Archives for the month of: January, 2013

This week my congregation read the first several chapters of Genesis. As I read the creation narratives, I was struck by a couple things. I was struck by how poorly we have read the opening two chapters. Why I say this is because we have allowed ourselves to get bogged down by discussions that distract us. While some find value in arguing about the literal length of days or pitting science up against Genesis chapter 1, it distracts from the goings on of the text. The story of God’s creation is a beautiful telling of the Creator. Do not misunderstand me; I do not want to dismiss the fact God is the creator. As I read the testimony of Israel, this is their concern. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, Israel proclaims theirs is the powerful creator God. They envision God on the throne speaking all things into existence. 

I believe God created out of the overflow of God’s love. As I have posted elsewhere, I am overtly Trinitarian. When I read in Genesis 1, “Let us make man in our image,” my mind goes directly to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Triune life of God is one of communion. The Godhead forms a life of perfect communion together; God had all things in the Triune life. This means God’s choice to create was an act of generosity. Creation is from the overflow of God’s love. 

Then we read God created us in God’s image. Male and female are the very good part of God’s creation. We are the image bearers of the Triune God. Often, I have been too distracted with the specifics of the order of creation or other discussion to bask in the reality of what it means to be God’s image bearer. We find our identity and calling in Genesis 1 and 2. We do not need to look any further to understand ourselves. We are the people beloved by God. Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, our identity must be found in the reality that God has created us out of the desire of God’s heart. 

God then takes this man and women and places them in the garden to go to work. Have you ever noticed Adam is put to work before the fall? Humanity had a part to play in God’s plan from the very beginning. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took Adam and placed him in the garden to till it and keep it.” Even before the fall, God chose humans to be his partners. Just as we are invited to be coworkers in God’s reconciling work, Adam and Eve were given a part to play. Though the fall brought sin into the world, God’s plan for the world did not change. God created with the plan for humanity to partner with him in moving creation forward, even Eden was not a finished product. 

Genesis 1 and 2 introduce us to the Creator God who has the power to create all things, and the desire to be in relationship with creation. It also helps us understand God’s calling for our lives. We are to the God’s image bearers in the world, and it means we are to go to work right alongside of the Triune bringing life out of the rubble of death. 

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Settle in, I’m on a soapbox. You’ll probably want to go grab a cup of coffee and a cookie, it’ll help you get through this.

THE EARTH! ORPHANS! POLITICS! THE HUNGRY! CHILDREN! SALVATION! SANCTIFICATION! ANTI-GAY! ANTI-ABORTION! REPUBLICANS! DEMOCRATS! ANTI-HOLLYWOOD!

Do I need go on? Christians love taking up a cause and making that the sole focus of their work and ultimately Christ don’t they? First let me place a caveat on this whole post – God bless you if you work with the poor, the sick, the orphaned, the unloved. Christ be with you and work through you.

What I’m railing against is people who find one niche, one aspect, and then present their focus as the focus of Christ. The idea somehow that the very thing they’re most focused on is the very thing you should be most focused on. That somehow Christ’s word to them and their work is the same word to all – “Jesus told me to vote Republican/Democrat, and if you don’t vote that way, you’re obviously not in tune with the spirit.”

I love music and growing up I’d bounce back and forth between – christian only or non-christian as well. If I had settled on christian only, it would be unreasonable for me to expect all to have the same vision and focus. It would also be unreasonable for me to then be annoyed with a church that never spoke out against non-christian music. The beauty and mystery of God is that he can give words to each of us and each of us have a different gift and goal.

The focus of Christ and our focus should be to bring him glory. If we feed the sick and it brings him glory, then we meet our goal. If we feed the sick, and are angry at our brother because he did not feed the sick….well….that’s a tough one to work through isn’t it? We need to maintain a sense of why we do what we do, and not make the actual work and end goal the focus.

I realize I’m building somewhat of a straw man argument and that it appears I’m against good deeds, but I’m not. What I’m trying to say is do good works, encourage your brothers and sisters to do good works, but do not become angry or let your faith be tested because you feel that someone else is not as focused on your work as you are.

