As-Salaam Aliakum. So often I think we hear these words today and the hairs on the back of our necks rise as images from Paris, Syria, and Iraq flash in our minds. Is this not a Muslim greeting?!
Wa-Aliakum Salaam. I hear it shared in response while I sit in the barber’s chair at my local neighborhood men’s barber shop. Mo has cut my hair for the last 6 years and we have developed an amazing relationship. We’ve spoke about his family, his kids and there schooling, his 5-year-old son (now 8 years old) who is dealing with Leukemia. I passed along comfort and gave financially to his family while I told him of my prayers for him when he went through a massive heart attack a little over a year ago. And yes, we have deep discussions about faith, Jesus, and the stories of scripture both in the Bible and the Qur’an. Mo is a devoted Muslim and highly intelligent while being a deeply peace giving spiritual man. Yet even then, when I hear those words shared between him and an incoming customer; I think in the back of my head of the extremely sharp edged and pointed scissors in his hands!
Peace Be Unto You! What does it mean to be a peace keeper in a world that doesn’t understand the language of peace?! Where we allow images of violence and hatred and bigotry to shape the policies and reactions of our nations and even neighborhoods?! When our own online activities of typed out words, posted banners, and shared videos profess a great divide between our brother and us… our sister… according to the way we dress, worship, or seek meaning and purpose… All while in the face to face we are preaching a message of loving our neighbor as ourselves and smiling while waving at them from the safety of our rolled up car window!
And Unto You Peace! Over and over the passed few weeks my brother John’s words have spoken to me, “People want to know what you are for; not what you are against!” I know they have been borrowed from others but, there is something about the power of relationship that just bring those words in a tone, a pitch, that seems so more commanding from a brother who has ate at the same table as me, prayed while weeping over personal struggles, given of themselves to bring blessing to my life, and forgiven me for wrongs that no one else has ever known!
The language of a person of peace seems not to have a linguistic barrier that restricts it from culture, religion, our nationality. The language of peace is built upon the power and significance of our relationships to the other; no matter how different. It is a language of communal embrace!
May this be my meditative prayer for peace in the world over the coming weeks ahead… “I have said these things to you, that in me you will have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“Common sense is the best distributed commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it. Cogito, ergo sum.” (I think, therefore I am.) Or at least Rene Descartes thought so as reflected on the age of Enlightenment. With systematic sciences on the rise, the world was changing and humanity’s perspectives on the church, human nature, and God were being revolutionarily transformed by three natural perspectives.
The first of which was the voice of reason or what Platchard called natural religion. This ideological understanding dichotomized “between ‘natural religion’, the basic truths about the existence of God and human morality known to good people in all societies, and ‘revealed religion’, the particular historical claims and doctrines of Christianity and other religions.” (Pg. #240) With science putting systematic categorical placements on everything in nature, the Enlightenment would redefine the gospel outside of the nature of purpose and, in Bosch’s language, turn God into the object for the equal consumption of all as apposed to the subject of relation to the elected few. He writes, “Reason represented a heritage that belonged not only to ‘believers’, but to all human beings in equal measure.” (Pg. #270)
To the believer who dedicated their life to God, reason alone was not articulated enough to express the uniqueness of their relationship to the one true God. The gospel must be “born again” to transcend the simplistic rationalizations of common man. The mystical wondering of an outside Kingdom breaking into the world with the promise of liberation must still evoke the emotions of the heart and overcome the ideological expectations of cause and effect with a spirit of grace. Alas, to think religiously and to live by faith became institutionalized even more through the development of contextualized segmented religious cultures that rather retreated from the world as apposed to transforming the world.
