BLOG 10/30/18. I SEND THIS BLOG THROUGH MY TEARS

BLOG 10/30/18. I SEND THIS BLOG THROUGH MY TEARS

The news of the massacre of the Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh brought me to tears. It was also sobering about the larger context of prejudice in this nation. I was, however, greatly heartened by the insightful and prophetic voice of the Jewish leaders of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, … to the president of the United States. Invoking their own Torah, they challenged him on his own culpability in creating a climate for such hate-crimes. It ought to be persuasive to all those followers of Jesus Christ who are being formed into his image. I quote their communication herewith:

“President Trump: Yesterday, a gunman slaughtered 11 Americans during Shabbat morning services. We mourn with the victims’ families and pray for the wounded. Here in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, we express gratitude for the first responders and for the outpouring of support from our neighbors near and far. We are committed to healing as a community while we recommit ourselves to repairing our nation.

“For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.

“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.

“Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted.  You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.

“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities.

“The murderer’s last public statement invoked the compassionate work of the Jewish refugee service HIAS at the end of a week in which you spread lies and sowed fear about migrant families in Central America. He killed Jews in order to undermine the efforts of all those who find shared humanity with immigrants and refugees.

“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.

“The Torah teaches that every human being is made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.

“This means all of us.

“In our neighbors, Americans, and people worldwide who have reached out to give our community strength, there we find the image of God.  While we cannot speak for all “Pittsburghers, or even all Jewish Pittsburghers, we know we speak for a diverse and unified group when we say:

“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.”

______

Amen! The voice of bold wisdom out of the inescapable principles of Holy Scripture sent to the “principalities and powers” of this nation. God bless those leaders in these tear-filled days.

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BLOG 10/26/18. KOINONIA: OUR NEED AND RESISTANCE TO TRUE INTIMACY

BLOG 10/26/18. KOINOIA: OUR NEED AND RESISTANCE TO TRUE INTIMACY.

To be truly human is to be able to have intimate relationships with others. The creation story says ‘worlds’ about this need. God said: “It is not good for man that he should be alone,” so he created another, a woman, a complement in order that the person not be alone. But in that creation account/myth, the immediate result of their rebelling against their creator, was that the man and woman hid from each other, i.e., the loss of intimacy. Take note: the loss of their intimacy with their creator resulted in a loss of intimacy with one another. The deterioration of the human community is the continual saga of human history.

It should be obvious to us that the result of that ‘original sin’ was not just guilt and the penalty, but the loss of a vital component of true human community, or our true humanity. We still have that basic need for intimacy, of unhindered fellowship with another, or others, if we are to be truly human. Tragically, we continue to hide from one another (and, maybe, go to a psychological counsellor to tell us why we are so unhappy!).

But, enter the Son of God: Jesus our savior, our reconciler, the one who has come to recreate us, to call us out of hiding, and to recreate us into truly human persons, to begin that process of fashioning us again into those truly human persons, and to also recreate the human community, and to reconcile us to our Creator. It is his design to recreate us into the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29). Enter, then, one of critical components of that community of God’s New Creation: koinonia: a Greek word that describes intimate relationships.

And the beginning place of that koinonia is a two-fold confession, the first of which is that we are real (not theoretical) sinners, that we deliberately come out of hiding and acknowledge that we are flawed and imperfect and guilty beyond our ability to conceive. And the other confession is that we embrace Jesus, that we take our place in his reconciling love, and choose to belong to him and to obey is teachings. When we do, so—when we embrace his word/teachings—we are made “free indeed” (John 8:36). One witty Biblical teacher observed that our Christian confession of ‘total depravity’ is the great democratizing principal of the Christian faith! Our confession of sin, which is at the threshold of our Christian faith, is our deliverance from our need to stay in hiding. It makes koinonia possible, even somewhat inevitable. “I know this about you and you know it about me.”

The New Testament writings contain those inescapable teachings, such as that we are to confess our sins to one another; that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; that if we do not forgive one another, neither will our heavenly father forgive us; that we are being delivered into the glorious liberty of the children of God—true humanity, New Creation humanity, community in which true intimacy is the rule and not the exception.

Our deliverance into such glorious liberty is always in progress. That first-generation Christian community met together in public to hear the teaching of the apostle, … but then they were together, from house to house: “in the apostle’s teaching, koinonia, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers, and no one claimed that anything he/she owned was theirs alone” (Acts 2:42). That describes a fairly small community of true intimacy, not a religious hiding place, or a ‘safe’ Bible study, but a community of God’s New Creation in Christ.

