Contend Earnestly: July 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Gospel of Peace?

I have decided to read through the book of Ephesians for a while…just read it…to see what the Spirit of God wants me to be gripped by. I would usually tear it apart looking for every specific meaning and find those ways to congratulate myself for being right in my current theological bents. What I’ve decided to do this time is actually humble myself to the Scriptures and seek the face of God through them.

When you think of the book of Ephesians, what is the first thing you think of? I would guess if you are a Christian it would be a few things. Maybe that salvation is by grace alone and a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8,9); if you’re a Calvinist you’ll look for ways to prove predestination in the first few chapters; if you’re a charismatic, you might look to the end of the book where Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit always and see it as speaking of tongues (Eph 6:18), some will look at the great debate in both marriage and slaves (some people think these go hand in hand) in Ephesians 5, and some still will look to the armor of God mentioned in Ephesians 6. There are many theological stalwarts in Ephesians, but as I was reading, I was struck by how many times a book, that has been used to divide the Christian church, mentions “peace.”

The term is used 7 times in the book.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:2

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,
Ephesians 2:14

by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,
Ephesians 2:15

And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near;
Ephesians 2:17

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:2,3

and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Ephesians 6:15

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 6:23

When one reads Ephesians one will notice that grace, peace and love of God are the overarching themes in the book, as it is in all of the Scriptures. I will focus in on peace for this post, as I find it to be very interesting.

Why are we to be peaceful? And why does Paul bookend this letter with the term “peace” to the Ephesians? I believe it is because this is exactly how Jesus started and ended his earthly ministry.

When Jesus started his earthly ministry, by being dunked by John the Baptist, it is said that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove from heaven, which is no doubt a picture of the dove that was sent out by Noah that returned with an olive leaf. If you look at any major peacemaking effort, what is the symbol of peace? Is it not the dove with an olive leaf? This picture was to show that the wrath of God was now at peace with man, followed up with that the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on the man, Jesus the Christ, who was ushering in the Kingdom of God to bring peace to all nations.

Then when Jesus is raised from the dead, what is the first thing he says to those disciples who are scared for their lives in the upper room, wondering what to do?

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
John 20:19
Text Color

Why would Jesus say this? Why would Jesus tell us to be peacemakers? Why would Jesus commit the apostles to be peacemakers when he says:

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
John 20:21

I believe it is evident throughout the Scriptures and history. We, as people, are at war, not just with each other, but within ourselves. We continue to see wars and violence and Jesus tells us that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, the life speaks, the man shows his heart. The warring around us, has very little to do our wants on the outside, as they are just evidence of the wants on the inside. The warring around us has EVERYTHING to do with the warring that is happening within our souls. We are a restless people, always desiring something more, something different, something greater. We are always looking for the grass that is greener on the other side. Yet, no matter what we do…that grass is never greener, just more that needs to be mowed.

You see, as a proclaimer of the good news, I have always focused on the greatest peace, the peace that Jesus gives our souls, yet have had little to do with the shadow of that peace, namely, building bridges of peace while here on earth. We are called to do both.

We are called to give food to the poor, to point them to the one who is the bread of life.

We are called to give money to the poor and to the needy, to point them to the one who will give them abundant riches in the next life and is our actual prize

We are called to go to the widows and the orphans, to point them to the one Father and husband who will never abandon them in life or death

We are called to go to the religious, to point to them that Jesus has paid their debts

We are called to the hopeless, to point them to the fact that Jesus is their only hope

We are called to the prisoner, to show them that only Jesus can release them from their bondage.

Why wouldn’t we desire to go to the warring, to show them that there is only peace found in the grace of God for their souls?

I have discarded this for a long time in my life. I am questioned a lot about why I desire to bring reconciliation between Muslims and Christians. The reason is not to show only the grace and reconciliation to the Muslim, but it is also to show this to the Christian.

Those who follow Jesus have peace. We are to bring that peace on this earth, which is a shadow, to point to the true peace that comes by healing our souls from the warring that is happening within.

If you love Jesus and you do not promote and actively seek peace with your enemies, with America’s enemies, or with the enemies of your state…you are in sin.

May we seek peace, for the sake of showing the greatness in the grace of Jesus.

May we see clearly that Paul calls the gospel we love so much, the gospel we desire to proclaim and live so much is called:

…the Gospel of Peace!
Ephesians 6:15

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Epipheo Studios

While my boy Caleb was scarfing down a waffle, I was introduced to Ben Crawford of Epipheo Studios...he does what I love to do on the side...He is a really cool dude that makes very entriguing videos. This past year I put up a video for the Advent Conspiracy, which was made by Epipheo. Anyways...figured I would pub him and his biz some.

