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May 2012

Living Justly in an Unjust World

The blog I've not written, but know that I must has a title and a theme thus, a thrust ... to be just. In a word it is to love that which is above us, surrounds us, envelops us, has created and is creating us and to love those who also are created and are being created ... But it is an unjust world, you cry, protest, and flail. We can try, resist, and ultimately fail to live justly in such a world ... and I say, "Hogwash!" If it were not possible to swim against the tide, there would be no more salmon on the planet. Grant it, it is hard and our charred, scarred, burned and battered selves must energize, prioritize, and optimize, but we can live justly in an unjust world. In the end (and at the beginning), it is all we can do ... and what we cannot be stopped from doing.

Reflections on Following Jesus, Culture Wars, Loving People, and Radical Discipleship

Today, I am renewed in the knowledge that my steps are ordered of the Lord. I am in covenant with Him and with His people. I have been called to be peculiar and I have no higher calling than to follow Jesus. That is the choice I make by grace and the identity I bear through faith. I honor those who follow other paths, but this is mine and the call to come along is ever on my lips. I would love to have the company and God is waiting to welcome you at any moment.

I desire no power to coerce, shape, or regulate you. If you come into covenant with God through Jesus and with me in koinonia, we shall then hold each other accountable to a higher standard that may, at times, seem severe, demanding, and constraining. Yet, it shall always be bathed in grace and infused with joy. That covenant shall shape us and prepare us to be light in the world and salt in the earth. It will form us into the image of Jesus that we might be His presence in the world - He, who sought no earthly Kingdom and exercised none of His rights to silence His enemies.

The kingdoms of this world are what they are, agents of civil order. I owe them whatever loyalty they require and the influence of my presence and participation; but they do not define my life, my discipleship, or my calling. They are incidental and contextual. Those of us who choose to follow Jesus live by the Kingdom ethic and behave counter-intuitively, governed by the law of love for God and for others. We live in the culture, but the culture does not ultimately shape, govern, threaten, or limit us. We can expect to be considered odd; let us rejoice when that happens!

Culture wars? That is not our calling. The church of Jesus has always been counter-cultural. There has never been a truly "Christian" culture. We are always amongst and against the tide. If we do not stand out, we cannot be seen. Ours is the culture of radical grace, radical love, and radical discipleship. It cannot be imposed on others; it can be witnessed, testified, and consistently lived in public, but it can never be imposed through cultural warfare.

Our warfare is spiritual and it is against spiritual forces, never people.

The bigest problem with the whole issue of sexuality in our society is that we have allowed it to become so central, so public, so pervasive, so out of proportion, and so defining. We are bombarded with images and ideas that titilate our sense, but they cannot become central to our thinking. It is all part of the backdrop against which we bear witness to Jesus. It is part of our challenge not to be shaped by our surroundings. Sexuality is part of our lives that we bring into submission to God in discipleship and He blesses that part of our being. We seek to live our lives in a state of purity, not out of pride, bigotry, or arrogance, but simplicity, devotion, and witness. If we can have integrity in our private lives, without flaunting or imposing our values, we can be more useful to God and others.

We are called to love people and reflect God's presence in whatever culture surrounds us. Love often involves accepting people where they are, in what they believe, and in how they live because that is where God meets each of us and calls us.  That means being with and among the people, bearing their suffering, hearing their cries, celebrating their successes, laughing and rejoicing with them, and weeping with them in their pain. I will not meet a single individual today who is not precious to God.

He knows each soul with whom I will connect. He knows them well. He loves them deeply. He is already at work in their lives. He is drawing them to Himself and He may have even given them an insight that I need to hear --- whter or not they are aware of it.

I must listen to each voice I hear because God speaks where He will and through anyone or anything He chooses. If I do not hear you, I might miss something God is saying to me. Therefore, I shall not compartmentalize you, marginalize you, or label you. You are an intricately woven tapestry of God's creativity. You are loved. You are invited to an eternal feast of grace.

I am a Jesus follower. That is who and what I am. I am many other things as well, but their significance pales by comparison. Whatever my political leanings, personal interests, life choices, affiliations, denominations, or opinions are secondary and being formed and informed by this high calling -- to simply follow Jesus.

Jesus saved me. This I believe... from my sin, my narcissistic inclinations, by abject poverty of meaning, the vacuum of purpose, my sensual obsessions, and my wandering lostness. He rescued me from the eternal abyss of empty despair, the eternal void of loneliness, and the eternal torment of separation from the True Source of my being, His Father and mine. This, He accomplished through personal sacrifice and life giving death.  I trust this reality and I trust Him. I proclaim this message as the good news of the cross.

"For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." I must die daily in Him who died for me. I cannot ask for the culture or the kingdoms of the world to support me in this decision to follow. I cannot expect special treatment from the world or a comfortable path. I appreciate, but cannot demand any consideration given along the way, but I cannot expect it. I am a servant in this world. I show God's love by doing what loving people do.

So I need to be more concerned about the things that concerned (and concern) Jesus and, with no ulterior motive by love, feed the hungry, heal the sick, raise the dead, speak hope into the ears of the hopeless, visit the imprisoned, work for peace, and live a life above reproach.

