Archive for September, 2010

September 11, 2010

Love, Hate and 9/11

Nine years after 9/11 and it might as well have been yesterday considering all the emotional turmoil that has been blown into the atmosphere by the political-religious implications of both a mosque being built near the site of the attacks as well as a pastor from Florida wanting to burn the Quran today as some act of condemnation. The issue at stake for most of us is to figure out how we should feel, think and respond to these three events. That’s right. They are three events – and two haven’t even happened yet.

Most of the filtering that I have been exposed to has dealt with amendment rights. However, I am more concerned with Christian obligation. What should a Christian response be?

Let me start of with a story from Bob Sjogren from Unveiled at Last.

You remember a church service you attend back in the winter of 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held hostage by terrorists in Teheran…Glancing at the order of service in the bulletin, you saw that Greg Livingstone was scheduled to give a “missions minute.”

“Right,” you thought. “This guy’s really going to be able to say something significant in 60 seconds. The one-minute missionary.”

The anthem ended and a square man who looked like a boxer stepped up to the podium. Without so much as an introduction, he asked, “How many of you are praying for the 52 American hostages held captive in Iran?”

You, of course, raised your hand. All present raised their hands. “Wow, that’s terrific,” he said. “There must be 4,000 people here.”

“Now, let’s be just as honest; Jesus is watching. How many of you, ” the boxer continued, “are praying for the 45 million Iranians held captive by Islam?”

One hand slowly went up. Two hands.

“What? Only two people?” he yelled. “What are you guys, Americans first and believers second?” (p.55-56)

I have to ask about our concerns over the mosque being built are we Americans first and believers second? Are we more concerned political and patriotic sensibilities that the demands of the gospel? What is the demand of the gospel in this situation? Do you see the Muslim as your neighbor? Or do you see him as your enemy? It really doesn’t matter how you see him does it because our heart, which should be full of grace to all without qualification should respond the same to both.

Let’s see if Jesus can give us some guidance.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48 ).

What, then, is at stake? Yes, on one level it is patriotic sensibilities. But on another level – the more important level, for the child of God, it is about God being glorified. Notice that love demonstrated toward just those who are part of your community, whatever that community is, is not much and it certainly does not reflect the redeeming, saving, life changing power of God’s love. If our reaction is first as an American then we might perchance want to first rise in protest against the mosque being built near 9/11. And if we were not of God’s Kingdom then we might be willing to ignore the outrageous-ness of a book burning – any book burning, much less a book burning of another religion. And to think that any other person on the face of the earth is dealt the hand of persecution from a Christian is an offense to the very nature of the cross which our Christ bore.

But God proclaims and teaches all the nations of the earth the power of his love because Christians have a love that overcomes the deathblow of an enemy with a kiss and prayer in return.  Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived the gospel when he taught that a true understanding of the grace of God could lead to the loss of a Christian’s life as he loves his enemies – a reality that became real when he was hanged in a German prison camp a week before liberation. His life did not end with bitterness, but praise and thanksgiving that he could defend the helpless, bring light to the wicked actions of the oppressors and love them all indiscriminately. He told his executioner, “You think you are ending my life, but it is only beginning.” (a loose rendition as I can’t find the exact phrase this moment).

A Christian’s stance on the mosque in New York City then must be, first and foremost, concerned with loving Muslims in such a way that we do not create new barriers to the proclamation of the gospel. If some injustice is actually occurring with the building of the mosque near Ground Zero – and that is something each person must workout for him/herself – then the Christian response is to figure out how to love in such a way as to make it overly, abundantly obvious that an injustice is occurring without engaging in hateful rhetoric or actions. Jesus again gives us guidance if this is your conviction. Matthew 5:41  “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” This response would require creativity with an overly abundant gracious response. Think that even Donald Trump has offered to pay over 125% value of the property to the owners in order to end the conflict. If Christians are so convinced it is wrong then we should be offering 500% or more as one possible alternative.

This stance should also inform those who want to give a pass to the pastor in Florida. His actions are not in alignment with Christ’s instructions to us. Burning books is not love. Proclaiming the errors of the Quran and dialogue and living a life of mercy ministry among Muslims is love. Creating additional boundaries of mistrust through the abuse of their values is not. No Christian would available for in-depth searching dialogue with a Muslim on-board on of the airplanes who crashed into the world towers if he (theoretically) could proselytize us after said event. Why would you expect a Muslim to respond any different? Do we value the Bible or the Trade Towers more? Now flip it over as a Muslim – no question that a holy book gets the nod.

Which really brings me back to what you need to figure out – are you first an American or a Christian? The answer to that question will dictate the attitude of your heart.

September 9, 2010

Getting Ready for Tonight’s Game

In celebration of the Superbowl Champs kicking the season off against the Minnesota Vikings I would like to differ to the picture below, which the vikings posted on their website before the end of the NFC championship game.  Thank you for such good memories Vikings!


September 1, 2010

Going Backwards

I saw this hilarious video (not funny to #20).

And what did I think when I say this video? I thought, “Boy, that sure looks like me and the carrying of the Gospel message.” Too harsh? I don’t think so. Just like the football has been passed to this tailback, so the Gospel has been handed down to me from earlier generations. The stakes are high (Judges 2:10  “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel”).  Romans 10:14-15  continues this instruction by adding “But how are they to 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? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”

So I’m invested. I care. I have a deep yearning to figure out the Christian life. Especially the part about furthering the Kingdom of God. You know the Kingdom that is in you (Jn 3:3), has come (Mt 4:17), but not come (Lk 22:16), seeks to defend the poor and defenseless (Mt 11:2-6),  and give action that gives understanding to the scandal of the cross (Col 1:24).