With one voice rationalizing religion as an “opiate to the masses” and the other retreating into institutionalized segregated commonwealths, a third voice was piecing the gospel pursuit in the sojourning life long pilgrimage for the revelation of objective truth. As Gotthold Lessing expressed, “The worth of a man does not consist in the truth he possesses, or thinks he possesses, but in the pains he has taken to attain that truth… If God held all truth in his right hand and in his left the everlasting striving after truth… and said to me, ‘Choose’, with humility I would pick on the left hand and say, ‘Father grant me that. Absolute truth is for thee alone.” (Pg. #250) Alas, as Bosch points out, all to often enabled “humans to remake the world [and God] in their own image and according to their own design.” (Pg. #273)
Returning to Descartes and “Cogito, ergo sum”. As the Enlightenment boxed the gospel into a mental rhythm of simple knowledge and academic exercise, we must peer deeper into the depths of our calling in discipleship. It is not to think that reflects who I am but, it is for the purpose to enflesh the great “I am” that I exist! (John 14:6)
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” God’s words here leaped in my heart as I reflected on the meanings to a rule of life. A rule of life must not be one of doctrine, complexity, or teaching, but rather an embrace of breathable naturalism and simplicity to which we ascribe in living communal practice with an expectation of becoming that which we are. Fyodor Dostoevski put it as, “The whole law of human existence lies in this: that man be able to bow down before the infinitely great”
The submission to communal life as a Christian is not sustainable through the life of just one and as our creator, it is God who first makes those relational ties with our inner being as he seeks intimacy and knits the fabric of life into the community around us (Jer. 1:4-10). Miroslav Volf rightly identifies that, “The Christian faith is not primarily about human doing but about human receiving. The barebones formal injunction to which the gospel can be produced is, ‘Receive yourself and your world as a new creation.’”
Catalyzing this receiving of new life and intimacy is the reality of God’s being in the foundation of love. This is not a reaction of motivated love but rather, “God’s love for humanity [as] freely given… The one true God does not need anything from humans, but exists as self-complete and yet not self-enclosed plenitude of self-giving and other receiving of love.” It is in a submission to receiving that love that we can then reflect it in response as an attribute to our being in the imago Dei. This existence however is not limited to our relationships solely between God and us but also in creational community. As we live deeper into this rule of life we recognize that love is not quantifiable and therefore not ours to give and receive, rather there is only one love in the identity of God which is shared and mirrored by all of his creation and intrinsically woven into the DNA of communal practice.
The universal inclusiveness of the Christian community gives birth to an alienation of its practice from that of the world’s understanding. Volf reflects the thoughts that, “through the new birth into a living hope, a ‘sect’ is born. And indeed, before the new born child could take her first breath, her difference, her foreignness, was manifest.” Hospitality and acceptance in the world’s perception is founded on a belief that it is quantified through personal individual meriting and yet, as Christians we fully live out an inclusiveness of hospitality and acceptance for all, despite difference, diversity, or social dictums. We love and entertain as God loves and entertains all!
The freedom in this endeavor to pursue God’s love and redemption of all things, returning his love to that which he creates, brings not a sense of enslavement, but a radical becoming and returning to who we are and who we were meant to be. No longer are we trapped by the self-consuming rules of ego but catalyzed by the movement towards communal self-realization and the rule of life. In Volf’s terms, “Every act of knowing God both satisfies and engenders human curiosity, every encounter with God both quenches and deepens human thirst. In the infinite being of God, the incessant movement of the human spirit begins to arrive at its final rest.”
Rest… indeed, a life long meditation on the practice of Sabbath!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Je 31:33–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Dostoevski, Fyodor, Quoted in Philip Yancey’s, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find. (Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000),123.
 Miroslav Volf, Captive to the Word: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 51
 Ibid, 140.
 Ibid, 89.
 Ibid, 177.
Welcome My Son, Welcome to the Machine: A Response to Kathryn Tanner’s Modern and Postmodern Review of Cultures
Modern approach to defining and understanding culture is a linear systematic approach which attempts to generalize a people group according to hard set boundaries and parameters. As Tanner articulates, “The boundaries of a particular culture become in this way the boundaries of a particular society. Where a society breaks off so does its culture. Cultures tend therefore to be discussed as isolatable units in geographical space.” (Pg.#27) In this way, a people find their culture defined for them through national, political, corporate, and geographical localities.
