BLOG 11/14/17. “AND THOUGH THE WRONG SEEMS OFT SO STRONG …”

BLOG 11/14/17. “AND THOUGH THE WRONG SEEMS OFT SO STRONG …”

Mercy! It seems like nothing could get worse, . . . and then it does. Reading the news of moral lapses, lying, political cowardice, genocide, gun violence, shady ethics, greed, misogyny, racism, prejudice . . . Where does it stop? Or better still, where do we, where do I begin? Where does the infusion of righteousness find an incarnation? We sing that lovely hymn about our Father’s world, with birds singing, and flowers blooming, . . . but then comes the reality-check: And though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. That sounds heartening, but it doesn’t quite resolve my own presence (and maybe complicity) in some of this wrong. So, what does my faith in Jesus Christ require of me in order to be salt and light in the midst of these multiple dimensions of ‘wrong’?

A good beginning place might be to reclaim the radical repentance that Jesus’ calls us to, that acknowledges not only all the bad stuff we think and do, but also our complicity in larger patterns of wrong. From the very beginning of God’s intervention into human society there is that discipline of purifying those who follow him. There is the metaphor of God’s working being like a refiner’s fire that purges the impurities out of gold, and such. There is the graphic illustration in David’s life when he was guilty of adultery and murder and tried to hide it, since he was king. But God sent a prophet to expose that corruption, and David was totally demolished and repentant, and his confession (Psalm 51) is always good for us to own since he cries out to God to have every imperfection exposed, he longs to be washed and purged of every wicked way (I love Peterson’s paraphrase of this psalm in The Message).

God’s calling of those who follow Jesus is to be a holy nation, to be the demonstration of his own divine character. When John the Baptist was announcing the imminent arrival of Jesus as the Messiah, he says that: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and ultimately all that is alien (chaff) he will burn with fire (Matthew 3:11). In Christ, God also is determined to recreate us into Christ’s likeness in true righteousness.

But then comes the discipline of radical repentance when we open our lives to God, and expose all the dark corners of our thinking and behavior. God doesn’t have much use for God-talk and for our spirituality on display. What he is eager for is what Henri Nouwen calls transparency, or clarity of person. Trying to hide our secret sins is vain, and true freedom comes when we give to the Holy Spirit that role of being in us a refiner’s fire, and purifying us so that we are authentic through-and-through. Add to this that the Spirit is also the life-giving Breath of God. From all of this I have extrapolated a daily heart-felt petition that the Spirit will come upon my life as a Refiner’s Fire, and a Life-giving Breath – no holds barred! “Spirit of God search out my secret sins, all the darkness that lurks in my prejudices and subtle departures from your calling.” I don’t do this lightly. And God often answers in painful but cleansing interventions in my life. Refiner’s Fire and life-giving Breath.

But now, let me drop the other shoe. I also pray this for the nation in which I happen to live and of which I am a citizen. I pray that God will come upon this nation and its leaders and influence-makers as a Refiner’s Fire and Life-giving Breath, that he will expose and destroy those agents and influences of greed, and power, and sexual promiscuity, . . . and that God will raise up leaders and influence makers of peace and order and justice. I pray this fervently. I am not a person of political influence in the ordinary sense of that term, but I have access to: “God is the Ruler yet” of the hymn we started with. The Book of Revelation points to the reality that it is the prayers of God’s suffering saints under the altar that determine the course of history. Stay tuned …

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BLOG 11/10/17. MOTHER MARY’S FAITH . . . AND MINE

On a neighborhood street that I drive from time to time here in Atlanta, is the impressive campus of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, and it regularly causes me to chuckle at myself. You see, I was reared as a typical Protestant kid, with the built in anti-Roman Catholic proclivities of that tradition. But somewhere between then and now . . . Mary, the mother of Jesus, has become my model of true faith, and it grows on me as I reflect on who she was and what she demonstrated. When the messenger of God revealed to her that she was to bear the long-awaited messiah, she was incredulous: “How can this be since I have never had sex with a man?” Then the angel informed her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that which was conceived in her body would be from God.” Her response? “I am your servant, be it unto me according to your word.” There’s true and profound faith.

