Thursday, June 24, 2010

Moving To New Blog

Well, it's time. I have been contemplating a new blog for some time. So starting now I will be blogging here. When I started this blog, I had something entirely different in mind than now. Before I was linking to other sites and commenting on news, culture and theology.

Now I write.

Nothing really original about that. But I just wanted a more focused place. No links. No drive-by posts. Hopefully just thoughtful writing written well.

We'll see.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why I No Longer Listen to Downloaded Sermons

(The following is not meant to be prescriptive for anyone's behavior. It is merely descriptive of my own. I bind no one's conscience.)

I have not listened to a recorded sermon in months. In fact I cannot remember the last time I did so. A lecture or "talk" maybe. But a sermon has not reached my ears which was not preached in my own church for a long while.

This is remarkable because I used to listen to sermons by pastors from across the country almost daily. But now, I not only don't do this any longer but I have no desire to resume my former practice. If you had told me I would feel and think this way a year ago, I would have been incredulous. I would have thought you did not know me well. I would have assumed such a practice would make me guilty of something. I know not what. But something along the lines of veering from the shibboleth-like course of the "Young, Restless and Reformed" (meaning no disrespect to my friend Collin Hansen).

My reasons for not listening to podcasted, downloaded or any other type of recorded sermon differ along the time of the practice itself. In other words, when the flood of sermonic mp3s began to recede from my iTunes folder the reasoning was different than now when it is more decisive. I know myself better now. Faults. Dispositions. Trajectories. All are in play and thankfully are somewhat more understandable even if not yet defeated.

It all started - or stopped, if you will - because I was tiring of the celebrity pastor phenomenon sweeping the evangelical landscape. For good or ill, it was starting to sicken me. I seemed to hear more people talk about the sermon they downloaded than the one the pastor put over them had delivered for their good. In this I heard the dissatisfaction of past moments in the life of Matt Redmond in their elation. I had so often said and done and thought just as they, it took no degree of imagination to hear my voice say the exact same thing. I had been more than a little guilty of downgrading the importance of the sermon served up by the shepherd appointed to feed my soul and watch it. By God. And I had upgraded the importance of the pastor who would never know me or my family...that is, apart from my desire to follow said pastor around to conference after conference after conference. After conference.

All this naturally led to the sermon being a medium of entertainment. I suppose I could find ways to entertain myself which would be worse for me. But the sermon by the celebrity pastor was now becoming like a TV show. How did I know this was a bad thing for me? I started expecting from all pastors what I was hearing in podcast form. I probably justified it in the name of excellence or something asinine like that. Don't get me wrong, we should expect our pastors to preach well just as we expect plumbers to plumb well. But not all will have the same abilities. And I must be honest, I was entertained the most by the sermons when the preacher was "bringing it" or "killing it." Whew, good to get that off my chest.

My main reason for no longer listening to sermons by celebrity preachers is...well, I have a preacher. When I am not preaching, he is my preacher/pastor. God has given him to me and my family for my good and his glory. He is the principle human agent I should be looking to for making sure my soul is fed. Are there better preachers out there? Yes. Of course, for there always will be. But they are not my pastor/shepherd. I would prefer for nothing to get in the way of what God has put in front of me to keep me on the way.

Related is my own preaching. There are certainly better preachers than myself. But I actually would appreciate the same sentiment by the people I am feeding when I preach. Self-serving convictions? Well yeah. Aren't they all?

I probably need to reiterate these convictions are my own. Feel free to appropriate them but do not feel constrained by them. My own heart is at stake here. Nothing else. I look back on the previous years with a guilt mixed with sanity, shaken and stirred. A strong drink at a high price but mixed well and worth whatever the payment required. My zeal after listening to a "killer sermon" by the celebrity pastor du jour quickly turned into zeal for other's convictions. Inevitably, I would hear a sermon on some moving subject and then very quickly want others to hear what I heard so their thinking could be changed.

Certainly I might do the same when listening to my pastor. But for my own part there is a controlling mechanism inherent deep inside my personal desire to be fed by the man standing in front of me, preaching the word. When I want no one else, effortlessly the Word is easily seen as being for me first and foremost. For conviction, encouragement, sight, hope, fire and refreshment.

So when you ask me if I have heard a sermon by anyone other than my pastor, my answer will increasingly be "no." For I do not listen to the recorded sermons of celebrity pastors anymore.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The God of the Mundane: Part 7, It's A Mundane Life

(The following is part of series of posts under the title, The God of the Mundane. You can access those easily through the following links: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.)

There is a scene in "It's A Wonderful Life" in which George Bailey is wanting to buy a suitcase. Excited, he tells the salesman, "I don't want something for one night, I want something for a thousand and one nights!" (Or something along those lines...I'm working from memory here.) The salesman shows him a second-hand piece of luggage and George remarks about how there is plenty of space for stickers from all the places he will go and see. He asks how much it is and he is told, "No charge." "What's that? That's my trick ear..." He is then told his old employer, "Old man Gower" bought it for him. I can see and hear George say, "He did?!" And then he heads over to the drugstore Old man Gower owns and where George used to work.

This is a powerful scene. I have watched this movie more than any other movie and in my opinion this is the most meaningful scene in the whole film. Here we have George bursting with excitement and on the edge of adventure. We are thrilled with him. But only the first time we watch the film.

For now we know.

We know the torment that is coming. We know he must shelve his trip because of his father's death. And then he will once again be disappointed, watching his dreams shatter on the craggy rocks of reality. His brother Harry will not be coming home to take the reins of the family business, the Bailey Building and Loan.

Another scene. He is standing outside of his home. Inside is a celebration of his brother's marriage. He has had to feign joy while harboring defeat. Before his mother comes out to push him in the direction of Mary Hatch's home, we watch him look with distress at the brochure's representing his dreams of leaving behind the mundane life he leads in Bedford Falls. And Jimmy Stewart, in a beautiful piece of acting, tosses those dreams of escape and adventure away and the brochures are thrown on the ground to be trod by those who could never know his disappointment.

And it's not over. He is now married to Mary Hatch. They have a triumphant handful of cash and are on their way out of town in Bert's Taxi. They are on the edge of a dream Honeymoon. Not only is George Bailey about to escape the mundanity of his hometown, the only environs he has known, but he is about to leave with his new wife. But again the dream is squelched and he, in a gorgeous moment, uses his own money meant for his honeymoon to save the business he runs and cares for. The life he pictured has once again been thrown to the threshing floor of things beyond his control.

Everyone focuses on the end of this movie. In the end the viewer sees his life was used to help people and change the lives of not only the people of his town but the effects of his everyday decisions starting in childhood reverberate with significance throughout the world. He realizes this because Heaven has entered into his life in the form of an angel named Clarence. Once he sees what he has accomplished in the midst of such a mundane existence, there is joy and a new lust for life that had left him - and left him to the point of contemplating suicide. Everyone loves this part of the movie, as do I.

