Friday, December 28, 2012

The Mission of God's People - Chapter 3 Part 3.2

Here's a profound thought to start with today: we are human. Have you stopped to think about that lately? You are human. Wright says and I think he's right, "It may be easy to forget but we were human beings before we became Christian and we don't stop being human beings when we do become Christian (though some Christians make you wonder...) And God will hold us accountable for our humanity as much as for our Christianity."

We know as Christians our sins are forgiven, we have been "washed in the blood," redeemed from the curse, and born again into new life in Christ. We should also know that's not the end of the story but rather just the beginning. The cross is not only for our redemption but for our reclamation and restoration to what it means to be human. Our fallen state is not an excuse not be human (Romans 1:20) but our inhuman behavior contributes to the mess we make of our world - war, genocide, injustice, systemic poverty, human trafficking, sexual abuse, drug cartels, the slaughter of innocent school children and all manner of evil we do (Romans 1:28-31, 1 Cor 6:9-10). Is it any wonder we often have such a low opinion of "mankind?"

That's not God's design however nor is it what we were created for. The Westminster Confession says that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him however." That idea must be at the core of the whole Gospel and inform our thinking for living sent today. It does call us to a duty as humans to live the way we are designed. In fact, now that we are "in Christ" we have a great responsibility to be human. Wright informs us that, "being God's people and therefore already among the new redeemed humanity surely reinforces and intensifies our obligation to live by his original mandate to the human race." And in the beginning God said it was "very good."

I cannot think of any change in our mandate or subjugation of our responsibility to be human we are entitled as Christian, can you? No where in Scripture does it tells us that since we are now born-again our concern in only for the spiritual and we can allow the world to waste away, as long as we make a few converts. Living sent doesn't mean we stand gazing at the sky focused on Jesus return (Acts 1:10-11) but rather to be actively engaged in God's human reclamation project. Jesus calls us to be "salt" and "light" in the world, not only to get people saved, but so that we become fully alive to who we are created to be (2 Timothy 2:21). Salt preserves the imago Dei, the image of God, in which we are made, and Light illuminates the knowledge of God's glory in which we are to live, and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). 

We cannot live sent today without at least working on our humanity.  Jesus came to us as the perfect man to show us how to live as human. Being Christian doesn't dismiss our duties as humans, nor as we will see our God ordained duties for all humankind. Rather our position in Christ makes it possible to live out those duties as fully human. But first we need to realize, appreciate and apprehend our humanity and what that actually means. Wright quotes Michael Wittmer here:

"To be human is to be in proper relationship with God, other people, and the world. Sin has marred and well-nigh destroyed these relatioship, but in Christ, the perfect person, these are restored...Each of these three relationships is restored as we increasingly grow into the image of Christ. Because Christ is the perfect human, the one person who completely fills out the image of God, the more we become like him, the more human we become...The Christian life, far from transforming us into super-spiritual, quasi-angelic beings, is actually a quest to recover our humanity."
Second Century theologian, Irenaeus, one of the earliest Church fathers, famously said,“The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.” When was the last time you heard a sermon on the attributes of being fully alive for the glory of God? Yeah, I can't remember either. What might that even look like? Perhaps a fully alive human, living for the glory of God, looks like the Apostle Paul suggested when he discussed the fruit of the Spirit, a life live in Christ, as exhibiting the following: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22). Those aren't simply Sunday School lessons for children. Those are qualities we need, I know I need, for living sent today. 

Q - What does it mean to be human? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Mission of God's People - People Who Care for Creation - Chapter 3 Part 3.1

When last we left off we had completed Chapter 2 and asked the question: "How do we make the Mission of God’s People our story?" That is a vital question to answer if we are going to live sent today. To begin to answer that question Wright takes us back to the beginning, back to the creation story. 

The title of Chapter 3 - People Who Care For Creation - may leave some perplexed with the direction that Wright is going.  Creation Care is not what the Gospel is about, right? As long as we have Jesus and we recognize him as our Lord and Savior we're good with God. Isn't that tops on the list for us Christians? When we answer "yes" then we can basically live any way we want, right? Of course, we would never say it that way and most Christian do try to live a moral life, but with Christmas just completed we are reminded again of what we American Christians find most important. And once again we can determine that is commericalism and consumerism, buying things for one another we don't need and spending more than must should, all in an attempt to feel good about the Holiday's. Sorry but this year Americans will spend over $500 billion on Christmas Shopping but give less than $300 billion to charity for the year. Is that really the reason for the season?