As we move inexorably into this post-Christian culture, such true communities of love and intimacy—that grow out of Christ’s love in us and through us—will become a major factor in reaching those, who otherwise are totally immune to any religion: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, in that you love one another as I have loved you.” Such communities of true intimacy in Christ are a major component of our message of salvation. Amen. [I love to hear your  responses, and to get your feedback. Thanks.]

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BLOG 10/23/18. WHAT, INDEED, IS THE WORLD THAT GOD SO LOVED?

BLOG 10/23/18: WHAT, INDEED, IS THE WORLD THAT GOD SO LOVED?

There are probably few verses in the Bible quoted more frequently than John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, …”  That being so, it behooves us to think soberly and intelligently about what compose the realities of this present world scene in which we live, and which God loves. How is that love that gave the world his Son incarnated, or made visible in our here-and-now? And, in the heat of this political season in these United States, how do we, who profess our trust in Jesus Christ, discern our responsibilities as citizens, what with all the claims and counter-claims, charges and counter-charges between parties and candidates?

Yes, and where does our priority lie between the lordship of Jesus Christ, and the authority of the nation to which we give allegiance? The apostle, Paul, used his Roman citizenship to his own advantage when it was necessary, … and yet he never affirmed that: “Caesar is Lord”, which was the claim of the emperor.

How do we appraise our responsibility as citizens of a nation in which the greed of the wealthy, and the humanitarian demands of such a multitude of refugees seeking haven from destructive forces in their home countries require a response? Stand in such stark contrast? At this moment of my writing this blog is the reality of a caravan of over 5000 refugees fleeing oppressive and destructive regimes in Central America which is approaching our southern boundary. These are more willing to face the uncertainty of what is before them than to go back to where they came from. Or the plight of over sixty-five million refugees abroad who have been uprooted from homes and profession, and thrust out into unknown places and circumstances.

Then, there are the political battles of the national budget, in which it is so obvious that the principalities and powers of wealth and greed determine more than do the humanitarian principles of justice and hospitality.

The inescapable fact is that if one is to profess that Jesus is Lord, … then the DNA, or the genome, of the life of God in them, then it is incumbent that his life and ethic must determine one’s choices and actions, even when it is costly. It might be critical that we recall some of those teachings of Jesus and the scriptures that speak to these questions:

  • “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” – Luke 6:24-25.
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
  • “When the Son of man comes in his glory he will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats … then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you …For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you visited me. … I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it unto me.” –Matthew 25:31 ff.

Those of us who profess that Jesus is Lord, are also part of his love for the world, and of a responsibility to show that love, both personally in the total missionary stewardship of our lives, but in supporting those governmental policies that reflect that ethic of our primary Lord. It will not do to give tax breaks to the already wealthy, and at the same time to deny making the costly expenditure that exhibit the humanitarian ethic of Jesus, and of those who share that ethic. To live and act otherwise is to demonstrate that we misunderstand our Christian calling into a very real and broken world. There, … our responsibility is inescapable, or escaped at our own peril.

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BLOG 10/19/18. “WHEREVER I AM, I AM THE GLORY OF GOD”

BLOG 10/19/18. “WHEREVER I AM, I AM THE GLORY OF GOD”

A dear friend for nearly fifty years, and one of my great civil rights heroes, is John Perkins. John is very unique in that, on one hand, he is quite modest and self-effacing, and on the other hand is bold as a lion. He grew up as a share-cropper’s son in rural Mississippi where he suffered all of the intense racial injustice and the indignities of those days. He was beaten by law enforcement agents and jailed for engaging in voter registration. He laughs that he was a “third-grade dropout, yet in recent months he has received his fourteenth honorary doctor’s degree—which says something of what has transpired in the intervening years.

His latest book is: One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Peace and Love (which I heartily commend).

To escape the violence of Mississippi, he and his wife moved to California, where John encountered Jesus Christ, through the witness his son, who was enrolled in a Christian club, and brought the faith home to his father. Whoever mentored, or ‘discipled.’ John did it very well. By that time John had moved up into a management job with a major grocery chain in that region. As he grew in his response to the life and teachings of Jesus, the more he became that he should move back and minister to his own people in Mississippi as both an evangelist and as a Christian community developer in the small town of Mendenhall. He saw the implementation of justice and of economic development as an essential part of the gospel he was preaching. He was very effective, and his reputation began to grow.