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Baby High

Baby High: "Four students of TAPP (Teenage Parenting Program) bring you inside their Kentucky high school specifically tailored for pregnant teens & teen moms."

I watched this last night and found it quite interesting how a school like this could be called "controversial" and also condoning teenage pregnancy...seems like the school gives back some hope for girls that made a mistake...seems like the school shows a lot of forgiveness and love. Seems like this school shows what Jesus would do if he was in the same situation.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Love Your Enemies: Video

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Us Doesn't Equal God is On Our Side


I can't tell the difference between churches and those that are just the normal American leader...just desiring a following and making it us vs which us always equals God's side and them always equals the devil's side. I thought we were to make followers and disciples of Jesus, not us, our church or our program.


Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Joshua 5:13-15

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Peace or Piece?

I fear most of us don't want peace for the world but we want to get our piece of the world.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Anatomy of A Murder

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."
James 4:1-8a

My friend and his brother were murdered by radicals yesterday morning (See accompanying article. Warning the Pakistan Christian Post doesn't soften the blow by failing to tell the truth through pictures like our American press does. The site contains graphic pictures).

Pakistani Christian Post

That alone is enough to cause despair, but it is exacerbated by the reality that this kind of thing happens everyday in the world. As a matter of fact, as I kept perusing the internet for stories in regards to my imprisoned friends, I kept getting the headline story of a girl that was raped and tossed out of the window of her apartment building in Islamabad for being a Christian. My reaction was “That’s horrible; I can’t believe that! Now where is the information about my friends?” I kept wondering why they weren’t “Headline News?” Yesterday they became just that, and it’s all I have been able to think about!

As humans we are guarded with self-preservation mechanisms that allow us to filter the horror of everyday existence, yet ironically, scripture doesn’t let us do that. I have been reading through the horrific battles in the book of Joshua, and the Psalms and Lamentations (To name a few) that continually remind me of the reality of this world, and the suffering that always exists around us; but “Enlightened” thinkers changed all that by “Getting rid” of human suffering by selling us a version of the world that is progressing rather nicely. The funny thing about it is our churches are marching in step with the same sanitized message of “Progress,” because that’s the reality in a world run by humans. Aren’t we progressing? Isn’t the world becoming a better place? I suppose that’s up for debate, but I suggest holding your opinion until you weigh all the facts. Biblically we are told that the gospel is advancing at the same time Satan and sin vie for the hearts and minds of God’s creation. There is a spiritual war being fought rather fiercely, or did our soft sermonettes that espouse a blessed “Christian” life cloud our thinking (See Ephesians 6:10-18). Biblical eschatology dominated by either flying away Christians or victorious warriors ushering in an age of utopia are either too simplistic or were shaped in a post enlightenment idealistic elixir. There is no doubt Jesus is coming back to usher in His kingdom, but until that time there is suffering this side of paradise until that kingdom is realized, and Christians are not exempt from this tribulation.

Oh, of course we can just blame these little glitches in the Truman Show the way Christopher Hitchens and his band of “new Atheists” do; “This is just the work of religion, and once we rid the world of these nut jobs, then the world will be the way it’s supposed to be!” In one sense I firmly agree, religion most often is the bane to humanity, but isn’t this banter just exchanging one human mistake for another? Is humanity really the answer if it was humanity that created religion? Why would we suppose Chris and his boys have it right this time? Sure, we Christians should get on board that blame game and say it’s not “All” religions that are to blame, just those evil ones that don’t fit our ideas of God. "It's those Muslim folk that are really to blame.!" Of course to do so, wouldn’t we need to forget a long lined of inquisitions, burnings at the stake, abortion doctor murders, etc…? Oh, yeah, those weren't really “Christians!?” How convenient!

Or maybe the real anatomy of a murder lies in the heart of every human, who “desires” more than we can have, so our jealousies cause us to participate in a multitude of sins? Isn’t this what our text in James expresses? “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” When do we stop blaming that tribe "Over there" in our attempts to conjure up solutions to the world's "Glitches" and realize this is what sin really looks like 24/7! Maybe it's time to stop trying to make ourselves look better, and realize the problem is within, and that we are all sinners in the need of God’s grace; but when we set up the "us vs. them" mentality that many Christians are as guilty of as Hitchens et al., we mitigate the power of the gospel, and create a hatred that continues this cycle of violence and hate that only the gospel (Both proclaimed and lived) can destroy! Let's stop acting as the world acts, which is a blame game for our world's toughest problems, and stop vilifying cultures that are different, and start living a bit like that Gospel ethic Jesus talked about in Matthew 5-7? Oh yeah, that's an ethic for the future, not now though!!

