Incarnation — the work of God in a weary world

I remember hearing the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the writing of his poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. I was reminded of it again as I read an article by Kristen O’Neal on the subject of the poem.

The entire article is well worth your time to read. These last few paragraphs are deeply meaningful to me as I contemplate the world in which we live right now. Personally, it’s been a blessed year. I leave this year deeply thankful. For our world, however, there is a darkness that ever creeps forward.

Continue reading “Incarnation — the work of God in a weary world”

Why conversations fail and the public square doesn’t want “religion”

This review of a biography on Richard John Neuhaus has a particular insight that I find true generally of our inability to have decent public discussion anymore.

An ethicist friend once told me he had a hard time reading Neuhaus. “I know there is stuff to learn from him,” he said, “but given the things that I find so irritating, I have decided not to make the effort.”

This is the summation of our problem. It is that we may LIKE people, but we don’t like some of their “positions.” So, rather than make the effort to walk through all the “irritations” we just give up on what we may actually LEARN from someone.

Smacking. My. Head.

Why the Church

This reflection from Alister McGrath gives good insight into the importance of the Church.

We have our imperfections. We have our deep flaws. We also have the ability to reflect the astonishing beauty of our Savior. We must know the HEAD of the Church loves the BODY. 

I began to see the church as a place that helps Christians straddle the two worlds of faith—where we are now and where we shall finally be. It’s like an oasis in a desert, equipping us to work and serve in the world while fostering and safeguarding our distinctiveness as Christians.

I began to realize that the church was an imperfect yet important anticipation of heaven, whose worship and ethos were integral to my faith. The church was a community gathered around the public reading of God’s Word, its interpretation and application through preaching, and its enactment in worship and prayer.

Cyprian was bold, but his statement is one I am coming to embrace, even as a Pentecostal: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the church for his mother.”

Isn’t it time to grow up?

I have had a couple of significant conversations in the past few weeks with people reaching out to me, thankfully, about being hurt by a church, or disillusioned.

Read enough on the internet and all we hear is angst. The ultimate goal of angst-filled writers is to be quoted on Huffington Post, I think. It’s the Super Bowl of angst-filled believers.

We’ve let spiritual maturity sit on the back burner so long, the pot is blackened and there’s nothing left. We need a fresh start.

For those “disillusioned” I want to longingly say, “Please, visit US!” But I know that’s asking a lot.

This interview on CT’s site has some good thoughts.

Here is a quote that caught me:

We tend to think that maturity means perfection. But the New Testament clearly teaches that spiritual maturity is different from heavenly perfection. Spiritual maturity is presented (in passages like Heb. 5, Eph. 4, and 1 Cor. 3) as foundational in the Christian life. But our popular theology says things like, “We’re all just sinners saved by grace.” True enough, but that can start to sound like what Dallas Willard called “miserable sinner Christianity”: that no progress can be expected in this life.

Or consider the slogan, “The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians are forgiven.” Well, that’s simply not biblical. What is the new birth if not something new? We are always tempted to think we can earn salvation, or that God can’t forgive me again. So we need to emphasize salvation by grace, but not at the expense of pursuing maturity. That’s why I love Philippians 3. Paul says we must cling to the free gift of salvation, but goes on to claim that this gift frees and motivates him to run hard after Christ.

Let us press on to MATURITY.

We get torn apart by our terminology

Richard Stearns, head of World Vision, wrote a response on a perceived attack on the term “radical Christians.”

This was in response to a Christianity Today piece on the “new radicals.”

Stearns’s response is basic: “Yep, we’re radical, and we’re not radical enough!”

It’s gone back and forth in a way that reminds me of the days when my “tribe” (Pentecostals) were battling the “Name It, Claim It” crowd. Pentecostals believe in healing and pray for healing. But the “faith healers” had taken it to another place and by the time Pentecostals were finished bashing away at the “faith healers” it was almost like we didn’t believe in healing!

It’s starting to sound a bit like that in this argument, and I think it’s a bit silly.