The end of the picture is when we get God's perspective, of course. Heaven has burst in and George is now able to see clearly. We see clearly. Previously we all saw in a glass darkly. But now, clear. We like this. We want to be the George Bailey whose significance has been revealed. However, we do not want to be the George Bailey who leads a mundane life void of the excitement of the wider world which he longed for. We identify with his frustrations. We run away from the mundane. Or we tolerate it in expectation of something...other. No one really wants to be George Bailey. Wanting to have the same kind of impact on people's lives is not the same as wanting to be George Bailey.

The movie is profound on a level we rarely ever operate on. Let's look at another scene. George and Clarence (the angel) are sitting in a little building by the bridge George was about to jump off of. Of course, Clarence jumps in first because he knows the character and history of George and jumps in knowing he would be saved by him. George's clothes are now drying out. Our suicidal subject is lamenting his life and Clarence utters the very statement that sums up the message of the movie. He says, "you just don't know all that you've done."

All his dreams are crashing around him and George is staring in the face the horrific idea he has done nothing in his life. We get this, don't we? No one wants to grow up and be a nobody who lived a mundane life. We want to be rock stars. We want to be the kind of people books get written about. We want to leave our mark on the world. Obscurity is rarely the stuff of daydreams. Since the only people we celebrate are celebrities (singers, actors, writers, and in the church - celebrity pastors and biography-worthy missionaries) we of course want to be worthy of such talk ourselves. And this is what we want for our kids. No one wants to be George Bailey, really.

We don't want to be clerks toiling away in obscurity without notice of the wider world. And those who are fine with that, let's be honest, something is wrong with them. A quiet and peaceful life where nothing of significance can be seen with the naked eye stands in disdain inside and outside the church.

Christians could learn a lot here. We are guilty of not knowing what all we have done. Actually, that is not where the real guilt lies. It is where we feel it. But the actual guilt lies in our thinking because we do not know all that we have done, therefore we must have done nothing. We assume some kind of godlike posture as if we know the ends and implications of all our actions and then we make judgments based thereupon. Foolish, isn't it - this idea we have no significance because we have not seen it? We wallow in some kind of faux humility never realizing it is really ego which thinks, "If I cannot see it, it must not be there."

If there's no place in the halls of heroic Christian faith for unknown housewives and clerks, then we have not believed the gospel nor read the Word aright. Most people live mundane lives that will never be remembered beyond a couple generations and only then by their family members. This can be painful. Again, every Christian wants to do something wonderful in the name of Jesus. And to come to the end of your rope or life and not see you did anything at all worthy enough to be called significant can be devastating.

Of course, it's a lie. And it's a lie if only because the two greatest commands Jesus gave are more often than not going to look very mundane. Often our loving God will not be very noticeable and our loving our neighbor will not be memorable. Sometimes they may be, but more often than not, forgettable and forgotten. But it is also a lie simply because we do not know. Who could know the effects of daily living out of the depths of belief in the killed and risen God for those who rebelled against him?

Since we cannot see that in our day-in and day-out faithfulness to God, we are accomplishing something, we then begin to reevaluate our lives. "I cannot see that I have done anything at all with my life. Therefore I must do something significant." So we then go into the ministry or do something giving you the immediate satisfaction of seeing significance done. Finished. And done by us. This is not to say we should never take stock of what our lives are made up of. But we must face the fact there is a latent arrogance in this line of thinking. The arrogance of presumed omniscience. The arrogance of needing immediacy for validation. The problem and the difficulty is this just does not look anything like the conceit we are used to. This looks like ambition and single-mindedness. This is a cataclysmic forgetting of where our real significance is: Another, who rescued us from sin and death.

However, this is not all. There is a third stage. And it is the worst of all. The first is painful. The second is dangerous. But the last is repugnant. Stage one: I feel guilty about doing nothing. Stage 2: Therefore I must get on with something obviously significant. What comes next is absolutely natural but utterly reprehensible. Now we judge others by this standard. If they are not doing something obviously significant then we automatically say to ourself...or to them...and certainly to others, "They are not serious about their faith! If they were, they would do..." We can just finish the rest of the sentence with at the very least what we have done in the quest for making our mark on the world. And now as if there is not enough in the Scriptures given to us by God, we churn out new laws - in this case, the law of "do something big" - to prop up our own righteousness and judge another's by. And it gets worse, it now becomes the gospel. No longer are joy, assurance and hope lodged in the work of Christ on our behalf. All hope is now located in what we are doing that is so awesome for God.

And it all started with the very first lie, "You will be like God, knowing..."

A huge part of all this is the belief that nothing so mundane as "a peaceful and quiet life" can be significant. The idea that God can take the seemingly small, mundane tasks and responsibilities and turn them into something significant, while a strange way of thinking for us, is a common thread divinely woven throughout the gospel story. This is crucial. So not only have we forgotten the hope and assurance of the gospel of grace by trading it in for "significant" works but we have forgotten the very content of the story. The irony is how when Paul is counseling the churches he started in pagan lands he counsels them to lead quiet lives (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12; 1 Tim. 2:2) and never does he say "do something big!"

We should be the people most willing to buy into the view of life that sees work and making babies and caring for them as significant. These after all are what we were originally called to be doing. When we watch the lives of George Baileys lived out in front us, frustrated and tempted to think they have done little, we ought to be the representatives of the Kingdom most anxious to comfort them with, "You just don't know all that you've done!"

Of course, we must be doing something. And as believers we do something because of the gospel of grace in Jesus. We must be loving others: spouses, children, friends, family, neighbors. We must be holy - set apart - living lives that communicate to the watching world we live in allegiance to a King who has rescued us from something greater than the terrors of this world and its systems has to offer. Everyone has lives of fairly mundane parts and most everyone lives a fairly mundane life. And here is the irony. Christians often, and sometimes with pure hearts, are moved to acts of world-staggering significance because of the significance of their salvation. But even here, the heart only remains pure if their significance is in what Christ has done for them. On the cross.

This is not a call to insignificance. Actually it is the opposite. This is a call to the belief the Sovereign God of the Universe makes every moment significant and this is more true for those who have placed all the hope of significance in the work of Someone Else.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The God of the Mundane: Part 6, The Mundane Church

There was not a lot of work involved in my initial thinking about the idea of a Mundane Church. The idea was already working on me. While not entirely sure where it came from, I am certain part of it had to do with my leaving a very traditional PCA church and then being part of a suburban baptist church in the midwest. The change was jolting. But it took awhile for me to see the effect it was having on me. The change from experiencing virtually the same thing week in and week out to having something new and different every week was difficult in ways I could never have imagined. It would be nice if I could tell you a better reason for thinking about these things, you know like...I have studied trends and history and this is what I came up with. But that is not the case. While the reality may be that I have formed the ideas of the Mundane Church around my own history, it does not feel that way. It feels as if I was being formed by the idea of the Mundane Church.