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is Our God Holy or Loving?

I have been reading through the book of Joshua, which would to even the devout western reader, cause a series of faith spasms. It is easy to judge the Quran and other religious literature for its violent content, but it would be a case work in cognitive dissonance to deny the violence of the Jewish/Christian text.

Christians seem to have a way to "Forget" the justice of God in the name of His love. Such an imbalance not only distorts the nature of God, but it distorts His story and mitigates its necessity. The other day we were at the ruins in Carthage with a group of young Christians ministering here in Tunisia, and we stopped at a place that had ancient grave-stones of children sacrificed to Baal-Humon, and those with us were commenting on how awful it was to believe in a god who could demand such a thing of his people and I was immediately reminded of Isaiah 53:10, where we are told that God was "Pleased to crush Him (His Son) a guilt offering." How easy is it to forget that at the heart of the gospel is an atoning sacrifice. God's love includes these "Dark Passages" that we all try to forget, but lie at the heart of the gospel! The bloodshed of the cross will always be an "Offense" and "Foolishness" to those that are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), as it is to our contemporaries in the west, and many Muslims in the world who also believe that Allah could never do such a thing to one of His prophets! It appears as senseless as the killings in the Palestinian conquests in ancient Israel as they are in modern Israel.

We struggle to believe this is possible for a loving God, because we have neutered His justice, and denied Him His glory. Our man-centered opinions about God have created a western deity tame enough for us to handle, and now we are paying the penalty of having no answers to a savvy attack on the God of the bible, because our gospel has lost its connection with God's holiness and justice.

I was in a bookstore the other day in Tunis talking to an atheist who had spent 16 years in the church (Not the Mosque), and left because the church had no answers for these questions, and he became incredulous to think that a god had any right to be zealous for His own glory! Unfortunately too many people in the church feel the same way, so we have left the God of Joshua off our flannel graphs, created a god (An idol) that appeases the 21st century western mind, and then put our heads in the sand of ignorance and wonder why our kids are leaving the faith, and how come no one is coming to our churches?

It is not surprising that those churches that are growing are not backing down from the truth of the atonement, and preaching the "Whole Counsel" of God's word, so that people can be exposed to God's holiness and our sin, and turn to the only name under heaven by which man can be saved, by God's great grace and mercy; Jesus the Messiah. This message will always be both a scandalous stumbling block to some, and absolute foolishness to others, "but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). We can't back down from that message, but must be looking for ways that contextualizes that message so it can be heard, which includes knowing God's story, and how it fits into other stories like those we find in the Quran, or in the history of Baal-Humon. They may be appalling, but they provide a great avenue to talk about the one sacrifice that ends all sacrifices!

Below is an excerpt from a press release for an upcoming book called Dark Passages: How Religions Learn to Forget Their Bloody Origins by Phil Jenkins that may be pretty cool on the subject.

"Western observers often express concern about the violent nature of passages within the Quran, and ask whether fanaticism is somehow hard-wired into the faith of Islam. Absent though from such discussions is any sense of the still more violent and unforgiving passages that litter the Hebrew Bible, which is also the Christian Old Testament. To take just one example of many, when God orders the conquest of Canaan, he supposedly commands his followers to exterminate the native inhabitants: “you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7.1-2). The book of Joshua offers an abundance of such texts. The most striking fact here is not that such passages exist, but that they have been so utterly forgotten by the vast majority of Christians and Jews, including among devoted Bible-readers. This in itself is a significant comment on the relationship between the scriptures on which a religion is founded and the ways in which that faith develops through history. The fact that such a gap exists constitutes a real challenge to fundamentalist assumptions, and raises profound questions about many prognoses that are currently offered for the future of Islam. It would be easy, if pointless, to assemble these disturbing Biblical texts in order to show the bloody roots of Western religion, and the apparent contradictions within those faiths. Much more significant is understanding the role that these texts play within the holistic reality of the scripture, and how successive generations of believers have come to terms with these difficulties."

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Friday, July 16, 2010

What Is Faith? Stripping the Christianese From the Term

There are certain terms that we use so often in our cultures that they have either been stripped of their meaning or no one really knows how to define the actual term. What usually happens with these terms when someone is asked to define them, they'll either say, "I don't know?" or will try to make up some odd explanation that forces them to talk in circles and making as much sense as Sarah Palin explaining foreign policy.