It is a fashion to which Tanner illustrates through the image of a machine with movable parts hard-lined into a system which operates solely for it’s dictated purpose. In other words, “the elements of a culture work interdependently, like gears or bodily organs, for the sake of the whole, in order to sustain its smooth functioning.” (Pg.#34)
Postmodernism dismantles the machine while giving life to the parts which become the seedlings of a new understanding of community and society. The boundaries being less distinguishable allowing culture to develop more organically and relationally. As my friend Daunavan quoted Tanner and bracketed his own thoughts, “Culture is no longer seen as a fixed form or place (with consensus), it is better understood as a whole that can be contradictory or internally fissured (all the parts are not necessarily working for the betterment of the whole)“. This meaning that the organic relational developments of social order in the postmodern approach can lead to communal and societal development but, it could also be destructive or detrimental to a societies ability to survive.
Yet the promise of hope for a social order still lies in that, “change is possible because culture and society no longer form, as in the modern understanding of culture, an expressive totality, every aspect reinforcing all the others by virtue of their following the same structures or principles.” (Pg. #52) Hope lies at the centre guiding call of humanity, a meaning found by any and all yet corporately evolved through mutual communal relations.
So what call does the Christ follower have? What mutual relationships does the church foster?
This past week I have been in some discussions where as missional leaders we have a deeper passion for creating environments of experience rather then developing events. It has caused me to contemplate the meanings we have behind these expressions. Can an event in fact be an experience?
It has been my understanding over the years that when people draw two paralleling contrasting ideas, they tend to react against one or the other in a pendulum like fashion. You are either Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat, Coke or Pepsi, and so on. Likewise, I think that is what is happening in our texts as we find meaning in the gospel.
Isaiah is finding the tensions between an exiled nation and the redemption of Israel; Mark finds the tensions between John who must become less and Jesus who must become more; and Paul finds that tensions between the model of the cross in us and the life of Jesus coming to rest in the believer. Thus, the tension of the gospel is a life of faith in tandem with the death of self.
Mark, you stated that, “the gospel is the announcement of an event.” When we consider the event as a Kairos moment in life, we can acknowledge that their is an infinite amount of events that can take place throughout a persons life which will shape who they are and what they will become. The gospel itself is not necessarily in all these events but the potentiality of it, or His, presence is. Jesus’ words of God’s Kingdom being at hand or near is reflective of this.
The experiencing of the gospel in any one event comes from the subversive willingness to allow your relationship with Christ to interpret and transform each moment into a realigning understanding of Kingdom perspective.
Jesus told a parable where he spoke of the Kingdom of God being like that of a mustard seed. When you cast it into the soil and it takes root, it grows. Not only does it grow but it also flourishes into a huge plant that impacts all the other life around it. (Mark 4:30-32) This is the story of the gospel; it takes root through the events of a persons life and evolves into a life giving force!
I have always said this, but a person’s testimony of the gospel being present in their life cannot be boiled down into any singular moment or event. It is only visible through the on going pursuit of new event horizons where the evolutionary experiences of the gospel taking shape in your life make greater impacts and service to those around you. To borrow Michael Horton’s words,
“There is a significant origin and end point to history, within which we ourselves are cast members. It is a courtroom drama in which we are either false or true witnesses, “in Adam” or “in Christ,” justified or condemned, alive or dead.
Neither masters nor tourists, we become pilgrims.
Unlike masters, pilgrims have not arrived and they do not presume to inaugurate their own kingdoms of glory. They don’t have all the answers and they are not exactly sure what their destination city will be like; they are driven by a promise and by God’s fulfillment of his promise along the way. Yet unlike tourists, they are on their way to a settled place and every point along the way is a landmark toward that destination.“
Not so long ago I had posted an article my friend Michael Coghlin wrote titled ‘Have you Heard the Good News?‘ It had mostly stirred the emotions in me regarding the challenges of evangelism and yet, my friend Don brought up a good point in a comment following the post; “I think that if we try too hard to concentrate on the ‘good news’ then we end up watering it down. It may seem like we’re building bridges but we may be doing very little to touch people’s lives with the real importance of the Good News.” I think he is right; we cannot simply focus on finding righteousness and salvation at the absence of not recognizing our own brokenness and need for repentance. But what exactly is it that we are repenting of?
