Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Gospel

My faith community has a habit of saying "you have to obey the Gospel." By that we mean that we must respond to the Gospel by 1) hearing it, 2) believing it, 3) repenting from sin, 4) confessing your belief in Jesus, and 5) being baptized. But is the Gospel something that can be obeyed? I think not. To suggest such a thing is to rob the Gospel of its power.

So, what is the Gospel? It is simply this (my apologies to Paul): God loves you and wants to bless you.

That's it. No great theological dissertation. No need to fully grasp a litany of facts. Simply that God loves you and wants to bless you.

That is good news and stands in sharp contrast to the message of many religious groups that "you're all going to Hell unless you come be with us." Somehow, "you're going to Hell," doesn't sound like good news to me. And it isn't.

So what about that list of things at the top of this post? Aren't they important? Yes they are and critically so. But they are responses to the Gospel, not the Gospel itself. And all but one are intuitive. Disciples of God will respond to the graciousness of God by aligning themselves with Him and so items 2 and 3 are covered automatically. Aligning ourselves ("I'm a Christian") with God is a response that disciples who are not ashamed or afraid to claim God would do, and so item 4 is covered almost as a matter of course. So that leaves items 1 and 5. The first is not a response, but rather a cause for the response. Its inclusion in the list is a result of Paul's rhetorical question "how can they hear without a preacher?" While seemingly necessary, it is neither the Gospel or a response to it. And so item 5. Baptism is a response to God of a repentant disciple. It is a public acknowledgement of our alignment with God and a process that, according to Peter washes away our sin and through which we receive the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel, the Good News, is a message of hope, healing, and reconciliation (John 3.16, 17; Luke 4.15). One's response to hearing that good news is a measure of one's belief in, and belief of God. If one is convinced that God is, and that Jesus appropriately modelled God for us, aligning ourselves with His teaching is a normal response. Not one to be debated, but rather a response we actively make.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Missional

On the Christian Educators list there is a current conversation about churches becoming "missional." It is interesting that we humans have a habit of creating new buzz words. Not that creating new buzz words is wrong, they can be used effectively to motivate, market, and encapsulate broad ideas. The problem is that we then take those new buzz words and throw them around as though they represent something new. In some cases they do; in most they do not.

And so "missional." Missional seems to mean living where people live, hurting with people as they hurt, and inviting them to meet our God. The God that seeks to relieve, to console, to heal. That's a good meaning. Unfortunately, since many of us are human, we try and build a "missional" pattern, a one-size-fits-all-you-gotta-do-it-this-way straight jacket. We have to become Purpose Driven (whatever that is), or leave our denomination and start a multitude of community churches (whatever they are). We become enamored with being missional the right way.

And when we do, we have stopped being missional. Being missional is not about Sunday services of 20,000 people. It isn't about knowing the intricacies of the community, crowd, and core. It isn't about not being labled with a traditional name. It isn't about how we choose to dress, the songs we sing, or the nature of our sermons.

All of those are side shows.

Being missional is about loving God because a) God loves us, and b) we are called to be (as in exist) like God. Being missional is about loving folks that aren't lovable, about extending help to someone who won't appreciate it, about giving away our "stuff" so others might have some. And it isn't about patting ourselves on the back for doing those things.

No, being missional is leading, exampling, and maturing ourselves and others to be God people on this Earth. We become missional when we can do these things because we know they are right - or rather when we do these things because we can't do anything else.

Being missional is caring as God cares, about the things God cares about, about acting like God acts, about being God as Jesus was God.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

And so

And so he is dead. I have mixed emotions about capital punishment as I suspect many of you do. I believe that human life is sacred and that the intrinsic value of a human being is the highest value we can know on this Earth. And yet something in me urges that we cannot allow each other to so mistreat ourselves; to reduce the value of our lives to thirty or so years in prison.

And so I have been pulled in two directions lately. I understand the need for exacting revenge, or payment, or delivering punishment for someone’s misdeeds, but I am also pulled by the conviction that anytime a human being is killed we do violence to our values and our existence. I find myself somehow satisfied by this punishment and yet feel guilty about feeling satisfied.