Then, you must fill in the blanks. With all the miraculous components of Jesus’ birth, the exile into Egypt, and then the many years back in the village of Nazareth, Mary was the most formative person in Jesus’ youth, and the remarkable evidence of that was that when they took the boy Jesus to the temple when he was twelve years old, . . . the priests were amazed at his knowledge of scriptures. Fill in the blanks. What you come up with was the faith of Mary and the depth of her understanding of Jewish writings, and the implications for what she was called to be and to do. Is it any wonder that those within the Roman Catholic tradition give to Mary high praise: Hail Mary, full of grace? Our Lord is with you.

Are you still with me? OK. But, if I read the teachings of the New Testament apostles correctly, there is a counterpart to that in Christ’s calling of me/us—don’t rush past that reality. His promise is that in our embracing him through faith, we also become born of God, that we become the dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit, that we become the possessors of the divine nature–as humanly impossible as the virgin birth! We become, by true faith, those who also receive Jesus’ commission: As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you. Connect the dots. As one theologian put it (I think it was Karl Barth), we are the continuing incarnation of Jesus. What is created in and through us are to be those persons, and that community (the church) that is to demonstrate in our daily contexts Mary’s faith: I am your servant. Be it unto me according to your word.

I reflect on that each morning as I begin my day, and especially when I am gathered with others of those who profess Jesus in our weekly times of worship and reflection. I have to ask myself: Why am I doing this? What does this moment, my life, this gathering have to do with my calling to be the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit?

Focusing particularly on our (ostensible) ‘worship services,’ it is so easy to slide into an empty traditionalism and become immunized and indifferent to our divine calling to live out the radical teachings of Jesus’ new creation in the vicissitudes of our 24/7 lives. I am persuaded that if ‘worship services’ are to have viability, they must be that regular occasion in which I and the others are re-evangelized, equipped, encouraged, and sent-out afresh each week. I and we need to express Mary’s faith which acknowledges that what we are called to be and to do is humanly impossible, and yet that for which God comes into our lives as the Creator Spirit, so that what is expressed in thoughts and intents, in the behavior, and mission-focus of our lives is only explainable by God’s divine working in us.

So, I add my praises: Hail Mary!  You are an encouraging model for my faith.

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BLOG 11/7/17. TRUE EVANGELISM: CONTAGIOUS UNDER THE HOOD

BLOG 11/7/17. TRUE EVANGELISM: CONTAGIOUS UNDER THE HOOD

I’ve had a long career teaching, and seeking to practice, faithfulness to Christ’s command to make disciples/evangelism, . . . but one of my all-time favorite models was a guy named Charles, and I need to tell you about him. My wife and I were on a short-term mission to teach evangelism to the pastors in a small, and destitute, country in southern Africa. In many ways, it was a discouraging mission because the traditional church institution, its membership, and its pastors, and the missionary community were quite too indifferent to anything smacking of gospel obedience. They were essentially a sterile and non-productive bunch and it didn’t seem to bother them. They were content to go through the motions, and were missionally passive.

But then there was Charles. Charles was a big, gentle African-American guy, who was a master-mechanic and had been sent by the missionary agency to maintain the motor pool owned by the church. His wife, Betty, was white and an energetic mother home-schooling their children. Add to that, they were both Southern Baptist, but in reality, were card-carrying Pentecostals. They were an episode of freshness, life, love and contagious Christian folk to whom my wife and I often turned for prayer.

Here’s my point: while I was trying to teach evangelism to pastors who were anything but contagious Christians (if, indeed, they were even articulate Christians at all), there was Charles, under the hood of a Toyota repairing engines and carrying on quiet conversations with the locals who would inquire about how he got there, and what motivated him to do so. Nothing dramatic. Just a contagious Christian under the hood sharing his hope and joy in Jesus with the locals who were living a pretty joyless and hopeless existence. One by one they would want to know more, and Charles and Betty’s home became a place of loving mentoring. A Christian community began to form, and after our stay there it grew to be a large Pentecostal community because all those whom Charles brought to faith and mentored, like Charles, became contagious Christians, i.e., truly evangelistic in the best sense of that word. Then, a few years after we returned to the States, I learned that they had planted another church in the capitol city that also grew into a very large assembly. Evangelism: contagious under the hood. I love it.

I read an essay on human sexuality a few years ago by a gifted secular scholar, who described the reason that human sexuality is such a strong drive for those years after puberty is that there is built in to our human nature the need to reproduce our gene-pool into the next generation. Chew on that for a minute. If one generation doesn’t reproduce itself, then there is no next generation. This is equally true of the church.

