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Joy… Perspective in a life of First World Problems

O’ Lord, we need an Amos

Unlike other Old Testament messengers, Amos was not a professional prophet; he had no special training, nor was he related to any other prophets. He was a peasant farmer and sheep tender called by God for a special mission. A native of the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos received a powerful commission from God to preach to the -people of the northern kingdom of Israel. In the first half of the eighth century BC, during a time of great expansion and prosperity in Israel, Amos spoke out against the economic injustices between urban elites and the poor. Rich landowners were acquiring money and land, taking advantage of small farmers and peasants. Although Amos was not wealthy, he was sent to warn the wealthy and invite them back into the good way of God’s justice.

Amos spoke out, saying, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land. I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  [From Commonprayer.net, 28 March]

O’ God, we need an Amos today, one empowered with authority to speak that there might be change, real change.  Amen

Reflecting on me, or properly reflecting on me.

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We’re in a world of undefined people.  I speak as a man, so I am writing at this moment to men, as I am not confident to speak to women on this subject.  What in the heck do I mean by “undefined”?

I use undefined to refer to us as people – not knowing deeply in our heart, from the centre of who we are, “who” we are.  It comes across as insecurity, which can present itself as over confidence, self aggrandising and looking for value in external “skins” of materialism, consumerism, stuff, roles, fame, glory, etc. This isn’t new news. Simply look at the phenomena of celebrity through the media or sport, the arrogance of politic, the drunken power of the oligarchy now masquerading as nation state.  Simply stated – we as people – especially men – basically have no idea who we are, and why we exist.  Therefore, we grope for it in temporal shallow trite ways.  We then try and convince ourselves of our identity and worth and remind ourselves (thanks, soccer mom/mum generation!) through rootless messages of ‘being exceptional – being exceptional to the point of confidence through cognitive dissonance…  where we hold to our lie, in the face of overwhelming reality, facts and arguments…  We believe the norm doesn’t apply, that the normal results, normal ability, normal foibles aren’t true about “me”.  We tell ourselves we have so much specialness, worth, value, contribution and that the world will actually miss us when we leave.

This past two and a half years, I’ve spent more time on reflecting upon the reality of my own self, and life.  I’ve thought about it for a longer time, but focused here over an extended time.  The reality is:  I’m normal.  Yes, I am imperfect, have foibles, fail, am weak, am not always nice, am capable – but not exceptional…and if I am in one area, I am only okay in most and fail at several.  I am not important – no qualifying adjectives allowed (that, very, or others that soften “not important”).  I will get old… some think I am now… but will get elderly, and will diminish, and many opportunities are already closed for me, and will die.  On the day, or season of my demise and decline – very, very few will notice, or stop, or care.  A generation later, I’ll be forgotten, just like my great and great great grandfathers and do not even ask about great or great great uncles, aunts, etc., or 2nd and 3rd cousins.  Who?

So is my message we do not matter?  Well, ugh, sort of – but that’s not the end.  We’re not something because the sun shines our of our butts (sorry, ladies, that was for the men)… but we are special – we are special to the Living God and we have value and worth because we matter to Him and He gives us identity, belonging, family and a purpose.  Outside of that and we are left groping for little gods of meaning made of mere wood and stone, straw, sand.  BUT in our true identity, beyond the circumstances and fate of the families we’re born into, we have immeasurable worth – but we must always remember that we are but dust and will not last in this world, but in His world, in His home, we will and can live as sons of the King.  Tim Keller, noted pastor, church planter, author and speaker, wrote recently something to the effect, “Who dares wake a king at 3 in the morning for a drink of water, other than his child?”  Us – that’s who!  We are weak, quite helpless really…  reality will visit us, if not in our family of origin, in the fate of life.  Steve jobs got cancer and died, as do presidents, and tyrants alike, and even holy awesome souls like Mother Teresa.

Remember – you are a moment and gone, but remember who numbers your steps, hair on your head, knew you before you were and will know you eternally.  Stand up and be a man, living out of that reality and not fooled by the false messages of a lost, empty meaningless world.

A Message Signed with Blood: A Sermon on the Martyrdom of 21 Christians in Libya

A worthy read.

A Desert Father

A Message Signed with Blood

A sermon delivered at 8:00, 9:00, and 11:15 masses at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver on March 1, 2015.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:35

They were seized from villages in Egypt.  Some of those captured were even fishermen like the first disciples to be martyred.  A video camera was set up.

The terrorist declared that this was “A message signed with blood to the Nation of the Cross” and thus fell the knives that sent 21 martyrs to their reward in Libya.  They were put on display for mockery and derision.

Their captors demanded that they recant their faith – that they deny Christ.

Their videotaped murder was designed to frighten Christians everywhere – to shock the sensibilities of the civilized world. …

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So, what is sin? Individual, society or systemic? Huh? Why “or” ?