Last week I told a friend of mine I was working on this post but I needed to put more work into it because it sounded combative. Let me be the first to admit how I have failed at this miserably. Regardless of how much I edit, this post has a combative edge. But I also must admit a great deal of the battle is with myself. My own desire for a "worship experience" and to create one as a pastor for others to be wowed by is not foreign to me. There is a daily combat I am engaged in when I think about what believers need and what I want them to see me do.
I cannot be alone. Surely there are others feeling the pull of a culture that wants everything to be big and full of awesomeness. And yet at the same time wants a church that is not trying to be awesome, just faithful. Similarly, is there anyone else who wants to watch a movie full of explosions and mad-wicked effects and then half-way through the flick, you long for a film of substance - of the BBC Masterpiece Theater type, full of great dialogue and a script thick with reality? Maybe it's the tug of the world that was and the pull of the world that is. Have you ever looked forward to a worship experience only to find yourself in the midst of it yearning for something which in comparison could only be called "mundane?"


Who wants to go to a Mundane Church? The Mundane Church is not ever original. And never could be called cutting edge. You won't see it running after fads. Caring nothing for the entertainment zeitgeist, it is tragically low-key. It will not borrow from the business world. It places its hope in the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, the administration of the sacraments and the relationships of those who are a part. It is not a slave to the calendar. The Mundane Church yawns in the face of programs and special events (which have ceased to be special because they are ever-present). It believes every gathering for the worship of God and his Son in the power of the Spirit is of immense importance. And yet the Mundane Church is not merely a gathering but a scattering of those who work and play and eat and drink and have sex and watch TV and give and buy and laugh and cry and serve and fail and triumph with the Spirit's help. The Mundane Church is anonymous and therefore thought of as failing. Week-in and week-out it does the same old thing it did last week. The Mundane Church will not attract the press or those who are looking for the next big thing. At the Mundane Church, there is God and Jesus and those who need them - empowered by the Holy Spirit.
There may be nothing more extreme than a mundane church. Radical because it stands athwart the tide of the day where celebrity is needed, encouraged and invested in. Crazy because it has said 'no' to the prevailing wisdom of the day which looks sideways upon those who are not 'with it.' Progressive because it serves in quiet confidence knowing there is no need to blow the social media shofar for every single. thing. it. does. Where does the quiet confidence come from? It comes from knowing it is doing what it has been called to do...testify to the glory of the gospel of King Jesus and his gracious reign.


I have a theory. What if our lack of desire for a Mundane Church is in proportion to our lack of desire to think about the mundane parts of our lives in light of the gospel. In other words, against the backdrop of concert-like worship experiences it is hard to see the spiritual significance of sweeping up the dried mac-cheese your 4 year old cast aside the night before and counting your drawer when the bank closes. Instead, the rock-hard mac and cheese gets in the way of doing really spiritual things like reading books by the latest and greatest...or even a blog post by a fairly obscure pastor in Alabama. And now that the bank drawer counting is out of the way the Christian life can be got on with. It is easy to think about Jesus and his grace and his love and care and our need for him when you are singing the newest and greatest worship song. But perhaps if our services were a little more mundane, the digging of the months-old french fries out of the seats of your mini van could stand tall in the pantheon of spiritual exercises. I wonder if our worship services have primed our spiritual pumps and we can now no longer look into the daily details of our lives and find anything but boredom.
We have it backwards. We think the concert-like worship services fit in well with our lives because we are used to that kind of music...the cds are sitting in our car right now. But the fact is our lives are so full of mundane moments, hours and days that are nothing like the euphoric time on Sunday morning, we cannot even imagine those mundane moments as significant. And I know, we cannot ever imagine those mundane churches as significant.
Even more, what if we stopped living as if worship was significant because of what we felt but instead because of Whom we worship. You see, we place the energy in the extremity of our emotions and call it "awesome." When all along there is God, awesome and holy and sovereign over every single thing. Which makes not only our worship services significant but everything else also. And the everything else is the reason for worship.


The argument for "relevance" makes sense to me. Mainly because I have wielded it like a weapon of violence on the innocent. But also because I think it is mostly right. I mean, we all want our worship services to be understandable to some degree. But see, again here is the thing, what if we have the relevance argument backwards? What if relevance was not under the tyranny of the moment? What if we took a long view of relevance assuming that some things (most things?) of significance have their significance hidden from us for a season. Or a generation.
We live in a world rife with the immediate. And the church has co-opted liberally. We cannot even imagine a philosophy of ministry where the preached word does not have to excite anyone as it is being preached. We should be glad if it does! But sometimes we are not moved for days, weeks, months and years. And usually this is the case when tragedy strikes or failure breaks in on us without warning. Then what we once heard or heard every week finally dawns on us breaking into the dark night of the soul.
But this kind of thinking is foreign to the church that is running from anything that reeks of the mundane at break-neck speed. Thus the blazing guitars, the lights, the branding, and the inevitable provocative sermon series on sex.
This is not to say you must expect music ripped out of the 17th century and a sermon full of the King's English. But you can expect those who are looking for a tremendous worship experience to possibly be bored to tears. The Mundane Church looks for the power to reside in the ordinary means of grace and not in explosive events, life-changing 6 week series and once in a lifetime experiences.


Eugene Peterson says, "The enemy of the church we want is the enemy of the church we have." I agree, though my agreement is like a freshly opened bottle of wine. Fragrant. pleasing to the eye. Eager. But not yet ready to pour.
Perhaps what would be helpful as we think about the Mundane Church is for us to see all the elements and thoughts above as possibly occurring anywhere. Some here and some there. Never all in one place. The challenge then is to look for them where you are and be comfortable with them. Be comfortable with the mundane in the midst of an ecclesiastical world yearning for another big bang. Be very comfortable with pastors who think locally and act locally and minister locally. And never speak at conferences. Look for the mundane and be thankful that right there, there are bits of your church which have not yet succumbed to what might be ridiculously called "exciting."

Friday, May 21, 2010

When Christianity Is defined by Actions Instead of Belief

When Christianity is defined by actions and not belief, one of two things are more than likely to happen.

1) The gospel will be pushed out of the center and all but abandoned for the sake of the actions by which Christianity has now become defined by. The fact is that nearly all actions required of Christians are not distinctive to those who believe in the gospel. The one thing that separates Christians from everyone else is belief and trust in the gospel of grace in Jesus. There are countless people who are OK with "following Jesus" in his ethics while content to ignore his atonement.


2) The one thing that will define the Christian life will be the one thing that can separate us from others: evangelism. Witnessing/Personal Evangelism will and already has become the baseline for determining the status of whether a person is Christian in the current evangelical culture. This is the inevitable result of placing emphasis on works at the expense of belief.

In the first inevitability, the call to these deeds are biblical, explicit and agreed on by every believer, though there may be disagreement on how to do these actions in particulars. The difference is motivation. In the second inevitability, the call is not so explicit and certainly not the thrust of the NT since there is never one explicit call to personal evangelism. Of course this does not mean it cannot be effective or that we should not do it. But it does tell us that if it were the bottom line for defining Christian faithfulness, the Apostles would have been more explicit and well, there would have been more talk of it.

There may be other inevitabilities for defining the Christian life in terms of action over belief but these are certain - as they are being played out everywhere in the current evangelical climate.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Beatles Songwriting Academy

There are a lot of good blogs out there. But They are not always easy to find. And it seems that most Christians are blogging like me - for other believers. And doing so on only "spiritual themes."

I mean, this is fine, but I love The Beatles.