But, like Charles, when one comes to true faith in Jesus and embraces him in obedient faith, then Christ comes and takes up his abode in us, . . . or as Peter would state it, we become partakers of the divine nature and are given all things that pertain to life and god-likeness. And an integral part of that divine nature, that genome of Christ, is his own passion to contagiously seek and to save those we meet under the hood, those living joyless, hopeless, meaningless lives, . . .  and are looking for some authentic answer. Jesus, as he dwells in us, imbues us with his on mission to reproduce a next generation. And, to be brutally candid: if that is not true in our lives then we need to examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith (II Cor. 13:5).

Who are your spiritual children? Who have you met ‘under the hood’ and introduced to our hope and joy in Christ? What are you contributing to assuring that there is a next generation? This is a high joy for those engaged in it. I’d love to hear from you.

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BLOG 11/3/17. ‘GREATNESS’: IT DEPENDS ON YOUR DEFINITION

BLOG 11/3/17. GREATNESS: IT DEPENDS ON YOUR DEFINITION

This present administration rode into power under the motto: Make America Great Again, … but they did it with the overwhelming support of a vast number of faux evangelicals, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, … but who had, evidently, never read his teachings. These faux evangelicals were, first off, primarily white nationalists aligned with all kinds of male dominated, and Islam-o-phobic folk who were, seemingly indifferent to human need, to the homeless, poor, and the helpless of our society. So, in their minds, what would it mean for America to be great again?

A whole lot rides on one’s definition of the word great. Jesus never equivocated on this. He taught: But whoever would be great must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mark 10:43-44). He taught: For he who is least among you is the one who is great (Luke 9:48). As if that were not enough, it is interesting to look at those who are defined as the arrogant wicked as defined in Psalm 10, and those who are the helpless victims of their arrogance, to understand the heart of God as exhibited in Christ. Governmental policies of those seeking ‘American greatness’ are unquestionably controlled by those who control the wealth, and are indifferent to the desperate need of the helpless and poor.

Jesus, again, taught it graphically: Woe to you rich, blessed are you poor. By that teaching, faux evangelicals flunk a basic test of being formed by the teachings of Jesus. Jesus inaugurated his public ministry declaring that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to preach good news to the helpless poor. By that criterion (to stretch our boundaries a bit) the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ populist movement of a few years ago, which sought to expose and limit the arrogance of the wealthy, was more truly evangelical, more truly in accord with the teachings of Jesus, than all the pulpit expostulations of the wealthy mega-church ‘evangelical’ preachers on television, alas!

Jesus came to inaugurate a new creation, a holy nation, which would incarnate the image of God in its ethics and relationships. We receive a glimpse of its character in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke). It is radically upside-down, or as author Donald Kraybill designates it: The Upside-down Kingdom. That, accordingly, means that Jesus redefines greatness, so that if this nation were to truly express an affinity for the teachings of Jesus, then it would become a servant nation, using its vast potential to meet human need in all its devastating expressions (rather than tax-breaks to the wealthy, and unholy amounts spent on armaments).

Only such radical (and, frankly, unimaginable politically) priorities that express the sweet aroma of Christ can be called truly evangelical. But the faux-evangelicals have so misinterpreted and bastardized the word that it has taken on the reverse meaning. Within this larger nation (and in most nations of the world) there exists, however, a holy nation which is the church, which in its integrity is not determined by the kingdoms of this world, but which is the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. And in that holy nation is the continual quest to faithfully and obediently to incarnate the life and teachings of Jesus, . . . and so bring hope to the poor, the homeless, the stranger (immigrant), and the sick. Rivers of living water bring life as it flows from that holy nation. Again, a lot rides on one’s definition of greatness.

“In haunts of wretchedness and need … we catch the vision of Thy tears.”

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BLOG 10/31/17. OF POLITICAL ELVES AND ORCS

BLOG 10/31/17. OF POLITICAL ELVES AND ORCS

Those who are not aficionados of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy may find this blog a bit obscure, but hang in there and see if it makes some sense. That very popular fable is set in the context of Middle Earth, which is another age and place than ours, and is the setting for a great cosmic conflict in which the two prominent and opposing forces would be that of the elves, who are a race of creative, beauty-loving, benevolent, bold and just creatures who bring positive results wherever they abide. Their good wizard was Gandalf. Those kingdoms in Middle Earth who shared their character (such as Rohan and Gondor) became co-belligerents with them in the cosmic battle with the dehumanizing forces of evil of Mordor under the supernatural and evil dark lord Sauron. Sauron’s malevolent agents were known as orcs, and orcs were destructive, they were intent on befouling everything they touched—and they stunk.