My wife and I met him in 1973 when he was speaking at a student conference in southern Mississippi, and we bonded instantly. That friendship has grown stronger over the years. He was so effective that the state of Mississippi later declared an official ‘John M. Perkins Day’ in his honor. As he trained a second generation of leadership to take over the work in Mississippi, John and his wife Vera Mae moved back to do the same ministry in a troubled and crime-ridden section of Pasadena, California. That is where the following conversation took place.

I was in Pasadena to engage in my own mentoring conversations on the campus of Fuller Theological Seminary, but I chose to stay with John. He walked me around is neighborhood, where he had made many friends, and provided educational resources for the youth. He also pointed out to me the drug dealers, and the local color. His wife, at that time was back in Mississippi with a new grandchild. The guest room in their house was also John’s study. On the wall were tributes, honorary doctorates, and even a picture of John in the Oval Office of the White House, with the president.

One evening we were eating out together, and as he was devouring his fish, I asked him: “John, how do you maintain your humility with all of the accolades you have received. He pondered for a moment, and then responded: “Bob, I have to remember that wherever I am, whether chopping cotton in Mississippi, or being received in the Oval Office, that there I am the glory of God.” Wow! Does that ever say worlds? I had grown up as a good Presbyterian kid quoting the answer to the catechism question, that: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Here was a remarkable practitioner of that affirmation. I have made John’s understanding of that as a principle in my daily prayer disciplines ever since.

‘Wherever I am, there I am the glory of God.” (New Testament scholar Gregory Boyd is helpful when he defines glorifying God as our displaying the divine nature, or embodying the image of the Son of God in whatever the vicissitudes of our daily life might be.) God give us more men and women in this troubled present scene with John’s passion for God’s glory, in which reconciliation and economic justice are also essential expressions of the gospel, of our evangelistic calling. Amen and amen.

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BLOG 10/16/18. DYNAMIC CHURCHES CAN (AND DO) STAGNATE

BLOG 10/16/18. DYNAMIC CHURCHES, AND OF VIBRANT FAITH, … CAN (AND DO) STAGNATE

From the very beginning of its history, the church of Jesus Christ has always been engaged in a struggle to maintain its integrity, it has been warned not to conform itself to the norms of this age but, rather, to be continually transformed by the renewing of its mind. Even so, there has always been the subtle proclivity to (as one scholar put it) displace, dilute, or forget that very raison d’etre for which it has been brought into existence.

This was brought again to my mind after I wrote, in my last Blog, about the phenomenal growth of the Christian church in China. That growth was taking place in the cultural revolution under Chairman Mao, and continues into the present regime, in both its ‘registered’ church’, and more obviously in its ‘underground’ expressions (which are illegal). That being said, it is also true that current studies show that though China is still officially an atheistic government (where all religions are discouraged), it has swung between severe oppression, and turning a blind eye to the phenomenon. These studies also indicate that even the underground church has shown tendencies to stagnate, alas!

As China has emerged more and more into a strong economy, and a more engaged world power, the followers of Jesus Christ have been engaged more inescapably in the results of China’s emergence into the global culture. The observers note several reasons for this stagnation: 1) ageing congregations, i.e., those whose faith persevered and grew under persecution are now a former generation; 2) ‘chasing mammon,’ i.e. national prosperity has not left Christians immune to wanting to acquire wealth; 3) smartphone power, i.e., Chinese Christians can now not be isolated from the other cultures of the world; 4) nationalism, a temptation to put the ‘empire’ before the community of the kingdom of God, to put Caesar before Christ; and 5) false gospels.

Sound familiar?

Such seductions have been present from the first generation of the church. Vibrant Christian communities tend to remain so for one generation, then to become institutionalized and to survive even when stagnant and comfortable in this present age. In that first generation of the church, the apostle war the church to” “be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Strangely enough, the church has been at its best when it was under persecution. When you look at those seven apostolically founded churches in chapters 2-3 of last book of the Bible: The Revelation of John, it is only the two who were undergoing severe tribulation who receive no rebuke, but are praised for their faithfulness to their calling. The rest receive modest or strong rebukes and qualified praise. One has gotten so happily satisfied with its inner communal life that they forgot Christ (left him outside the door knocking). Others were infected by alien teachings, or other compromising factors.

