BLOG 11.8.19. IF JESUS CAME TO SEEK AND SAVE THE LOST …

BLOG 11/8/19. IF JESUS CAME “TO SEEK AND SAVE THE LOST”: WHERE?

The question comes with some insistency to those of us who are Christ’s followers, like, if Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, then, how exactly does he continue to continue that today, and with us? First-of-all, we need to remember that he taught his followers: “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you.” That puts the ball in our court. But then we need to be reminded that Jesus didn’t hang out with the temple crowd, rather he socialized with tax collectors and sinners, and a whole array of persons who were ‘irreligious’.

That’s our clue. Where do each of us encounter those whom Jesus came to seek and save? It’s always encouraging to be together with others of his followers for worship and fellowship on Sundays, and to be reminded that we have a mission to be a witness to Christ in our community, … but then we come back to the reality, that if we belong to Christ, and if he dwells in us by his Spirit, … then, we need to have his passion for sinners, for the lost, that he purposes to incarnate through us. Our point of contact with these objects of his saving love, then, comes wherever we are: home, neighborhood, workplace, social group (bicycle club, etc.), labor union, coffee klatch, classrooms and innumerable other possibilities.

Church worship services and Bible study groups are essential to our growth as Christ’s disciples, but they can also become havens of escape from one-on-one encounters with those Jesus came to seek and to save. In the epistle of First Peter, we are encouraged to live such exemplary among these unbelieving folks that they will see our good deeds and glorify God in the end. But then this passage goes on to instruct us, that if anyone asks a reason for the hope that is in us, we be ready to give a well-reasoned answer, and to give it with gentleness and respect.

Maybe an evaluation of the life and influence of the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney will help. He was said to be so loved because he personified warmth, humor, caring and courtesy. Our mission field is our 24/7 daily scene. As Eugene Peterson paraphrased the John 1 statement about Jesus: “The word took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” … And Jesus’ design is that such continue in and through each of us.

In future Blogs, I want to unpack the need for excellence in each of our lives, and some of the spiritual disciplines that make that a joyous reality. Stay tuned!

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BLOG 11.5.19. THE MONDAY MORNING MISSION FIELD.

BLOG 11.5.19. THE MONDAY MORNING MISSION FIELD

I identify with a wonderful fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters, Sunday by Sunday. I look around at all those worshiping with me, and observe lots of young families, men and women engaged in professions: architects, musicians, lawyers, environmentalists, university professors, truck drivers, home-makers, librarians, small business owners, and those, like myself who are retired. We often get encouraging reports from mission partners in southeast Asia, or Paris, or Italy, as well as agencies of humanitarian ministries locally and abroad. At the close of each Sunday service we receive the charge: “Go and serve the world as those who love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

If that’s not a missionary commissioning, then I never heard one. It is saying to the church that we are being sent into the Monday morning world as the incarnation of Christ’s new creation, as his missionaries in the realities, the homes and neighborhoods, the schools and workplaces of this metropolitan area. It becomes the more urgent/strategic and important as we learn that more and more persons are forsaking the church. It reminds us that our coming together for worship is that time in which all of us are equipped, encouraged, formed, and refreshed in our calling to be the sons and daughters of light in a very real mission field.

A couple of generations ago, Becky Pippert wrote a popular work entitled: Out of the Salt-Shaker, the thrust of which was that salt doesn’t accomplish anything if it stays in the salt-shaker. Likewise, if those of us who are God’s people are content to rejoice in our Sunday gatherings, but ignore our missionary calling to the Monday morning world in neo-pagan culture of North America, we become essentially ‘salt-less salt’.

It means that we need to become knowledgeable about the context of our calling. We train cross-cultural missionaries to do cultural exegesis, to learn what makes a particular context what it is, its dynamics, its assets and liabilities. Every home, every neighborhood, every workplace, every school has a culture of its own. Each has its own inhabitants, its own evidences of brokenness, its own good and its own broken (sometimes pathological) persons.

It is in the realities that God’s new creation humanity are to incarnate his love by their lives of excellence, their lives that put flesh and blood on the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5). It is in such a calling that we need wisdom in knowing how to pursue such a calling, how to listen, how to be gentle in our disposition, … but never passive in this Monday morning mission field. We’ll pursue this further in coming Blogs. We’ll look into points of contact with often resistant others that will provoke them to inquire further.

But remember, this is every believer’s calling. It is what we were made for.

