Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All You Need is Love: The Only Accurate Scorecard for The Church

          (The following is a Chromatic walk down from the modular mixolydian to ionian in the key of D)


Only those who are passionate about music theory will comprehend the content of the previous caption, but I digress.

         "All You Need is Love" is one of my favorite songs to both perform and listen to.   The reason for my adoration of this song is not the arrangement.   My musical appreciation in this instance is rather philosophical.   John Lennon was a man who could not have been farther from evangelicalism. Yet this song could not be closer to capturing the nature of The Kingdom of God with the philosophy Lennon injected into the lyrics.

          The axiom found in this classic piece of music is apparent in the scriptures and is what initially attracted me to join the "missional"  church movement and in sequence distance myself from the "attractional" church model.  One must not misunderstand,  I am over joyed I made this transition and could never see myself returning to the latter.  My reasoning is that I am personally exhausted and at times disgusted with anything resembling an "attractional" (come,  see,  sit,  never take action unless your a minister,  compare,  compete,  absorb,  and support our fancy show style) church.  However,  In my zeal of resurrecting the missional church described in Acts I have discovered a well hidden trap that has recently been exposed by God's intervention due to recent events.  

           I realized that in my journey of becoming missional I was dangerously close to practicing and teaching a works based theology in our church (Commission).   Works,  although crucial in the context of displaying and revealing our faith (James 2:18,  Matthew 25: 31-46),  is not what defines it.   Rather it is evidence of something much more sacred.  In my experience the source of our good work as the church is easily forgotten and rarely discussed in missional circles.   This source is an apparent theme of The Kingdom of God and is even listed as a requirement in the life of EVERY disciple.   This week I was lucky enough to get my hands on a book written by Gregory Boyd ( The Myth of a Christian Nation) which reminded me of this foundational truth. 

          What distinguishes a true follower of Christ is not charity,  but rather the catalyst that will inevitably manifest it,  and that defining characteristic is LOVE.   1 Corinthians 13 tells us that we can give everything we own to the poor but if this selflessness is not a direct motivation of Jesus' love assimilating into our every action,  than our charity is static.   This is because scripture tells us that Jesus cares far more about the origin of our decisions than the actions that transpire from it.  With this knowledge I humbly realized something.... I have failed yet again as a christian and a leader of our church plant.

           In using love as a litmus test,  I realized that our foundation as a community of believers was flawed.  Do not misunderstand our community has done amazing things since its inception.  100% of Commission's resources and tithes go directly into aiding our city and not to our institution.  However,  I have never given any consideration in altering our hearts while designing a different approach to "ecclesia" (church).   In personal reflection I realized that both individually and in many cases corporately we have deteriorated, or in a more relevant term ..."FAIL".

            In the scriptures love is clearly what separates The Kingdom of God from the Kingdom of man.  In fact,  Jesus says the entirety of the law hangs on these two commandments "loving God and loving our neighbor (the Koine Greek defines neighbor as everyone we have contact with).   This is how we effectively plant the seeds which will grow the Kingdom of God.  Which is important to remember because the "Kingdom of God" is what Jesus discussed more than any other topic.

          So in closing we are to first love God and everyone unconditionally,  selflessly,  humbly,  sacrificially,  constantly,  and even dangerously the way Christ loves us and out of that love charity will ultimately emerge.  If the DNA of our decisions is anything contrary to Christ's love than we have ultimately failed and our extinction in any culture is both certain,  and imminent.

-For The Kingdom

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Righteous Anger

          Have you ever tried to repress your anger only to find that you explode and find yourself looking just a tad bit ridiculous?  Personally this topic is very exposing for me, because though I hide it well I suffer from varying degrees of anger and anxiety problems.  Many of us have been told that anger is a sin.  Many of us can recollect being instructed to follow certain breathing routines or counting procedures to calm down or to temporarily bury our anger.   My question to my audience is this;  have these anger management techniques ever really solved anything,  or have they simply momentarily suppressed an oncoming fit of rage?

         I know that for me if I am not cautious the smallest things will set me off and/or ruin my day.  If you are acquainted with me you would know that I have an extremely organized manner in which I conduct my day, and if one thing (no matter how trivial) interferes with my schedule I tend to get extremely angry.  Because of this my wife jokingly calls me "Hulk" and sadly this trait must be genetic because we refer to my youngest son as "Bruce" because he conducts himself in the exact manner when presented with an inconvenience.  Speaking of our green friend last week I was privileged to be at "The Avengers" premiere and while watching "The Hulk" learn to control his unlimited power I was reminded of unpopular but crucial truths in the scriptures concerning anger. (SPOILER ALERT)

      Halfway into the movie we see that "Bruce Banner" still has not been able to control "The Hulk".  This has been an ongoing battle for Banner and has caused him to focus all of his attention on suppressing his rage and hiding his potential.  In the film  Bruce Banner cannot influence the Hulk to do anything productive until he accepts that he is angry. He chooses to no longer fight the rage inside of him and channels his anger to save the world.  Once he does this he proves to be the most powerful player in "The Avengers" team and can take down alien warships with a single blow. He even tosses an immortal around like a child's plaything!   What is amazing about Banner is that he uses his anger for something meaningful and important. He focuses his frustration to meet a critical need. We can utilize this comic book story and use it as imagery when reading some key verses and stories in the scriptures.