Later, in that same book it is written that in the teeth of persecution God’s faithful church overcame Satan “By the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives even if it cost them their lives” (Rev. 12:11). That overcoming capacity has been reproduced many times over the centuries, but always when extenuating, or severe circumstances made it go back to is founding purpose. The stagnation observed by these scholars of the church in China translates painfully to the churches in the United States that have too often become “stagnant pools of ‘religious Christianity’.” … Ageing, mammon, smartphones, nationalism, and false gospels. And this in the emergence of the first truly post-Christian generational culture, GenZ. Alas!

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BLOG 10/13/18. A HOLY NATION WITHIN A (NOT-SO-HOLY) NATION

BLOG 10/13/18. A HOLY NATION WITHIN A (NOT-SO-HOLY) NATION

Being “aliens and exiles” is nothing new to the people of God, … but it can get confusing if one is in any illusion about its context. It gets more confusing when there are those who identify themselves as the people of God, while at the same time, espousing those governmental personalities and policies that are totally at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is also challenging when there is a price to be paid in obeying those teachings, whether that be the scorn of acquaintances, or the penalties imposed by governing authorities.

This can readily be seen in China, where the governing Communist government does not placidly countenance anything that challenges the ultimate authority of the state, and only allows the Christian church to exist when it is registered by the state, and when it does not do or say anything that is in opposition to that autonomy. The ‘registered’ church is known as the Three-Self Church (self-government, self-support, and self-propagation), designed by the government to keep it free from foreign influence. (And, to be clear, this is aimed at Protestant churches, the Roman Catholics deal with the government differently, but still exists under government approval.)

Ah! but then there is the other Protestant church, which is the underground church, which, because it operates clandestinely and is unregistered is difficult to quantify. But, it is widely acknowledged that the Christian church in China is the largest Christian church in the world, with estimates ranging from 31 million to 67 million, and projected to reach 110 million by 2030. For our purposes here, it is essential to note that it is with this underground church that the exponential growth is taking place in apartments, homes, out-of-sight locations, and is a church that owns only one Lord, Jesus Christ, and is seeking to be formed by his teachings. Its members know they live under the state authority of the Communist Party, and participate as citizens as they are able, but seek never to forget or compromise their primary calling.

The official Three-Self Church, for the purpose of being able to be public and to meet in public, bows the knee to the Communist ideology. Since the time of the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, the underground church has frequently prospered as communities forming in odd places such as concentration camps. A holy nation existing with an alien culture, not bowing the knee to any Lord but Jesus Christ, … often at the cost of their lives.

This is not new. The Christian church has always been at odds with the ultimate demands of the empire, going all the way back to its clash with the Roman empire at its birth. It the twentieth century it was tragically displayed with the vast majority of the Christian church in Nazi Germany, maintained its security by never challenging the horribly wicket policies of Adolph Hitler. The witnessing church in Germany was the exception, but it had to survive by being underground, and out of sight. Its major figure was the giant Christian leadership of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The political context became so extreme that Bonhoeffer felt he was justified in cooperating in a move to assassinate Adolph Hitler, for which he was ultimately captured and hanged.

The true Christian community is always a community of aliens and exiles. So, at this moment and in our day, it is not sufficient to hi-jack the designation of Christian or Evangelical to justify your legitimacy. The true Christian community is that company of people formed by their obedience to the teachings of Jesus, regarding justice, stewardship of God’s creation, peacemaking, care for the poor, rejection of the power of wealth/mammon, … but primarily by their love. It exists as a holy nation within a nation often anything but holy! This comes at a cost.

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BLOG 10/3/18. I OWE MY READERS AN EXPLANATION

BLOG 10/3/10. I OWE MY READERS AN EXPLANATION

I owe my readers and subscribers an explanation for my silence for these past weeks. Here’s what’s going on: I’m trying to be a good steward of the nonagenarian days of my life, and an interview about my life that took place earlier this year triggered in me some reminiscences that I had long since forgotten. As a result of that, I have set for myself the goal of putting into writing something of a record of the faithful and providential hand of my Great Shepherd in my life. I have had to focus on this alone. It has been a fruitful time of late-life self-discovery for me. I should be able to finalize it in a few more weeks. … then I shall return to my twice weekly Blogs.

That’s it. Peace.

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BLOG 9/21/18. SO, WHAT’S NEW? THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN TRIBULATION.