Enter The Beatles Songwriting Academy. Matt Blick is spending his Sabbatical year off from leading the bands at his church to blog through the music pf The Beatles. How epic tis that for a Beatles fan? And he writes not only as a fan of music but as a musician who understands all the details that go into songwriting.

Half the time I'm lost, as I am not a musician. Chord progressions? But I am still fascinated just the same.

This post may seem like a detour for me. But not only have I enjoyed getting to know Matt a little (through Twitter) but I appreciate what he is doing. And not only because I am a Beatles fan. Whether you are a Beatles fan or not, there is a reason they continue to be so popular. They were great songwriters. Created in the image of God, all four of them reflected that creativity by making extraordinary music listened to the world over.

I cannot remember the last time I recommended a blog to anyone on my blog, so that should tell you something.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Have Christians Not Had the Influence in the Culture to Which They Have Aspired?

"In terms of the cultural economy...Christians in America today have institutional strength and vitality in the lower and peripheral areas of cultural production...the main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities) have not had the influence in the culture to which they have aspired is not that they don't believe enough, or try hard enough, or care enough, or think Christianly enough, or have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the areas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted. The culture-producing institutions of historical Christianity are largely marginalized in the economy of culture formation in North America. Its cultural capital is greatest where leverage in the larger culture is weakest."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Mother's Day Sermon...If I Had to Preach One

The Mother's Day Sermon. Oh how I have hated thee!

Usually one of three types of sermons are preached on Mother's Day. The first is one in celebration of Mother's. You know, "Mothers are awesome! God loves Mothers! Look at Mary!" The second is one telling Mother's how to be better Mothers. "Be like Mary or Hannah or..." "Happy Mother's here is how to be awesome as a mother." The third sermon we sometimes hear on Mother's Day is one that has nothing to do with Mothers. To be honest this is the one I usually prefer. Honor the Mothers...wait...all the women in the congregation and then preach on whatever you would have preached on if it were not Mother's Day.

I have not had to preach on Mother's Day yet. But I thought I would be preaching on Mother's Day this year but turns out it is not on the Sunday I am preaching next. So I was worried. What would I preach? I did not want to preach either of the first two kinds of Mother's Day sermons above but I would want to try and preach one of encouragement to Mothers. And I love the challenge of preaching a sermon that would be relevant for all who are in the pews...errr chairs.

OK, so here is where I would go with the sermon if I had to preach one...

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Thesis: Mother's, if you are in Christ Jesus, you ought to have no fear of condemnation because of your standing of righteousness because of Christ's work on your behalf on the cross.

Mothers, even though you may feel you are...

You are not condemned by messy homes.

You are not condemned by your lack of desire to homeschool.

You are not condemned by your personal sins.

You are not condemned by the knowledge of how easy it is for you to love one child more than another.

You are not condemned by your miscarriages.

You are not condemned by your lack of desire to have more kids.

You are not condemned by your inability to cook.

You are not condemned by being divorced.

You are not condemned by your desire to be alone, away from the kids for a time every. single. day.

You are not condemned by your body, which may not be what it once was.

You are not condemned by your failures as a mother.

You are not condemned by your rebellious children.

You are not condemned by the frustration of having to scrape mac & cheese off the kitchen floor. Again.

You are not condemned by all the fears and tears which flirt with insanity and take you to the precipice of despair.

You are not condemned by not being able to throw the party of the century for your kids.

You are not condemned for not feeding your kids meals that could only be made after a trip to Whole Foods.

You are not condemned by your need for a vacation.

You are not condemned for not living up to the standards of your Mother or Mother-in-law.

You are not condemned by the stares of those who have no kids when your kids erupt into volcanic screams in public places.

Mother's, though you may feel condemned, if you are in Christ, you are not condemned. Fight with this knowledge of what is real reality.

You are not condemned, because if you are in Christ, your identity...your righteousness is Christ alone. Therefore, enjoy the love and affection and acceptance of being a daughter perfectly loved with an unwavering love that flows from your Father in Heaven.

All those who are without mothers...

Do nothing as Husbands, Sons, Daughters, Mothers, Fathers, Mother-in-Laws, Father-in-Laws, friends, acquaintances and advice givers to diminish this reality. Nothing.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The God of the Mundane: Part 5, Big Ideas and Perpetual Adolescence

"We often let the big ideas, the majestic vistas of salvation, the grand visions of God's work in the world, and the great opportunities for making an impact in the name of Jesus distract us from taking with gospel seriousness the unglamorous ordinary. A person who is endowed with charisma, extraordinary motivational gifts. and organizational energy may tend to pull away from the tedium of the dailiness to the large, the visionary, the influential - the eternal verities - in a way that is magnetic and virtually irresistible.

But when the pull is indulged, the consequences are disastrous and virtually guarantee perpetual adolescence. And the people we spend most of our time with, our family members and fellow workers, bear the brunt of suffering our immaturity. Men and women who achieve public acclaim are especially vulnerable. Too many prominent leaders in church and government, in business and university, writers and entertainers, in infamously infantile and disappointing in intimate relationships." - Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection

How Do You Feel When Your Kids Are Sick and Hurting?

Our children have been sick a number of times lately. While they have a hard time sharing their toys with each other, they trip over themselves to share the latest stomach virus or cold. They also like to be liberal in their generosity towards us.

We have watched two children try to get well in the hospital. Knox, our middle child, spent his first week in a hospital being poked and prodded and tested. Why? He would stop breathing while he was asleep. Emma has been in the hospital numerous times with what has now been diagnosed as Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome. Here is what would happen; inevitably around the time of every exciting event in her life (birthday, Christmas, etc.) she would get worked up - anxious - and it would cause her to begin vomiting again and again and again. This would continue until she would have to be hospitalized for dehydration. More poking and prodding and testing. Imagine renting an inflatable for your daughter's birthday because other birthdays have gone badly because of her getting sick, only to send it back because she is in the emergency room. Again.

As a parent, it is painful to watch. Actually that last statement is an understatement. It is horrifying. You hate watching your children hurt. You would do anything to make it stop. You find yourself pouring out love on them and sparing no expense to see them smile. You will even weep tears of joy when you see them improve. You care nothing about getting sick yourself so you kiss their heads and hold them and find what used to turn your stomach is now something you find yourself glad to do. Why? Because you delight to pour out your affectionate love on them.

Yesterday, our son, Knox got sick. My wife and I sat and talked last night about how painful it is to watch him hurt and just not look well. I thought about it and I told her, "I suppose we are seeing a glimpse of a loving Heavenly Father." I mean, he certainly loves us more than I could ever hope to love my children. Even my hope for my children to be well has in it also the desire for me to be inconvenienced no longer. God's love when we are hurting is far more tender than my love for my children. But for some reason, this is hard to believe. Let's face it, for some reason or another, we find it hard to believe that God is always pouring out affection upon us who are his. Our first reaction when we get sick or hurt is that this must be judgment, is it not?

"What have I done to deserve this?!"

And so, we beat ourselves up and wonder what we have done to make God stand aloof. Oh, we are prone to look at our sickness and remind ourselves of how sinful we are. We want to remind ourselves we are worms. And so, we think it makes the most sense in the world that God would throw lightning bolts of fever and disease in our direction. This is foolish.