And perhaps you are in this place too. You are hoping I’m going to give you five points of success. Perhaps these five points of success will mean victory in your life. Now you can finally go forward, toward the right end zone. Sorry to disappoint you. I could do the five points. I have them in my head now, milling about, making it messy up there. But instead I want to share an observation from my struggle that perhaps might be of some benefit to you too.

My observation is this: Too often the very things getting in the way of my living out the Gospel are not what we like to typically target in our bully pulpit. Although I certainly have those struggles too. But it is something much more subversive because it is like a undetectable submarine in my conscience constantly accomplishing its mission unbeknownst to me. It is my presuppositions. It is funny that as I wrestle against the Holy Spirit in the sanctification process that it is this that is coming up. My presuppositions on how to “correctly” do church, minister to my family, reach out to my community, etc. You name an aspect of the Christian life and I have presuppositions that are brewed and bred right in here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. that like to get in the way. Only I don’t see it. I try to incorporate them into the Gospel and I miss it.

I admit that I have been stuck on part of this issue for a while – knowing that I’m stuck in my presuppositions but not finding a way to gain “a bird’s eye view” on them. It is very, very hard to see your presuppositions for what they are.  It takes a lot of work, at least that has been my experience. So, here I am stuck, and then I read a book recently that helped with my “aha” moment. (side note: that is why it is so important to read, you get to have some really important discussions one-on-one when you read.) It was Jim Belcher’s Deep Church. What he helped me to see was that much of my crisis on how to the live the Christian life was more of an argument between postmodernism and modernism as opposed to biblical living.  That is a mouthful for me.

I started to think about it and I realized that God gave us examples of postmodernism and modernism in the Bible and their traps.  First you have the modernists in the Bible – they are the Pharisees and Scribes. Turn through the Gospels and on every other page you’ll find an expert of the Law testing Jesus. They were famous for building a fence around the law so they wouldn’t break it. “You can only take so many steps on the Sabbath before you break the fourth commandment of the Decalogue.” Or something similar (this is what Jesus is targeting in the Six Antitheses in Matthew 5). Or the Law expert who challenged Jesus when he asked Jesus, “How do I inherit eternal life?”

Jesus: What does God’s Word say? What is your interpretation?

Law Expert: I’m to love the Lord my God with all my emotional, mental, physical and spiritual ability – and love my  neighbor as myself.

Jesus: That’s it!

Law Expert: Just so we don’t equivocate – when I say neighbor – I mean just people like me.

Jesus: Your interpretation has fallen short. Your attempts to put a perimeter around loving your neighbor stops you from going far enough. You have failed to obtain eternal life.

That is an Israel’s paraphrase commentary of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Check it out. The law expert, like most of Jesus’ antagonists in the Gospels, is so concerned with the tangibles that he misses the heart behind them, which results in his not understanding them at all.

Then you have the postmodernist (or one of them) of the Bible: The Samaritan Woman at the well (interesting that both examples contain Samaritans in them). Consider my loose commentary on their conversation in John 4. Let’s call her Sammy.

Jesus: Can you give me a drink of water out of this well?

Sammy: You’re asking me for a drink? We are suppose to hate each other, you know.

Jesus: If you knew who I am, it would be you asking me for my drink for it is the drink of eternal life.

Sammy: Are you loopy? You don’t have a bucket? Besides, where is this well that you get this water from (and why aren’t you there now)? Besides, what do you have to offer me that is better than what I have now? I drink from the well of people who are no doubt greater than you.

Jesus: The well from which you drink does not satisfy. The well from which I’m talking about springs up eternal life.

Sammy: I’m game. If this water means I don’t have to continue to labor over this well again in the future then I’m interested. I’ll take you up on your offer.

Jesus: So, go get your husband and we’ll talk.

Sammy: Oh! Well, uh, um, I’m not married.

Jesus: Right you are. You’ve had five husbands and you are currently living with a guy who is not your husband. This is a good starting point to talk about how to get eternal life so lets talk about it.

Sammy: Okay, okay. I can see you are a spiritual guru and clearly your knowledge of my past endorses your claims about eternal life. I get that, but let’s not get to excited about specifics talking about actual sins, or specific theological nuances or distinctives.  You say God is in that religion, I say God is in found in this religion and I’m good with that.”

Jesus: Sammy, truth is real and there is only one way to get eternal life. Hearken to the Spirit and Truth and you will have eternal life.

Please recognize how loose this is or I would feel very badly if they thought I was trying to play fast and loose with God’s Word. The effort is in trying to get you to see what is going on behind the conversation. Here this woman doesn’t want to deal with specifics. She doesn’t want to deal with her specific sins and she doesn’t want to deal with the specifics of one religion compared to another, but she does want eternal life as it means a more convenient life for her and she is only concerned about details when it is in relation to the material world (such as having a bucket). She just wants a nice, unconvicting warm cozy covering of a religion. Now that, to me, is a good reflection of pomo Christian living in America trying to figure out how to live godly while still being postmodern.

To borrow a term from Jim Belcher, there is a third way, a better way and to get there we have to see how deep our modernistic/post-modernistic presuppositions really infiltrate our worldview as we attempt to live godly in Christ Jesus. And Jesus gives us the way to approach the subject by his handling of both the Law expert and the Samaritan Woman. He deals with them with where they are at. He shows the Law expert that his propensity to details and creating perimeters in his zealousness for God is getting in the way. And Jesus shows the woman at the well that to live a life that refuses to account for the details of living and belief is just as problematic. The Jewish man over-examined in an effort to explain away his actions while the Samaritan woman refused to consider her actions so she didn’t have to explain them.