Here’s the point: even when orcs tried to disguise themselves as agents of their opposition, they still smelled like orcs, and so were discernable whenever and wherever they appeared. The forces of Sauron were on a quest to reclaim a ring of power that Sauron had created by which to control everything in middle earth, and had lost it. The elven forces were on a quest to destroy that ring which had been discovered accidently by a hapless little creature, called a hobbit, and hobbits were a peace-loving, pipe-smoking, fun loving race who lived in their own peace-loving community. But it was one of them, named Frodo, that the elven lords drafted to take that destructive ring of power back to its source and destroy it. And that’s my attempt, perhaps, confusing, at spelling out the story line, and giving something of a description of orcs and elves.

Here’s the point: we are living in a very dangerous and confusing time also defined by the quest for power in all its negative economic, judicial, humanitarian, etc. dimensions. And we have those who are the very real political agents of that destructive quest: power, greed, unethical, untruthful, inhumane, and unjust behavior of darkness on center stage.

Ah! but those political orcs so often seek to cloak themselves in the identity as those, who should be the epitome of benevolence, justice, peacemaking, humane sensitivities. To do this they co-opt and totally distort for their alt-right agenda the noble designation of evangelical Christians—they try to pass themselves off as elves. This is not a matter of being democrat or republican, but of political elves and orcs. And the political orcs, just as those in middle-earth, always smell like orcs. Their behavior betrays them. They become the agents of those dehumanizing forces that ignore those who are helplessly poor and struggling to survive on an inadequate minimum wage, they mount major attempts to keep health-care from all citizens, they do not welcome strangers/immigrants, they turn a blind eye to tens of thousands of those imprisoned for minor offenses, they are willing to spend trillions on the military and to deploy them around the world, while there are 64 million refugees abroad in the world  (more than any time in human history) and yet let hunger and disease go unaided in those other nations.

My point: there is that need for those of good will, those who seek government programs that seek peace and order and justice, those who are political elves no matter what their party affiliation, to stand forth in the costly battle. We need to discern what politicians and people of public influence ‘smell like’, and reject the orcs and become co-belligerents with those who are the caring and benevolent agents of the light, i.e., political elves. Have I confused you? I hope that you discern the message. It is a dangerous moment in our history. The orcs are too much on display.

[Apropos: Tom Steyer and www.needtoimpeach.com.]

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BLOG 10/27/17. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ‘ALL SAINTS DAY’?

BLOG 1027/17. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ALL SAINTS DAY?

Somewhere along the way “goblins and ghosties, and things that go bump in the night” replaced a venerable church remembrance of all of those wonderful Christian people along the way who gave us models of how to live our new lives in Christ. Alas! Labor Day is hardly over when the commercial interests of our day begin advertising all the accoutrements of Halloween, i.e., costumes, tons of candies, jack-o-lanterns, and on and on. That’s sad. Historically, out of the middle ages—it is true—there came the mythological last fling of all the agents of the darkness on the eve of All Hallowed’s Day, when the church remembered the agents of the light. All Saints Day got replaced by Halloween, and that’s sad.

We need saints. We need models of new creation living. The apostle Paul would address all of Christ’s followers in the church at Corinth as saints and then would unabashedly tell them to become imitators of himself, even as he was of Christ. “What does a follower of Christ look like? Look at me and you’ll see a model.” Is that vanity? No, not at all. We need models, we need saints, we need to see flesh and blood examples of what it means to have Christ dwelling in our very human lives by his Spirit.

To be honest, the Roman Catholic folk muddied the waters here, when the Vatican began to determine who was a saint, and so there are special days given to honor the folk they name as legitimate saints. I once had a book identifying all those saints, and I found it fascinating to see the great diversity of faithful witnesses they were honoring. In our own times, we have seen the Vatican honoring Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Their examples are sterling. But most of us live out our attempts at faithful discipleship in need of those who have touched our lives personally, and in a context with which we can identify. We need our own personal All Saints Day.