To the previous two "c's" I'll add cooking. I spent about 15 hours preparing a meal for the family that was consumed in less than 30 minutes. Due to my labors I was too worn out to remember to lead the family in giving thanks for our bountiful feast. We can also add complaining. My teenage daughter upset because she was not getting what she wanted for Christmas, was complaining that her cousin would flaunt all that she received. Is that really what Christmas is all about?  Hey but we're all saved, right? The commercialist, the consumerist, the complainer and the cook all know Jesus so "it's all good."  But is that really how we want to define our Christianity? We can too quickly put other things before our King even as we proclaim he is Lord. Christmas brings this into sharper focus than any other time of year.

Part of the problem we have today, the reason for our misaligned affections, is how we read the Bible. Too often we read the Bible through a "what's in it for me?" lens instead of a "what does God want of me?" honest perspectives. So the Christmas story, and more so our Christian life, becomes a what's in it for me story, about my personal salvation, my personal relationship with Jesus. The mission of God's people then becomes only about "getting people saved" so they can know his salvation and have this relationship too. While that is certainly of paramount Biblical importance, a gateway for living sent, when not properly understood in relation to the whole Gospel, it has tended to create a self-focused, self-absorbed people who miss the whole Bible story.

We end up with a narrowly defined soteriology, with little understanding of God's gift of grace, and may even think it's about the unholy trinity of "me, myself and I." Reemember that Rick Warren began his best selling book the "Purpose Driven life" with these words - "It's not about you." That was quite an assault on American Christianity where we can focus so heavily on the New Testament story, reading it for our personal benefit, that we miss how the Bible begins and ends, missing what God is in fact calling his people to. Wright begins Chapter 3 with the observation that, " Some people have a hard time connecting their understanding of Christian mission to the Old Testament at all, let alone starting in Genesis." But how do we develop a whole Gospel missiology if we don't take the whole Bible into account? Wright notes that, The Bible begins and ends with creation" (Genesis 1:1, Rev 21:1) and tells us that...

"The trouble is some Christians seem to have Bible that begins in Genesis 3 and end at Revelation 20. They know all about sin from the story of the Fall and they know God has solved the sin problem through Christ, and that they will be safe on the great day of Judgment. The story for them is no more than a backdrop for the story of salvation, and the Bible's grand climax speaks to them only of going to heaven when they die (even though the last chapters of the Bible say nothing about us going anywhere, but eagerly anticipate God's coming here."
Just as Jesus birth is frequently a only backdrop of our Christmas celebration, missing the real "reason for the season,"  our focus on our sin problem and solving that often misses the grand and glorious story that the Bible is in fact communicating to us. That's why we need to start in Genesis 1 with the idea of caring for what God created. Wright warns, "a Bible stripped of its beginning and ending will produce a concept of mission that is distorted... We will imagine that God's only concern and therefore our too, is to save people from sin and judgment...But it's not the whole story of the Bible, and it should not be the whole story of our mission." Rather...

"the Bible's story is that the God who created the universe, only to see it ravaged by evil and sin, has committed himself to the total redemption and restoration of the whole creation, has accomplished it in advance through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and will bring it to glorious completion in the new is astonishing, and very sad, that it is such an insignificant, virtually nonexistent place in mission theology and practice of so many Christians who like to claim that they are "biblical" in all things."
Thinking about creation sets the stage for where Wright takes us next as he expounds on the mandate that God gave mankind in Genesis 1 and 2. The idea of being people who care for creation may get some push back today, especially given the political debate that typically surrounds issues of planetary climate (for the record I am opposed to most thinking that purports to support anthropogenic global warming as a fact but that's not what we are going to talk about). While Biblical creation care may be foreign to most these ideas weren't foreign to the prophet Isaiah when he declared, "Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings" (Isaiah 58:12). Then neither should they be for us in living sent today. Shalom.

Q - When you hear the words Creation Care what comes to mind?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Mission of God's People - Chapter 2 - Part 2.5

Last time we looked at the Old Testament as we begin to understand the whole Bible story for the Mission of God’s People (see Chapter 2 – part 2.4). Today, I want to conclude Chapter 2 – People who know the story they are part of – by looking a little at what Wright starts to unpack about the New Testament and New Creation. Genesis through Malachi points us in one direction – toward Jesus Christ as Lord of all in a New Heaven and New Earth – and it’s important we understand the continuous flow of Scripture form beginning to end. Wright shares that: 

“The New Testament presents to us the answer that the prophets point towards the One who would embody Israel as their Messiah, who would be faithful where they had been rebellious, who would be obedient unto death, and through his death and resurrection would bring about not only the restoration of Israel but also the promised salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Last time we looked at some Scripture that ties the story of the Old Testament and New Testament together through the life of Abraham, the father of the faith. It is important to realize that when the Bible speaks of Israel it is speaking of a people who were called out to make God known. The people of Israel as we know failed to be the “light to the Gentiles” they were “chosen” to be. But we must not think that the New Testament introduces a different storyline to bring course correction to God’s story. And, we certainly must not think the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, was a different God then the God who so loved the world than he sent his Son into it to die for the sins of all mankind. Any ideas of a dichotomous God between Old and New is a misreading of the whole story of the Bible. God changes not. 