_______

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BLOG 11/1/19. IN CELEBRATION OF ALL SAINTS DAY

BLOG 11/1/19. IN HONOR OF ALL SAINTS DAY

On this day, I give God all praise for those faithful followers of Jesus Christ, who, in their day, were good stewards of the gospel, and upon whose faithfulness I have come to know him. It is my prayer that I will be faithful in my life and so communicate his love to the coming generation. And so this hymn by William Walsham How (1864).

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alleluia
!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

_______

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BL0G 10.28.19 HALLOWEEN-VS-ALLSAINTS DAY

BLOG:10.28.19. THIS WEEK: HALLOWEEN ECLIPSES ALL SAINTS DAY: SAD

I’m not a big Halloween fan. It has become a huge money maker for candy companies to provide for the trick-or-treaters. The observance’s derivation is dubious, but it evidently comes from the misty Celtic history which believe that once a year the spirits of malignant persons rose from their graves to make mischief, and this dubious observance came to take place on the eve of the church’s All Saints/All Hallowed celebration, which was on November 1st. But now very few even recognize All Saints Day, …but most know about Charlie Brown waiting in the pumpkin patch for the appearance of the Great Pumpkin, rather than trick-or-treating with his friends.

In my passage of living in New Orleans, with it famous cemeteries and strong Roman Catholic influence, All Saints Day is a postal holiday when the vendors go to the cemeteries to sell flowers and food to all the folks who come with camp chairs to sit by the graves of their departed family members.

My own observance each year is to remember and write down the names of those Christian folks/friends who have been a significant and transforming blessing to me in my Christian pilgrimage. The list changes and grows from year to year. I commend it to you. We did not get here on our own, but by the faithful persons whom God has used in my life. From this late life perspective, I realize how wonderfully they came into my life at key moments. Here are a few:

  1. My Christian parents, Mildred and Virgil Henderson, who led me and my brothers to Christ and also modelled it for us with grace and humility, and gave us a love for scriptures.
  2. Mary Harden Vaught was an episode. She was evidently from a prosperous family in the 1920s, who lost everything in the Great Depression. Mary Harden had aspired to be an actress, but somehow with turn of events became a Christian, went to a Bible College, and Christian education training school, and wound up as Christian educator in my home church. Her clothing and hair style were right out of the 1920s, … but she was so authentic, and her passion for Jesus so contagious that our youth group was hugely influenced by her. I last saw her years later as she was working in a rescue mission in Manhattan (New York), living on a minimum stipend, and full of joy.
  3. Betty Colburn, a Kansas girl whom I met on a hillside at a Bible conference in the Adirondack Mountains, who became my wife, my prayer partner, my encourager, the mother of my children, my wisdom and co-laborer for 58 years.
  4. John Stephen Brown who came as pastor to the campus church out of which I was working as Presbyterian campus minister at North Carolina State University. On a first meeting he bluntly announced that we were going to preach through scripture since that is what John Calvin did, and that I was to preach once a month on te next passage in the series (known as lectio continuum), I watched that congregation come alive. That became a formative principle for the rest of my pastoral career.
  5. Pete Hammond, an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff, whom I did not even like when I first met him, but who saw gifts in me that I had never recognized, and along with my wife became one of the two most formative influences in my adult life, because he would never allow me to deny my gifts.

  There are so many more, and on this coming Friday I will give God all praise for these saints, who are so much a part of my life. I commend this practice to you. “For all the saints …”

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BLOG 10.25.19. “GOD’S SILLIE VASSAL”

BLOG 10/25/19. “GOD’S SILLIE VASSAL”

There is an interesting anecdote from Scottish history that is germane to the political chaos we are experiencing at this time in this country. Granted that my Scottish Presbyterian ancestors were renowned for being “a warring and quarrelsome lot,” even so the story bears pondering. The Protestant Reformation had taken deep root in Scotland, and the reformers had taken significant positions in the government in the sixteenth century. King James VI was restless with these Protestant leaders in parliament, and sought to control the church through his royal power.

There was a certain vocal member of parliament, Andrew Melville, who would have nothing of it. (I hope I have my historical facts straight) He approached King James with this rebuke: “There are twa (two) kings, and twa kingdoms here in Scotland, there is the kingdom of Scotland in which James is lord and king. But there is also the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in that kingdom James is neither lord nor king, but God’s sillie vassal.” So there!

