Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mind the Gap!

If you’ve ever been to London then you’ve probably ridden the “tube” – the mass transit system. If you’ve ridden the tube then you’ve heard the phrase “mind the gap.” At every stop a recorded message warns everyone to be careful of the gap between the rail car and the train platform. Mind the gap – watch your step – be careful.

I think that the mission of God includes all of humanity “minding the gap”. The gap that we’re to mind is the gap between the current situation in the world and God’s intended design – His kingdom coming – His dream for how things should be in the world. I don’t think God is warning us to be careful. I think He invites us into the gaps to bring his kingdom to the places where it hasn’t come yet. And by the way, I don’t think that “the kingdom” is simply getting souls saved. Jesus came announcing and demonstrating the kingdom of God. He also denounced those things that were preventing the kingdom from coming.

In Luke 4: 18-19 Jesus said “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed m to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then in verse 21 he said “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In Matthew 25 Jesus invites us into the same kind of activity and says that “whenever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.”

Jesus never defined for us, clearly what the kingdom is. He always said “the kingdom is like…” He told us that the kingdom was near. “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 10:9) He later said that “the kingdom is within you.” (Luke17: 21) In the Gospel of John he said that his kingdom was from another place. It isn’t like the kingdoms of this world. In the model prayer he said to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. The kingdom is near and every person as the capacity for kingdom living within them. Pray for the kingdom to come in the here and now and then join with God in making his dream for the world come true.
In Romans 14: 17 Paul says that the kingdom of God is justice, wholeness, & celebration (my favorite paraphrase). The kingdom is a world where every person gets treated fairly and rightly. It’s a world where all of creation is restored to wholeness. And it’s a world where we celebrate and rejoice in the Holy Spirit.

I believe that you and I are called and sent to represent God’s dream for the world. It is our task to create foretastes of God’s kingdom here on earth. We are to “mind the gaps.” As we take on the gaps – God joins us in the work of His mission.

As followers of the way of Jesus we represent the reign of God in the world. We represent the reign of God by “being” different - we love one another.

As followers of the way of Jesus we serve the reign of God. We mind the gap by “doing” acts of mercy, restoring justice, and working for peace.

As followers of the way of Jesus we announce the reign of God. We “speak” good news of inclusion, grace & forgiveness.

Where are the “gaps” in the kingdom around you? What are you doing to “mind” the gaps?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Are You a Peacemaker?

“A much neglected aspect of the mission of Jesus according to Luke is that of peace-making, of nonviolent resistance to evil, of the futility and self-destructive nature of hatred and vengeance.” (Transforming Mission by David J. Bosch - Page 118)

“God blesses those who work for peace for they will be called the children of God”. (Matthew 5:9 - New Living Translation)

Those who work for peace are people who accurately reflect the character and nature of God.

Being a peacemaker is restoring “Shalom”. It is restoring wholeness, completeness, or soundness.

I think there are three possible ways of being:
1.I can be a peacekeeper. Peacekeepers are appeasers. They just want everyone to get along. Let’s just keep quiet about anything controversial and let’s just keep everyone happy. Peacekeepers don’t talk about what they really feel or think. Peacekeepers protect themselves by not risking.
(Unfortunately I’ve come to realize that I’ve lived most of my life as a peacekeeper.)

2.I can be a troublemaker. Troublemakers demand that things be done their way. Troublemakers think they are right and everyone else is wrong. Troublemakers don’t care if people get hurt or what kind of damage they leave behind. Troublemakers protect themselves and there way by attacking.

3.I can be a peacemaker. Peacemakers work to create conditions for peace.

a.Peacemakers speak the truth in love. They “say what is so” for them. They speak out against injustice and oppression. (Ephesians 4:15)

b.Peacemakers forgive and offer grace to others. Peacekeepers don’t hold grudges, or have deep seated resentments. (Ephesians 4: 31-32)

c.Peacemakers initiate reconciliation. Peacemakers don’t wait for someone else or something else. (Matthew 5:23-24 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

d.Peacemakers don’t retaliate or seek revenge. Peacemakers remain calm. (Matthew 5: 38-42)

e.Peacemakers take action against injustice and oppression. Sometimes in order to be a peacemaker a person appears to be a troublemaker. Jesus modeled this when he cleared the temple. (Matthew 10:34) I think those involved in the civil rights movement modeled this as well.