What needs to change is our understanding of our great and awesome God to see his work in history as one continuous plotline for his global glory. That’s where we are heading in the Mission of God’s People for living sent today. 

Q – How have you understood the God of the Old and New Testaments? 

Wright states that:

"In Jesus, the reign of God entered human history in a way not previously experienced –though the expectation of it and the ethical implications of it are thoroughly rooted in the Old Testament. The dynamic action of the Kingdom of God in the words and deeds of Jesus and the mission of his disciples changed lives, values, and priorities, and presented a radical challenge to the fallen structures of power in society."

In the fullness of time, Jesus came – Emmanuel – God with us. Our Lord came in the fullness of deity and the fullness of humanity to set right what was lost and broken. Why then? Why at that particular time in his-story did God chose to fulfill the promises he had made and provide a way for all “nations” to come to the Light? While there is certainly prophetic fulfillment at work there are also some very practical reasons. 

Civilization had progressed to a point where the Gospel, although starting from a remote outpost of the Roman Empire, could begin to spread out along trade routes and over Roman roads like no time before it. The knowledge of God’s glory, in Christ, could now begin to fill the earth from village to village, city to city and region to region due to the social infrastructure that was now in place. That is the story we read in the Book of Acts. 

It is not an overstatement to say Jesus first coming changed everything, as a plan that was in place before the foundations of the world were set in place. Since Jesus’s first coming it is not understatement to say his radical challenge has often been left untried. GK Chesterton once said “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” 

Could the reason for this be that we simply don’t believe the story we are part of? Or perhaps we simply don’t know how to live in that story, trying to conform the Bible’s story to our lives, instead of being part of the cosmic story God is writing. Wright quotes Philip Greenslade here: 

"Through believing the story, we are drawn in to the action and find ourselves caught up in the saving movement of God. We learn to “indwell” the story so looking our from within the Biblical world with new eyes onto postmodern lives and world: we stop trying to make the Bible relevant to our lives and instead begin to find ourselves being made relevant to the Bible. We give up the clumsy attempt to wrench the ancient text into our contemporary world and instead bring our world back into collision with, and cleansing by, the strange new world of the Bible. Through believing the story, we allow our minds to be continuously renewed by the normative narrative of God…Jesus calls all his disciples away from a faith which is available to bless their business into a faith in which disciples are available to God to be part of his business."

Q - How do we make the Mission of God’s People our story? 

As Wright closes out Chapter 2 he shares,  “God’s mission is what spans the gap between the curse on the earth and the end of the curse in the new creation of Revelation 22. God’s mission is what brings humanity from being a cacophony of nations divided and scatted in rebellion against God in Genesis 11 to being a choir of nations united and gathered in worship of God in Revelation 7.” (I like to start the mission of God in Genesis 1:28 because it is there that we see the mandate to fill the earth.) But is that how we truly understand the story we are part of? 

Hopefully, as we continue on in Mission of God’s People it will become our story too, if it’s not already. Wright asks, “What impact would better teaching in this area have on our mission awareness and mission commitment?” That is a good question for Living Sent Today. 

Next time, we will start Chapter 3 – People who Care for Creation.

Monday, December 3, 2012

At the Intersection of Faith and Politics 12-03-2012

 Part 2 of 2 (for Part 1 click here)

Last week I started to address the definition of Progressive as it relates to Progressive Conservativism, to bring some connection to what are considered dichotomous ideas. It seems there a quite a number of people who are rethinking what Conservativism means today, post-election 2012, and that is not only good but urgent. At least one group I have come across recently is doing some imaginative political thinking. Without faith however we will get stuck at the intersection and not get very far on things that truly matter. 

It seems to me that Conservativism, as a movement, has been swept up by a radical individualism and infiltrated by Libertarianism, that is both unhelpful and unBiblical. I assume Biblical truth is an important element of your worldview. If not, than you'll find what I have to share here irrelevant at best. A politic that resists any and all government activity, and singularly as it relates to questions of taxation, is not necessarily Conservative. Rather it may simply be reactionary to the forces of humanistic progressive ideology. Being reactionary is no way to be the thought leaders our culture needs today. Conservativism must be more than a pledge of "no new taxes" or it will not be anything at all, which is why I am blogging at the intersection of faith and politics. 