Alright, I’m not about to have any influence on diminishing the vast economic boon to those who make their profits off of the Halloween bonanza. But I would like to reclaim All Saints Day from forgetfulness. All Saints Day is November 1st. Let me share with you my own practice that I have found a real blessing. I don’t even know how I started this, but each year on All Saints Day I sit down and retrieve the name all of those Christian persons that God has used in my life to provide me models, and encouragement, and to pray for me. I write these in the back of my prayer journal. Every year I think of others that I had not thought of before. These are often little people, modest people, who were a blessing to me and who modeled faith and love and humility. It does, to be sure, include those whom I never met, whose writings have influenced my understanding of the faith, but it focuses on the modest saints that God has brought into my life when I needed them. The list gets longer as I remember more of those each year. Next Tuesday is that day for me.

But a second practice that I commend is my prayer that I, in fact, may be such a saint to others, and that the faithful God, who called me Christ, will make me one for whom others give thanks. Happy All Saints Day! Join me in reclaiming it as a good reminder that it is God who is building his church in the most unlikely places and with the most unlikely persons. “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, Thy name O Jesus be forever blest.”

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BLOG 10/24/17. CHRISTIAN FAITH . . . AND THE SEDUCTION OF WEALTH

BLOG 10/24/17. CHRISTIAN FAITH . . . AND THE SEDUCTION OF WEALTH

One has only to have a cursory knowledge of current events to realize the enormous influence, politically and socially, of the powerful financial interests that control so much of the agenda in this nation. It is quite too easy for us to consign that to those in high places. And, yes, it is frightening (as one of the political pundits graphically described a powerful lobby force as having taken congress captive with a money clip on their male parts!).

This is nothing new. In the apocalyptic language of the Book of Revelation, one of the great enemies of the Lamb of God and his people is that great whore Babylon, which seems to refer to the vast economic influence of the huge trading powers of that era, who wielded their influence ruthlessly among the nations. We read news daily about those wielding trillions of dollars in trade to gain advantages for themselves, even when it ignores the human costs of their power. Remember, then, that Jesus only named one identifiable competitor with God: mammonmoney. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon/money” (Mathew 6:24).

It is seductive, and I doubt if any of us are totally innocent on this score. Our very capitalistic society what with all of its ‘principalities and powers’ of corporate hubris and influence, the omnipresent advertising industry seeking to find our vulnerable spots in order to suck us in, . . . all bespeak that power. Again, it is so subtle. I am a fan of the PBS program “This Old House” because of the remarkable craftsmanship displayed on that show. But the extravagant expenditure of money of those wanting to build their prestigious and enviable dream home can border on the obscene. It is no sin to want to have an adequate and well maintained home. But where does that basic need morph into vanity and the display of wealth to one’s neighbors?

Something of the seduction was also exhibited a generation ago in the sit-com “Moving On Up,” about a family that had done well financially and wanted to move out of the marginal neighborhood into one that would display their newly acquired status and wealth. There’s something of that temptation always before us in this consumer society. It was obviously present in the first century church at Laodacea, which the Lord described as becoming “rich and increased in goods and in need of nothing,” but in the process, had displaced Jesus and left him outside the gate.

It was the problem of the rich young ruler, who came to Jesus asking to become one of his followers. He boasted of his faithfulness in keeping the law and his religious credentials. But when Jesus required of him that he sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, then he could come and follow, . . . the young man went away sorrowing for he was very wealthy, i.e. he was captive to his wealth.

Or the foolish man in Jesus parable whose farm has been hugely productive, so he determined to build bigger barns and then retire comfortably, only to be reminded that he was to die that night, “then whose shall these things belong to?” Money/mammon takes possession of one’s soul, of one’s conscience, of one’s sense of values, and turns a blind eye to the law of love. If racism is a pathology in our society, then greed is equally a pathology. When there are neighbors locally or globally who are in need of basic subsistence (like 64 million refugees homeless in the world today), and I indulge myself in pleasant but un-needed luxuries rather than seeking to provide their basics with my modest contributions, . . . something is awry in my understanding of Christ’s teachings that call us to sacrificial love.

Stay tuned . . .