The church of Jesus Christ, from the beginning, has lived with this tension, beginning with Rome. It has also made of Christian people a difficult and transformational factor with whom national leaders (beginning with Caesar and the Roman Empire) have had to engage. When the church’s primary allegiance is with the sovereignty of our God and of his Christ, … then the church’s priority with Jesus Christ makes them to be salt and light, even when it costs them their lives.

In Scotland, when the Scottish reformers became the majority of parliament, remarkable changes took place. The king had to be cognizant of the reality that he was not the ultimate authority, but only “God’s sillie vassal.” This tension has existed right down to the present, and has produced faithful witnesses and martyrs. In our country, in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches we are watching that tension play-out day by day.

Here’s to more counterparts to Andrew Melville, willing to confront the issue of ultimate authority. Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!

Amen.

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BLOG 10/22/19. DISCERNING FRAUDULENT CHRISTIANITY

BLOG10/22/19. DISCERNING FRAUDULENT CHRISTIANITY

 It is no wonder that the public-at-large can by confused (if not downright cynical) about all those who make noise about being Christian, even expropriating their definition as “evangelical Christians.” I think I can offer a clarifying note: Christians are those who embrace Jesus Christ and evidence that relationship in the way they think and behave. Such thinking and behaving is the result of the Spirit of Jesus Christ indwelling—yes, the same Spirit of God that dwelt in Jesus Christ is a dynamic new creation power at work in those who embrace him by faith. This is testified to by all the New Testament writers.

Which brings us to this clarifying assertion in New Testament writings: “By their fruits shall you know them” (Matthew 7:15-20). Or, “Faith without works is dead” James 2:14-26). Thinking and behaving, according to Jesus and the new humanity he came to inaugurate. He told his followers that by their works others would know that God was at work in him. Ah! But this is not tame stuff. Jesus’ teaching challenge the dominant order, and it value systems. It challenges the economic and political, and cultural definitions of success and power. Consequently, when one is captive to such cultural practices and definitions, defines himself/herself as a “Christian/evangelical” he or she has lost credibility right up front.

Our indigenous Latin American brothers, as they became free from the colonial economic and political dominance of European and North American influences, and by the Spirit of God began to craft a theology indigenous to their own culture and social circumstances, began to see how much Jesus’ life and teachings were focused on the poor and marginalized of society—and that is where most of the indigenous church in Latin America existed. So, emerged an understanding of “God’s preferential option for the poor.” (One has only to look at Jesus teachings and practices from beginning to end to see how true this is.)

This became known as “liberation theology” and became a powerful influence and self-conscious conviction for much of both Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity among the Latin Americans. … But, it did not go down well with conservatives in the church in North America. Liberation theology was too much like socialism, and challenged their conservative economic and political values. They seemed not to have ever looked carefully at the thinking and praxis of Jesus and his apostles. Of the Sermon on the Plain which forthrightly begins: “Blessed are you poor. Woe to you rich.”

The gospel is far too radical too wild and free for timid conservative folk. As was said about the lion (the Christ figure) Aslan by Mrs. Beaver, in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: “Aslan is not a tame lion. He’s good, but he’s not safe.” Liberation theology is far more in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, than are all too many who (mis)describe themselves as ‘evangelicals’ in our current North American scene—so much so that I can no longer identify myself as an evangelical. It is the poor and helpless, the hungry and homeless, the sick and imprisoned that get to Jesus’ heart.

I hasten to add: this does not mean that Jesus is not also touched with the broken hearts, and homeless spirits of the prosperous. But, with the Latin Americans, his preferential option is with the helpless poor.

Chew on that for a while. Re-read the gospel accounts in this light. Jesus concludes his teaching by clearly stating that inasmuch as we have ministered to these, we have ministered to him. “Come ye blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”

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IT’S NOT THE FORM OF THE CHURCH THAT’S IMPORTANT.

BLOG 10/18/19. IT’S NOT THE FORM OF THE CHURCH THAT’S IMPORTANT

The church of Jesus Christ exists (and has existed) in many, many forms over the centuries, but when the form becomes the focus it may be wise to stop and take stock of what we’re dealing with. Over the centuries of the Christendom era, the church became primarily focused in sacred buildings with sacred professionals, celebrating sacred rites. These institutions were a significant part of the culture (even with all the internal squabbles and contradictions within).

With the two traumatic decades of the Great Depression and World War II a lot of that went into a ‘hold’ pattern. The influence of the Christendom era was challenged, but the church was still a symbol of stability and spiritual resource for many. So, that, after the war ended, the ‘Greatest Generation’ set about to restore the stability of their culture and set about building new church buildings, getting their denominational franchises on choice locations—church architects had a field day. The Boomer generation followed in their parents’ footsteps, and for a while the church was a very influential institution. There were many significant theological studies on the nature and mission of the church taking place in the academic community, but somehow not much it permeated the inherited Christendom patterns of the church.