The week we moved to Wichita was insanely crazy as all moves are. Emma got sick just 2 days after we moved in. That night I was up with her. She had been asleep. She woke up. She got sick. And afterwards she sleepily - with concern on her face - asked me if I was upset with her. My face full of concern must have looked like the face of one who was mad. Aghast, "Of course not!" I told her. And I reassured her with loving kisses. She was then told how painful it is for her Daddy to watch her hurt and that is why it looked like I was frowning.

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That he would give his only Son
To make a wretch his treasure

Yes, we are shot through with a depth of rebellion and sin, we cannot even imagine. But the good news is when we hurt the most, those who are his can be certain of his never-ending love and affection for us. God is not standing aloof waiting for the pain to go away and for us to learn our lesson. He is, with wild abandon, running towards us with grace and mercy and love and tenderness. Sure, every sickness can be helpful reminder of our sinfulness. But do not leave off the sermon of God's gracious love for sinners who hurt under the weight of it all.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Silence of Paul On Evangelism, Part 2: Passages Which May or May Not Be About Evangelism

One of the more reasonable responses I have received as a result of my post, The Silence of Paul On Evangelism has been the many verses and biblical passages people have either hit me with me or kindly asked my opinion on. So I thought it would be helpful to put all of them and my responses to them all in one place. My hope is to impress upon you the seriousness with which I take these concerns and the seriousness with which I look into the Scriptures...unless we are talking about the Song of Solomon...because I am prone to giggle when reading it.

Matthew 28:19-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This is the biggie. This is the passage to trump all passages. It is after all the "Great Commission." Indeed it is the only commission. It is sort of repeated in Luke and while it is in Mark, the earliest Manuscripts do not include it so it was most likely added later and not original. In Acts 1:8, we have something similar with more specific geography added; Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.

There are a lot of different views on the "Great Commission" and how it is to be interpreted. There is no need to get into those. Mainly because I think it requires a painful stretching of the passage to walk away from reading it thinking you need to accost the unwitting unbeliever with his need to repent and believe as he walks along the beach with his dog. In fact, throughout church history - actually up until a couple hundred years ago - this passage was one of ecclesiology more than missiology. It was seen as more about the church than it was about missions or evangelism. Think about it. Making disciples by baptizing and teaching them has always been in the context of communal church life, that is until post-enlightenment individualism. To use this passage as the trump card for us being required to practice what is nowadays called "personal evangelism" is running roughshod over the text with the heavy weight of prior assumptions.

However, I am happy to agree that some kind of evangelism must be in view here. But I would suggest this is in the context of people joining a church - a community of faith where they would be baptized and taught.

My great question, which many have already told me they did not appreciate is this, "Why is such a great commission never repeated in the teaching of the Apostles to the churches? I mean, if it is great...?

Romans 10:13 - 15

For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?...

This is one of the more popular passages sent to me in response to my assertion that Paul has not commanded the lay person to evangelize. Let me say two things in response.

First, there is no command here. Soooo, this actually proves my point and in no wise refutes it.

Second, there does seem to be a description of the need for people to hear the gospel. I agree with this wholeheartedly. However, this is a description of a vocational preacher/missionary being sent out to preach the gospel. It's really pretty simple to see this is vocational ministry being described here and not personal evangelism. To assert the need for personal evangelism based on this text would do violence to the text and Paul's subject in chapters 9 - 11.

Let me say clearly how much I love this text. I love it as one who loves the preaching of the gospel and one who preaches the gospel. Please do not assume otherwise based on my assertion that this is not a passage about personal evangelism.

1 Thessalonians 1:6-8

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

Is this a passage about the evangelistic efforts of the Thessalonians? Maybe. But we would be hard-pressed to say for certain this is in view. In the context, it hard to not see that their faith in the midst of affliction is famous to some degree. Paul has heard a "report" (v.9) about how their faith has affected them. This is pretty clear. Beyond that we can say two things for certain.

First, again there is no command here. Perhaps there is an example of evangelism here but there is no command. Outside of a command, we should not be commanding evangelism as law because of an example of someone else doing it. This would the height of legalism.

Second, certainly their is an evangelistic quality about this passage. The Thessalonian believers' faith was extraordinary enough for others to take notice. This might be a clue as to what we should possibly be doing and how we should be living...a life of peculiar faith in the gospel.

Ephesians 4:11

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

This one is pretty easy. God has given the church - the saints - various kinds of people. One of those people is an evangelist - someone who proclaims the gospel. Now I am going to go out on a limb here and say, we need to possibly question what this means. In other words, have we fashioned this title, 'evangelist' after the image of evangelists over the past 200 years? Has the influence of Revivalism dictated the way we read this? I wonder. Regardless, we do not have a command and we have only particular kind of person named, those who are set aside to proclaim the gospel.

Eph. 4:15

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him, who is the head, into Christ..."

The preceding verses and those which follow make it clear this passage is about Christians, those who are part of the "whole body" (v.16) growing in their faith and part of growth is speaking the truth into each other's lives and doing so in love. Again, no command here to evangelize.

Eph. 4:25

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.

This verse is the best (worst?) example of not reading a passage in context. Those who sent this one to me obviously had "let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor" in view. "Aha! Here we have at the least an encouragement to speak the truth about Jesus to those people closest to us!" No so fast, out-of-context-verse-quoting man. This is a passage about not lying to each other and specifically to those who are "members" of the body of Christ most likely (3:6; 5:30).

1 Corinthians 1:21

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did know God through his wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

I had at least two people send me this one. Two things:

First, this is clearly a passage about Paul's apostleship and his defense of his ministry which was being derided by false teachers. No one argues with this. This is not about your need or my need to evangelize. This is about Paul, first and foremost.

Second, we can learn something about preaching here. Preaching. let me say it again. PREACHING. This has always been about the perceived folly of preaching the gospel and never about the need for personal evangelism.

2 Corinthians 5:11

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others, But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

This again is Paul defending his apostleship against the false allegations of the 'super apostles' who would have the church at Corinth disregard Paul's gospel. Also, this is an example again of a vocational minister of the gospel talking and not telling others to evangelize. Do I sound like a broken record yet?

2 Cor. 5:20

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Ummm, how do I say this. I know! By repeating all I have said before.

This is not a command for anyone to evangelize.

Paul is an Apostle and therefore a vocational minister of the gospel.

Paul is defending his ministry.

Sorry for the sarcasm.

1 Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

This in fact may be the best verse for those who would disagree with me. While there is not a command here - which must be admitted - there is the force of one here for certain. It is very possible that Peter has in view here something evangelistic when he uses the word 'proclaim.' If someone wanted some justification for ignoring me, this may be the verse to help them.

But there is also the possibility of seeing more here. There is nothing of persuasion or calling for decisions here. In fact, the idea of unbelievers being converted does come till later in verse 12. The idea there is that believers would live a certain way with the hope that "Gentiles.... may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." This seems the most natural place for Peter, an Apostle and one who has certainly practiced evangelism to a great extent - for him to tell them who to evangelize and how. But he doesn't. He says proclaim to no one in particular and live honorable lives among Gentiles.

