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.