All other ground is sinking sand

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-16)

“We need to let Paul remind us, precisely when  a major cultural shift is upon us, that our confidence is not in the solidity of Western culture or the basic goodness of modern democracy. Our confidence is in Jesus and him alone.” — N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture 

The immense value of the Church

I am enjoying a bit more time for reading, so this summer I am revisiting some recent gems I’ve read on ecclesiology. I walked through Simon Chan’s Liturgical Worship last week. This week it is Exploring Ecclesiology by Harper and Metzger. Chan is a Pentecostal while Harper and Metzger are evangelical. Their journey helps me frame my own journey.

In my own “tribe” we are poor on ecclesiology. The church has become something that caters to my needs. As I pastor, I am supposed to go find out what people outside the walls need in the way of a service (and services) to come darken the doors of my church building. If I, as a believer, don’t find a church that “meets my needs,” I am free to wonder on to the next one.

The church as a unit, a body, a family, just simply has escaped us as evangelicals. Maybe we like our church, meaning the one we try to get to on a Sunday, but often we have no idea what it means to love the Church, the Body of Christ. As a matter of fact, if we can somehow detach ourselves from it, and then make fun of it, all the better. The more angst driven we are about the Church, the better it plays on social media.

But we need the Body. Just as we need the Head, the Head needs the Body. You don’t get to worship a “head” sitting on a table.

So, as I work my way through Harper and Metzger’s book, I will probably put up some interesting quotes from them.

For today:

The church becomes the new family unit because it is God’s family unit, God’s household, and God dwells in its midst… Jesus shares his name with us and makes the church a dwelling place in which God dwells through his Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16).

The next culture war

You know why it’s easy to get hits on a blog post? Headlines and hashtags.

Content rarely matters.

But I strive for both because I like “hits,” and the illusion of people actually reading this stuff. So, this post really IS about the “next culture war.” David Brooks has written a very challenging column for today’s New York Times. Basically, it’s a call for social conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, to give up the fight on “social issues” that pertain to the sexual revolution. (Honestly, you need to read the column. I’m not doing it justice with a quick summation.)

But if evangelicals give up that fight, what in the world will we do? The interesting thing about his advice is these are things we already do, at least in our church. The problem with all that is this: we’re not good at making headlines. We just go do this stuff and then let the culture beat up on us anyway by making headlines about what we aren’t. 

Should that keep us from doing what we’re already doing? Of course not. Should we take a photographer with us and post more pictures of how compassionate we are on Facebook? Probably. (Okay, I’m kidding.)

This is what Brooks would like to offer for social conservatives:

The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.

Now, on a pure “social conservative” level, this just won’t happen. Politically, it’s a minefield. If social conservatives actually went into poor areas and tried to establish programs to, you know, actually help people, it takes away from their brand that says, “If you’re poor, you get yourself out of it. Go get a job!”

And, quite honestly, because there is a still a vast remnant of evangelicals still tied to the Republican Party, it may still take some time for this to take hold. Small steps are being taken. Evangelicals (especially megachurches) are good at “events.” So, there is a shift away from a “evangelistic crusade event” to now days where they bring in huge loads of gifts like clothing, food, health check ups, etc. to do a one day event, get word out, advertise it, make sure the media shows up for some pictures, then pack up and go home. It’s a step.

But beyond that are local churches that do exactly what Brooks is describing. We’re just small, don’t take a lot of pictures, and don’t know anyone in the media. It shouldn’t keep us from getting up in the morning and doing what we do.

If bigger evangelical churches joined in and would leave the media trail at home, there would be a better impact. But if not… we have to keep working in these areas to bring what is GOOD to a community.

The wonderful things I find working with schools is there are so many Christians in those schools. Teachers and administrators who are working in the HARD school districts to do something well for broken families. And when churches show up to actually HELP with their goals, a good synergy can happen. Don’t show up with your agenda. Show up and ask how you can help their agenda. You’ll find surprising answers along the way.