Peacemakers don’t protect themselves. They are courageous risk-takers.

Peacemakers take a stand against “non-peace” and help to restore wholeness. Some define sin as “shalom” breaking. Anywhere or anytime wholeness or completeness is broken it is sin. I think it’s possible to be a really “nice” peacekeeper and to be sinning by allowing brokenness to remain.

Becoming a peacemaker requires courage, intentionality, & perseverance. If you decide to become a peacemaker you will have to fight for it in your own life.

“Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of justice/righteousness.” James 3:18

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What About Other Religions?

There seems to be a tremendous amount of anxiety that gets generated when it is suggested that we might partner with people who are not Christians in pursuing the mission of God. I have been highly influenced by the writings of Lesslie Newbigin about this issue. The following is from his best selling book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. I hope it might be helpful to some of you as well.

Lesslie Newbigin was an internationally esteemed British missionary, pastor, apologist, and theologian. His long career included serving as a village evangelist in India, pastor in the United Reformed Church (UK), bishop of the Church of South India, and general secretary of the International Missionary Council.

“The quest for truth always requires that we ask the right questions. If we ask the wrong questions we shall get only silence or confusion. In the debate about Christianity and the world’s religions it is fair to say that there has been an almost unquestioned assumption that the only question is, ‘What happens to the non-Christian after death?’ I want to affirm that this is the wrong question and that as long as it remains the central question we shall never come to the truth.” (P. 177)

“The whole discussion of the role of the world religions and secular ideologies from the point of view of the Christian faith is skewed if it begins with the question, who is going to be saved at the end? That is a question which God alone will answer, and it is arrogant presumption on the part of theologians to suppose that it is their business to answer it.” (P. 180)

Newbigin suggests four implications:

1. The first is this: we shall expect, look for, and welcome all the signs of the grace of God at work in the lives of those who do not know Jesus as Lord. There is something deeply repulsive in the attitude, sometimes found among Christians, which makes only grudging acknowledgment of the faith, the godliness, and the nobility to be found in the lives of non-Christians. Even more repulsive is the idea that in order to communicate the gospel to them one must, as it were, ferret out their hidden sins, show that their goodness is not so good after all, as a precondition for presenting the offer of grace in Christ.

2. The second consequence is that the Christian will be eager to cooperate with people of all faiths and ideologies in all projects which are in line with the Christian’s understanding of God’s purpose in history. (If the mission of God is to restore all of creation to wholeness, then shouldn't we be willing to partner with anyone who is working on any part of that mission. Inserted by Ken Shuman)

3. Third, it is precisely in this kind of shared commitment to the business of the world that the context for true dialogue is provided. It is a real dialogue about real issues. At heart it will be a dialogue about the meaning and goal of the human story. And, once again, the dialogue will not be about who is going to be saved. It will be about the question, “what is the meaning and goal of this common human story in which we are all, Christians and others together, participants?”

4. Therefore, the essential contribution of the Christian to the dialogue will simply be the telling of the story, the story of Jesus, the story of the Bible. The story is itself, as Paul says, the power of God for salvation. The Christian must tell it, not because she lacks respect for the many excellencies of her companions – many of whom may be better, more godly, more worthy of respect than she is. She tells it simply as one who has been chosen and called by God to be part of the company which is entrusted with the story. The Christian will both tell the story and so conduct her life as to embody the truth of the story. But she will not imagine that it is her responsibility to insure that the other is persuaded. That is in God’s hands. (P. 180-182)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus came “preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 4:43) Several years ago I decided to study the gospels exclusively to determine the gospel that Jesus came to share. It occurs to me that for most of my life I was taught a theology of the gospel that was mostly determined by the writings of Paul the apostle. It seems that we developed an understanding of the gospel according to Paul and then we laid that understanding over the teachings of Jesus like a filter. So when we read the gospels we hear them through our pre-established Paul filter. I’ve come to the place where I am not satisfied with the Paul filter. I want to reverse the process. I want to understand the gospel according to Jesus and then I will lay that filter over the rest of the New Testament. I’m a follower of Jesus first and foremost. I want the gospel that I preach and practice to be the same gospel that Jesus preached and practiced.