I did not intend to write all of this, but I felt such clamor and concern over issues that divide our society today. I do not believe that, as a Jesus follower, I can side with any faction in any ultimate or defining manner. I must walk in the midst as a witness to truth and grace. There will always be a separation that results and it will be the only one that counts. At times I will sympathize with one cause or another and work for righteousness and truth in the midst of that cause, working along side others who do not share my specific faith ... But I must guard against the temptation to be defined by the cause or the "party," or the "movements" with which I find some sympathy. My marching orders come through the Kingdom of Love and, to that extent, I accept the role of outsider.

I am a servant. I am a citizen of another Kingdom and am living here for now, working for the shalom of the city, representing my King, enjoying the good things of the earth, and making precious friends among the people down here.

I am a servant to you, your cause, your need, and your deepest aspirations to be all you were made to be .... because I am a servant of God.

So, that is my refelction. I am neither overly exhuberant nor profoundly distressed by what transpires in society. I expect a bumpy road. I enjoy the ride. But mostly, I walk.

God, help me to walk in the steps You have ordered for me, to think the thoughts you have for me to think, to feel the pain and the joy You have ordained for me to experience. Give me strength, wisdom, and grace for the day. I am Your servant. Help me to represent You fairly and to show Your love too people. I have as much capacity to be angry, bitter, discouraged, obstinate, and obnoxious as anyone. I have been known to exercise that caacity. Forgive me and renew me in Your grace that You might shape me into something more, something that more faithfully represents who You are. Love people through me today.  Help me to serve You by serving them. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

God in the Garden

It is planting season again.

It is my third year of gardening and I keep expanding, experimenting, and extending my faith.

I find that I pray differently while tending my garden, planting my seeds, pulling my weeds - Yes, MY weeds, breaking the soil, and watering, watering, watering.

I look and listen more and talk less.

My hands are too dirty to take notes, so I just try to remember the lessons and ask God to remind me later. Some things are not so much for remembering and teaching as they are for transforming us... transforming me.

As a pastor, I am sort of a gardener.

As a person, I am sort of a crop ... and sometimes a weed ... and sometimes a seed or the soil into which the seed goes.

Lord, help me not to be a weed to often and, when I am, make me good fertilizer as the weediness in me composts into something useful.

I really should be taking more notes, but I get dirty and tired and invigorated and cleansed all at the same time.

I used to hate dirt, but I just did not understand.

And this gets me on my knees, literally and figuratively.

I do pray. I pray for guidance, because this is tricky stuff. I pray for miracles because I have no idea what is happening underground. I pray for patience and patient faith because there are somethings I just cannot make happen.

I pray for seeds to grow and for myself to plant seeds in people's lives that will  grow.

I pray constantly in that dirt and it is pretty earthy prayer.

More to come ... I suppose.

This sort of comes out of it ... sort of .... but it really is a different post:

A Non-Believeing Pastor in the News

Here are some thoughts from a discussion initiated by my friend, Mark Jackson in response to the story of a pastor who declared herself an atheist. The store is HERE.

There are other good comments, including Mark's excellent observations, but they are not mine and you can read them here:  Mark's Discussion on Facebook 

Very interesting story and it will come up and be utilized as an argument. There probably needs to be a "safe zone" to discuss doubts before they develop into unbelief. "I believe; help Thou my unbelief," is a useful prayer. Also, Thomas, who would not believe "until ..." was the first to utter, "My Lord and my God." This is a very sad story. She has taken the path of least resistance. I sense that someday she may return to faith.

I could have, at times, almost abandoned my belief in deity ... but only briefly. Like Job, I have seen too much "face to face." However, what really clings to me and draws me back is my love for Jesus. If I were an atheist, I think I would still love Jesus and aspire to the Sermon on the Mount.

The problem is that without God, I would fail every time.

The things that fascinate my atheist friends, who are many and who are largely wonderful and ethical people - often very, very generous, those things that create a sense of wonder in them, touch my "God-gene," the "imageness (my word) of God in me," distorted, fallen, latent, but alive. I could not live without the sense of awe and wonder and for me, everything that baffles and boggles deepens my faith in God.

I feel for this woman, but I agree with you that the community that loved and nurtured her should have heard her confession before the world did.

Another thought ... there is an option - believing agnosticism. The agnostic is one who does not know -a(not)-gnostic (knowing). And that is fine! We don't know much about God compared to all there is to know about God. We know enough to know Him experimentally, redemptively, and salvifically. But not enough to discern His ways and cease wondering. In order for us to know Him, He had to take on skin and bone. It was a rarity in the Hebrew scriptures for a man to see and know God. It becomes common place in Jesus.

Yet, the not knowing agnosticism lingers and propels. I just think that many do not realize the worshipful power of it.

I believe. That is experiential knowledge, faith (without which it is impossible to know, please, or come to Him), and awe. Gnosticism is empirical. With Abraham Heschell, I choose wonder. With Martin Buber, I embrace a holy/wholly "Other." With Rudolf Otto, I resonate with "The Idea of the Holy."

I have no room for personal a-theism because I don't know enough to declare there is no God ... and I know too much to suspect it.

So, when Jesus comes to me and says that when I see Him, I see the Father, I am convinced enough to follow ... and have ... and will.

The "a-gnostic" part of me is pretty excited about the gnosis that will eventually get dumped on me and is drizzling in little by little.
In the meantime, for the next few months, I will be accumulating insights from the soil and having some pretty amazing two way conversations with God. I really, truly look forward to the process and to the harvest.