Archives for the month of: June, 2013

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What is America?

During political seasons we hear talk of the “real” America. You can turn on 24 hour news channels and find stories about the “real” America. So what is it?

People want to argue that this is the greatest country on earth. Fine. Go ahead. I think about how divided we are. How the words liberal or conservative are dirty words to people. Or I think about our economy’s issues, or our healthcare, education, deficit, etc. How we all think that our version of how America should be is the best version.

You and I won’t agree on how this country should be. Nor what makes it a good country. Nor what laws should be or should not be in place. But we can agree on this –

America, “real” America is found in the cemeteries containing our servicemen throughout the world. That’s where the hopes and dreams of America lie. Where the young lives of our men and women were extinguished fighting on behalf of their country.

Is every war easily answerable and explained? No. I’ll never grasp the reality of war. I’ll never grasp the mindset of the 18 year old on the way to Hanoi. I will say that as long as citizens put their lives on the line for our country, America will continue to exist. You can look back on the 20th century and find darkness everywhere. America was involved in countless wars – Spanish American, WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Gulf War. Each can be argued a thousand different ways, each can be made just or in-just. But the one thing remains throughout – the heart of the serviceman/woman remains strong. The choice to lay down their own hopes and dreams for a time or perhaps forever was and is continually made. For this there is no thanks strong enough from the average citizen.

Today is the 69th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Not every person on the beach that day knew why they were there. They only knew the country called and they responded. This idea, this hope is what keeps America moving forward despite our differences. Eighteen-year old boys off the farm for the first time cut down seconds after hitting the water. Desperate cries for mothers, fathers, family made. The anguish of so many families was made real that day, on both sides. The Germans themselves nearly lost a generation during 1939-1945. No one alive then was untouched by that day. June 6th is a watershed moment in our history. A moment when you can argue “good” overcame “evil.” With that said though – war is ugly, war is never “good.” War only tears apart. But in the fire of war, countries are forged. Look at the middle east in the past two years. The oppressed are shaking off constraints, and it’s messy, but freedom is being found. This is the same thing in 1944. This is where America is found.

The blood of our young, laid down in sacrifice for millions in the future. This is America

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and Geoff Holsclaw. You should check out the first five reviews herehereherehere, and here. But do not just stop with the reviews, read this book.

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Words matter. As any poet or song writer will tell you, it is worth the labor to come up with the right word. A particular word or phrase can go a long way to creating an imagination for action in the world. At the heart of Christian faith is an important word, gospel. It is interesting the Bible authors used gospel, which means news. The very choice of the term gospel gives us  insight into the nature and character of the faith that gave birth to the New Testament. The authors landed on this word not by accident because there were other words at their disposal. They could have adopted other words to denote such ideas as illustration or knowledge or mystery, but the New Testament authors needed a word to pinpoint something more.

The question is what makes the gospel of God newsworthy? A group of men and women, confronted with the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus was invited to understand how Jesus’ activity was good news. They began to say “Jesus is Lord” and live a particular way because of what they had witnessed. Later, Martin Luther, struggling with guilt, read Romans and understood how the good news of God was newsworthy in his context. This practice continues in our context today.


The beauty of the gospel of God is that it continues to be newsworthy, but to keep it in the mode of good news we have to understand the fullness of the gospel of God. Geoff Holsclaw and David Finch’s sixth signpost describes a robust gospel that is good news for all.

They begin their chapter describing a conversation at Starbucks. One friend shared about some difficulties in her life. Everything in her life seems to be a disaster. The question is how is the gospel of God is newsworthy in this situation? Like a story of a cat stuck in a tree, making its way through tragic breaking news, the plan of salvation does not seem newsworthy in this conversation. The problem is this has been the main way we have described the gospel. We need a more robust gospel that allows us to proclaim and perform the gospel as good news in all situations.

The way forward demands a gospel that holds both the kingdom and the cross together because the gospel is good news for all people. 

The authors draw on the great work of Scot McKnight and NT Wright to describe how the good news is related to God’s saving work throughout the whole of scripture. The gospel is not simply the plan of salvation, but it is the story of salvation. Now this might seem like a slight difference, but it helps bring the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into God’s full story of salvation. Instead of the Old Testament and the story of Israel getting little to no treatment in the plan of salvation, the story of salvation helps bring the whole canon into view.

The authors invite us to take a second look at Romans to bring the Gospel story into view. This is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, they do an excellent job of following Paul’s argument, but it is also wise to deal with Romans because Luther’s reading of Romans gave rise to the salvation by faith gospel. Romans is instead a process by which Paul reveals how the kingdom and cross fit together.

Through Paul’s movement in Romans 1-5 we learn God is faithful to the promises to Israel through the faithfulness of Jesus. This faithfulness speaks new life into a people who lacked faith. In this activity of Jesus, “God’s righteousness is unveiled through Jesus the Messiah on the one hand and for the benefit of all who believe on the other.” Something new is afoot; God has become king in Jesus. Even though humanity was sinful, starting with Adam (Romans 5), God’s new kingdom has become through the faithfulness of Jesus. And this is not only for the Jews, but it is through anyone who is a descendant of Abraham (Romans 4), those who have faith.

