A Starbucks Theology

Every couple of weeks Facebook is bombarded by a new campaign headed by a charismatic figure who easily gets millions of people to buy into their ideology; Rachel Mcadams, “I am a Christian but…”, countless Relevant Magazine articles and most recently, Joshua Feuerstein. Feuerstein, creator and advocate of the #merrychristmasstarbucks campaign, is no stranger to Facebook stardom. His first video, “Dear Mr. Atheist”, went viral in just a short three weeks time. His webpage can be viewed here http://www.joshuafeuerstein.com. Personalities such as Feuerstein easily draw a crowd and get our attention. Buzzfeed has even posted a recent article documenting the recent campaign and sarcastically includes others ‘participation’ in the campaign, such as saying your name is Satan at Starbucks. This now has everyone questioning if Starbucks hates Christmas.

In short, no, Starbucks does not hate Christmas. I think this is clear from the fact that they still sell Christmas specific decorations, they have a Christmas blend coffee and, most importantly, they have significantly reduced hours on Christmas day for the majority of their stores. The question then raised is; why does Feuerstein and millions of others insist on creating a campaign against a major company such as Starbucks simply because now their Peppermint Mocha cup is only red instead of red with a snowman on it? To explore this, an understanding of Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture is necessary.

To begin, Niebuhr’s book explores if Christ and Culture are either compatible, set against one another, or necessary for the others existence. Niebuhr’s book, originally published in 1951, still remains a cornerstone in the sociological understanding of how Christianity and Civilization interact with one another. He begins with defending Civilization as “man-made.” Peter Berger, author of Sacred Canopy, does this as well. Both defend Civilization, or culture, as man-made aspects of our lives that we each play a major role in. We see the things around us, think and process those things, and create other things based on the two processes before. What is building already amongst many evangelicals such a Feuerstein is the presupposition that culture; ““the total process of human activity” and its result; it refers to the ‘secondary environment’, which man superimposes on the natural” (32), is created and shaped by the biblical Jesus. Or, at least, the way we think Jesus would command our culture to look like.

Niebuhr interacts with five views; Christ against culture, Christ of Culture, Christ above Culture, Christ and Culture paradox and finally, Christ transforms culture. Each view is described in its negatives and positives. For the purposes here, I will only be examining one view, Christ and Culture in paradox. Many whom are a part of Reformation Church’s hold this view, the majority being Lutheran Christians. This view has historically been a part of the reformation tradition, along with Christ as transformer of Culture, dating back to Augustine. Augustine’s City of God discusses the dichotomy between the “Heavenly City” and the “Earthly City.” This paves the way for theologians such as Luther and Calvin to create their way of viewing Christianity and Culture. If there is a distinct difference between heaven and earth, which Augustine defends, than there is a distinct difference between how the two function and therefore, interact with one another.

The fundamental failure of many evangelicals is that they see Christ as the creator of culture, or in Niebuhr’s understanding Christ as the transformer of culture, but they take it to a new extreme. They do not read Christ through the lens of culture, nor culture through Christ but impose, because of their presupposition about Christ and culture, onto the society around them. Let me give you an example;

Jason, a recent homeowner, moves into a new neighborhood. He is unfamiliar with the way in which the parking situation goes, when trash day is and when it is appropriate to play loud music and when not too. He is a nice guy who wants to do his best to be a welcoming neighbor but often finds crude notes on his car and police coming to his door because of his lack of familiarity. He does not understand what he is doing wrong or why these ‘persecutions’ keep coming his way. Finally, one day he sees one of his neighbors outside working on his car. Jason walks over to the man and tells him about the persecutions he has been facing and is wondering why people are out to get him. His neighbor kindly replies “you don’t act like you live here and it is clear you have no consideration for the rest of us who do live here.” Confused, Jason asks how this can be so. His neighbor responds “you put the trash out on the wrong day and move every one else’s trash back on their drive ways so it doesn’t get picked up, you park in front of whoever’s house you want and even in our driveways even though you have your own spot and you play music as loud as you want all night long.” To Jason’s dismay he is being a bad neighbor. He imposed rules about his way of living onto his new neighbors without anyone else’s consent and without thinking about how it would affect them. He has seen himself as the dictator of his new neighborhood’s culture based on what only he desires and thinks.