Last week, I shared what I believe keeps us from living our faith progressively with respect to our politics - dualism that compartmentalizes our thought life. When we fail to see all of life as sacred we trend toward a divided inner life that can become all about "me." This gets expressed in both our politics of self-interest, be it Left or Right, and our over emphasis on personal salvation. We then lose important truths of the whole Gospel. To quote AW Tozer, "If we would escape from the toils of the sacred-secular dilemma (dualism) ... [we] must practice living to the glory of God, actually and determinedly….The knowledge that we are all God's, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us… We can meet this successfully only by the exercise of an aggressive faith.”

Today, maybe more than ever we need an aggressive faith - aggressive in love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, and truth that seeks the progress of the global human condition. The opponents of God are certainly aggressive in what they believe and do. We need an aggressive faith that seeks for the knowledge of the glory of God to fill the earth. Christianity does have the better ideas and arguments, for as Francis Schaeffer said, "Christianity is the greatest intellectual system the mind of man has ever touched." But we need to understand and live our faith through the context of the whole Gospel, which is what the Living Send Today blog is about.  Maintaining the status quo is no way to live, so the option is either progress or surrender. And there is simply no mandate in Scripture to sit idly by awaiting Jesus' return as our culture crumbles about us.

We can either aggressively rethink what "progressive" means from a Biblical worldview perspective or we will continue to witness a distortion of progressive thought from the world's failed systems and empty philosophies.  If we are going to progress, and we must, we must do so “living to the glory of God” and by “the knowledge that we are all God’s.” Today, let's view the definitions of progressive through a Biblical worldview lens. Hopefully, this will help us think well about progress, as Christ followers, because God's story and our place in is meant to be progressive. 

“of, relating to, or characterized by progress”
God is progressive. Not in his nature, God changes not, but in his working in history. God started with nothing, made everything very good, mankind ruined it but God has progressed through history, using a faithful pagan named Abram to start a faith movement, a refugee people as a witness for other nations, incarnated the Son in history, then launched a mission movement to change the world, all toward a New Creation.
“making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities”
Our story is progressive. Our story follows in the line of Abraham (see blog post here). Abraham had a level of awareness about what God was asking of him. Next Moses and the Israelites had additional new “ideas” of what Yahweh was asking of them, although they failed to live them out. This was followed by Jesus’ who taught his disciples a new understanding and proceeded by the Church as the the new people of God called to live in new ways not previously thought of. What followed was the world Christian movement over the previous two millennium that greatly shaped history.
“moving forward or onward”
History is progressive. From the Book of Acts on, God’s mission goes forward as God continues to work out his global plan and advance his-story toward the New Creation. In Christ, we are no longer people of Adam, simply human in nature. Rather, in God’s divine plan we are called to now move forward as we live in Christ as new creations, fully human with a new nature that should always be progressing more into the image of Christ.
“favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform”
The Church is progressive. From a simple band of people of faith emerged a movement that changed the world, advocating social order, developing technologies, advancing science and medicine, developing, changing, improving, and reforming the condition of man. The whole Gospel is a progressive movement that advocates regeneration, advances reconciliation, and activates reformation. The problem is too many Christians have never been changed by an understanding of the whole Bible. Today, conservative Christianity seems to be more about a status quo that is in desperate need of revival and recalibration.
“making progress toward better conditions”
The re-Creation is progressive. The first creation was instant and very good – God spoke and it was so. In the re-Creation God is taking us somewhere and we are invited to be a part of what he is doing. The very essence of God’s desire to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory must lead us to progress for his global purpose. God gave Isaiah a glimpse of this “progress toward better conditions” allowing Isaiah to understand that…

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:9-12)

There is certainly more to it that even Isaiah understood, but he saw a glorious future God promises, as should we, and we have the privilege of partnering with God to work toward that future however God intends for it to unfold. Progressive shouldn’t take us toward a Utopian ideal based on humanism or socialist ideology, which are often void of any Biblical truth. Rather, Progressive must emphasize the importance of Biblical precepts that follow God's story line. To paraphase Irenaeus, an early church father: "The progress of God is man fully alive." 

My purpose here is to look at the intersection of faith and politics, with Progressive Conservativism as a developing politic that bring two previously divergent words together as both have value. My prayer here is that Progressive Conservativism, as a Christ follower, takes us on a journey of discovering more about where the Lord is progressing history toward as we live out the whole Gospel in all domains of life. The point here is that we reclaim the word Progressive for the glory of God.