In his book A Community Called Atonement Scot McKnight refers to the kingdom thread in the gospel of Luke. Luke records for us Mary’s song The Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) and Zechariahs song The Benedictus (Luke 1: 47-79). McKnight says that “for them the atoning, kingdom, saving work of God is justice and peace and a society wherein God’s loving will is lived out.” McKnight then refers to the inaugural sermon of Jesus (Luke 4:16-21) In Jesus’ first sermon he reads Isaiah 61:1-2. (McKnight P. 11) “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” (NLT) “Jesus is saying, ‘The words I just read are about me and my mission.’ “Jesus sees his kingdom mission to be good new for the poor, and release for the captives and sight for the blind and liberation for the oppressed – that this is the Year of Jubilee!” (McKnight P. 12)

“As with Mary & Zechariah, Jesus maps for his listeners a society in which the will of God against oppression & domination finally finds it s way into the fabric of government…” “That is Jesus maps out a society of justice & peace.” (McKnight P. 12)

David Bosch says some very similar things in his book Transforming Mission.

“Luke 4:16-21 has, for all practical purposes, replaced Matthew’s ‘Great Commission’ as the key text not only for understanding Christ’s own mission but also that of the church.” (Bosch p. 84)

This is a jaw dropping statement for someone who was raised as an evangelical in the U.S. Even though the Great Commission tells us to go and “make disciples” – I was taught that it really meant to go and win converts. It means to go and present a plan of salvation that keeps individual souls out of hell and assures them of a place in heaven. For most of my life this broader understanding of the ministry & message of Jesus wasn’t even on my radar.

“The entire ministry of Jesus, and his relationships with the poor, with women and with other marginalized people witness, in Luke’s writings, to Jesus’ practice of boundary-breaking compassion, which the church is called to emulate.” (Bosch p. 86)

For Luke, salvation means acceptance, fellowship, & new life. “Whatever salvation is, then, in every specific context, it includes the total transformation of human life, forgiveness of sin, healing from infirmities, and release from any kind of bondage.” (Bosch P. 107)

“For Luke, salvation actually had six dimensions; economic, social, political, physical, psychological, and spiritual.” (Bosch P. 117)

Salvation has six dimensions – really? I thought salvation only related to the spiritual dimension? But wait a minute – if God’s mission is to restore all of creation to wholeness – could salvation be about restoring wholeness in these six areas of life? Do you remember that one of the definitions of sozo the Greek word translated salvation in the N.T., is “to restore to health & wholeness”? (Expository Dictionary of Bible Words P. 541) If that is true – what would restored wholeness look like in each of these six dimensions?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Should We Be Seeking First?

Words are important. Translating words from one language to another – correctly – is very important. One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that every translation of the Bible involves some interpretation. There are certain words that just can’t be translated easily. There are numerous Greek words for example that just don’t have an equivalent in English. One such word is dikaiosyne.

“Linked with God’s reign in a mysterious way is the concept dikaiosyne, which is perhaps the most characteristically Matthean notion of all.” (Transforming Mission by David Bosch p. 71) This word can refer to righteousness (a spiritual term that refers to fearing God & keeping his commandments), or to justice (a practical term that refers to seeing that the oppressed get treated fairly). The word could refer to religious devoutness (righteousness) or to championing the cause of the marginalized (justice.)

Most English translations have a bias towards translating the word righteousness and intending it to be a spiritual term. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God & His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) (See also Matthew 5:6, 5:10, & 5:20) It seems like many of us have become self-righteous and have become just like the Pharisees that Jesus said our righteousness or justice should surpass. How would our behavior change if we started understanding this word to mean justice? Some suggest that we use both words and simply translate it righteousness/justice every time. I like that thought but it seems to me that we have been so biased towards righteousness for so long that it would do us good to emphasize justice for a while. Another possibility is to translate the word as living a life that is consistent with the nature & character of God. I really like this possibility because the Bible clearly indicates that God is a God who loves justice.