This illustration along with a short understanding of Niebuhr shows the failure due to a basic misunderstanding by evangelicals like Feuerstein. They are being bad neighbors due to the fact that they don’t actually see themselves as neighbors. It never crossed Jason’s mind that maybe what he was doing was ok in some neighborhoods, but not where he currently lived. They see themselves as victims in a world that is out to get them. This type of mindset leads to missed opportunities and negative outcomes. The vocation of the Christian is to be a good neighbor. There are few things more important than to be a good neighbor when it comes to Christian living. I would argue that Starbucks has a better understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor than Feuerstein and his campaign. All Starbucks did was take off a design in order to include others. If someone invited me to a Hanukah celebration I would go, because that is what good neighbors do. They take each opportunity and fulfill their vocation as neighbor, friend and ambassador of the Gospel to share the love of Christ. Essentially what Feuerstein has done is been invited to a neighborhood ‘Holiday Party’ and sat outside and picketed the party because they “hate Christmas.”

How Shall We Live? (Part II: Creating the Culture)

In my last post I shared some thoughts, as well as reflections on common sociological themes that exist within our Culture. The point that I made was, hopefully, simple. People have a deep connection to their religious as well as cultural convictions and lifestyles they are born or raised in. Some of it is geographical and some of it is theological, while some of it is revealed to us or realized in time. Whatever the case may be it is important to address, or at least understand, the human aspects of culture and society. As Christians we live in a tension between the world and the divine. In Augustine’s “City of God” he notes the differences and influences of two cities; the ‘Heavenly City’ and the ‘Earthly City.’ For Augustine, as well as many other theologians and thinkers, these two cities are not in conflict with one another. As I pointed out in my last post, when we realize the human aspects of the world (the earthly city), we can see how the church,( the heavenly city), has a place or an effect upon the world. What is the church’s job? Proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ and administer the sacraments. Augustine notes in IV.3 of ‘City of God’, “a man who loves God is not wrong in loving himself. It follows, therefore, that he should be concerned also that his neighbor should love God, since he is told to love his neighbor as himself.” This is the influence of the ‘heavenly city’ upon the ‘earthly city.’ The need to preach the Gospel, which loves our neighbor as ourselves. It is not found in relevance, or new techniques of philosophy of ministry. While these may be helpful and depending on the context, necessary, the need of the Gospel within the world will always be its deepest need and it will always be the Church’s number one job to do so.

Reflecting upon this, and in light of several conversations I have seen, heard and had, a few things have come to my attention as well as some questions to be asked from here. First, how does the Church cultivate a culture within itself to go into the world and love its neighbor? And second, how do we as individuals continue to live within the tension of two worlds while allowing the Church to not only be somewhere that we go, or are, but be sent into the world with the right tools? In other words how do we let the heavenly city influence us as we live within the earthly city? I believe that this answer is much simpler than we will want to make it. Most of the time we will run to the bookstore, or amazon, and pick up the latest material on ‘incarnational ministry.’ Maybe we will try and find a conference about missions and get a group from our church to attend. Maybe, if we are so bold, we will just go and see what happens and hope some people come along! These are ways in which we often respond to a desire for growing the church, or even trying to make sense of how the heavenly influences the earthly. I believe the answer to how we create a culture that has a presence not only within its community, but in the world as well as grow its current goers in the faith starts somewhere that we may not realize. It starts with Aristotle’s understanding of ethics.