Next time we’ll look at what is called Progressive Christianity, which is not what I am advocating, especially as many define it today, and compare those ideas with Conservative values, at the intersection of faith and politics.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

At the Intersection of Faith and Politics - 11-29-2012

Part 1 of 2

Now that I have declared myself a Progressive Conservative, Christ follower first, some have expressed concern with the word “Progressive,” thinking in terms of socialism or humanism they believe this word connotes.  Yes, “Progressive” is often associated with Liberal politics, as well as Liberal Christianity. It is also associated with music from folk to metal to hip hop. Words have a way of being co-opted, and attached to various agendas that might actually not communicate the true meaning of the word. I am a staunch believer that words have meaning that need to be understood and embraced (I love the word embraced because it speaks to something more than simple understanding with respect to ideas), so I want to begin to explore this word "progressive" in this blog post.

As Christians, we need to think well about what we believe. Underdtanding what gives life meaning, why and how to live that out daily is important. I do not believe we, as Christians, need to dismiss ourselves from the political process, politics simply being the activities associated with governance. Although some consider it a subject to be avoided and others insisting on seperation, I find no reasoned basis to do so. My devout catholic mother did, especially at the dinner table. When the family got into the political debate over supper it could get loud and Mom would get upset insisting that religion and politics were not polite dinner conversation. I am not sure where that idea originated but it's one of those tradition aphorisms. At our table everyone had their point of view, and the discussion could get heated but we still loved one another. Oh, if that were only true of our divided culture too.

Here's the thing I am wrestling with, I believe that modern Conversative values, alone, may not be the best political ideas to live as Christians. Not that we abandon the good that is in Conservativism, and there is some, but there are many issues that need rethinking. That is the purpose of this weekly blog section. I confess I don't have all the answers but I'm willing to do some of the thinking and ask some of the questions, and I invite you to come along to think with me. Did you realize that as Christians it is good to questions our own faith (2 Corinthians 13:5 )? Why then would we not also do so for our politics? As Christ follower we need to consider the intersection of faith and politics, for we live in the world, and living sent today is our intersecting point. 

To begin, let's consider what the word "progressive" means and why I would use it in terms of my political thinking, while remaining conservative in many respects, yoking the two ideas together.  The main dictionary definitions of "progressive" are:

·         of, relating to, or characterized by progress
·         making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities
·         moving forward or onward
·         favoring or advocating progress,  change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor.
·         making progress  toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.

Now how does the word "progressive" connect with conservative ideas?  While these two words are not widely accepted together, yet, they represent ideas that are not diametrically opposed and can in fact work together well, when we are properly focused and putting Christ first in our politics. Conservativism is defined as caution or fear of change from the traditional. In the world we live in such concern is certainly prudent and our progress should not lead away from Biblical values. Conservativism should be rooted in Judeo-Christian "traditional values" and established on Biblical truth. Properly understood, our Christians values should flow from an understanding of the cosmic story the Bible tells (see blog posts for Mission of God's People).  

Conservativism is good, as far as it goes, if we understand what values we affirm for what they are, not what we want them to be, but must not allow fear to guide how we live. Putting Christ first in all things, it is one thing to be a cautious Christian, discerning the times, it is quiet another to be a fearful Christians. Caution can lead to a deeper appreciation, that can be expressed in love, whereas fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. There is no room for hate in the life of a Christian. While seeking to maintain Biblical values we must make sure our thinking is in fact representative of the whole Bible story. I don't think we can say that about any politic today, certainly not the Left-Right of 21st Century America, which is why we should rethink what we believe and why on a myriad of  issues. Then we need to recalibrate our politic around those Biblical values.  
Jesus says to those he sent out: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ). The three images here tell us three things Jesus is communicating: First, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd,  is speaking to his followers (sheep) who know his way, heed his word and follow his lead (John 10:27 ). Jesus is our leader and calls us to follow. Second, Jesus calls us to be shrewd as the world (e.g. snakes). That is we are to be sharp, perceptive, insightful and discerning, operating with a measure of Godly wisdom. Yes, Jesus is speaking to God’s mission, instructing His disciples in the art of witnessing but Jesus understood the whole story he was in and again we must do likewise. Through our mission and witness, I firmly believe that Christians are called to be thought leaders and culture shapers, who live the whole Gospel. Third, Jesus calls us to be "innocent as doves" - blameless and guiltless, above reproach - which clearly requires living counter-culturally. We should not live by the world's standard in any part of our lives, including our political life. Why then do we so often live in the world as the world does? 
Answering that question is beyond our scope here but one influence affecting our thinking I do want to address here is dualism. Dualism separates  the sacred, which simply means connected with God, and secular, which are things that are not regarded as religious. The prevalent idea of seperation of Church and State is based on dualistic thinking that insists we should compartmentalize our lives to keep religion out of politics, This usually comes from those who oppose religion, and misapply the 1st Amendment. for their own agenda. But dualism affects how we see and live in the world. It keeps us from seeing all of life, every facet, as sacred, and it is. Dualism keeps us from perceiving progress through the lens of a God who is at work in history. That is not to say that all things glorify God in our world but that God is able to work all things together for his global purposes - even the evil man does (Romans 8:28).  But do we embrace that truth?