BLOG 9/21/18. SO, WHAT’S NEW? THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN TRIBULATION

It all seems so bewildering: disrupting and devastating floods on the east coast and forest fires on the west coast, typhoons in the Philippines and China, chaos in our political arena, moral confusion with so many prominent people in high places, opioid devastation in lives, sixty-five million refugees in the world, persecution of religious minorities in Myanmar, human trafficking on a frightening scale, hopeless migrant families being separated, domestic conflicts and divorce, urban crime,  … and on and on …. What is one to think? Is the world coming unglued? Well, actually, no. Jesus forewarned us that tribulation / trouble has been and always will be the normal situation with us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus didn’t have rose-colored glasses. The context of Palestine in his day was one of the military occupation by a foreign power, ethnic prejudice, a religious power-structure, with leadership that too often forgotten its own sacred calling and purpose. Sound familiar. Jesus so often addressed these issues, and proposed to his followers that his New Creation transcended all of this tribulation, while not in the least denying it very real and omnipresent reality. At the same time, he commanded an ethic, a way of behavior, that, in turn, demonstrated the love of God for all the fractured persons who occupied the systems of darkness.

Jesus was the great Reconciler, the lover of sinners, the incarnation of God’s righteousness, and the of the God who forgives, recreates, and endows his followers with a “peace that passes understanding” even in the most horrendous circumstances. Jesus was the embodiment of what he was teaching, and became the victim of its worst violence. Such self-giving love has set us free to be the continuing embodiment to that love … always in the context of human brokenness and tribulation.

It is into this brokenness, and with all of its victims, and tragic realities that we find our holy place. C. S. Lewis has one of his characters contemplating the horrendous circumstances that he has just gone through with these reflections: “This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had ever occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it.” (Ransom in Perelandra. p. 146). What he had been through was an encounter with evil in its most vicious personality—a nightmare. And yet his faithfulness to his calling was awesome in its liberating consequences. Ours may never be quite so dramatic, but the reality of ever-present tribulation / difficulties is our ‘normal’ in this age, … in this age where we are the agents and demonstrations of God’s age to come.

Our calling is to be a people of hope, who wear the garments of salvation in the midst of the most mundane, and often tragic, contexts. And would you believe? … it is in such contexts that we are to “rejoice always”?

________________

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BLOG 9/18/18. THE ENIGMA / LIABILITY OUR CELLPHONE CULTURE

BLOG 9/18/18. THE ENIGMA / LIABILITY OF OUR CELLPHONE CULTURE

Let me run a thought by you. I am looking at two inescapable present cultural forces, and struggling to know how to relate them in my comprehension of the realities in which we all live. One is the obvious and fascinating information age culture, what with omnipresent iPhones, iPads, and the whole information age reality, with so many brilliant and mind-boggling new discoveries. I see this reality in web-sites source such as Singularity Hub, and on television accounts from places such as M.I.T. where young geniuses are linking their brains to a computer with all the potential of that. Such information age discoveries hold the potential of solving many of the problems we face in this present moment of history. This is all positive and heartening.

But then, … there is a subtle downside to all of this: an emerging generational culture, while it is the most connected and has access to more information than is imaginable, … that is exhibiting an observable loss in its capacity for significant inter-personal communication, for empathy, of the grace of listening to others with their hearts. This is now becoming an inescapable result of a whole generation’s captivity to their iPhones, while also to its inability communicate eye-to-eye and to ‘tune-in’ to those with whom they interact each day.

Recent studies have indicated that strong home life and communication is one of the major components in a young person’s capacity to learn in school—not at all the superiority of one school (private) over another (public). There are now major sociological studies dealing with what is necessary to reclaim good conversation (e.g. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle). Such a lost capacity has distressing consequences. To sit at a table with others who are lost in their iPhones is to be a stranger in what should be a context for mutually helpful communication, for listening, for sharing, for laughing together, for asking questions, for confessing hurts and failures.

Another result of this captivity to iPhones is the loss of a capacity to walk through a neighborhood and note things of beauty, or to even acknowledge others who are passing by. Yet to mention this to these persons is to draw a response of indifference, or a “who cares?”

For those of us who are the followers of Jesus Christ, we are always profoundly grateful that Jesus was the very being of God, the Word of God made flesh and “moving into the neighborhood” (Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase of John 1). Jesus immersed himself in conversation with ordinary, often morally delinquent, or fractured people. To read the gospel accounts is to see One who moved easily among, and engaged in purposeful conversation with people along the way. This call to be in purposeful conversation is an undeniable facet of his command to “love one another as I have loved you.”