One of these terms is "faith." In the Christian world we have done a poor job explaining what this term means and have used such terms as "belief" to equate it with faith. People will say, "faith means to believe". What does believe mean? I don't know. So the spiral of confusion continues. Some say we have to just "take a blind leap of faith." What does that mean? And does anyone actually ever take a blind leap of faith?

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a great explanation of faith that tells us what we should expect from God when he tells us to have faith. I am not going to be a complete apologetical theologian and explain in this post who God is, or prove he exists. I am going to assume you believe in some sort of greater power than you that created all things. If God created all things, we should probably take his definition of faith while trying to explain it...especially those who claim to follow Jesus.

Here is how Hebrews 11 defines faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

What this one verse doesn't tell us is what the term meant in all of the Scriptures when spelled out in Greek. The term always related to Jesus or God and their work. So, when we see assurance, or sometimes translated as substance, of things hoped for, what things is it speaking of? The "things" hoped for has to do with the work of Jesus Christ. That because of the work of God in this world that is evidence of who he is we can have hope that what he said will happen in the future will happen. Maybe this doesn't help practically. Let me explain. Everyday, we have faith in other things that we don't feel have anything to do with God. This faith is assurance or substance of things hoped for. Example. We believe that when a woman is pregnant that she'll have a healthy baby. Why? The reason is that based on other experiences of seeing people have babies and the stats we see, the probability of that woman having a healthy baby is really good. Even more so, our faith in this goes way up when the doctor tells us that everything is going as planned in the pregnancy.

So, is this faith blind? Not at all. It is based on something. It is based on other actions and evidence that we have seen to have made our minds up that having a healthy baby is pretty common. Is this a blind jump of faith? No. Is it faith? Yes. You don't know what's going to happen. The doctor has no clue, he's just playing probabilities.

The second part of Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the conviction, or assurance of things not seen. This definitely plays into the last example I gave. But this has to deal with why we can have so much assurance or conviction today for things that have happened in the past. Think about sitting in a chair. You have no idea, usually, who made the chair, where it was made, or if it will hold you up this time. But, based on your knowledge of seeing others sitting in the chair, your experience sitting in chairs without them busting underneath you, your faith is built up that it is okay to sit in chairs even though you never saw it being built. You have a conviction and assurance of something not seen, namely the carpenter building it and the time he put into it to make it sturdy.

Is this faith? Yes. You have faith that the chair will hold you up. The two part process of faith in Hebrews 11 is very hard to separate as they go so much together. So, what do followers of Jesus mean when we speak of faith?

Basically, based on seeing God's providence, power, creation, historical evidences and scientific evidences throughout our lives, the lives of others and through nature we have the assurance that our hope is in the right place (namely the work of God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit) and that we have a true conviction that where we are presently in our faith is the outcome of knowing that we have not seen truly happened and happens.

Our faith in Jesus is not a blind leap of faith. It's based on substance, assurance, conviction and evidence, all given to us by God through the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

For those who are Christians who want to know a very practical way to think of your faith, it was spelled out very well in a book I am reading.

A translator was trying to translate a Bible for a tribe, but the tribe had no actual word for the term faith. As I speak to translators, this happens all the time, but what they look for is evidences of a certain word in that culture and then attach biblical terms with those local understandings. This translator went out with the local chief to hunt for the day. They were out all day and were very tired from all the hiking through the forest. As they got back to the village, they both sat down and just rested in the chairs in the front of the chief's home. At that point, it hit the translator clear as day. He asked the chief, what is the term for what we are doing right now? You know resting after working so hard and being tired? The chief told him and that was the term he used for faith.

Faith is resting in Christ and His work.

Jesus said,

My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:30

If, as a follower of Jesus it is hard for you to understand this, your faith is probably not on resting in Jesus, but probably toiling in your own works. We are to believe that the works of Jesus are enough and that our work is merely sprung from the love we have in our Saviour who bore our sin on the cross and rose again to show us the victory was won in Him, and nothing about us.

I hope this post helps explain faith in a clearer way to those who ask you.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Contextualizing Loving Your Neighbor for Seattleites

The infamous passage in the Bible where Jesus speaks about loving our neighbor as ourselves, you know, the good Samaritan story, is one that I think needs some retooling for my place in this world. I am not a pro on all cultures in the world or even in the United States, but one I know very well is my neighborhood and the surrounding areas of Seattle. This is my joint. This is my culture. I used to live in Oklahoma, which has a lot of the same culture of the South and so I know that a lot of people from that area might see this post as a waste of time for them...which is cool. But, I want to really reexamine the Good Samaritan story that Jesus told to the Jews to destroy their paradigm on loving neighbor.

