Monday, January 31, 2005

An Unmarketable Message

One of our readings yesterday was 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 where Paul states that the Gospel message is ridiculous (foolishness) to all but those who are being saved. I am afraid that too often well-intentioned Christians have tried to remove the absurdity of the message of the cross in order to better spread the Gospel. In other words, Paul obviously knew nothing about marketing. You can't sell foolishness, for goodness sake! You have to find a way to show how Christ is what they are looking for. I agree . . . we can show that Christ is what they are looking for if they are on the right journey.

Too many people want a god who will satisfy their desires . . . but what we need is for God to accompany us through life. The good news of the Kingdom of God is that such a life is freely available through Christ. This is not about having our desires met, but living in God's Kingdom under his gracious direction. Everything is redefined, even our desires. Our will becomes His Will. Unfortunately, that is not what many are looking for.

Here and now eternal life is enjoyed by anyone who enters the divine life even though we find ourselves still burdened by our earthly existence. We recognize that beyond this life there is a fuller participation where what is promised and experienced in part, will be our all in all.

As we talk about the pitfalls of trying to market Christianity (does God really need a public relations consultant?) the most obvious is the gap between what people want and Who God is. Christian faith cannot be tailored to speak to a target audience - reshaped and packaged to appeal to their desires. Another name for the results of such attempts is 'heresy.'

We all know how some promise blessings in abundance, health and wealth, to all who follow Jesus faithfully. I cannot decry the crass salesmanship of those endeavors and turn around and choose a less blatant form - but one which is essentially based on appealing to human appetites rather than trusting in the Spirit's work. Unless we understand Paul's observation that the message of Christ is foolishness, we will try and make it palatable.

Let's face it . . . someone not oriented by the Spirit's working to seek God will find our message of following a crucified Savior into suffering for the sake of the world is an insane goal. The world will accept a savior who suffered so they don't have to suffer, but the world rejects a call to submission, selflessness, and suffering. No one in the flesh follows Jesus into his love - dying to self for others.

But we do not lose hope, though our message is unappealing and unmarketable. To those being saved such a message is the power of God. That is what Paul believed . . . and what we know by grace.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Why This Grace?
We usually ask 'why this suffering?' - assuming we are entitled to goodness but suffering is somehow a travesty. Even so, sometimes we are distinctly aware of a particular grace in our lives (read grace = any loving act of God, not just those relating to forgiving sin) within the multitude of graces. I find myself then wondering "why this grace?"

Actually the question seems ridiculous since the 'why' of every grace is the love and mercy of God. That is the 'why' from God's perspective . . . if it's not too presumptuous to talk about His view of things.

But for me there can always be a 'why' - which is the 'why' I will create in reaction to that grace. In this way the 'why' of the grace of being made a child of God is gratitude and being holy as He is Holy. It is not that God graces us to get something back, for grace is truly free - predicated on nothing in my past, present, or future . . . . but only on the eternal nature of God.

Nonetheless, as children of grace we ought to reflect on each experience of goodness . . . and put our own 'whys' to them. In this way we respond to the grace of God.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

You really ought to read Mark's blog from yesterday if you haven't already done so. Then you will want to read Alan Creech's blog that Mark refers to. I guarantee it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

In the past inviting people 'to church' meant asking them to come to a meeting. We encouraged people to come and sit in on our 'worship service' with the hope that they would join us permanently.

There is nothing particularly bad about offering those invitations. The problem I see is that the invitation is too limited. The Kingdom of God is so much more than church meetings, which is to say nothing bad about church meetings. If I say a car is much more than the motor, I am not being negative about internal combustion engines.

Being the people of God is about much more than Sundays. In saying that I am not trying to put down Sundays and what traditionally we do in meeting together, but to elevate the other days and our other daily activities so that we perceive we are just as much living out faith then as when we gather on Sunday.

The answer is not to stop inviting others to experience a loving gathering of believers who are engaged in worship to God and who are encouraging and teaching each other. Very good things happen when we gather to do that. We need to still 'invite people to church' - but it is a call to being the called out of God daily. Our invitations are to enter the Kingdom of God and live under his reign.

