Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blogging A New Evangelical Manifesto, chapter 1: The Wave of the Past

Speakeasy alerted me to an interesting essay collection entitled A New Evangelical Manifesto, edited by David Gushee. Gushee is one of the founders of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP). While NEP's principles and commitments are summarized at their website, the book-length Manifesto purports both to present NEP's positions much more fully and to widen the conversation to include other like-minded "New Evangelicals."

I'll be posting a handful of my reflections and reactions as I read through Manifesto in the coming weeks. So let's begin at the beginning:

Chapter one is written is by an old friend who deserves mention, Brian McLaren. His essay, "The Church in America Today," kicks-off the section one, "A New Kind of Evangelical Christianity. . ." The section's title offers an obvious nod to McLaren's influence in the New Evangelical movement. I have to admit that this allusion makes me feel a bit welcomed into the fold. Both McLaren's A New Kind of Christian and his A New Kind of Christianity have met me as valued counselors at crossroads of faith in my life. Right now his newest Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? is by the bedside table, waiting to be read.

McLaren's been a good friend over the last decade, so I was excited when I Manifesto's table of contents included his name. His essay didn't disappoint me.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Notes from the Corner - Hospitality Series No. 5 - Hospitality & the First Believers

For the first believers, welcoming strangers into their homes drew a living picture of the way God now welcomes us back into God’s household (Rom 15:2). When Jesus knocked down the barrier between us and God, he also destroyed the barriers we set up between each other (Eph 2:14). Now we have no reason to shut out those who need a meal, a place to stay, a conversation, or a friend.

That’s why the NT letters tell us to show hospitality to one another and to strangers (see Rom 12:13, Heb 13:2, 1 Pet 4:9). When we open our hearts and open our homes to people the world says we have no reason to care for, we witness to the fact that Jesus has made something new (2 Cor 5:16-20). God had no reason to care for us, yet God sent Jesus to call us back home. The early church chose to follow in Jesus footsteps, inviting the unloved and unlovely over for supper.

October 28 - Snippet from Sunday - Beautiful Lives

When we finally walk up to that dread horizon line of death, perhaps like reaching the top of one of the high mountain ridges I knew so well growing up in Montana, we’ll be able to look back on the entirety of the path that’s led us there. Our souls remember all the joys and sufferings, the acts of compassion and the deeds of selfishness that have shaped them. And the important question is whether, in those moments before we cross to the other side of the mountain peaks, we have become the kind of people who put all our hope in Jesus or whether we still love our own selves more than all others, more than the God who can save us.

In that moment, it doesn’t mater whether a national newspaper runs a page-long obituary for us or if nobody notices we’ve passed on. What matters is whether our hearts have received the good news word and let it grow up within us. What matters is whether our hearts have learned to hope like Jesus hopes, to trust as Jesus trusts, to love like Jesus loves. At death, the whole of our lives are summed up. Our every action, feeling, and thought will have completed its work in shaping our hearts. Either we will have let God’s powerful gospel word blossom into trust and love for Jesus or we will have stunted it, choked it out with selfish or angry habits, poisoned it with envy and bitterness.

(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Notes from the Corner - Hospitality Series No. 4 - Old Testament Hospitality

One day Abraham was sitting out a hot afternoon underneath an oak tree. He looked up and saw three strangers approaching. He jumped up and rushed to greet them. Without so much as asking their names, he pressed them to pause at his camp for a “a little water and something to eat.” They consented, so he rushed off and came back with a feast fit for kings (Gen 18).

This is the first story of hospitality in the Old Testament. It’s not the last. In many of these stories, the hosts, like Abraham and Sarah, receive God’s blessing through the guests they welcome into their homes. Think of Rahab and the Israelite scouts (Josh 2) or the widow who welcomed Elijah to stay in her upper room (1 Ki 17). God wants to bless us by the strangers we make welcome in our homes.

God commanded the Israelites to welcome and provide for outsiders and strangers (Dt 10.18-19), just as God sheltered and provided for the Israelites (see Dt 10.14-17, 20-22). God commands no less for believers today.

October 21 - Snippet from Sunday - Hold Your Tongue

It matters to me that we control our tongues. It matters to me because our tongues should be praising God. Our mouths should be testifying to the great things God has done to save us, not just when we share that good news with another person, not just when we’re gathered in this meetinghouse on a Sunday morning, but every time we open our mouths. The character of our speech--its kindness and gentleness, its love--witnesses to our loving Lord Jesus who set us free.