You might immediately tune out after what I just said but here me out. What I mean is this; Aristotle in Book II of his discussion on virtue ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ said “moral virtue comes about as a result of habit.” What does he mean by this? Put simply Aristotle understood virtue in two ways. First, virtue is concrete. It is character or integrity as oppose to simply passion. Passion is too unpredictable. Sure, maybe every once in a while someone will do the right thing, but creating a culture built on character through habit was much more likely to happen as oppose to passion. Second, virtue requires a choice and the choice is a means to an end within itself. People must choose to be virtuous and therefore must understand that there is no reward other than being virtuous to be gained from helping the old lady across the street. What Aristotle advocated for was this; if we desire to be a virtuous culture or person we must cultivate, through habit, within ourselves the thought of doing the virtuous thing. Now, how I am connecting these things together you may ask? Here is how.

While I do not think we can just cut out Aristotle and make it a standard for our ministry, I do think that the notion of habit, or consistency, is incredibly important not only for creating a church culture that seeks to love its neighbor, but also bring the neighbor into the doors and keeping them there. Think about the last time you went to Church. Maybe last Sunday, or maybe a mid- week service. What was the service about? Maybe you can recall, but can you recall two weeks ago, or three, or four… I cannot recall the last few weeks other than the series title. Imagine if when we left Church we remembered what the service was about, we meditated about it throughout the week and then we showed up again the next week or to a bible study or mid- week event and the same, or similar thing, was cultivated in us. We would be thinking about the same thing, or similar things, for one maybe two or three weeks in a row! We would not walk out of Church encouraged and joyful only to forget what happened by dinner or maybe Monday or Tuesday night. If we take Aristotle’s understanding of virtue we can quickly see how habit, or consistency, can begin to have a large effect upon the heavenly cities influence upon the earthly city.

The Anthropologist Peter Burger, also a confessing Christian man, understood culture in this way. Culture is cultivated by institutions. Institutions create what he calls, legitimations, or standards by which the institution is held together. The people with the culture reflect upon what is being maintained and make meaning out of them. This is how culture is created. While this may seem like a nihilistic approach to all of life, and make you say “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2).Whatever the case, what we come to is this. A culture that is cultivated by the Gospel lives in light of the Gospel. When someone asks “what does this Gospel mean for me?” shortly after they will ask, “what does the Gospel mean for my neighbor?” This is how the culture is created. With the habit of the Gospel. With songs that affirm passages that are read aloud. With verses read by entire congregations aloud. With sermons that dig deep into those versus and are thematic within an entire service. When we seek to be apart of a service that in its entirety is worship, not simply music and sermon. When we seek to be habitual about how we hear the Gospel each week we cultivate a culture within the local church that is made up of mature believers. Then the awakening occurs within us that the same Gospel we confess and hear is also for our neighbor.

When we sing songs, or hymns, for several weeks in a row. When we read scripture in between hymns as a corporate body. When the sermon and the songs and the scripture all affirm the same topic we walk away not simply knowing what the service was about but meditating upon the versus, and the songs and the sermon more and more. We are more likely to make habits of seeing more versus that tie together. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should just be people who become traditionalists who can get the right answer in Church, and if we really are honest we are more traditionalistic than we would like to admit. Nor am I advocating for any particular style of this. We are free in Christ to decide! But I am talking about cultivating a culture that is driven and known by the Gospel. The Church’s identity is found in the Gospel, not what it does. But loving of our neighbor is a result of deep spiritual maturity and understand of the Gospel. When we do this, hear the Gospel proclaimed and affirmed every week, we not only begin to see our personnel growth become more mediatory throughout the week but scripture becomes one beautiful revelation of Christ to us rather than a bunch of different types of literature. We meditate upon the same songs week after week and we begin to create a culture of that meditates upon the word as well as goes into the world with the right tools, or the right sword. With this we can begin to see when the Church cultivates faith, through the word and sacrament, a culture of church- goers moves form focusing inwardly during a service to looking ‘extra nos’, or outside of us, for unity as well as for spiritual formation. We become spiritually mature people who meditate upon the word throughout our week and we in turn ask ‘what does this word, or the Gospel, mean for my neighbor?’ The heavenly city begins to impact and have its effect upon the earthly when we first, realize its deepest need, the Gospel, and second, creature a culture of people who not only believe the bible but meditate on it daily as a result of the Church cultivating faith, through the word, within its people.