We need to keep in mind no modern-day writer on evangelism would ever be so vague as to leave us in the sinful position of wishing the Holy Spirit would have given Peter a little more inspiration here.

The crazy thing is that Peter goes on and talks about how everyone is supposed to live among unbelievers and no talk like evangelism is alluded to at all. You would almost expect it but it is not there.

Also, it is telling that we generally translate ξαγγέλλω as 'proclaim.' We are used to hearing proclaim all the time in the NT. And it is usually about telling others about the gospel, usually through preaching. However, the greek word we have here is a different one. It is only used in the Greek NT once. Now what does it mean? Well, it means 'proclaim', 'show forth', 'declare,' and 'publish.' OK, sounds good. But is this not what we do every time we gather together, when we pray together, when we talk of what God has for us and been for us in times of trouble.

So either this rules out evangelism or it gives us a different (bigger) vision of what it might be.

Or it may not be about evangelism at all. Regardless, we would be hard-pressed to make this the trump card in calling people to actively pursue what we call "personal evangelism."

2 Timothy 4:5

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In this passage we have a clear command for a person to evangelize. Finally. And yet, Paul makes it clear this command is for Timothy as a minister/pastor. He starts by saying, "as for you" and finishes with "fulfill your ministry." Without a doubt this command is reserved for Timothy here. In two letters, Paul gets very specific about what Timothy ought to teach his people. And Paul, when he discusses the need for the work of evangelism to be done, he reserves his command for Timothy. This should tell us something. Consistently people have suggested to me that evangelism would have just been assumed by the Apostles and the believers in the churches they started and ministered to with their letters. I have one question...

If evangelism was assumed, why did Paul command Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist"?

Was Timothy more likely than the average church-goer to forget to do it? Was he more timid than everyone else? Did Paul assume everyone else would evangelize their neighborhood and young Timothy would neglect these things? If we answer 'yes', why was he pastoring these people if he was forgetful to the point of needing a direct command when it was just taken for granted that everyone else would be doing this? Paul commanding Timothy to do the work of an evangelist should kill the argument of evangelism being an assumption understood by everyone who received a letter.

This is my second post on evangelism and let me reiterate something which has been lost on a number of people. I am not against evangelism. Do I need to say it again? I am not against evangelism. What I am wanting is to answer the question, "Why does Paul and no other Apostle command evangelism by the church-goer?" It's a fair question if only because it is based on something that is true - there is no command following the "great commission" by an Apostle in the New Testament.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Silence of Paul On Evangelism

I've been mulling over this post for awhile. The consternation, confusion and conflagration of angry comments which might result have made me wonder at the wisdom of it. Well, I decided to go ahead. The subject is too important. And I can only imagine that while it may anger some, there are plenty of people like myself who will find some freedom here.

Ok. Here it goes.

A few weeks ago I heard someone say something to the effect of, "You cannot/shouldn't consider yourself a Christian if you are not sharing your faith/practicing evangelism." And it really got me to thinking. Something felt wrong about it. But I couldn't put my finger on it.

On one level this sounded right. It accorded with almost all I had ever heard growing up in the midst of evangelicalism. So it sounded right or at least familiar. But something about the statement just 'felt' really wrong. It felt wrong as a fact. (Like saying the capital of Alabama is Birmingham.) And it felt wrong morally. (You should look down on everyone who does not live in Birmingham.)

So I quickly went through Paul's letters to the churches in my mind as much as I could. Could I think of a place where he commands the members of these churches to share the gospel - to tell unbelievers about the gospel? I was pretty shocked to not be able to think of any place where he does anything like this.

Nothing was said, of course. But I filed it away in the front of my mental filing cabinet. My mental filing cabinet is grey, if you must know. Nixon administration grey.

Over the next few days I looked into the Epistles. Really, I thought I would find something. I mean, all the importance we place on evangelism and the urgency we show in preaching and teaching and writing on it, should show up in Paul, right? RIGHT?

I found nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zip.

Paul never commands the ordinary believers who belong to the churches to evangelize. There is no call for sharing your faith. There is no call for witnessing. He never even encourages it. And he never rebukes them for not doing it. He tell them to stay away from orgies and practice kindness and to live quiet lives but no commands to evangelize are present.

Paul describes his own desire to do so and he defends his apostolic ministry of doing so and he commands Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. He also tells us there are such things as "evangelists" in Ephesians 4. But he never talks as if the carpenter, the shepherd, the soldier, the fisherman or the wife of any of these is called to evangelize.

I know, I know...there is the 'great commission' given by Jesus. In only 2 of the 4 Gospels. Never repeated again. By Paul. Or anyone else ever in the Scriptures. Why is it called 'great' again? I mean everything Jesus has said and commanded is technically speaking 'great.' But I mean, if it is so absolutely 'great', why is it never repeated by Paul or John or Peter or James or Jude. Before you get upset with me, the designation 'great commission' did not come from on high. Jesus did not call it 'great', someone else did.

Stop. Right now there are 2 kinds of people reading this? The freaked out and the ticked off.

Let me address the freaked out first...You doing OK? Stop. Take a breath. What? Of course you can quit EE. Hm? Yes, I was a little freaked out also. No, you do not have to tweet about this, you will lose a lot of followers.

OK, all who are angry...What have I said to make you angry? I have not said, "You should not tell other people about what Jesus has done for us." Have I? At least not yet...just kidding. You really need to calm down. All I have done is point out an indisputable fact.

Let me say it again. It is an indisputable fact that there is no command by any of the Apostles in their letters to the churches to evangelize. You may not like this fact. You might assume nefarious reasons behind my pointing this fact out. But you cannot deny the fact while there are many varied commands in the NT for the ordinary believer, there is no command to evangelize.

"So what?" you might ask? Here are my initial thoughts:

1) The way we talk about evangelism is certainly out of proportion to the way Paul or anyone else in the NT talked about it. We act as if it is the litmus test of being a Christian. If it was - if personal evangelism as we know it - was a litmus test for being a believer in the gospel, ummm, wouldn't Paul have admonished his people to do it? We talk about it as if it is the THE THING for Christians to do while on earth. "Sure, we are glorify God and all that but the best way to do it is to tell every living breathing soul who just wants a quiet flight to the ATL." Maybe it is not.

2) We have got to quit guilting and bullying people into doing cold evangelism. It feels weird and wrong and inconsiderate to almost everyone. There are a few who feel comfortable walking up to strangers and talking to them about Jesus but they are the exception. They are not more spiritual, they are just the exception. Maybe the reason why they are the exception and the reason why so many do not like walking up to strangers simply to talk to them about their sinfulness and need for salvation is because - wait for it - we have not been asked to do such a thing. Perhaps it is not part of the Spirit-led DNA. Regardless, beating up on people for their not evangelizing enough is totally out of sync with the NT.