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BLOG 10/20/17. ENGAGING MY READERS

BLOG 10/20/17. ENGAGING MY READERS

Once in a while, you, my readers, deserve to be filled in on me, on my purpose for writing these blogs, and to be thanked for even reading them. For these past several years I have been preoccupied in writing several books and so, perhaps, have not given due attention to replying to the comments which some of you have thoughtfully offered (and which I have appreciated). Now, I am at that moment in my life when I am standing at the threshold of a new passage, after the submission of my latest book for publication. It has given me time to look back over several years of comments and to reflect on the whole blogging dimension of my life.

A couple of things need to be said. First, I was encouraged/provoked into writing these blogs by family members, who insisted that I needed to keep writing here in the octogenarian years of my life. And, secondly, because somehow I have, from the beginning of my six decades of engagement as a teacher and disciple-maker, found myself in challenging contexts that demanded that I challenge many cultural idols and traditions. I am, by nature, a person with something of an inferiority complex, and an introvert, so that to consider myself a prophet seemed unimaginable—though I have always, for some reason, embraced Jeremiah’s calling to have God’s word provoking me to “break down, root up, overthrow, and destroy, and to build and to plant.”

Having cut my teeth in the years when the civil rights movement was emerging into inescapable prominence, that calling had me challenging racism, segregation, and all the ugly ramifications of that. Then came the Viet Nam war, and national military policies that I simply could not square with what I was reading and teaching in scripture. It was in that pilgrimage that I was first made aware that others looked to me as a prophetic voice, . . . such persons as the late Pete Hammond of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Bill Pannell of Fuller Seminary, and John Perkins, civil rights champion and community developer, were instrumental in that awareness.

That said, I do not want these blogs to clutter cyber-space with platitudes or personal agendas. I intend them to suspend the boundaries of our thinking, to challenge or defy existential culture, and to be useful in forming God’s new creation in the thinking and behavior of God’s people. That being so, I do cherish from my readers, several things:

  • Your prayers for my own clarity of mind, and formation by the Word of God, and for the fruitfulness of these blog.
  • Your feedback in sending along comments that may assist in sharpening this vision.
  • Your commending this blog to your friends to subscribe if you find them helpful.

These blogs, along with my several books reflect my own formation into an understanding of God’s new creation in Christ, and how the church is to be the radical and communal expression / incarnation (kingdom of God) of that. This emerges in the book Subversive Jesus, Radical Grace, then in my trilogy: Enchanted Community, then Refounding the Church from the Underside, and The Church and the Relentless Darkness. More recently, my attempt to explain the church to those who have no contact with it: What on Earth Is the Church? The latest, and now in process is: Homebrew Churches: Re-conceiving the Church for Tomorrow’s Children. All these published and sold by Wipf and Stock (as well as Amazon) under my full name: Robert Thornton Henderson.

Again, thank you for joining with me in this blogging sojourn. I know from the sites status that there are many subscribers, and many more who read them from across the country and from other nations. Isn’t it an amazing tool? Whatever glory goes to the Lamb of God.

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BLOG 10/17/17. “EVERYBODY TALKIN’ BOUT HEAVEN, AIN’T A GONNA GO THERE

BLOG 10/17/17. “EVERYBODY TALKIN BOUT HEAVEN, AIN’T A GONNA GO THERE”

Several generations ago Miles Mark Fisher wrote his PhD dissertation at the University of Chicago on negro slave songs in the United States. It was published into a book, still in print, which a real treasure. He was the ninety+ year old pastor of the White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina when I met him. The legacy that he left with me was the realization that negro slave songs were not only songs of faith, but also songs of protest against the injustices of slavery and racism. One that has come back to me in recent days is the one that declares: “Heaven, heaven, everybody talking about heaven, everybody talking about it ain’t a going to go there, heaven, heaven.”

This came to me powerfully when I read the report that an ostensibly ‘evangelical Christian’ gathering of several thousand in New York had given President Trump a standing ovation as their champion. First of all was the travesty of such a group obscenely appropriating/hi-jacking the venerable term evangelical for an agenda so blatantly anti-evangelical. But even more, embracing a figure like Trump as having anything at all to do with the Christian faith when he embodies everything that a Christian is not. How does he have the audacity to even call himself a Christian when there is nothing about his character even remotely identifiable as such: a racist, a misogynist, a serial adulterer, amoral, greedy, divorced several times, a pathological narcissist and liar, with efforts to make life even more difficult for the helpless poor, the sick, the stranger within our gates, and the unjustly imprisoned, . . . and on and on. He is the very antithesis of anything Christian, and especially those who are truly evangelical who take obedience to Christ’s teachings seriously.