How Shall We Live? (Part I)

How Shall We Live? (Part I)

If you are like me you have heard this countless time, “Christians live in the world… but are not of it.” We have seen the ‘Not of this world’ sticker at least once or twice today alone. Even this blog serves to some degree to make the point that the Christian life is not one that the world recognizes. Jesus said himself “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Paul says “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). It is clear throughout scripture that the world has nothing to offer when it comes to wisdom. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the Church is not recognized as wise either by the world. We are often seen as crippled people who need something to believe in to get us to the end. To some extent that is true! We are weak and do in fact need something, outside of us, to see us through! However, how is the Church to live in a tension between the recognition of the world and the transformative power of the Gospel beyond the worlds understanding? In other words, how is the Church to be faithful in a world that condemns what it believes?

To start we must construct a short understanding of culture, or the world. Culture, or society, is constructed by two or more people. As Christians we cannot be afraid to say that the world, or culture, is man made. To reject this is not only to reject sociological and anthropological understanding of human beings but also is not helpful in the Church’s emergence beyond culture. In order to be ‘the called out ones’ we must first understand what we are being called out of. At the most foundational level of culture we find what we call the worldview, or the construction of a culture that has been created or accepted. Next we begin to understand why people do as they do. This is the evaluating stage, or where beliefs and values are constructed based on the worldview. Finally, we see coming out of beliefs and values is behaviors or actualizing. From an anthropological point of view seeing a cross on a wall is significant because it is at the core of my worldview. It has meaning based upon my understanding of history, and if I really believe it universal implications. So what does a basic understanding of culture have to do with the tension between Christianity and the world? Because when we recognize why the world functions the way in which it does, people building it through worldviews, we can understand the deep need for the Gospel that the world, and in turn some cultures, reject. I believe too many church- goers have neglected the human aspect of the world and in turn neglected to implications of the Gospel upon humanity. If we understand the need that there is for the Gospel on every level of humanity we begin to walk towards the solution of how we are to live.

There is a tension then between the Christian and the world. It is most felt in political, socio- economic and dogmatic differences. What this means is this; the Christian often will ask themselves, how do I vote? How do I serve these people? How do I respond? What can I donate too or not too? How do I treat these people in light of what I know about them? This is the tension between Christ’s first and second coming. We call this the ‘Church age’, it is difficult and messy to navigate the waters in this area of history. We say, “I have the bible… but it doesn’t address this!” How do we live?! The answer I believe is in an eschatological understanding of the cross. What I mean is this; Christ’s death and resurrection has changed history and therefore the Church needs to live in light of the ‘Christ event’. We often argue for a Christocentric interpretation of scripture. The Church needs to implement a Christocentric confession, belief and response within the world. In neglecting the human aspects of the world i.e. culture there has been lost a Christocentricity in its belief. We have spent too much time trying to solve the issue created by the Christian being a ‘wayfaring stranger’ within the world that we have lost sight of the Missio Dei, or the mission of God. That is to be an ambassador of the Gospel! Instead of doing this the Church has said “People must conform to the norms of Christianity” as oppose to “Let us give the people what they need”. The Church has lost the belief that the cross is universal. We fail to ask; “What does the Gospel mean for me?” and in turn “What does the Gospel mean for my neighbor?” Do not misunderstand me when I say ‘Let us give the people what they need’. I am certainly not saying, lets get rid of the bible because it is old, lets get a $30,000 stage and make it look like Staples Center at a concert and I am certainly not saying that the focus should be on relevance as oppose to tradition or scriptures authority. If you are someone who is seeking this in your Church I am going to ask you to stop what you are doing and read this sentence over and over again… PEOPLE NEED JESUS! They do not need more and more design, more and more charisma and certainly more and more relevance. THAT IS WHAT THE WORLD WANTS! The Church needs Jesus and it needs him in his dying!