3) It may be that our present philosophy of evangelism stands in direct opposition to the explicit, repeated and unwavering command to love people. In other words we are terrible at loving one another, our enemies and even our own family members. I know it. You know it. And God knows it. If we actually loved people -wives, husbands, children, minorities, democrats, republicans, lefties, ugly people, the obese and the socially awkward - perhaps, just perhaps you would never have to walk up to someone and tell them about Jesus. They would walk up to you. And then you could simply explain why you want to be a loving person. "Hey man, you asked!"

4) We tend to think the greatest thing we can do with the gospel of grace we have in Jesus is tell people about it. Why is that? Paul seems to think the greatest thing we can do with the gospel is believe it. Believe it in the midst of tragedy. Believe in the midst of beautiful Spring days when all is right with the world. Believe it on your death bed. Believe it when your sin is huge. Believe it when your heart is hurting. Believe it. Hang onto it. Never let go of it. Believe no matter what, if you are in Christ, you are loved beyond all comprehension. You cannot sin yourself out of his love and grace and mercy. You are loved, you who believe the gospel. Persevere in your belief. You are saved unto life everlasting because of what Christ has done. This cannot be undone. Believe the gospel. Believe.

5) There is no folly in assuming the NT writers and those whose records are recorded there really wanted people to hear the gospel and believe it. This is a safe assumption. However, we need to think deeply on why they do not talk about evangelism the way we typically do in Western Christianity. Do we assume we care more than Paul about evangelism? Peter? John? We should probably think long and hard about all of this. I know I need to. Our being so out of step with the tone and content of the Scriptures might actually be to the detriment of others believing the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

All of these are thoughts which have been around for some time in at least seed form. The study I have been doing over the past few weeks however has emboldened me to at least talk about my doubts. To say I am sure of myself here would be untrue. I am not thinking and writing entirely in confidence. The one thing I am sure of is the need to think deep and hard about all that is in and not in the Scriptures. And I am pretty sure there is the need for freedom to ask hard questions and be taken seriously in asking them.

One last thing. I was not enjoying thinking about this by myself. So I sent a note to some pastor friends and asked what they thought. One friend (who will remain nameless) told me about an article called Wretched Urgency by Michael Spencer. It was the first thing I had ever read of the sort. And it was the first thing confirming I was decidedly not crazy...or if I was, I was crazy along with Spencer. And I'm fine with that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

3 Reasons To Love Legalism

1. Legalism gives you the illusion of control. You can control your status before God simply by doing certain acts of righteousness and not doing others. It is like some crazy point system that you can keep up with so you can be absolutely sure when your head hits the pillow - after 3 hours of prayer, no TV and walking around town looking for little old ladies to help across the street - that you are in fact OK before God. Phew.

2. Legalism controls others. This is especially helpful for those who teach and are in ministry. Whereas a relentless message of assurance for believers and good news for unbelievers tends to free people to do God only knows what once they leave the meeting/service/retreat/camp; Legalism binds them to the law for their acceptance before a perfectly holy God who would never let such vile sinners (like those sitting before you) into his gloriously holy presence. Did I mention that He is holy - Holy, Holy Holy - and you are not?

3. Legalism helps you look awesome before others. Because you are working hard to be acceptable before God - and who does not like a hard worker as opposed to a person who simply rests in the finished work of Someone Else. It sounds oh so self-deprecating and humble. Who can resist?

What are some other reasons to love Legalism?

Friday, April 02, 2010

The God of the Mundane: Part 4 , Is Any Christian Life Easy?

In October of '96 I had a fairly serious car-wreck. The difference of a few inches not only kept me alive but if my face had hit the windshield only slightly to one side or the other, I might not have the ability to see. If I close my eyes I can remember getting out of the car I had just paid off and looking down to see the warm blood streaming off my face onto my brown hiking boots. I remember sitting down quickly.

It would take months...years really to know the varied ways this event affected me. There were the obvious results of zeal to wear a seatbelt, the buying of a new car and the fact that when I looked in the mirror, I had a face that was only vaguely familiar to me. To this day, if I am blinded by the sun while driving, I panic.

But it took much longer to deal with the emotional trauma of being close to death and wearing bandages and knowing people are looking at the scars scattered over my face. Just a few years ago, I reached up to scratch my forehead and the eyes of the person I was talking with widened. The cause revealed itself; I could feel the blood trickle down my forehead caused by glass making an untimely exit. Glass from the windshield of an '87 Honda Civic is still residing just below the surface as I type.

Sometimes I wonder if we really understand how sinful our sin is. Sure, we get the fact our sin is all out rebellion against the Sovereign God of the Universe. We know we have virtually stuck a fist in the face of the Father, called him an SOB and then asked for the keys so we can leave home. We are even well aware of what it cost to deal with our sin problem...the killing of the Son. But I am sure we are for the most part practically ignorant of the extent of our sin and its moment by moment effects.

To some degree, this is part of the grace we enjoy. We are apt to acknowledge how good it is when others cannot see those dark and dusty corners of our heart. But it is also a gracious thing to be shielded from the unfathomable depth of deadly treachery residing right inside of us. I, for one, am glad of this. The truth would overwhelm us, perhaps no less than the purity of the Father's glory revealed in all its splendor. We can't handle it.

However, we should still try to know ourselves enough to recognize that even on our best days, we are shot through with this thing called 'sin.' Shot. Through. Total depravity? Sure, whatever you want to call it. We are dealing with something that is not flat. Our sin problem has contours we will never even know. We will for the rest of our earthly lives be thoroughly ignorant of our sinfulness. There are probably outworkings of our sinfulness, particular to our culture, we have not even been able to recognize yet. And there are some sins we will never even get a handle on. We may make progress but even that will be tough; definitely a lifelong project. But it is of the utmost importance to simply know that every facet of our lives has been compromised by rebellion.

I'm of the opinion our ignorance of this and the particular way this truth manifests itself in our own life is why we cannot see the "God of the mundane." Beholding the God of martyred missionaries is easy. Discerning the God of the ascetic who has refused all temporal comforts is a piece of cake. But perceiving the God of those whose days are marked by scraping up mac & cheese off the kitchen floor is remarkably hard. The prevailing view of spirituality leaves us with ten-thousand moments void of the glorious God. He is present when we do something like pray, read our Bible, sing worship songs, give away our stuff and go overseas. But he is strikingly absent when we are doing mundane paperwork in God-forsaken cubicles of lifeless grey.

We have forgotten if we ever knew Philo's words, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Maybe we have not forgotten to be kind, but do we forget everyone is fighting a hard battle.

If we did but know that even when we are doing paperwork and cleaning up the mac & cheese off the linoleum the reality of our own sin vying for control, we would not be so apt to think these mundane exercises are small in the spiritual stratosphere. All those mundane moments - the seconds turning into minutes, snowballing into hours between all the so-called spiritual exercises are really infinite moments occupied by not only our blackened hearts but the Spirit of God working out what is pleasing to the Father. And some want to call the Christian life easy.