Radicals can be perceived as saying, “If you’re not selling everything you have and going to some unreached part of the world, you’re not serving God!” (And I understand some DO say that, and I find it harmful in that extreme.)

But what comes back in response is, “I have my comfortable life and I WANT this comfortable life, so don’t make me feel guilty for having this comfortable life.” (And that is an extreme, but that’s what it’s beginning to sound like.)

If I want “radical” I turn to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus turns my thinking on its ear and then I’m left to ponder what that means for my life.

We are to be salt and light. If we lose our flavor and our ability to shed light in darkness, we just aren’t Kingdom any more. THAT is radical.

It then boils down to the fight we currently have: “What does that mean?”

Can I have a middle class income (or better) and still live for Jesus?

If I sell all I have and immediately head for the Arab Peninsula to plant a church, am I truly following Jesus?

Those are the kinds of questions that need answering, but if we answer them too quickly, we may find ourselves in trouble. We can quickly dismiss the idea of going somewhere in mission and settle in and think, “This is what God has for me.”

We can obviously pull the trigger too quickly on going overseas to plant a church without realizing the costs, the culture shock, the language barriers, the hardships, etc.

It is in the deliberation we find better answers for each of our lives. This is why the entire Sermon on the Mount is vital. Jesus doesn’t just make a radical statement and leave it. He walks us through how to find the strength of the Kingdom and then hear the voice of the Spirit to act. 

Quite frankly, I have met incredibly solid believers who make great money, live in nice houses, and… wait for it… love Jesus. 

Shocking. I know.

They also look for strategic ways to invest their dollars into mission and ministry. They are incredibly generous people.

Certainly there are those who are comfortable and don’t care to be bothered. But every income bracket has that.

The key is hearing God. 

We can clearly hear God to be in a great career, give our talents in a way that contributes as salt and light in a different way to our culture, and live radically as a follower of Christ. You don’t need to shed nice clothes or start up a funky hair-do to be “radical.”

We can clearly hear God to leave this country and spend the rest of our lives in another place. One of my heroes has given 40 years to the Philippines. He clearly belongs there. When he comes home, he does not begrudge anyone their current situation. He tells the stories of what God is doing in the Philippines, and then gets back there as soon as he can.

My plea here is that we give up the notion of tearing each other apart. We are so good at that in Christianity and somehow I think the Sermon on the Mount points us in a different direction. Namely, we can do better than that. 

Let us hear God. Let us hear God for our situation. And let us be OBEDIENT to God in OUR situation.

The Bland Gospel

For some reason there needs to be an attack “radical” Christianity. We want to be radically normal. God bless us all.

Whether we are headed to the most unreached people group of the world, or out the door to coach our kids’ baseball team, I think I really want to ask, “How do we see JESUS?”
Mark Labberton’s piece in Christianity Today calls us to consider the power of Christ and his message.

Why does the gospel look to so many like a bowl of lima beans?

For those who find the grace and truth of Jesus Christ convincing and compelling, such a question may seem absurd, if not blasphemous. But compared to the spiciness of the cultural concoctions that swirl around us in our globalized world, Jesus can seem like bland fare. Many have the impression that the gospel is small, smooth, and tasteless. They have a culturally conditioned disdain for any homogeneous answer to a heterogeneous world. And they have seen too little evidence to the contrary.

How could it be, some believers might balk, that “the hope of the world,” the One given “the name above every name,” could ever seem bland? Well, because often the church is bland. Pale. Gullible. Pasty. Just there. The fruit of this vine appears to be lima beans. If bland is the flavor of the church, then it is presumed to be the flavor of the One the church calls Lord.

 

 
Somehow, we don’t want to seem to take the claims of Christ too seriously.

 

I don’t want to excuse myself. I don’t want to over-stress myself, either. If I haven’t won thousands to Christ by the end of my life, have I failed?
My goal is to be consumed by the beauty of Christ and show his beauty to those around me. Jesus is not bland. While I may LOOK bland, my passion for Christ must be much more. That is what I want people to see, whether it’s a lost tribe in North Africa or my neighbor across the street.