When we understand the world we understand two things. First, sin is everywhere and Christ is the solution. Second, Christ is paradoxical to the world, or culture. He is not fighting against culture like many Christians tend to do, nor is transforming culture to look like a theocracy! He is paradoxical to culture for one reason, his grace is sufficient. The Church does not need to fight every battle, it does not need to force the world to conform to a Christian ethic. The world cannot look like the Church, if we desire that it does we lose the Christocentricity that the Church needs. Christ in his dying for people to come into its doors. Paul says “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Let us preach the message that saves! The solution to the tension between being in the world but not of it is revealed in Christ eschatologically. Grace is sufficient and Christ will return and make all things new. Let this be the Church’s belief and hope that Christ has died in our place, let us love one another in light of this.

Why I Will Baptize Your Baby and Not You (Again)

Church is an eclectic place, people of all ages gather each week (or several times a week) to worship, to be exhorted, to be discipled and to engage in community. We break bread, we celebrate together, we mourn together. People who go to Church do life together (or ideally do). Your local Church is your family, the people whom you worship with. The Church, the invisible Church, is held together by the preaching of the Gospel, administering of the sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit. These are our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We do not exclude people from family. We welcome people in with open arms. With hospitality we open our doors to strangers, to people walking through difficult circumstances, to people who do not understand everything about faith completely, to people who we would not expect to be apart of our family at all. We might call this the Covenant Community of God, his people, his bride purchased by the blood of his son. So the question is; who is allowed to be apart of this family?

Baptizing Infants is a big issue in the Church. Should we do it? Why should we do it? What are the benefits of it? Is there any purpose to it? To answer this first I think it is important to talk about baptism, just plain old baptism as a Sacrament, in order to understand why we should baptize more infants and less adults, at least adults who have been baptized four times and come up for a fifth. First, if we desire to have a biblical view of baptism we need to understand first what makes it a sacrament. A sacrament, in the Protestant Church, is defined as something commanded by Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) combined with word and common element, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5) for the forgiveness of sins, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). We might be bold enough to call baptism a means of Grace, or in other words the administering of the Gospel through means (Baptism, the Supper and Absolution). In the most simple terms, Baptism is the Gospel. The question now stands, who is fit for the Gospel?

The answer is very simple if we believe scripture to have any authority, and if we take it seriously. Sinners need the Gospel, desperately. If all people are sinners, and sinners need the Gospel and baptism is the Gospel is in fact baptism why then are so many against the baptizing of infants? I see the answer cashed out in several different ways. First, the Erasmian school of thought continues to permeate the Church today, especially the American church. Erasmus of Rotterdam emphasized that baptism may only be done after faith had already been affirmed in someone. This is evident in his interpretation of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. In Erasmus’ ‘Paraphrases of the New Testament’ he does not explicitly deny infant baptism, but places a strong emphasis on pre-baptismal catechesis. This is not only an incredibly common belief today but also one that many Church goers would emphasize as the purpose of baptism, to be instructed! Had this been Christ’s intent I do not think he would have said “Baptize them…. Then teach them in all wisdom.”

Second, the influence of Andreas Rudolff-Bodenstein von Karlstadt has had a profound impact upon the American church, and many non- denominational church’s have more of his theology than they would desire to recognize. Karlstadt rejected infant baptism based on one thing. God empowers people to choose or to reject him. With this assertion he differed from Luther, who held to a negative free- will, and certainly that of Calvin or Zwingli, who emphasized God’s sovereignty through choosing the elect and damning the reprobate. This is probably the most common influence in the rejection of infant baptism. How can an infant choose God? He cannot! Therefore, he (or she) should grow up and choose to love God! We might call this an age of accountability. In this way Karlstadt was close to the Anabaptists who held that only consenting adults could enter into the kingdom and therefore those who had been baptized as children, more than likely under the Catholic church, should be baptized again. This legalistic pietism has continued to plague the Church today and seeks to force people to ‘clean up’ before not only entering into our churches but before they can be a covenant member in the family of God. To this I simply ask, did you choose God? If you answered yes unfortunately you should just stop reading this, open up your Bible to Genesis 1, read until you get to a blank page and see if you still hold to s synergistic view of conversion. If you answered no, you very well may be seeing an answer to who is fit for the Gospel.