For most of my life I have heard it said, “To error is human.” “To fail is natural.” But is this really true? Philosophically I can argue that to know failure you must first comprehend perfection. Yet perfection is solely measured in the personal sense. What I consider beautiful you may yet consider absolutely appalling! The same, I suppose, could be said of sin. What I consider to be nefarious in nature may not be to you. Sin in and of itself is undefinable to the exhaustive sense of comprehending its entire meaning.
“Sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it – both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door. In sin, people attack or evade or neglect their divine calling. These and other images suggest deviance; even when it is familiar, sin is never normal…Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God.”
I think that is the actual problem we have with sin; we live with the expectation of trying to neatly define it to the letter of the law so that we can quantify its structure. To be blunt, we want the easy way of rationalizing the rule book of life so that we can find judgement within it. We want salvation and redemption within the life we have here and now today. It seems ironic to consider this when judgement itself cannot be completely ratified entirely until our life in this world comes to an end.
Perhaps the nature of sin is instead outside of the measurements of dogmatic law and is more than just a set of rules. Perhaps sin is very much like we identified earlier; relational in nature. If this is true, then sin itself must be more of an entity unto itself. Sin has character for the sack of personhood, existence for the sake of personal meaning, malevolence for the sake of self depravity. Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul meant in saying, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” (Romans 7:8-9)
Let’s wake up people. Let’s free ourselves from this prison of sin which calls itself natural and seek out redemption. This kind of relationship with sin is parasitic and in essence leeches off the perfected natures we as human beings were created for. Let’s put on our new selves and begin building on a relationship with life and not death.
Sin does exist in the objective sense a part from us yet I think the reality of our relationship too it is not to follow its lead but rather follow the lead of righteousness. In teaching his disciples Jesus says; “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-27)
Jesus’ leadership is in two forms; the first is that we alone cannot give anything or work to find freedom from our relationship to sin. That freedom can only come from the self sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. For that reason he models to us that we must rely of his Lordship, his ownership over our lives, and in acknowledging that authority we will find freedom through his grace and not our own personal efforts.
Secondly, by finding our allegiances in his Lordship we can begin in works which are inline with the very perfected natures God created us in and thus be filled with true purpose and meaning to our lives. Failure will no longer be a word with any meaning to us and freedom will become an expression which fills our heart with excitement and passion for the next opportunity to see the realities of Christ’s Kingdom manifest itself within us through creative, unique, diverse, and dynamic ways!
Sin no longer lives or reigns in this earth. Sin no longer is a problem; for it is dead. We are forever alive in the truth, the life, and the way through the power of redemption and freedom of Christ.
My friend Aaron made a post titled Wisdom Required not long ago and I felt led to leave a comment. These thoughts are still resonating in my heart and mind so I thought I would share them here also as they connect with the magic of Christmas.
I’ve been thinking about your friend and praying for him since we last talked over coffee Aaron. I realized I might have touched on something deeper when I said I wondered if there was something in behind his struggle of faith. Namely the painful struggle of questioning insignificance.
I ask this as I too myself struggle with this question of identity. Why should God care for me? Why should he care for the little insignificant actions I take in life whether they are good or bad? But then I think of the reverse; why should I care for God? Perhaps God thinks that what we consider to be insignificant he sees more as the greater significances. Perhaps what we see as ordinarily unimportant he sees as extraordinarily miraculous!
Have you ever heard of the “Chaos Theory”? (See Here) It is this idea that when a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, the wind created by these motions has the potential of becoming a Hurricane out in the ocean which in turn makes North American land fall. Perhaps this is how God sees us; not only in the physical sense but in the spiritual as well. Why should God care and love each one of us? Because each and every one of us has the potential of creating and experiencing great historical and eternal events, moments, and changes to His Kingdom!
Jesus tells a parable of a fig tree in Luke 21:29-33 that just as we witness the blooming of its leaves on its branches, we also can know that the Kingdom of God is near. God is not far off and he is deeply connected and close to all that we do. The question to choose then is, “What kind of hurricane do you want to create?”
In a sense I suppose that is the message of Christmas. From the insignificance of a baby born in Bethlehem came the Savior for all man kind. In another paraphrase by an unknown author, “The message of Christmas is that the visible material world is bound to the invisible spiritual world.”