          There are many times in the Old Testament that we clearly see God The Father is indeed angry  (to say the least).  In both the book of Psalms and Ephesians we are advised "not to sin in our anger", meaning that anger is not the sin but the reactions while one is consumed with it are sinful.  Finally perhaps the most valuable defense for righteous anger is the story of Jesus in the temple. The son of God gets angry enough to make a whip and violently drive religious leaders from the temple complex!  This story seems to contradict other passages. For example it opposes the verse when Jesus said "if you are angry with your brother you have already committed murder. "  So we know that anger is a natural emotion and according to the text is not sinful in itself.  Science also tells us that anger should not be ignored less it becomes unhealthy, however while angered we can conduct ourselves sinfully... so what do we do?

          In order to prevent angers transformation from emotion to sin the most important thing to remember is our own perspectives and our decisions in responding to anger.  We are justified in being angry with a bad situation or a terrible injustice,  but not with the person that caused it.   One may remember in these circumstances the old saying "dislike the sin but love the sinner". Anger should be present when observing things like corruption,  genocide,  and greed.  According to scripture these things anger God Himself and  I have found that when I am angry about small trivial things it is an indication that I am not angry enough about God's problems with the world.  Secondly there is only one time where we see Jesus getting angered enough to become violent and that is when dealing with corruption in "The Church". This makes perfect sense in the macro view of the scope of this topic. Remember that Jesus was willing to do anything to establish His church including being unjustly tortured and executed in The Church's  place.  If Jesus was willing to pay the ultimate price for both the penance of mankind and the birth of His church,   why would he not be angered when people are soiling His legacy?

         In closing I believe it is time for "The Church" to be angry.  Most of us see the corruption in Western church and we have had enough!  Personally I think that God has had enough and it is time for The Church to get furious,  but in the proper manner.   Anger  without action is indifference which is equally sinful so we need our anger to manifest as production.  It is time to address global issues like genocide, oppression, unnecessary wars,  pollution,  racism,  prejudice,  cultural indifference concerning hunger and disease,  and every other evil manifestation that harms God's children and/or His creation.  It's time for these forces to see the children of God angry and with any luck....

 "they won't like us when we are angry"! ;-)

-For The Kingdom

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Where is God?

         Obviously the question , "where is God?" typically is not beckoning a location but rather substantial evidence of His existence. Usually this question can be found within the circles of those who are atheist/agnostic or in the midst of a tragedy, but how do we as Christians properly answer this question.   How do we address the yearnings or inquiries of a world that is uncertain of God's presence, or worse... certain of his nonexistence?  Successfully answering this question has been a passion of mine for many years and recently I have learned it to be the most difficult equation I have ever solved and instructed others in working out.

         In the past I would have said that the answer to this question was simple.  I would have swelled with pride as annoyed victims publicly gave answers to my questions that Kirk Cameron prepared for me. They would have given quick open ended responses which I would have exploited and countered with various scriptures;  many of which would have been taken out of context,  to prove my point.  Circular reasoning would have been the source of my defense as I used The Bible to defend the existence of God.  Truthfully this practice of unwanted public debating yielded little fruit and it took an incredible amount of effort and preparation.  For every one person that was impressed with my "knowledge" of theology many would have been angered.  I would have reasoned that this was a natural response from the "worldly" and that they have always despised the things of God... or at least thats what my Pastor said.  However,  upon examining the New Testament Jesus had a much more subtle and welcoming approach when building His Kingdom.   

        Many times in the New Testament Jesus often met the needs of people and asked them NOT tell others about what they had experienced with Him.  Jesus did not want His name to be shared verbally and in some cases individuals who shared what Jesus had done despite being asked to do the contrary,  actually hindered Christ's ability to minister effectively in those particular situations.  I mean if anyone had a adequate reason to boast it was Christ and He wanted absolutely zero marketing.  You see this theme through every one of the gospels in the early stages of Christ' ministry.  Some pastors will argue that this is because humility is key to the character of Christ and it is meant to be evident in His Church. While I completely agree with the integral nature of meekness being evident in every follower of Christ I would disagree that this single observation was the apex of what Christ was communicating to His church in these passages.

         I could go on forever concerning this subject, but in brief I believe that Christ showed us God with His life and wants us to do the same. Think of all the references in scripture that point to this truth. Christ said Himself "If you have seen me then you have seen the father".   Meaning if you had observed or witnessed Him you would have seen God because He and the Father were one, Just we are now united with Christ through The Holy Spirit.  Scripture also refers to The Church as the "hands and feet of Christ".  In the original language this imagery is referring to action as these two portions of the body are typically the harbingers of movement.  The biblical text also reveals that "the world will know us (Christians) by our love". Again in the original language this word implies more than feeling but an active expression of love. Christians in this country have somehow forgotten this principal and tend to focus on the academic or emotional responses concerning our faith, but that is not the formula we see in scripture.

         In America I believe we need far less education concerning theology and far more application.  I believe that the most effective way to grow the kingdom of Christ is to live as Jesus lived. To be selfless and love all no matter their appearance or social status.  To give personal possessions away and make actual sacrifices for others is paramount to the calling of The Church,  not polite suggestions.  To die to ourselves and our sin so that Christ can be evident through our existence is our only true method of evangelism.

          This is what it means to answer the question and that is why the question is so difficult to answer. Our lives are the cost and Jesus is the formula, an equation that is meant to be worked out in every decision we make until the solution of those we encounter daily is unquestionably... God. 

( Interestingly enough, as I typed the last sentence of this post Michael Jackson's song "Man in the Mirror"  began to play over the coffee shops radio..... coincidence?)

-For The Kingdom