What if we truly believed that 'The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1)? What if we saw progress as part of the  continuing work of God in history? What if technological and medical advances were God inspired ideas that are part of his story, regardless of where they come from, if they serve the good of humanity?  There is no doubt mankind has a tendency to corrupt what God designs but what if the great achievements of the 20th and early 21st Century were really for the purposes of God’s glory filling the earth?  How might that change how we view progress, our politics and live in the story?

I think it would make a huge difference in our culture and our world. Not that it would change how the world thinks but it would help change how Christ followers think and how we live today, or at least it should. Eliminating dualism brings all things subject to Christ, in our worldview, as they should be. Knowing all things are sacred, though presently spotted and blemished, will lead us to embrace human progress as part of God's work in history. Again, there is more here than a single blog post allows but I invite you to take the time to watch these two videos and understand the progress that has been made (watching both will take about 30 minutes):  

Scott Todd: The Church Will End Extreme Poverty 

Can you say - glory to God!? Isn't it amazing what our God has done? God wants to do even more and will, as we partner with him in his plans. As you think about the the progress of the human condition we must be careful not to think as the people of Babel, that of making a name for themselves. Progress is not about human fame and fortune but God's glory and his purposes progressiving onward. Next time we'll look more at this idea of progess but I'll  condude here with this short poem that speaks to a proper attitude toward progress:
An old man going on a lone highway
Came in the evening cold and grey
To a chasm yawning both deep and wide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
That swollen stream was naught to him.
But he stopped when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
''Old man,'' said a fellow traveler near,
''You are wasting your time in labor here;
Your journey will end with the closing day,
You never again will pass this way.
You've crossed the chasm deep and wide.
Why build you this bridge at eventide?
The laborer lifted his old grey head:
''Good friend, in the way I have come,'' he said,
''There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm which has been naught to me
To that fair youth may a pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.''
Author Unknown


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Missional Musing - 11-27-2012

"The 'layman' need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never so simple task he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.'" AW Tozer

All work is worship and all worship serves the purposes of God. If our work glorifies God through an attitude of worship, it serves the mission of God. Our work serves the mission of God when done for the glory of God. What are you working for today?

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Mission of God's People - Chapter 2 - Part 2.4

We started looking at the four section of the Bible story in Part 2.3, We said that the Bible begins with Creation and ends with the New Creation, and we also looked at the tragedy of the Fall that brought ruin to the whole of creation. Today, we’ll begin to look at part 3 – Redemption - which needs to be considered in two parts: Old Testament and New Testament. These are not two distinct part of the Bible, with God acting differently in one than the other, as is often thought. Rather, the Old and New Testaments are like two acts of the same continuing play. We need to understand what God is doing in both the old and the new to understand at a deeper level the whiole story we are in and the scope of the mission we have. Wright tells us here that, “our mission…has to be as comprehensive in scope as the gospel the whole Bible gives us.” Anything less in fact misses the whole mission of God’s people.