The first time we see this command to love neighbor, comes in Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

You can actually see why the people would be a little confused if they only read this verse and didn't understand that God truly loved all people. Because in this verse it seems to convey the understanding that the "sons of your people" is equated with "neighbor." So, the Jews had always lived, or tried to live, in a way to where they literally loved their own neighbor in proximity and blood line. Outside of that, there was no reason to show love, because that wasn't the command as they read it in Leviticus 19.

What we know about Jesus is that, not only was he the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Sent One, but part of this mission was to destroy the Jews' paradigm of outward actions gains righteousness. The Jews believed that as long as they played by the rules, they would earn the reward. Not only did Jesus destroy this paradigm by actually re-pointing out what God actually had been saying for all of history, but he started to show the worldwide vision of God in redeeming all tribes and peoples.

So, when Jesus comes to show who neighbor is to the lawyer who asked in Luke 10:25-37, he destroys this man's paradigm of neighbor. For the lawyer, if he was a good Jew, he would know that Samaritans were Israeli half breeds, God's damned people and would have so much distaste for them that he would literally walk around Samaria on his journeys to and from Jerusalem. But, in the end of the story, this same lawyer's paradigm was squashed as he was forced to say (you can see his deep racism as he still won't say 'the Samaritan' when answering Jesus) that the one who showed mercy was this man's neighbor. Jesus was getting the Jews to think bigger and more vast. He was awakening them to the facts that God's family was about to be joined up by the Gentiles into the fold.

But, what about today? What has happened today in Seattle? What I have noticed as I look more and more in my life and also in the Christian culture as a whole, we seem to have reversed what the Jews used to do. Instead of us only caring about those directly beside us in our neighborhoods, we show more love and compassion for those "out there" than those who take their garbage out to the curb right next to us. We are willing to go overseas, serve the homeless, give money to poor kids in Africa, take short term mission trips, etc. etc. Now, hear me...I am NOT saying these things are bad nor are they to be put aside. But, what about our neighbors? What about those that live in our actual communities? How are we loving them as we love ourselves?

There are many reasons why people hate Christians, but most of them have to do with us being hypocrites. I am not saying that we are going to be able to be sinless, but what I am saying is: I wonder if we could at least change the understanding of what it looks like to follow Jesus if we were to actually love our neighbors instead of just smiling like a circus clown and waving at them as we get in our cars to drive off to the next ministry...

What if, instead of being so involved with programs at church, we understand that we are the church and our whole life is to be a life of worship of God and loving our neighbors? Isn't this what Jesus said?

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:29-31

And are we making this too difficult by all these programs at church that take us out of our neighborhoods? Jesus told us to "Go and make disciples" which means, "as you go..." It gives this idea that as you live your life, as you do those things that God has called you to do, like work, family, fun, hobbies, on your way to work and make disciples. I think we have made this too hard, when that wasn't the point. Jesus wants us to live with Gospel intentionality as we live our lives daily instead of trying to figure out what program we are going sign up for at church so that we can feel good about ourselves.

It seems like we sometimes make the same mistake that the Pharisees did by putting all these rules and regulations of what it looks like to be sanctified. What if instead we believed what Jesus said

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:30

Not only does this verse speak of salvation by grace, but it also speaks deeply against sanctification of works righteousness.

Maybe we should correct ourselves in trying to live for programs, instead of living for Jesus and loving our actual neighbors. Maybe we should seek out how we can live intentionally every day with those around us. Maybe we should listen to Jesus and "Go, therefore"

Just sayin'...

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Might A "Muslim" Gospel Culture Look LIke

Since I have been living in a Muslim culture for the last month, I started to think how would the gospel penetrate this place? It had surely penetrated this very culture 2000 years ago, certainly it could do it again. And I am positive that this is a job for the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, but the fact remains, we (The Church) are sent into the culture as Jesus was (John 20:21) to help penetrate every culture with the gospel of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14, 15; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8); so what's it take? I have been "Contending" for a gospel that is shaped by the cultural language in order to clearly communicate the message of Jesus Christ. Others of course have vehemently argued that this is an anathema and a compromise of Gospel truth. I will continue to contend though, that every presentation of the gospel is shaped by the cultural paradigm of the messenger. This is why there was a similar vehement argument in the first century, and the reason Paul had to write such glorious works as Romans and Galatians; to correct error, define the gospel, and exhort the church to be gracious in these culturally different movements (Romans 14:13-20).