And so, as I wrestle with these competing ideas and emotions, I come to this tension-filled conclusion. We highly value human life and that should give us pause before taking another one. However, it is precisely because we so highly value human life that we simultaneously reserve this punishment for the most callous of crimes, and require the life of the perpetrator in exchange for the lives that have been taken. It is fitting that one who would wantonly and malevolently take the life of another should have their life taken from them.

And so we collectively take the life of such a one not out of jubilation but out of an acknowledgement and acceptance of our responsibility to one another. A responsibility to protect the value and dignity of each of our lives. And to publicly and collectively reemphasize that value and dignity by punishing their violations with such a severe recompense.

And so I am resolved to live with this tension, this wishing for a better world and yet having to live in this one.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Purpose of Christmas

I don't know about you, but I often get lost in the details of living and lose sight of the big picture. Doing so results in spending a lot of energy in ensuring the details are correct, sometimes to the detriment of getting the job done. People, families, and churches can all fall into the trap of thinking that they must control every aspect of life, and life together. In so doing, they miss the grandeur of living and the blessings we have in God.

I have a chart that, in one page, illustrates Napolean's invasion of Russia in 1812. The uniqueness of the chart is that it includes a map, distances, geographic features, army strengths along the route, and climate information. In short, it portrays the entire campaign including the massive loss of life in one picture. With a little reflection, it is possible to grasp the enormity of that disaster for the French people. Viewing the chart provides the viewer with the "big picture," the complete story in one glimpse. I've used the chart in a couple classes to make the point that the Scripture writer is seeking to provide that big picture to his readers. In some cases my point has been that if Bible teachers are not providing their students with this kind of Gospel understanding, we need new teachers.

I find it helpful to create a similar illustration with students and clients outside my church. Using a Whiteboard, I trace two parallel concerns of God from Cain and Able through the letters of Paul. It becomes apparent that God's concerns have always been that we give Him our allegience and honor, and that we are gracious and compassionate in our dealings with others. In fact, if we are to "glorify God" and "imitate Christ," we must be steadfast in putting others first.

Christmas season is an appropriate time for this discussion. While the birth of our savior is itself a momentous in-breaking of God in this world, it is much more significant than the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.

Paul tells us that it had always been God's plan to send Jesus to reconcile mankind to God and to reconcile us to each other. In a real sense, we cannot be reconciled to God unless we are willing to be reconciled to each other. It becomes clear as we study Scripture that God is not so much interested in the details of our worship to Him as He is in our assuming a spiritual character that matches His. Jesus' birth is simply the beginning of His life, ministry, and death for us. His birth is a reminder not just of God's love for us, but of his love for the people sitting next to us, or those that live across the street, or those in our houses. His birth is a reminder that we too are to be other-centered, gracious givers rather than self promoters.

The season of His birth is not to be one of expectant getting, but of expectant giving. Expectant that our gifts to each other will bless one another; will let others see the grace of God in us so that they can join our worship of our God.

Perhaps that's the best reason to celebrate Christmas. Once the excitement has faded, to remind ourselves that we are called to enter others' worlds as accepting and nonjudgmental dispensers of grace.

Isn't that really the big picture of God's story?

Merry Christmas!

Eating in Albuquerque

Went to Papa Felipe's restaurant yesterday for lunch. I understand that Papa's is run by a family that used to work with the Garduno's family. Garduno's has grown and has multiple sites around the city and they enjoy a good reputation.

Papa's family apparently doesn't have the marketing desire and they're still in one location. However, the food at Papa's fits my palette better, if one meal can be used to determine that.

I had the three-carne adovada enchiladas plate and was impressed with the flavor and the quality of the food. The carne was tender, but not mushy, the red chile flavorful but not over-powering. The tortillas were tender and not too dry. In addition, there wasn't too much chile spread over the plate, so that I could see the food and taste it through the chile.

The food seemed to be more authentic as compared to Garduno's which has become a bit too commercial for me. Papa's was a treat and the service was great.

We'll go back on a regular basis. If you want to try it out, Papa's is on the south side of Menaul, just east of Eubank.

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