This is more than a plan of salvation, it is more than a message, new knowledge or truth. The good news of God is that “Where ever God’s reign is extended, the world is reordered and restored. In Christ, the promised blessings through Israel are not making their way to all nations and in this way God is making all things right.”

So what? Does this make any difference? It makes a huge difference because a larger understanding opens us up to a new imagination. The proclamation and performance of the gospel looks much different. It is not simply driven by the question, “Have you been saved?” Evangelism takes on a new life. The authors describe four “on-ramps” into the Kingdom.

The first on-ramp notices God is reconciling you in all your relationships. Christians are described in 1 Corinthians as ambassadors of reconciliation. This means “gospeling” works to encourage, develop, and proclaim the power of reconciled relationships. They say, “We must proclaim into people’s lives, when the occasion arises and the Spirit prompts, that God is at work reconciling all relationships, including our relationships, in Jesus Christ (Kindle location 2948).”

Second, we are people who point to God’s work making all things new. This kind of proclamation happens as we pay attention, listen, and point to the places where by the Spirit we see God working. God is not simply involved in the saving of your soul, but God is at work in all parts of our lives. God is taking us somewhere. Our lives are not simply meaningless moments until we die. God is up to something in our midst and this on-ramp calls people to faith and obedience to what God is doing.

The third on ramp acknowledges that ours is a culture of sin and death. All over the place we are confronted with people who find themselves powerless, trapped, and overwhelmed. The gospel tells a different story. God has put the power of sin to death and is calling you into life. We are called to participate in the faith of Jesus and put to death desires of the first Adam.

The fourth on ramp draws us into God’s mission. The story of salvation tells of “God’s great mission to bring the whole world to God’s own righteousness, justice, new creation, and reconciliation (location 2973).” Because God has become King in Jesus, we know God is already at work, so the gospel calls us to join God. We are called to invite people to discover God’s mission with us. We fight injustice, poverty, sin, and evil not because it is a fine thing to do, but because God is working to redeem the whole world.

Prodigal Christianity is a thick description of God’s story of salvation. It connects the cross and the kingdom together, so people are able to imagine a new way to proclaim and perform the good news of God. 

A few days ago, I sat down and read half of Stephen King’s book On Writing. It is not the first time I have read it; I return to it often. More than the advice, I love the writing. His prose is sharp and beautiful.

Well into the book, King turns to the work of storytelling. He says, “Stories are found things; story-telling is a kin to uncovering a relic or pulling a fossil from the earth.” Tools, experience, and imagination help the author uncover the sacred piece, but story is not one’s possession. I think King is onto something. Just as he would say the short novella or the multiple part narratives are waiting to uncovered, I think ours is also a process of uncovering.

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It is easy to see God as the church’s possession. In this sense, the work of ministry and Christian life is as simple as taking our message to the world. A sort of goods and services with a Holy promise. It almost seems as if we have God hidden in our sacred spaces. Tucked away for those invited or those who stumble in on Sunday. 

The reality is God is all over the place. As Rob Bell once said, “We live in a world draped in God.” Logic does little to ease this mystery yet it is a promise that stretches throughout Scripture. “If I make my bed in the depth or settle on the far sides of the seas, there you will find me. Your right hand holds me fast.” 

Big words like omnipresent do little to make sense of God’s present, ongoing work in the world. 

 I have heard it said, “God is as close as your very breath, but beyond your ability to possess.” 

God is not present in some abstract mysterious way, the crucified Messiah is present in the concrete situations of our lives, from the ordinary and mundane to euphoric moments and even to the dreadful sufferings of life. Douglas John Hall in his book The Cross in Our Context says, 

 “the cross of the Christ marks, in a decisive and irrevocable way, the unconditional participation in the life of the world, the concretization of God’s love for the world, the commitment of God to the fulfillment of the creation’s promise.”

This way of speaking about God is the work of faith because it stands against the natural laws of the world. One way of looking at the world assumes the physical is the end of the story. 

But the Psalmists insist on a different narrative. They sing of the ongoing creation of the world. The creator God did not create, rest, and sit back and watch. That deity is a different god, but it surely is not the God of Israel. The personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is engaged in the unfolding drama of creation and covenant.

The same God who spoke in the beginning, continues to speak life and breath and everything into existence. Luke Timothy Johnson goes so far as to say, “God creates out of nothing every day; each day we are renewed by the ongoing creativity of the living and active God.  

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God is on the move in our world. The beautiful reality is our God, through the Son and in the power of the Spirit, is out front of us working. 

This means we need to re-imagine how we engage in God’s mission. The Church finds its calling in the mission of God. You see the Church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a Church. The task of the Church is less to get people to come in, but to get out to uncover God like Stephen King has uncovered the many novels that bear his name.  

Tools, experience, and imagination can help us with the task, but God is to be uncovered all over the place. This means we must be available and attentive. David Fitch, in Prodigal Christianity, says, “If we truly believe God is at work in the world, we must take the time to pay attention, listen, and discern what God is doing in the lives of those around us.”  

This means we need to spend less time giving people the instrumental speech of apologetics and argument, and train people in the art of description and imagination. These skills are the skills of discovery. 

The imagination grounded in the mystery of the Triune God has a way of opening people to God’s new world. This new world is as close as our very breath, yet beyond our control.