The Jewish believers struggled greatly with the gentile believers who didn't adhere to their "Religious" traditions (Even traditions commanded by God in scripture), but the gospel spread when it was ripped from Jewish control, and was formed in pagan centers of asia-minor, Rome, North Africa, etc. There is no doubt that some syncretism resulted, but if the gospel is going to continue to move outward, it needs to be released by those that feel they own it, and trust that the Holy Spirit is still on duty (John 16:7-15; 1 John 2:27-29; 1 Corinthians 2:15-16).

Today we face similar challenges from many inside the church who believe they are the gate keepers of "truth," and foist their own culture on the gospel in the guise of gospel purity making missions to those outside their culture nearly impossible. Just the other day I was reading where a man was criticizing Rick Warren for praying to a "Merciful and compassionate God," during a prayer breakfast, because that prayer was Muslim, and catered to Islam; and although he acknowledged (Thankfully) that our God is "Merciful and Compassionate" he said it did not represent the gospel well. This is utter ridiculousness.
Apart from apologetic sites trying to deny this reality, there are a plethora of verses in the bible that have been co-opted from pagan texts, and applied to Yahweh, the one true God. Like Psalm 29, which is clearly a Canaanite, or Phonecian ode to Baal. According to theologian H.L. Ginsberg, "This psalm is a Yahwistic adaptation of an older Canaanite hymn to the storm-god Baal...” has been “...corroborated by the subsequent discovery of tablets at Ras Shamra and by progress in the interpretation of these texts” (1966, 1:175). Paul himself indicates in Acts 17:28 that he quoted their poets when he wrote, "For in Him we live and move and exist...for we also are his offspring" (This was written at first about the pagan Greek god Zeus). If something is true, it is true no matter what the source is that says it, which should remind us that the culture's religions, and poets, and artists can and do speak the truth as they perceive it through general revelation. To this Calvin writes:

“In reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from the creator...Whenever we meet heathen writers, let us learn from the light of truth which is admirably displayed in their works, that the human mind, fallen as it is, and corrupted from its integrity, is yet invested and adorned by God with excellent talents. If we believe that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth itself, we shall not reject or despise the truth itself, wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to insult the Spirit of God.

It amazes me that many who are quick to quote Calvin, Luther, etc. don't seem to have the intellectual integrity to think like these men. If we continue to ride into culture with our arrogant, white hats to spew our learned doctrine at the poor pagans who know no truth, we will continue to alienate billions of people from the truth of the gospel, all in the name of "Purity!"

It is quite possible that the gospel that transforms Muslim culture is going to do it as it has in any other culture and era, by the power of the Spirit regenerating hearts to respond to Jesus, and then creating the "Church" (Ecclesia) in that culture that will borrow from the sublime in the culture while discarding the chaff.

I heard a story the other day of a Muslim woman who converted to be a follower of Isa Al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah) through a series of dreams she had, and as she was meeting with a local missionary for discipleship, the Muslim woman asked, "What should I think and do about Mohamed?" The missionary woman, thought about it and said nothing, just pray to God, and let Him tell you, so the woman went home and prayed, and had a dream where she saw Mohamed in a coffin, beautifully adorned, and looking restful, and the Muslim woman concluded that God was showing her that Jesus is alive and Mohamed is in the grave. Can we still trust the Spirit of God to defend Himself, and to teach His people (Whom He loves more than we do) the truth about Himself, or are we obligated in wiping out every vestige of culture in order to replace it with our own "learned" thinking? This just makes us 'Functional Saviors" guarding the gates of our tribal god who is too weak to fend for himself.

Maybe a Muslim cultural version of the new believer may include praying five times a day, celebrating Ramadan and giving of alms, etc. but with a renewed sense of grace leading the way. Most Christians celebrate Easter and Christmas, and it is clearly known that those celebrations were very pagan; yet that's ok, since it's what "Christians" do. The way toward penetrating the diverse cultures of this world is through their own cultural stories that align in pointing to the gospel, which is as C.S. Lewis says:

“Now as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth, which is also fact (emphasis mine). The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from heaven of legend and imagination to earth of history. It happens-at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle."