This culture war is more Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day than Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham; more Salvation Army than Moral Majority. It’s doing purposefully in public what social conservatives already do in private.

Let us live out light in the midst of darkness. Let’s mentor some students. Let’s volunteer on a regular basis at a food shelf. Quit doing as many events and push that money toward supporting a local project already doing some good work!

And along the road, amazing conversations will help. Along my own road, it’s not only been conversations I’ve been able to have to see a life changed, but it’s that my own life has been changed.

Let’s go live light. Let’s go be salt. And see what happens in the next 20 years or so.

Basic Discipleship — Part Three

The past two weeks I have looked at basic discipleship from Luke 10-11 in my preaching. The first week was about proclamation (Luke 10:1-24). Last week (yesterday) was about loving the neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

But next week is crucial. Loving the neighbor was a tough one. But without the third part, it’s not just tough… it’s impossible.

We’ll look at the end of Luke 10 where Mary is at the feet of Jesus. The act of worship and adoring the presence of the Savior. Without the powerful presence of Jesus… and our intense care to keep that presence precious… all else is near impossible in discipleship.

Choose the good part.

Idolatry 2.0

I am working my way through part of NT Wright’s work, Surprised by Scripture, and his chapter on Western gods called “Idolatry 2.0″ is a fascinating read.

His contention is the Enlightenment re-introduced Epicurean thought through men like Jefferson. Tired of the antics of the Church in the medieval period, the thought of God being “there” but far off was appealing all over again. They were tired of the angry god theory, so they shoved him off on a shelf.

With the rise of science, Wright’s contention is that science isn’t evil. What Epicurean thought introduced, though, was scientism. The world has autonomy, so God doesn’t have much to say much about science.

Or politics, for that matter. Get rid of the divine right of kings and let democracy develop its own way. Of course, that belief has the assumption that when countries elsewhere in the world throw off their old dictators they would naturally want to be Western-styled democracies. When that doesn’t happen, and it really hasn’t happened (think “Arab Spring”), then western civilization is left scratching its head.

In Wright’s view, scientism and political autonomy have given birth to secularism, the dominant motif of the West, especially the United States. Because of the underlying roots of Epicurean thought, secularism still has that “bad taste” in its mouth about an “angry god” so secularism works to shove religiosity from American culture. Get “god talk” out of the public square. Conduct all of life (politics, science, even marriage) as though all that exists is simply visible. No big scary thing out there to worry about.

But what happens when you create a vacuum? The saying goes “nature abhors a vacuum.” You can push God, or gods, upstairs and out of sight, but history shows again and again when you try that, other gods quietly sneak in to take their place.

The “big three” for Wright are these: Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite. We have the god of war (or power), along with money and sex.

We’ve come to think of sex as simply a “life force” one can’t resist. Christopher Hitchens, preeminent atheistic priest, once said one should never pass up an opportunity to appear on television or to have sex. Even unnamed, Aphrodite is served by millions.

We think money fixes everything. Even those who don’t like evil capitalists and think the government can solve all our problems still need one thing as their catalyst: MORE MONEY. The problem with schools? Lack of funding. The problem with poverty? Lack of funding. The problem with (just insert anything here)? Lack of funding. It’s MONEY.

If a nation is trouble (like Greece today), it’s a matter of shoring up their financial system and moving on.

We bow to Mars as well. Got a terror problem? Send in the drones. Got a church shooting problem? Let the congregation start packin’!

Try and solve something by forgiveness and reconciliation? Get a life! Just shoot someone!

Aphrodite, Mammon, and Mars are present and powerful. They are even more powerful because they go largely unrecognized. That’s what makes a stronghold a stronghold. You don’t recognize it. If we did see it, the ugliness would be so horrifying we would actually work to get it out.

So, while society has tried hard to rid itself of the Christian God, they have instead welcomed in other gods. And those are the big ones. Wright names others as well.

And this, my friends, is called being “progressive.”

But it’s simply idolatry dressed up in a new skin.