But when we let our mouths off their leashes and let the world know what we really think of it, we end up cursing, insulting, abusing the very people Jesus loves and came to save. In those moments, we’re not praising our God and king. No, we’re testifying instead to the ongoing rule of everything in the world that opposes God. We’re saying that death, not life, is king. We’re proclaiming that, no, there isn’t enough to go around, so we better make clear what’s our due. We’re witnessing that God is not our king and defender--no, we have to defend ourselves with our words.

Friends, this shouldn’t be! We are the community that Jesus has saved! Our words should pour refreshing, living water into the lives of those we’re talking with. Jesus’ kindness and compassion should echo in the way we speak to one another. Salt water and fresh water can’t flow from the same spring without all the water becoming salty; in the same way, we can’t try to mix destructive, death-dealing speech in with our words without polluting all our witness. James is calling for us to consistently show love in how we use our words, to live up to the image of God we see in Jesus.

(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Notes from the Corner - Hospitality Series No. 3 - Welcoming Strangers

At the same time that Cindy and I were finding the value of community, two Christian professors challenged us to take the next step: hospitality.

Once a week, these professors met with others to travel to a rundown, inner city neighborhood. They met in an empty church sanctuary before going out to talk with neighbors, bring them baked goods, offer to fix broken windows or screen doors, or invite them to a common meal in the church basement. Something about this way of following Jesus caught our hearts. People were breaking through walls built on ethnicity, social class, income, and religious tradition.

Cindy and I had already discovered the value of community in a small group that met in our simple, newlywed apartment. Hospitality, however, means not just welcoming friends; it means throwing open your doors and your hearts to strangers, to people who are different from you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

October 7 - Snippet from Sunday - Prejudice and the King

I have yet to meet a church whose members don’t quietly hold prejudice and division from one another in their hearts. Already as a small child, I knew there was division in the heart of the congregation I grew up in and loved. The meetinghouse was situated midway between two small towns. Church members came from both towns to worship together as one body. But whenever there was a congregational vote, the church was split along town lines--who lived where, who went to Bible study in one municipality or the other. This internal divided-ness spilled over to the conversations over coffee in the fellowship hall or the church foyer. Those three men were from Town A, that group of women was from Town B, and so forth.

This is not what Jesus wants for the community he calls his body. He prayed that we may be one just as he is one with God his Father, separate in person but united in spirit (Jn 17.21). But even before the New Testament was fully written, already churches were drawing lines and taking sides.

[. . .] According to James in 2.8, the standard we’re held to is unconditional love, love without discrimination, love without favoritism or prejudice. James calls this the “royal” law; we could also translate it “the King’s law.” If we were to read on to v 11, we’d find James focusing our attention more and more on the King, the one who spoke this law to us.

Whether we identify this King with God in the person of Jesus in Mk 12 or Yahweh God speaking to Moses in Lev 19, this law sums up how our King desires us to live with one another. When we nurse prejudice in our hearts or show favoritism, we walk away from what God wants. It doesn’t matter that prejudice is only a feeling or that favoritism is affects how we treat others only a little. Just as surely as if we committed adultery or murder, James says in v 12, we’re walking away from the path to the good, free, and just life God desires for us.

[. . .] My brothers and sisters, this should not be for us. Jesus’ cross has toppled every dividing wall. While age, money, gender, race, class, interests and hobbies are all still realities we live with, we don’t live by them. We don’t let them determine who we extend friendship to. Jesus has crossed the biggest barrier, that between a holy and faithful God and us faithless people, to make us God’s friends. Where that barrier has fallen, no other barrier should still stand.

(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)

Notes from the Corner - Hospitality Series No. 2 - Finding Community

For the first nineteen years of my life, I believed Christianity was chiefly a matter of doctrines and morals. God, I thought, cared mostly about my beliefs and my conscience.

As I began university, I began to question the purpose and value of church. I could mind my beliefs and my morals just fine on my own. Why spend time with other believers? What did they offer that I couldn’t find by myself in my personal quiet time?

Church offers community. When we’re part of a community, we can’t avoid people who need and expect our compassion and care. We have to ask ourselves if our habits and attitudes, as well as our beliefs and morals, fit in. In a community, we have sisters and brothers who keep our head, heart, and hands accountable to Jesus’ way. 

I soon realized that Christianity was not something I could do on my own. I needed a church-community. My fiancee Cindy and I decided to start a small group for others struggling to make it on their own. This community became a lifeline for my faith; it also set me on my first steps toward hospitality.
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