While being followers of Jesus will never be limited to Sunday meetings, experiencing authentic love and seeing it lived out in those assembled is an important way others start to see the Kingdom of God. Let's keep inviting people to church - knowing they'll not see a show, but experience a love created by the presence of God.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I've never claimed to be politely correct, or politically correct . . . however you want to term it. 'Tolerance of anything but intolerance' is often derided as some liberal, valueless, immoral notion that is corrupting our society and churches. Actually, I'd be happy to be labeled as such. Am I simply being politically correct? I am about to not be!

I am not saying that I have no convictions or fail to understand that there are definitely actions and desires that are sin. I know sin exists. I've done enough of it . . . and know how dark the recesses of our fleshly hearts are that I could never dismiss humanity's evil as just individual preference. Some tolerance today is rooted in moral ambivalence - but don't slap that label on me just because I welcome anyone in the name of Jesus. My acceptance of sinners is not due to moral laxity (seems Jesus was accused of that too).

My tolerance is an unwillingness to judge others' failures as unworthy of patience, while I overlook the severity of my own evil. Compared to a judgmental and self-righteous stance my willingness to be forbearing and caring about anyone with any struggle - and to proclaim full and free forgiveness to the awfulest of sinners - appears to be spineless to some. Take the conservative Christian bogeyman of homosexuality . . . is it sin worse than mine? Is heterosexual lust somehow more acceptable than homosexual lust?

Those hypocritical enough to censure others for sins no worse than their own are the ones who I find most objectionable because they want to force me to choose which brothers and sisters to love. It is a zero-sum game for them. My tolerance is a welcoming hope for anyone to seek Jesus. When we are deeply aware of our sinfulness we cling to grace, and seek the realization of our sanctification without condemning others who are on that same journey.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New Churches . . . REALLY New.
When Christians in the West began hearing about a huge church in Seoul, Korea pastored by Paul Yongi Cho . . . somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 people, the race was on to discover how to be a cell-based church. Not that brother Cho was after the numbers . . . but that is another matter - contrasting faithfulness and fleshly notions of success. You don't believe me? Would anyone have cared if there were 123 people meeting in Seoul? Those impressed by numbers would never have given Jesus a second look.

If Cho was talking about cell-based churches, what were the rest of us? I think the best way to describe most churches is campus based. Cho's shift was rarely ever truly embraced - a small group ministry is not the same as being thoroughly cell-based, which is about a change in the way one views the identity of church life regarding organization and communal interaction. For Cho the primary organizational unit and fundamental source of nurture is not the Sunday gathering of the greatest number of believers but the house-to-house groupings. The so-called cells were actually seen as where the real church life happens.

Okay, that is a great idea. The emphasis on Sunday meetings tends not to enrich us spiritually but impoverish us since being Christian is tied to a single place and time - where we spend a fraction of our week. Moving from super-assemblies to simple-gatherings is essential for spiritual formation to occur. I am assuming that 'Christ formed in us' is why we exist . . .

Let me suggest another, perhaps more radical change: what if we move from a church identity rooted in any meetings to an identity found in ministry? What if being the church is truly exemplified not in gatherings of believers but in living faithfully and graciously in the world? What are the implications? Let's see . . .

Friday, January 07, 2005

Can we have ambition that isn't actually selfish? Others might be confident that we can, but I'm not very optimistic on this one. Who has time for ambitions beyond seeking God, guarding one's own heart in God, and striving to be obedient to His instructions? In these our lives will be consumed, and they are all very much concentrated in the present moment. Who has the spiritual luxury of looking far ahead when the task of faithfulness in my now demands constant attention?

Maybe my obvious failures in the present are so numerous because I don't live enough in the present. Perhaps if I bring myself more into my now and seek God fully here, I will find that the Spirit is working today, not in my tomorow or yesterday. Too many thoughts of the future, too much ambition, tragically removes me from the only place I am with God . . . in the present.

Monday, January 03, 2005

After Christmas we took a trip to Texas to visit family. On I-20 between Dallas and Ft. Worth, when you are passing car dealerships, shopping malls, and other evidence of middle and upper class prosperity, I saw a magnificent and obviously new church building. The imposing structure is a sandstone beige color and sits squarely facing the highway. At the edge of the property was a banner which says "Your Tithes at Work".

Somehow, I don't think that would be something I would be proud of. Jesus was born in a stable, laid in a manger, grew up in a back-water province under foreign occupation, was persecuted and maligned during his ministry, and died on a cruel Roman cross so we could assemble in multi-million dollar edifices and call ourselves his followers????

I know . . . I'm too radical.