The division within the church on sin and redemption….  Why do “we” fight over sin being individual, society or systemic and not all?

In admittedly simplistic presentation, I submit this paragraph. There has been much divide in the past century – more divisiveness within the church than about anytime in history. There was a divide over reliability of the Word, and then a divide on “what is it to be a Christian” and “what is it to be the church”. The former was conservative versus liberal, and the battle circled around fights over relying on God’s Word, and therefore the efficacy of Christ’s work to redeem people to salvation – what it takes to go to heaven… The conservatives centred on Jesus’ work saves us, and we are to believe in faith. The liberals position circled around being good people and God’s Word being a guide, but not literal. This fight widened to the conservatives embracing “what we think” and the liberals embracing doing good things in society. Outside of this fight within western Europe, the UK and North America, was the theological developments through the developing world, which was awakening to the implications of massive colonialism, and the government manipulations. They began seeing the corporate systemic sins, and how God did not like this. They centred their theology on this experience.

All of this divided the church and dismissed the others. My issue is as one who holds to God’s Word being reliable, and yes, within literature genres but also in context of culture, circumstance and the weighing of God’s Word in the “whole counsel of God”… in other words, you must look at all of what God says implicitly and explicitly. What is meant is god flat tells us something very directly… do this, don’t do this. BUT there are clearly implied issues as well – where God tells us what He thinks and expects by how often He talks about it, how much it is weighed out in the actions of people.

The result is that God’s Word addresses our individual salvation (dealing with individual sin), but also dealing with systemic sins (where injustice is legitimised, codified and made “legal” or even “moral” by consensus or decree), and also the behaviour of individual saints and churches, and the whole church in being like Christ in how it engages people, individually and society. In summary, all is correct and part of what it is to be the church.

I’ve faced direct attack, and been dropped from financial support because I hold this position. If I talk about systemic sin by our society, if I talk about our “being like Christ” in loving and blessing people in simple sacrificial love, and I fail to talk solely or directly about individual sin, if I fail to discuss intellectual “think right” Bible Studies, then I’ve faced being labelled a liberal or social Gospel Christian. I resist these labes, because each is heresy without the other; each incomplete and to label one is to ignore or dismiss the other. Yet, there is so much implicit and explicit in God’s Word to address all three means of sanctification of the believer. We are called to individually be sanctified by believing, but this believing is never seen measured by having every detail in theology straight, but in the behaviour of the saint in trusting Christ by how the saint behaves towards others – social and systemic sanctification… how we love people practically and collectively as a society.

There is a lot of room for the church and for Christians to be speak prophetically, and to be behave prophetically in our individual and collective lives. This is not license to be ugly and repeatedly battling the society, as is so common today. Rather, the call is to be counter-to-the-culture, live differently; to shine as lights, be salt, be a fragrance – each of which is a positive experience for the world who encounters the church and believers.

So, may we not be in frontal combat with the world, but let us be a sweet fragrance, salt to enhance the taste, and bright to light up contrasting darkness. May we be the defenders who give preference for the disenfranchised, under resourced and oppressed, the poor, weak and vulnerable. May we not embrace Babylon’s system of power, or forcing Christ’s Kingdom on the world – Christ rebuked that when He was arrested in the garden that last night. Let us be the suffering people who redeem people through our humility, lives resisting sin, a people making a difference in society by bringing healing and as a church working for the Kingdom’s value lived out in changing the systemic wrongs.

The Right Order

During the church growth years…. there was much about how to make churches healthy – we are indebted to the hard work they did for us.   From 1980’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, many leaders wrestled with how to mature the church and move people into engaging the world.  The result they found was that it became an inward focused church on “feeding me”, an attractional model that created a gospel and how Jesus, God and church “felt” to me… and reinforced a culture of multiple choice.  This was NOT the intent and their models worked to ground people and move them into mission.

The challenge was mission was something much later…some models literally using the baseball model where mission was introduced at the 3rd base to home plate leg of the journey – instead of a completely different model where it was inherent and natural for a saint to be involved in the Kingdom’s (Christ’s) main business….
There are a lot of great thinkers who have grown out of what our church growth fathers did.  The best thinking today starts with the outcome – God’s intent and His Kingdom.  From that Rubric, of God’s intent, we then aim and shape and form our mission, and then, and only then, from our mission do we form, shape, develop & grow and organise the church.

In other words, our eschatology forms and shapes our missiology, which forms and shapes and ecclesiology.

Therefore, what is our eschatology (the end result, time, event, goal).  It starts in Genesis 1 & 2, and why God created people, and the creation… He was wanting community with His creation and namely in personal relationship with us.

His entire eschatology is to redeem, and restore that holistic relationship, now veiled awaiting our complete redemption and the redemption of the entire creation (1 Corinthians).