So here is the Ken Shuman paraphrase of Matthew 6:33: “Seek first God’s dream for the world and live a life consistent with God’s nature & character and everything else will take care of itself.” David Bosch suggests that “dikaiosyne relates to both God & neighbor. It manifests itself in active faith in God’s involvement in history.” (Transforming Mission -page 72)

“Discipleship involves a commitment to God’s reign, to justice and love, and to obedience to the entire will of God. Mission is not narrowed down to an activity of making individuals new creatures, of providing them with ‘blessed assurance’ so that, come what may, they will be ‘eternally saved’. “Mission involves, from the beginning and as matter of course, making new believers sensitive to the needs of others, opening their eyes and hearts to recognize injustice, suffering, oppression, and the plight of those who have fallen by the wayside.” (Bosch p.81)

“To become a disciple means a decisive and irrevocable turning to both God and neighbor. What follows from there is a journey which, in fact, never ends in this life, a journey of continually discovering new dimensions of loving God and neighbor, as ‘the reign of God and his justice’ are increasingly revealed in the life of the disciple.” (Bosch P. 72)

Friday, May 13, 2011

God's Dream for the World.

Here are a few random thoughts about the connection between the kingdom of God and shalom. I believe that God has a dream for this world that he invites us to join him in bringing to fulfillment.

“Mission is the mother of theology.” David Bosch – Transforming Mission p.16

“God is the ‘God who acts.’ It may be more accurate to refer to the Bible as the Acts of God rather than call it the Word of God.” Bosch p. 17

“What amazes one again and again is the inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission. It embraces both the poor and the rich, both the oppressed and the oppressor, both the sinners and the devout. His mission is one of dissolving alienation and breaking down walls of hostility, of crossing boundaries between individuals and groups. Bosch p. 28

“The followers of Jesus do not define their identity in terms of opposition to outsiders.” Bosch p.29

“Their proclamation knows nothing of coercion. It always remains an invitation.” “Jesus consistently challenged the attitude, practices, and structures which tended arbitrarily to exclude certain categories of people from the Jewish community.” Bosch p. 31 -

I wonder who we’re excluding?

“Salvation in Christ is salvation in the context of human society en route to a whole & healed world.” Bosch p. 399 -

The mission of God is to restore all of creation to wholeness.

Jesus came preaching & demonstrating the good news of the kingdom. (Matthew 4:17 & 23, 6:9-13, 6:33)

The kingdom is often described as the reign of God.

“The reign of God is undoubtedly central to Jesus’ entire ministry. It is, likewise central to his understanding of his own mission.” Bosch p. 31

“God’s reign is not understood as exclusively future but as both future and already present.” The future has invaded the present.” Bosch p. 32

Jesus taught us to pray this: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

“God’s reign arrives wherever Jesus overcomes the power of evil. Then, as it does now, evil took many forms: pain, sickness, death, demon-possession, person sin & immorality, the loveless self-righteousness of those who claim to know God, the maintaining of special class privileges, the brokenness of human relationships. Bosch p. 33

Mortimer Arias says that the mission of God is “…to denounce anything that opposes God’s purpose for humanity, and to announce and incarnate the reign of God in our troubled world.” Mortimer Arias – Announcing the Reign of God

“The kingdom of God, announced by Jesus, is multidimensional and all-encompassing. It is both a present and a future reality. It has to do with each individual creature and with the whole of society.” It embraces all dimensions of human life: physical, spiritual, personal and interpersonal, communal and societal, historical and eternal. And it encompasses all human relationships – with the neighbor, with nature, and with God.” Arias P. xv

“Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and sent out his disciples to the same. But that is not all. His mission was not only a matter of words, and neither is ours.” “What is new is that in Jesus the kingdom is present.” “In the New Testament we are dealing not just with the proclamation of the kingdom but also with the presence of the kingdom.” Leslie Newbigin – The Open Secret- P. 40

Jesus is the living incarnation of the kingdom of God.