His followers are to see all things from his point of view (Colossians 1:9 JBP paraphrase). It is difficult to even imagine how Jesus would respond to this culture that seems so often immune to significant and intimate conversation. The early church came together (as the account in Acts relates it) from house to house in an intimate fellowship, a fellowship in which they shared each other’s lives, confessed their sins, and incarnated an empathy for one another by the dynamic of the Spirit of Jesus which they all shared. And that empathetic love was shared in their outreach in to the larger community.

I could wish that when I and we get together for coffee, or beer, or a meal, that we all could turn-off cell-phones, look each other I the eye and listen with our hearts to one another, … to express empathy with those with whom we are engaged in conversation. Maybe I’m an unrealistic dreamer, but that’s my very inadequate attempt to at least bring to your attention a not-so-subtle pathology that makes true community almost impossible, … and please feed-back your responses to me. We all are participants in these two cultural forces, and I would value your insights. Thanks.

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BLOG 9/14/18. CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP AND ECONOMICS

BLOG 9/14/16. CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP AND ECONOMICS

With all the confusing stuff in our present scene about religion, definitions of the term ‘evangelical,’ scandals in the church, etc. … it might be a good time to stop and take a look at the economic dimensions that are of the very essence of Christian discipleship. After all, the only competitor to God that Jesus names is mammon, i.e., “You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is not a minor factor in the gospel accounts. Jesus, after all, did not go around preaching theological treatises, he called men and women to a whole new understanding of life. What he did was to declare unequivocally that in himself, God’s Age-to-Come, God’s New Creation, God’s eternal kingdom, … has invaded our present age, i.e., has become present in himself. What did was to teach that those who would be his disciples, his followers, would be known, not by their words, but more, by their visible behavior. Then, when you begin to explore what that visible behavior looked like, a major component is that it is seen in one’s faithfulness to a new understanding of the place and use of possessions, and of one’s freedom from the domination of one’s life by money/mammon. Christ’s teachings on New Creation behavior are seen in his Sermon on the Mount / Sermon on the Plain: “Woe to you rich. Blessed are you poor.”

Those outside of the community of faith are hardly impressed by ‘religious talk’ but they cannot escape the reality of lives that have a different center, a different authority, a different creative source, and a different guiding line. … And this is seen in the freedom from self-interested captivity to wealth and possessions. It is seen in unselfish, generous, sensitivity to human need, and so much more. The Latin American Christian community made prominent the term orthopraxis, i.e., the doing, or living out in flesh and blood, the truth in daily life.

Such discipleship, however, requires that we be free from the captivity to possessions(. Jesus was unequivocal in saying that if anyone would come after him, he/she must forsake all that he/she has so that obedience to Christ would be primary. This becomes so difficult to even conceive in our consumer culture. When the rich young man came to ask Jesus what he must do to become his disciple, Jesus knowing that the young man’s wealth would always be his ultimate trust, required of him that he sell all that he had, then come—which exposed the young man’s ultimate trust. (Imagine saying that to, say, Jeff Bezos and you begin to get the picture.)

It is probably exhibited most colorfully in Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus, who had amassed a fortune by all kinds of deceptive means in his role as tax-collector. When Jesus, humorously called the short Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree, and invited himself into Zacchaeus’ house, there occurred a long conversation. What did they talk about? What transpired? Whatever it was, when they emerged from the house, Jesus announced that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus. What Zacchaeus announced, however, was that his encounter with Jesus had radically changed his economic practice, that he would restore all that he had defrauded four-fold, and that he would give half of his possession to the poor. That’s orthopraxis!

Mammon, the power of greed and wealth, so control our lives, our politics, our culture that it appears almost unsolvable. The very rich get tax breaks, while the helpless poor struggle to survive and cope with the basic demands of health, education, and earning a living wage.

Have I made my point? It would almost seem that Jesus would be more fulfilled in being with the protestors in the ‘Occupy Wall Street” movement, … than he would be in attending the Presidential Prayer Breakfast (which has become a prestige event the significance of which is dubious). Who are the rich? Probably most of us (who read these blogs). Jesus: “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” However, complex this issue is, we dare not ignore the vast hold that mammon exercises on all of us.

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