   Then came the Millennial generation, Generation X, and it successors who, with a streak of cynicism and mentality of pragmatism and innovation, wanted to know what all of this institutional form had to do with the anything, … and began to move away from the traditional church institutions with their stained-glass windows, and their pipe organs, and their pulpit oratory that didn’t go anywhere. So, the questions about: what is the meaning and purpose of the church? heralded the emergence of Christian communities that sought to incarnate God’s new humanity in Christ. Here are a few key principles that have taken shape in contagious communities:

  1. The church is a community (from two or three, to much larger), not primarily an institution. It incarnates the human community reconciled in and by Christ, and ministering to one another in love. It is a community accountable to one another.
  2. It is a community that is being transformed by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and is passionate about his message and mission. It is a new creation community being formed into the likeness of Jesus, and like Jesus becomes “the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit.”
  3. It is a community that is defined by its obedient and joyous faith in Jesus Christ and his teachings.
  4. It is a community formed by the word of Christ, by Holy Scriptures, … a community in which the word of Christ dwells richly, both in small community/home groups, or by a rich teaching of scriptures from the pulpit.
  5. And, finally it is a community that can only exist by the grace of God, and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is a community in which none are passive or marginalized—a community of grace.

   Where these principles are kept clearly in focus by the community’s/church’s leadership life and growth are natural, i.e., the life of Christ flows in and through his people. It is because these are obscured that many church institutions have long-since died, and don’t even know it. The true form of the church is determined by its capacity to incarnate these principles in communities of God’s new creation.

   It is for such that we are called in and by Christ.

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BLOG 10/15/19 A GENTLE REMINDER: REJOICE

BLOG 10/15/19. A GENTLE REMINDER: REJOICE

As enigmatic and contradictory as it may seem for me to raise this Biblical exhortation at this historical moment, I will anyway. Given the cloud of distressing news, the prejudices, the greed, the political cowardice, “man’s inhumanity to man,” the obscene exploitation of the environment, the indifference to the poor and helpless, … and-on-and-on, I want to remind myself, and my readers, that the scriptures instruct us to rejoice always …”

Say what? Well, yes! This world scene has always been one in which there was social and political chaos, and suffering. And it is into this very context that Jesus was born, and at which event the angels announced: “Behold we bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all peoples, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. “This announcement, mind you, was to minimum wage workers (shepherds) in an occupied nation with all kinds of questionable political and religious shenanigans were the norm.

So, an announcement of joy. To the early church came the teaching that they were to rejoice always, even in suffering/tribulation. This means that in the midst of cultural pessimism, of frequent despair, of humanly hopeless realities of vast global injustices and tens of millions of homeless refugees, of sickness in so many forms, we are called to be a people of joy!

Isn’t that wild?

Add another perspective to that: the church is the community of Go’s new creation people, and as such those who are the church are the “dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit,” … or as elsewhere it is said that they are the sweet aroma of Christ unto God. This incarnation that is ours as God’s new humanity is the living, breathing, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus Christ in this broken world. And rejoicing always is only one of the expressions of Christ dwelling in our here-and-now scene. In Galatians 5, the apostle lists the fruits of the Spirit that are to be lived out by us in our 24/7 real-life setting.

Check this out: we become the missionary arm of the Holy Spirit as we are continually exhibiting Christ’s love, joy, peace-making, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is such new creation behavior that makes us God’s light in this present scene of darkness, springs in the desert. Those Spirit fruits, for me, are a daily ‘punch-list’ of reminder. I commend this to you.

So, my gentle reminder: rejoice.

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CAN A CHRISTIAN,OR A CHURCH BE DIS-EVANGELIZED?

BLOG 10/11/19. CAN A CHRISTIAN, OR A CHURCH BE ‘DIS-EVANGELIZED’?

A generation ago, a friend, Al Krass, wrote a telling book: Evangelizing Neo-pagan North America. Given the chaos of our current political, cultural, and social scene, and the numerous persons who are prominent in it who profess themselves to be identified with the Christian church, … I find myself asking the question: Can neo-pagan North America dis-evangelize the church? I wonder what is the center of the lives of these persons? What is their ultimate authority? What is their creative source? What is their guiding line? What is their final goal?