“The simplest and most comprehensive way of stating the content of the commission given to the church is therefore to be found in Jesus’ initial word: “Peace be with you.” Peace, shalom, the all-embracing blessing of the God of Israel – this is what the presence of the kingdom is. The church is a movement launched into the life of the world to bear in its won life God’s gift of peace for the life of the world. It is sent, therefore, not only to proclaim the kingdom but to bear in its own life the presence of the kingdom.” Newbigin p. 48

“The kingdom of God, in short compass, is the society in which the will of God is established to transform all of life. The kingdom of God is more than what God is doing ‘within you’ and more than God’s personal ‘dynamic presence’; it is what God is doing in this world through the community of faith for the redemptive plans of God – including what God is doing in you and me. It transforms relationships with God, with self, with others, and with the world.” Scot McKnight – A Community Called Atonement - p. 9

“We will argue here that atonement is only understood when it is understood as the restoration of humans – in all directions – so that they form a society (the ecclesia, the church) wherein God’s will is lived out and given freedom to transform all of life.” McKnight p.9

“In contrast, the kingdom that Jesus portrays exercises its power not in redemptive violence but in courageous, self-giving love, and its goal is not victory on its own terms but rather peace on God’s terms. That peace – that shalom – means far more than an end to conflict; it evokes a balanced and integrated ‘life to the full’. Brian McLaren – The Secret Message of Jesus – p. 150

We describe God’s kingdom in terms of God’s dreams coming true for this earth, of God’s justice & peace replacing earth’s injustice & disharmony.” Brian McLaren - The Secret Message of Jesus.

“Thus there is, in Jesus’ ministry, no tension between saving from sin and saving from physical ailment, between the spiritual and the social.” Bosch p. 33

Friday, May 6, 2011

Shalom as Freedom & Unity

The idea that God’s mission is to restore all of creation to wholeness (to Shalom) - has really captured me. Again, Shalom means wholeness, completeness, & soundness. It includes the ideas: “safe,” “free,” “whole,” “secure,” “prosperous,” and “just.” Shalom means the world restored to the way God intended for it to be. It has been amazing to me to find this concept in all of scripture both Old and New Testaments. Did you know that the Greek word for salvation also means “to be restored to wholeness”?

In his book Living Toward a Vision, Walter Brueggemann says that “Shalom is a tricky idea because it permits so many variant meanings to be assigned to it. But for all the possible variants, the word and notion of shalom has a radical nuance in our church context. It is an announcement that God has a vision of how the world shall be and is not yet.” I have begun to say that God has a dream for the world. I think that’s what it means when we pray these words from the model prayer; “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth just as it is in heaven.”

“We are expected to go where we are not and we are expected to become who we are not.”

Brueggemann suggests that Shalom includes the ideas of freedom & unity.

Brueggemann states that God intends freedom and that Jesus came to free us. “The Gospel stories about Jesus portray him as the one who went around causing exoduses in people’s lives.” “Jesus leads people out of old, secure oppressions into new wildernesses of freedom.” “Let us characterize slavery simply as that which keeps us from being joyous. When we locate that, we shall be close to the source of our oppression. I have tried to reflect on the things that preclude joy. They include at least these: fear, a feeling of worthlessness, a lack of food, a lack of love, devotion to phony loyalties, and frantic, nonproductive obligations.” So to be restored to wholeness is to be set free from everything that keeps us in bondage and that keeps us oppressed. As followers of the way of Jesus it becomes our task to help others experience freedom also. (Galatians 5: 1 & 13)

“God wills unity.” “Jesus unites.” “God is against estrangement and fragmentation.” (Ephesians 2: 12-22, and 2 Corinthians 5: 18-20) The vision for unity is radical and feels abnormal. “We have lived with things abnormal so long that we have gotten used to them and we think they are normal.” “The world is not intended for alienation but for unity!” “The good news of unity is directed to the separated and the alienated. God aches at the disunity in the world. I want you to reflect on what kinds of things keep us at odds. Such factors include at least pride, greed, fear and misunderstanding.”

Jesus said that “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) I’ve just begun to more fully understand what it means to be a peacemaker. There is a big difference between being a peacekeeper (an appeaser) and a peacemaker. I’ve come to the realization that for much of my life I’ve been a peacekeeper but not a peacemaker. Here is a thought for you; sometimes in order to be a peacemaker you have to be a troublemaker. Ponder that one for a while.