I play guitar at church (#humblebrag) and I love it. I love coming together, using gifts, and singing praise to my creator, but you know what? To some people, the music aspect of church is not a big deal. Should I be upset and leave the church to find a group that are music focused only? No! We are one body with many parts and we all work together for Christ.

Don’t put human ideals and goals on Christ and claim them as his cause. Don’t claim politics and America as Christ’s goals. You do these things because of your love for Christ, not as your love for Christ. Feed the sick and love the orphans because you are sick and orphaned. God bless you as you go.

Finally – can you choose which parts of what Christ commands of us are more important than another? Can you tell me – oh God cares more about my work than yours? (Unless of course your work is something against his will). We are called to become like Christ – little Christs – Christ-ians. That means we do all, we be all we claim all. We seek and find, we don’t say – oh Christ really wants us to not drive SUVs, while being as gluttonous as we can. We are called to follow in all ways.

We have to get along. We are one body. We are one heart. We are one church.

The summer after my junior year of college I took a job as a youth ministry intern. One of the summer events was a trip to Colorado to do a weeklong hike up one of Colorado’s 14,000 foot mountains. Our guides were well-trained climbers and they cared deeply about the forests. Up until that time I spent very little time thinking about the environment. I was a consumer; if everything was going to burn up then why should I care for the earth. While we were at camp, at about 11,000 feet, we were asked to leave the forest as it was when we arrived. Many things changed for me on the mountain and one of them was my care for the environment. Several years later, the national media really began to push “green initiatives.” My wife and I started to recycle and make other life changes to protect the environment. What began as a good practice has developed into an important theological issue for me. New creation theology calls us to be stewards of all creation because God’s salvation is concerned with all of creation. 

In 1967, Lynn Wright Jr. argued environmental degration was an indirect product of Christianity, which he labeled the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. Salvation has largely been described as personal salvation in the west, so saving souls have been the leading mission. The bible teaches us God is concerned with each individual’s salvation, but it also invites a deeper reflection about God’s saving work. Christopher Wright points out Paul includes creation in the saving power of the cross. He says, “It is vital to see here that the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, is the means of reconciliation of creation to God, not only of sinners.” Colossians 1 and Romans 8:19-24 show the whole creation is involved in God’s redeeming work. 

If Paul’s vision of the gospel is as wide as creation itself our mission has to reflect the length and breadth and depth of the gospel. Our mission is not only to save souls, but we must become a people who usher in God’s creation. This does not mean we are doing the building, it simply means we have to fully accept our roles. From the beginning God gave humanity a special role. Male and female were to fill the earth, to subdue the it, and to rule over the rest of the created order. A misunderstanding of these ideas has led to humanity forcing its will on the natural order, but this was not the intent of God. God chose humanity to rule over creation within his reign.  God has enlisted us to act as his stewards in the project of creation. And following the disaster of rebellion and corruption, he has built into the gospel message the fact that through the work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, he equips humans to help in the work of getting the project back on track. The incarnation and the cross teach us that dominion is not a matter of power, but sacrificial self-giving love. The church is to go to the places where creation is groaning, following God as he puts all things right.

New creation theology compels us to live as a witness to God’s grand salvation. We  serve the environment because the mission of God so invites. Growth in a concern for the environment  helps us embrace the fuller mission of God. To see ourselves as co-workers in God’s work would help some see themselves as part of God’s story. The ecological crisis is something that should concern us because we are called to act out the future in which we hope. We cannot stand by as some exercise unrestrained dominion on the created order, and we cannot stand by as our global neighbors are left without water. The crisis is not only a global problem, so we need to be a community that takes a take a lead in caring for our environment. The discipline allows us to glorify the creation, as well as force us to slow down and remember that God is the sustainer of our lives.

 

I was awoken at 4AM this morning by my oldest jumping into our bed and declaring that he was escaping a nightmare about a “monster” out to get him. With it being 4AM, I had no option but to let him stay and allow my sleep to suffer.

Side note here – how is it possible that in a king size bed our five year old can amazingly eat up the most room?! How is it that when allowed to join the parent’s bed, the child suddenly becomes a 6’11” NBA player trying to take all the covers? This I’ll never know.