3. Redemption – Part I
Q – How have you understood the story of redemption? 
After the Fall, and following the Flood, “God chose not to abandon or destroy his creation, but to redeem it. And he chose to do so within history through persons and events that run from the call of Abraham to the return of Christ.” We must start at the Abrahamic covenant with the mission of God’s people ,if we are to understand the redemptive storyline that God is unfolding through the ages.  God’s mission of redemption didn’t start with the Great Commission of Jesus, his call to go and make disciples, as so many Christians believe today. When we start with Christ and the Cross we can miss an important thread that runs the entire story. God is not just dealing with our sin but in the “call of Abraham God set in motion a historic dynamic that would ultimately not only deal with the problem of human sin but also heal the dividedness of the nations.”
Undoubtedly, you know that at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) God confused human language and "scattered" the people across the planet. But why would God do this? Why would God not want people united together and cooperating in a massive building project? Was it that God felt threatened by man’s industriousness and ingenuity, though using faulty building methods, to erect a structure that could reach the heavens, or so they thought? Never! Certainly God wasn’t pleased with mankind’s self-reliance and independent spirit, he never is. God accepts a partnership at minimum but desires full dependence.  Rather God’s plan from the beginning was to fill the earth with his image bearers who possessed the knowledge of his glory. God confused languages and scattered the nations as part of his global plan to fill the earth as the waters cover the seas with the knowledge of who he is for every “nation.” The “nations” gathered at Babel, which by the way were not all the nations (see the story of Noah’s sons - Gen 10:32), had no right to simply stay in one place when God said “Go.” Nothing stands in the way of God’s mission being completed as he brings about the New Creation.
Back to Abraham, Wright tells us that: “The election of Abraham was explicitly for the blessing of the nations on earth. God’s command and promise to Abraham can legitimately, therefore, be called the first Great Commission.” The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3). It was God’s plan to bless “all peoples on earth” – every “nation” - through a people chosen for the task who would share the knowledge of his glory until it did fill the earth. (that is why I use Habakkuk 2:14 for this blog).
The Old Testament:
Here are some thoughts from Wright to introduce the key storyline of the Old Testament:
“God’s plan, then, was to deal with the problem of humanity – sin and division – through Israel, the people of Abraham…At Sinai, God entered into covenant with Israel, still with the rest of the nations in view, calling them to be representatives (priestly) and to be distinctive (holy)…It became increasingly clear that Israel could not and would not live by the standards of God’s law in response to his saving grace, but actually proved themselves to be no different from the nations…Israel, the servant of the Lord, called to be a light to the nations, turned out to be a failed servant blind to God’s work and dead to his Word. They too needed God’s salvation…Nevertheless, the Old Testament  continues through the prophets to point forward and insist that God would keep his promise to bring blessing to the nations and salvation to the whole world…the failure of historical Israel was anticipated by God and did not represent a failure of God’s plan. In the mystery of his sovereign purpose it would lead to salvation going to the ends of the earth as God always intended.”
There is much more to the story of Old Testament of course, that we'll get to, but before moving on to how God would continue to unfold his plan, we should consider some New Testament verses that tie together the continuing flow of God’s purpose through Abraham:
Romans 4:3 – “What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” We share the same faith as Abraham.
Romans 4:13 – “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” We share the same righteousness as Abraham.
Romans 4:18 – “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” We share the same lineage of Abraham.
Romans 9:8 - “In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” We are in fact children of Abraham.
Galatians 3:7 – “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” We are by faith part of the line of Abraham the Lord is using to fulfill his covenant to bless the nations.
Galatians 3:8 – “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” We share in a Gospel that is timeless, eternal and glorious beyond our understanding.
We should never minimize the Good News to a strategy, formula or even think it is simply about the forgiveness of our personal sin. God is redeeming the whole world, all of creation and bringing us to a new creation through a whole Gospel that requires the whole church living sent today.
Next time we’ll look at how the Lord plans to accomplish this through the New Testament.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mission of God's People - Chapter 2 - Part 2.3

We have been looking at the people who know the story they are in - Chapter 2. See Part 2.1 and 2.2.

Wright takes us into the next part of this chapter through outlining the four major sections of the Biblical story line - Creation - Fall - Redemption in History and New Creation. The longest portion of course is Redemption in History. But what is important to understand about this story is not only God's plan of redemption, as the major theme of the total work of Scripture but where we came from and where we are going.

Grasping the two book ends of the Bible - Creation and New Creation - is key to understanding the story we are in. It's an old story that if you don't know where you're going you're not going to like where you wind up. But to this we can add that if you don't know where you have come from you will never get to where you are going. Wright tells us that "the Bible is not just about the solution to our sin problem and how to survive the day of judgment. It begins with creation and ends with the new creation. So our Biblical theology of mission need to take this great beginning and ending seriously."

Let's briefly look at the first two of the four parts today, some thoughts from Wright and some reflection on each section in today's post:

1. Creation -

Q - Why would knowing the beginning of the story be crucial?