Our gospel is the meta-narrative, the story of stories; the culmination of all stories which aim at the truth but fall a bit short because they lack the "Word of God" in the flesh, the direct revelation of the one true God, Jesus Christ. I pray that we work hard at presenting Jesus, and leaving the Christian religion where it belongs, in a history book.

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Contending Well For The Faith

"I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith, that was once for all delivered to the saints"
Jude 3

There is no doubt we are to "Contend" for the faith, but the bigger question for those applying this in the field, is what does that look like in a non-believing culture? In Jude 3 we see Jude appealing to believers to contend ("fight" from 'agon' a contest, agonize, etc.) for the "Faith" (The Gospel of Grace v.4) against false teachers who pervert such a doctrine, and have "Crept in" amongst the brethren and have "Perverted the grace of our Lord." But what are the circumstances that force us to contend/fight, and how is this done in a manner that we are articulating God's "Good News" so that those we are contending against can understand it (Contextualization)?

It seems that the circumstances that caused both Jesus and Paul to come out fighting (And arguably here in Jude) are religious hypocrites that work from the inside out, and force moralistic and legalistic doctrines on the people. These are people who want to "wrangle about words," instead of preach the doctrines of grace to those that don't know Christ with love and patience (See 2 Timothy 2:14ff). Paul commends the Elders in Acts 20 to watch out for "Fierce wolves who will come among you" and preach another doctrine (See Acts 20:28-32). Jesus' harshest words were reserved for the Pharisees and Sadducees, while Paul reserved his for the "Judaizers" who perverted the truth of the gospel from the inside. Ostensibly when they spoke to non-believers and pagans, they spoke with grace and tact (John 4; Acts 17:28ff; see too Colossians 4:1-4).

It seems obvious that non-believers and pagans reject the gospel truth, and are definitely in error when they speak about Christ and the church (What else should we expect), but it appears equally clear that many evangelicals have developed a polemic apologetic toward 'outsiders' that takes verses such as Jude 3 and wages war on any 'error' in order to make sure their argument was heard and they had won, rather than effectively communicating the gospel truth so that is understood by a non-believing person(s) (Ala Paul in Acts 17, and other uses of contextualization like John's use of pagan terms such as "Logos" to present Jesus to a pagan audience).

This polemic is never as clear as when someone tries to step out of their culture and contextualize the gospel in another culture. Certain words and phrases become taboo, while others become gospel themselves. All of a sudden we find ourselves 'contending' for words and phrases and not the gospel, and in doing so, we are acting as the Judaizers and Pharisees who demanded that certain traditions and words could or could not be spoken (ie. It was forbidden to use the name of God given to Moses on Sinai).

An interesting tactic of those that disdain this type of contextualization is to call those that contextualize heretics, etc. and then deflect any criticism by saying, "Anyone who holds the 'truth' of the gospel is always labeled legalist and pharisees by the unorthodox liberals." Well if the shoe fits...?

This type of rejection of contextualization has become evident in the effort to bring the gospel to the Muslim world. There is much debate surrounding words and phrases, and much name calling and self-righteousness is becoming more evident in the debate.

One of the phrases that has gotten much attention as of late is the biblical term "Son of God." To the Muslim, this term means that Mary and Allah had physical sexual union and bore a son and called Him Jesus. I don't know of any evangelical that would teach this type of blasphemy to anyone, but when we ignorantly lead with Jesus as God's Son, we are unknowingly doing exactly that. Ironically those that hold that Jude 3 demands that we "Offend" with the gospel, are ironically offending without the gospel, since the gospel isn't being heard by those they are trying to communicate it to. In their effort to 'contend for the faith,' they are unwittingly strengthening a false doctrine based on a misunderstanding of words and concepts. I am in no way denying the use of this phrase, but it may be prudent to lead with Jesus, and begin to define these terms in relationship with Muslims, so we can present the Jesus of the scriptures, and not a Jesus of our culture, or their cultural misunderstanding.

As evangelists and ambassadors of the faith, aren't we supposed to find words and concepts that accurately articulate the truth of the phrase "Son of God," rather than apotheosizing the phrase itself?

All in all, the balance between contending and contextualizing needs to fall in an understanding of what we are contending for and how we can best communicate that to every culture (Which takes some hard work for the missionary, which we all are).

I think 'contending' has to include contextualization, otherwise we are contending for something no one can understand or cares about. So let's begin our contending for the faith within the church (Where contending was intended) and contend' against a rash of moralizing and therapeutic sermons that spew out of our "Seeker Friendly" and fundamentalist pulpits weekly, and then contextualize the gospel to a world that has no idea who or what the 'Son of God' is or what He has done for us!