That is a huge question, and defies simplistic answers. After all, in this democratic system of government, to be involved, one has to declare oneself as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent (basically) to vote, or to run for office. The question still lurks out there: where is my ultimate loyalty. Is it to the political party? To some economic source, or political action committee? Or, … is it to the values of God’s new creation in Jesus Christ? i.e., the teachings of Jesus and the apostles?

This is not at all a new tension. Go all the way back to the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament scriptures. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon had taken Juda captive, and as was the practice of conquerors, the instructed his armies to bring back some of the people, who could be useful to his court in Babylon: some of the royal family and of nobility, “youth without blemish, and of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.”

The whole of the book of Daniel is a lesson in political survival. Daniel and his three friends were so skillful in their tasks that they became very useful to Nebuchadnezzar, and he wanted to reward them with all the ‘perks’ of palace life in fancy food, and other indulgences common to the sensate life of royalty. But, … these who now had proven themselves fit to stand before the king chose to be faithful to who they were, i.e., Israelites formed by the law of Moses. They insisted on a very simple diet, and a commendable lifestyle and in doing their work with excellence.

Two things resulted: 1) they rose in the esteem of Nebuchadnezzar, and 2) that esteem created intense (political) jealousy among the Babylonians in the court, and their conspiracies against Daniel, and the three other Hebrews. All the while, even when such practice was outlawed, Daniel knelt and prayed three times a day toward Jerusalem. This tension, then, is the context of the well-known stories of the three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace, and of Daniel in the lions’ den—political conspiracies to make them look seditious in the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar.

Ah! But God vindicated them and gave the emperor a sense of awe at YHWH’s (Israel’s God’s) power. Three lessons about not being dis-evangelized in the politics of neo-pagan North America, from these four political captives: 1) they knew who they were, and that this present scene is not my ultimate home, though it is the place of my incarnation; 2) that they did their ministry in that court so that it was only explainable by God and God’s power; and, 3) to discern the idols of the culture.

Only with such a lesson can we be salt and light in what is often a destructive culture of darkness. Each of those of us who are followers of Christ, and each Christian community need to reclaim this calling day by day so that we don’t become part of the neo-pagan context in which we live. As the old gospel song puts it: “Dare to be a Daniel.”

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BLOG 10/8/19. THINKING OF A SECURE FUTURE

BLOG 10/8/19. THINKING OF A SECURE FUTURE IS DIFFICULT WHEN …

On the one hand, there is so much that points us to the potential of a better tomorrow, given artificial intelligence, robotics, space exploration, medical breakthroughs, and so much more. At the same time the daily news so focused on the almost nightmarish political chaos in which we find ourselves, and which dominates the news, raises intimidating questions about a hopeful future. Add to that, the reality that ‘future thinkers’ are a distinct minority of the population. The large majority choose to think in past terms, to the “good old days” (that probably never were that good!).

That reality challenges me, being both a life-long teacher of the scriptures contained in the Bible, as well as an advocate in my writings of the mission given to his church by Jesus Christ, that is both global and which looks to the continued invasion of God’s new creation into the rebellion and brokenness of this present scene—until that day when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Meanwhile? Meanwhile we live with the reality of the encounter that is very real between darkness and Light.

We are taught in scriptures that the kingdom of God comes not with dramatic observation, but quietly and irresistibly like leaven quietly permeating a lump of dough. We pray to our Father in heaven: “Cause your kingdom to becoming and your will to being done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We are stewards of his in-breaking new creation We, area global community that is a servant culture, instruments of is peace, of his justice and righteousness, of his heart of love. But, … we live in that calling in conflict with all the negative forces of the darkness, in our localities, in our national scene, and globally. (Fasten your seat-belts) We are taught that unto us as stewards of his in-breaking new creation “it is given not only to believe in his name but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). As Christ’s servant people, we are in continual engagement with the darkness in all its subtle forms.

We can give our support to those agencies which seek righteousness, who seek justice for those held in human slavery, or held unjustly in prisons without hope—and we should. We should support candidates who most reflect the ethics of God’s new creation, while realizing that neither Republicans or Democrats will rescind the subtle and pervasive darkness.

The followers of Christ, his church, need to wake up to this reality and this cosmic conflict between the culture of darkness, and the Light of God’s new creation—this global conflict in which we are engaged until the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. It begins with you and me and our local Christian community having integrity as transformational agents here and now. We are to be the radiant display of God’s glory 24/7.

Run with that. And may the Lord be with you.

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