Hence, our missiology is a waste unless it is aligned, submitted and coordinated with His plan for the world and creation.  Our mission is a farse if not part of that ultimate plan.  We’ll not achieve this in our own efforts, but we are called to be a part of what He’s doing in the world and He works through us – and that is woven in being His hands and feet in the most practical ways of loving, serving and blessing others – to manifest the values of the Kingdom (Isaiah 58, Isaiah 61, 2 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12).

Then, and only then is there a purpose for the church.  Ever wonder why God even instituted the church?  If we read our eschatology, and then our missiology – which is threaded through God’s Word, then the versus on the church (read Jesus’ biographies, and the epistles and it’s clear our purpose is the missiology, by being ambassadors, leaving the fragrance of Christ, being light, being salt…  these behaviours, reflecting values of the Kingdom in the simplest ways become the jar that holds the message, Gospel, hope we have, are supposed to have anyway!  Then the message makes sense.  Then the “telling” of the Word makes sense and isn’t just God judging and condemning.  Then, following, surrendering and sacrificing our wills to Him makes sense.  For then, we also see and are aware of a) our lost state (Romans 1-4) and b) how great is His plan (eschatology) (Romans 5-8).

Now we have a life that makes sense, for God’s plan, intent, heart is the core and foundation for our efforts to reach the world, and our motivating central DNA of our behaviours as the church on mission.

In growing and being the church, we have a role, indispensable role – for Jesus only has physical hands, feet, eyes, mouth in us!  He never re-inhabited the 2nd Temple, but He did inhabit us in the Holy Spirit.  Wow!  What a plan!

They Kingdom Come, They Will be Done, on earth as it is in Heaven!

The title above says it, really;  we pray in the prayer the Lord gave us as an example those words;  that the reality of the Kingdom might be the same here, that God’s will would be equally done here, on earth, in our city, neighborhood and street – just like it is in heaven!  Think about that!  What if…. when some one encountered us, walked our street, our neighborhood, they smelled the fragrance of Christ.  What if they sensed the “light”?  Ever been somewhere you left saying it was a “dark” place?  What if?  What if the taste they left with in their mouth was savory, leaving them with that longing for more?  This is what we are called to be – as His people – those Ambassadors, living in embassies that are foreign sovereign soil in a distant land!  It gets me excited!

When we read the four biographies on Jesus (we call them the Gospels – the books of great news!), we see Him constantly calling us to emulate Him, to have humble postures, to care about what He cares about, do what He does, have value systems like the King, to treat others the way He treats others – sacrificially, in deference, in such grace filled love that they see and long to know the Living God they see within us!

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Some how over a century ago, there was a great and sad divorce within the church, as cataclysmic as the reformation.  I mourn these sad divides within the bride of Christ, for He sees no division and longs for unity within His body.  Yet this divide a century ago saw one group grab tightly to truth (the absolute of who God is that we might know the true God and not distort His image to the point where we worship an idol god that does not exist.  The other group in the divide grabbed to the behaving like Christ in the world.  Sadly, one compromised the truth; one compromised how we are to live?

We are saints who hold to the power of God’s Scripture and we model ourselves and our lives after how He calls us to live, encouraged by the many saints who went before us.  We read, “The will know we are Christians by our love”, and the pleas of the Living God to live it out in so many passages, from the Good Samaritan to the prophet Isaiah (58 & 61 as examples), the prophet Micah calling us to love mercy and justice (6.8), and James telling us to live it out as manifestation of the inward change as saints.  God in Matthew tells the story of dividing sheep and goats by their serving behaviors.  May we be such.

Dear friends, there is NO divide in truth and that truth isn’t to produce self righteousness through piety, or even religious discipline – no, it is to produce the fruit of the spirit, a posture so often missing in our civil presence, be it politics or social disagreements.  It is to be seen in how we posture our lives as living sacrifices – focused on those in need, mercy for people who wound us, who do not deserve grace, but we lovingly and with glad hearts offer it again, anyway.  Have you ever been hurt, by another refusing to offer grace, but demanding justice and penance?  It crushes – we are to be like Christ as Mary Madgelene poured expensive perfume over His feet and wept – her act of worship and repentance, and it resulted in a life transformed in very practical life, just as it did for Matthew, for Zacchaeus, for the Samaritan woman at the well.

We face a context daily filled with at least 2nd generation pagans… they are spiritual, but not interested in the Christ message they’ve been given, or the hostile church they often face.  It is only in working to be a peak into the Kingdom that the walls come down, that they let us in, begin to trust us and they always smell and taste and see that the Lord IS good and that He does love them – but it is not learned in words, but only in our posture and actions.  This is what we see changing our own post-Christian western culture.

May you come to enjoy the excitement of seeing God use you in the simplest things of giving yourself away in authentic relationships with people who long for Him (that Imago Dei – image of God – is imprinted deep!) yet they do not consciously yet know it.  May you establish an embassy within your own neighborhood for the King and may you and your household be the ambassadors of our King.

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