained leadership) to look after the spiritual needs of the church members? Is it to represent God’s kingdom to the whole community? Or – and this is surely the true answer—is it to lead the whole congregation as God’s embassage to the whole community?” (p. 236 f.)

“The task is to lead the congregation as a whole in a mission to the community as a whole, to claim its whole public life, as well as the personal lives of all of its people, for God’s rule. It means equipping all the members of the congregation to understand and fulfill their several roles in this mission through their faithfulness in their daily work. It means training and equipping them to be active followers of Jesus in his assault on the principalities and powers which he has disarmed on his cross. And it means sustaining them in bearing the cost of that warfare.” (p. 238)

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I keep this posted in my own prayer notes and find it wonderfully helpful and focusing, given all those things that seem to distract me and the Christian community. Stay tuned …

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