Obviously, it tells us who we truly are. The challenge for us today is to remember who we are. Our culture tells us we're a cosmic accident, a freak of nature, just another species in the animal kingdom that evolved from a primordial stew. "Science" has rather adamantly suggested that we are nothing more than a compilation of chemicals that somehow developed a rational mind and so we can reject the "fairy tales" of religious ontology and the ideas that we're anything special. The debate over our nature didn't just start with Darwin however but predates Socrates. Anaxagoras, a 5th Century BC philosopher,  promoted a view similar to that of the Big Bang theory of today and held to a crude form of the theory of evolution. What this tells us is that thinking people have always been trying to underatand the story they are in, trying to discover meaning. But without our story beginning in a meaningful way we end up in a meaningless place. Wright shares that:
"The creation narrative provides two of the fundamental planks for the foundational Christians worldview, for it answers two of the most fundamental questions that all philosophies and religions answer in different ways. Where are we? And Who are we? That is to say, what is the universe in which we find ourselves? Where did it come from and why does it exist and is it even real? And, second, what does it mean to be human?...Does human life have any value, meaning and purpose?"
2. Fall  -

Q - how do you understand the effects of the Fall?

"Human disobedience and rebellion against the Creator God brought disasterous results (Genesis 3-11). Evil and sin weave their way into every aspect of God's creation and every dimension of human personhood and life on earth." Without understanding the nature of the Fall we will not pursue the redemption, restoration and reconcilation of all things - the reversal of the effects of the Fall through living the whole Gospel. Wright points out four effects of the Fall -
"Physically we are sibject to death and decay, living within a physical enviroment that is iself under the curse of God. Intellectually, we use our incredible power of rationality to explain, excuse and normalize our own evil. Socially, every human relationship is factured and disrupted - sexual, parental, familial, societal, ethnic, international - and the effect is consolidated horizontally through the permeation of all human cultutre, and vertucally by accumulation through the generations of history. And spiritually, we are alienated from God, rejecting his goodness and authority.

Before moving on to God's answer to the Fall, one observation need to be made about the nature of of what God created and the effects on Fall on it. In Genesis 1:31 the Bible says of his creation - "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day." Notice that God says it was very good and not perfect. If God had made creation perfect we would never have had the freedom to chose anything else, our story would be simply then meaningless. It is the freedom to chose that gives life meaning.

The efficacy of human choice however led to a wrong choice that wrecked much of the very good. of God's creation. Biblical history howver tells us that from the very beginning most chose poorly, which resultd in judgment, but there were a few who chose wisely - Enoch who walked faithfully with God (Genesis 5:24) and Noah who did everything just as God commanded (Genesis 6:22). What this tells us is that mankind had the ability to respond to God even after the Fall but chose not. The Fall did not create in mankind an inability to seek God but simply that the vast majority didn't in the choices we all make.

Instead, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6), which leads us into the Redemption. Now for living sent today.let's walk faithfully and obey God in everything  Give thanks with a grateful heart for what God has done for us today. Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Missional Musing - 11-20-2012

I really like this thought from the Gospel Coalition blog (You can read the blog article here.)

I think the major failing of Reformed anthropology is that it assumes that human beings are completely empty vessels. The distinction between total and utter depravity above makes this clear. Tullian is right, people can be much worse than they are. He puts this down to something like “common grace” – i.e. God restraining us by his grace from being utterly depraved. I think a much better explanation, and one that is consistent with how the early Church understood Scripture, is that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Human beings are intrinsically good precisely because God made us and called us “very good”. I know this will eventually go towards the endless arguments on human freewill or lack thereof. I don’t want to go there, but I will note that the Fathers, particularly the Eastern Fathers (including ones that the Reformed like including Athanasius and Chrysostom), had a robust theology of freewill. I didn’t see anything on human beings being image bearers of God in the above article. I just don’t think Christians can begin to talk about human beings without this as their starting point. What intrinsic value do human beings have if what we really are, in essence, is very bad? In Reformed theology, everything good is alien to us. We are not “very good” as God declared in the Scriptures. We must not take St Paul’s metaphors places where the text does not take us. Nowhere does St Paul say that being “dead in our trespasses…” means that we cannot respond to the Gospel – this is a non sequitur. Our deadness is caused because we have separated ourselves from Life. The consequence of sin is death – not because we are being punished for it, but because when we separate our selves from Life, we die. God did not tell Adam “if you eat of the fruit… I will kill you”. He said “if you eat of the fruit… you will surely die”. We are still God’s very good creation. We still bear his image – although this is obscured by sin. Things just aren’t as black and white as Reformed theology would have it. It isn’t Reformed theology OR Pelagianism. There is room for mystery in theology. How is it that we can hear God and respond positively? Our salvation is a mystery of the co-suffering love of God. Love requires a response, else it would not be love. It’s why the Revelator says that Christ knocks and waits, he does not barge in. We can respond to him precisely because we are his intrinsically good image bearers.

Now see Psalm 139:7-12

Living with the knowledge that we are fearlessly and wonderfully made should motivate us to live a life of gratitude to God, with thankful hearts for all that He has done for us, for living sent today.