. . .  And this makes a standing ovation for him by that gathering in New York even more of a travesty. Jesus taught that “by their fruits shall you know them.” True evangelicals are servants/slaves of righteousness, known by their love and good works, by their feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, being compassionate about prisoners (primarily debtors in that society), and welcoming strangers. Trump is visibly and provably contradictory of such teachings of God’s new creation in Christ. So, for those who use the cloak of such teaching to obscure their alien political agenda is to be without integrity, and brings us back to: “everybody talking about heaven ain’t a going to go there” in spades.

President Trump’s only real affinity with the Christian faith is his quest for their votes, but he himself contradicts everything good and pure and noble and just that is embodied in Christian faith. So, to own him as a champion puts that whole assembly down for the falseness of its claim to be the followers Jesus Christ.

To be sure, to be profoundly Christian doesn’t qualify one to be a good politician  (especially with the radical nature of Jesus social agenda), but to adopt a Christian persona in order to garner votes is to be without integrity, it is the antithesis of everything Jesus taught about self-denying love and all that such requires of those who have true hope of heaven.

“O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry; our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die . . . From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen; From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men . . . Deliver us, good Lord.” (G. K. Chesterton).

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BLOG 10/13/17. HOW TO BECOME SALT-LESS SALT: FORGET WHO YOU ARE

BLOG 10/13/17. HOW TO BECOME SALTLESS SALT: FORGET WHO YOU ARE

Do you remember the warning given by Jesus that even though his followers are to be the salt of the earth, that if and when they lose their self-consciousness of that purpose, that they become salt-less salt and not good for anything except to be thrown out? And, likewise, that they are to be the light of the world, but if they lose their conviction of this calling and purpose, then the light that is in them becomes darkness? This is one of the subtlest pathologies that continually afflict the people of God—just to become so over-familiar and comfortable with the language of faith, and the traditions of the faith, that we forget how and why we are called in the first place.

This was true of the Jewish folk in Judah in the 8th century BCE. They had become complacent in their calling to be a light to the other nations, had settled-in to the routines of temple worship, and had lost their ability to hear God or to see God or to respond to God in obedient living, . . . that there was nothing divinely unique about them anymore. Isaiah gives the poignant description of Jerusalem as an empty city laying meaningless, and with all its rejoicing having reached its eventide (Isaiah 24:10). That unique people of God had forgotten who they were, and forgotten their divine calling and mission. That description reminds on of many ostensibly ‘Christian’ communities, alas!

This is happening continuously today in so much of the Christian community. One astute observer notes that whenever a Christian community dilutes, displaces, or forgets its reason for being, . . . then it reverts to chaos, to a state of being that has no integrity as a true Christian community. This is so sad to watch, and so omnipresent in this post-Christian era. Christian communities may begin well as missional outpost, with the design to be faithful demonstrations of God’s new creation in Christ. Ah! but so soon they become distracted by their own inner life, or with the building of church sanctuaries, or with being attractive by virtue of their well-crafted worship services and outstanding preachers, . . . so much so, that they dilute, displace, and forget the very reasons that they are called by Jesus Christ, and their purpose to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Forgetfulness. They become, rather, stagnant pools of ‘religious Christianity,’ devoid of the meaning for which Christ intends his church.

As such they no longer energize or equip or encourage or hold accountable each other in their lives of obedience in their 24/7 lives, and their accountability to Jesus Christ as the living demonstrations of his new creation outside of their church gatherings.

And, tragically, once on this path they become immune to their true calling. More and more, such communities are inhabited by sincerely religious people, but people who cannot for the life of them give to anyone else a reasoned account of their hope in Christ, or of what it means to be called to be God’s new creation. Does that sound dismal and pessimistic? Yes. But God’s mission is usually accomplished by first generation communities of obedient discipleship, which throb life and excitement about their Savior, and about encouraging one another in that calling. They know that the task is humanly impossible, so they pray diligently to be refined and empowered and guided in lives of faithfulness, of being salt and light.

Once that passion fades into forgetfulness, chaos returns. The salt of the earth becomes nothing more than a comfortable escape into religion, but not a religion that is built upon the rock of Jesus’ teachings and discipleship. There! I’ve said it (again), but the battle never ceases. Stand by …

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