At the moment, my family and I live just outside of a town called Mountain Brook. The place is idyllic. Full of natural beauty and that of the constructed sort, there are not many who do not dream of living off Euclid so you can walk to La Paz or the local Thai restaurant in Crestline Village. It is truly a beautiful place full of beautiful people. But we forget our theology if we think living as a Christian is easy in such a place. The very sin which courses through my soul-veins is present there. For me to think it is more potent there betrays jealousy. For me to think life is just easy there betrays cosmic foolishness. Every house sees disease and the pain of disfigurement even though maybe only a degree removed. Every house has a marriage that must be maintained. Or had one. Every street knows failure and tragedy and no one is exempt from the demands of death. Money may stay the inevitable for a time but no keep can hold against the onslaught of that destiny which we all must reckon with.

I write none of this to excuse the wealth of others. I'e so little wealth to excuse, that charge would fall flat if leveled. My point is if we knew how difficult the Christian life, we would certainly not suppose that another life, with more spiritual parts to it, would be well...more spiritual. We would see the gravity of living out our belief on our street, in our stores, among our friends, before our servers at restaurants and wherever we play. We think there are places where faith and spirituality and Christianity is easy. Some places may be harder...maybe. But easy? I just don't think we know ourselves or the world around us very well if we think so.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The God of the Mundane: Part 3 - Just When You Thought You Were Spiritual

16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,d puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. - Colossians 2:16 - 23

We just might have it all backwards. We are trained to declare as spiritual those who stay away from temporal enjoyments or at least don't enjoy them too much, for these enjoyments are worldly and therefore unspiritual. They are mundane. And those who enjoy them are worldly and practicing worldliness. We have a sneaky suspicion they are most likely repeatedly dreaming of food (Acts 10:9-16) and supplying the best vino ever made for parties that go on for days (John 2:1-11).

That is weird.

According to Paul, it seems the very opposite of what we deem as spiritual is often the case. In fact spirituality has the distinct aroma of fermented grapes and pork ribs being cooked over an open flame while crustaceans are sauteed in a fiery pan. And this spirituality is done on a lovely Sunday afternoon filled with laughter. All ordered up by our gracious Father who loves us as if we were his his only Son.

Paul makes it clear we have died to the elemental principles of this world. What do those worldly elemental principles look like? "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" Yep, there is more than one kind of worldliness. You can actually be worldly by denying the very world God created and treating it as if it and it's fruits are evil. These kinds of teachings have all the "appearance of wisdom... but they are of no value in stopping indulgence of the flesh."

You just thought you were worldly/spiritual when actually you might be spiritual/worldly.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The God of the Mundane: Part 2 - Grace for the Mundane

In my last post I was hypothetically questioning the existence of "the God of the Mundane." In other words, must every thing we do be big and eventful and monumental for it to be honorable to God? Is there a spirituality that pervades every part of the Christian's life? Regardless of your zip code, skin color or calling? The answer to the question is of some importance. And there are many who will have trouble buying into such an idea.

There are probably many and various reasons we have trouble believing there is a God of the mundane. Some of those reasons can be traced to our own personal history coupled with the baggage of subpar teaching in the churches we grew up in. Many of us ether inadvertently or explicitly were led to believe that there are spiritual things we do like going to church camp and very unspiritual things like going to the beach with your family. Playing Goofy Golf with your brothers, eating at Captain Anderson's and throwing the football with your Dad on the beach cannot be spiritual. Can it? Surely the Holy Spirit could not be forming the hearts and minds of people who chose the beach over a missions trip or church camp. Can He?

Regardless of where this belief comes from, there is in it a latent...or not so latent belief that we must fight against. And even if our reasons for believing there is no God of the mundane are multilayered, there is a singular remedy.

This all may come from the terrible lie that if we just do more spiritual stuff, God will love us more. Oh, we would never say that. But functionally, this is how we operate. God likes you more if you do something radical. Is it good to do something radical? Sure, maybe. But God cannot love you more than he loves his own Son. And if you are a believer in the gospel of grace, then you are loved with the love He bestows on his Son. We cannot buy his love through sacrifice and radical risk-taking. Doing so may betray our love for him and his glory. Or it may betray our lack of belief in the sufficiency of what Christ has done.

But if we can rest in the sufficiency of what Christ has done on our behalf perhaps we could also rest in the knowledge we can live a vital spirituality in the midst of the mundane. Me must fight against the belief there is no God of the mundane...which is really unbelief. And we must fight against it tooth and nail. Or beach and sun.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The God of the Mundane

Perhaps I am missing something. It is possible.

It appears that the current evangelical climate is one in which faithfulness and spirituality are measured by the eventful and the big - the bombastic. If the waves are not huge and the shifts are not seismic then we assume a kind of carnality. We have redefined radical to the point where the only radical people in the church are those who have sold everything and gone...well, anywhere. I love those people. And that is radical. But for everyone who does not sell everything, you know, those who shop at Target, go to the beach for vacation and grab some sushi (or Cracker Barrel) weekly - is there a spirituality for them that can be called "radical?"

Am I alone in worrying there is no God for the mundane? You know for those who, in the name of Jesus, are simply faithful spouses, honest in business, love their children well and enjoy the world they live in while waiting for the next - is there a God for them?

I think we have gone awry somewhere along the way. It is no longer not enough for a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church, he must now agonize over whether to sell everything to go overseas as a missionary. And you need to know, I am guilty of making people feel guilty about this. I have actually said, "It should be hard to stay where you are." Someone should have asked me, "Chapter and verse please?" But lets face it, this sounds really good and spiritual. In fact, in many ways it is really hard to stay. It is hard because no one celebrates the day-in and day-out faithfulness that goes unseen by the wider world. It is hard because life is not easy anywhere, there is no idyllic paradise in America where sin is not pervasive and the the devil is not crouching outside of custom-made doors. And it is probably hard for a few because of the guilt heaped up on them who stay and are made to think they are carnal/unfaithful for doing so.

Right now, someone is questioning whether I care about missions at all. You see, that is the problem. I do care about the spread of the gospel. But we have elevated what is seen and what is radical to the point where all other activity (or seeming lack of activity) leads people to think one may not care. That may be damnable. We must assume there are untold numbers of men and women spreading the gospel of grace quietly throughout their community and making it possible financially for others to go without making a big deal about it and telling everyone on facebook they are doing it.

Part of the problem may be we have made Paul our only hero and not the nameless recipients of his letters. Who would want to be like one of the unknowns when you can be like Paul? What pastor would want to be simply one of Timothy's appointed elders, never known and never mentioned? What man would want to be simply a day-laborer, who has believed the gospel and against the trends of the day treats his wife and children with dignity and affection, dealing honestly with his neighbors? What woman would want to be a nameless mother who at the risk of ridicule and inconvenience, huddles with other brothers and sisters in The Way and listens to a nameless teacher about Jesus? It is all so mundane.

It is almost like a new legalism is emerging. "Quit your job. Do something crazy. Pick up and move. If you do not then you are suspiciously lacking in the necessary requirements of what we deem 'spiritual.'

The rock-star preacher thing isn't helping either. Life seems so mundane after watching them, reading about them and then listening to them. Changing diapers and paying bills on time and being generous and holding the hand of your spouse and caring about your aging parents and having deep friendships and being committed to the church and crying with those who hurt - well, its just not radical enough. So absolutely mundane. And I fear that for most "ordinary Christians", they do not worship a God who can be glorified in the mundane.