The reason I bring up his dream is because of something that happened to our youngest last year. My wife’s grandmother suffered a stroke in 2007 and had never recovered, but carried on through February of 2012. I do not remember the exact date, but on a Sunday last February the family gathered at her bedside as it was apparent that her last moments on earth were near. My wife’s grandmother was a woman of great faith, a missionary in Africa, a teacher to many, and the foundation for an amazing family legacy. As the family gathered and sang hymns around her bed, my father in law had our youngest, who at the time was seven months old, in his arms. As the final moments happened, our youngest began to stare at the ceiling laughing and reaching up for something that was obviously there to him, and not to us. My wife had long prayed that somehow our kids would know her grandmother (and grandfather, who had passed in 2000) and at that moment, our youngest did.

I realize this is a bit out there for some, but it shouldn’t be. As young children, we are the closest to God and heaven we can be, we’re in tune with the spiritual world, because we are not yet jaded by reality. I think this is why Christ wants us to come as little children to him – unashamed and looking for the spiritual world all around us. This is obviously not easy, but we have to seek him, seek spiritual conversations and genuinely pray for the kingdom to manifest itself in our lives. That we, like the naiveté in a child, see the wonder around us.

So if you have kids and they talk of monsters or something in their room, don’t dismiss it. Talk through it, pray with them. Teach them of spiritual things while they are young. Encourage them to look for Jesus all around.

Last night Jill and I watched The Witness, a short documentary film that recounts the last few days of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His final days were spent in Memphis, Tennessee to stand with the sanitation workers. These almost unanimously black men were on strike and Dr. King could not let them stand alone. In his final speech, “The question is not if I stop to help this man in need what will happen to me. The question is if I do not stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to them, that is the question.” 

Dr. King understood something about justice. As I listened this morning to the “Mountain Top Speech” in its entirety, I was taken aback by how powerfully King spoke on the eve of his death. The justice he was fighting for was not restrained by fear. The justice King was fighting for was driven by the call of God. King knew things were not right in the world. He knew there was trouble all around. He, just as we all have, had seen the darkness, but he also believed something was afoot. He said, “It is only when it is darkest that we can see the stars.” He continued, “Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world.” Dr. King was certain God was on the move, and God’s kingdom was breaking in. 

The last day as I have listened and read Dr. King, I am forced to think about what is going on in my world. I am forced to look at my life and my church. N.T. Wright begins Simply Christian talking about justice. He says, “Those who follow Jesus are committed to, as he taught us to pray, to God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. And that means God’s passion for justice must become ours, too.” This passion for justice has become muddled in my mind because so often I fall back on what is just for me. I am driven by my thoughts, my values, and my rights. This is not the call of Jesus and this is not the justice of God. 

Why I find King’s above quote powerful is because it paints a picture of real justice. If we are going to be extremist about justice then we are going to have to be driven not by our concern, but the concern of the other. We must learn to ask what would happen to my neighbor if I did nothing.

When the sanitation workers went on strike they chose a simple but powerful slogan, “I Am A Man.” The strike was not simply about fair wages. It was not only about benefits, it was about their humanity. The leaders understood the only way change would happen is if Memphis—and the rest of the world—recognized them as human beings. This slogan is not only the cry of the strikers in 1968, it is the cry of injustice everywhere. “I Am Human.” Justice begins when we are able to see the other person as a human being. It is easy to dismiss injustice through the eyes of objectification, but if we learn of the humanity of the oppressed, we will be moved. We follow a God who sees, hears, and acts to save. 

When it comes to justice it is easy to see the pain and hear the cries of the people but be paralyzed at the vastness of the task. It is also easy to bury our heads in the sand, to pursue lives that do not come in contact with injustice. But neither of these responses will do. Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, the preacher who stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel when King was shot said, “Yes, you can kill the dreamer, but no, you absolutely cannot kill the dream.” We carry the dream of men and women like Martin Luther King because they have shown us the way to follow Jesus. We are the people of God who live and pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.