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Caner, Evangelicals, Muslims and the Media: Bearing False Witness

I have been asked many times on my opinion about the Ergun Caner fiasco. I have decided to not write on it because I don't feel qualified to write on it. But, Rick Love, an international recognized peacemaker between Christians and Muslims has written on the subject. Although Rick is a close friend of one of my close friends, I am just starting to get to know him. I would say this...his articles are very well written and I have had his site linked on my side bar for a while now. I highly recommend you to read his thoughts as he hits major heart issues and gets through cultural Christianity and cultural Islam. Here is his article on Ergun Caner, enjoy.

Caner, Evangelicals, Muslims and the Media: Bearing False Witness
By Rick Love

Liberty University recently demoted Ergun Caner from his role as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. “Factual statements that are self-contradictory” regarding his past (especially his purported involvement as a terrorist) were the reasons given for the demotion of this famous Muslim convert to Christ. (See Liberty Univ. Demotes Ergun Caner After Investigation and Liberty U. removing Ergun Caner as seminary dean over contradictory statements)

What are we to make of this fall from grace? I will leave it to others to evaluate the facts of the case. I have two larger concerns: why did Dr. Caner find such a receptive audience? How should followers of Christ relate to Muslims?

The media has bombarded us with sound bites and stereotypes about Muslims. Sometimes we are told that Islam is a religion of peace. Yet the more disturbing and frequent picture painted is of militant Islam. Many articles, books and websites about Muslims and terrorism present an alarmist and fear-inducing approach. These authors focus mainly on negative elements of Islam and the threat posed by radical Islam. They tend to project onto all Muslims a radical agenda espoused by only a few. The result: fear and alienation. (See an excellent critique of this in Why Do You Fear Me? and The Myth of Modern Jihad).

This is the context that made Dr. Caner a celebrity among many fundamentalists and some evangelicals. Here was a man who was the “real deal.” As a former Muslim and terrorist, he was an authority that demanded our attention and deserved our devotion. So now it’s easy to point our finger at Dr. Caner when we realize he has not been truthful about his background.

I am more concerned, however, about pointing the finger at evangelicals (and journalists of all types) who frequently exaggerate or make misstatements about Muslims. While this kind of commentary sells books and appeals to our fears, the Bible calls this bearing false witness. In fact, overstatement, exaggeration and words taken out of context should not be found among followers of Jesus. Scripture calls us to be careful about the words we speak:

•You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16 NASB)

•Every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36 NASB)

•In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12 NASB)

Thus we should strive to speak truthfully about Muslims, to respect Muslims’ own interpretation of themselves, and “not to compare the best of Christianity with the worst of Islam.” The lack of nuance, the negative stereo-typing of Muslims and the spread of Islamophobia among evangelicals is flat out wrong. There are far too many “Christians” who gulp down this potion of error.

How followers of Christ speak about others should be marked by grace and truth (Eph 4:25, 29; Col 4:6; John 1:14). The content of our message is important. But so is our motive and manner. (See “the Grace and Truth Project” for an example of how a large global network of evangelicals seeks to do this).

In addition, Jesus calls us to be peacemakers – to go beyond our comfort zones and outside the walls of our churches (Matthew 5:9, 44-45; Luke 6:27-36). No borders. No boundaries. Everyone. Including Muslims!

•If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18)

•Make every effort to live in peace with all men … (Hebrews 12:14).

Check out the realism of Romans 12:18: “if it is possible.” Peace isn’t always possible. We are called to be peacemakers but we will not always be peace achievers! Note, however, that the onus is on us to do everything in our power to make peace (“as far as it depends on you”). Hebrews 12:14 adds a further dimension. We are commanded to “make every effort” towards peace with everyone, indicating intensity of effort on our part. In a world of conflict, peace just doesn’t happen. It takes work! And a big part of this work is bridge-building communication. (For a good example of this see Yale Center for Faith and Culture).

Does this mean that we cannot engage in serious theological debate or that we cannot say anything negative about Muslims or terrorism? Of course not. Peacemaking and grace-and-truth communication does not imply naiveté or silence about troublesome issues. We are called to speak the truth in love and speaking the truth, even graciously, will offend some people.

But our focus should be on building bridges and positive witness. Lift up Christ, don’t tear down Islam. We should not attack the other. Respectful witness has nothing to do with being politically correct. It is a matter of being biblical: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). Anything less than this is bearing false witness!

Dr. Rick Love
President, Peace Catalyst International

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