The final influence, or at least that I will briefly touch upon, is that of Plato. Plato simply emphasized the distinction between body and soul, the body was bad and the soul was good. In his analogy of the cave, Plato describes men, chained to a wall against their will. For the entirety of their existence they observed shadows of cut outs of certain things; an elephant or a tiger etc. All they can see is the wall and the shadows. Their entire reality is constructed by these shadows. One day a man gets free and goes outside the cave and sees reality, or Truth. He comes back into the cave only to be laughed at by his peers when he describes what an actual tiger looks like. How does this influence many people view of Baptism? Pr. Matt Richards in his article “Why Evangelicals Struggle with Infant Baptism: The Platonic Connection” says that, for Plato the purpose of life is to escape the evil body and find what is good, true and beautiful in the realm of the forms. Therefore, what is outside of us or extra nos is not able to permeate the inside of us. In other words, water and word cannot effect our soul. Therefore, to be a supporter of infant baptism one must have not only a completely monergistic view of conversion but also one that believes the word is outside, and certainly more powerful, than us. (For more on this portion see http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com/2014/11/06/evangelicals-struggle-infant-baptism-platonic-connection/ ) [1]

If the church begins to see the influence of why they do not baptize infants maybe it can also begin to see why it is in fact biblical to do so. Do we baptize infants and never bring them up in the faith? Of course not. Do we even expect that once they have been baptized they will always be saved? For Calvin he held to “once saved always saved” and I am not convinced of this as a biblical interpretation. Therefore, we are left with several options. Deny the Gospel to infants and affirm our synergism, or allow someone, who is already elect, to ‘decide’ to be baptized. How do we desire to portray our theology? If we believe God has chosen us, that he has called us to himself, that despite my sinfulness from birth and the sinful acts I commit continually he has chosen me for his kingdom as well as his work, than we ought to baptize all people. For we were not any different than the infant at our baptism. A sinner in need of the Gospel. Anselm of Canterbury says “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.” Let us not withhold the Gospel from any sinner who comes into our doors and let us examine our theology in order that we may be consistent in what we believe.

[1] All academic property is given to Pr. Matt Richard on this section Paraphrased by myself.

Our Community

Community is one of the most essential aspects of humanity, we are constantly seeking after acceptance within social circles, moving into new environments that are driven by community, seeking after relationships. Community is a fundamental part of being human, and it should be, especially within the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, literally a community of people gathered together to worship, to pray, to be shaped… but are we fully apart of our community, that is the Church, even more specific your own Church? We were created to be in community, throughout scripture it is evident that community is apart of the image of God, just look at the trinity. Father, Son and Spirit in perfect community with one another while being one God. God made Adam and said “it is not good for man to be alone.” Noah had his family on the Ark, Jesus had twelve apostles, the Christian Church is made up of over one billion people today! Community is apart of our DNA, but are we realizing its importance and the necessity for community?

Ekklesia (the name of this blog) means Church, more specifically it literally references to “the called out ones.” We are people called to be holy by walking in obedience and by having Christ’s righteousness merited to us. The only thing that forms community is the Gospel! Without Jesus at the center of our community, even more importantly our Church, we have simply become apart of just another social circle and we have become people who are more concerned with the social aspect of community than the Gospel forming community. The average American spends almost four hours a day on social media reading what other people think, do and experience… but only stare at a screen. We feel connected through social media because of what sociologists call “group think”. We for a circle of people via social media that think what we think, like what we like and do what we do or often times want to do. Is this community? Is this healthy? Is this shaping us to be more like Jesus or turning us in on ourselves only to live a life of loneliness?

Face to face dialogue is what we yearn for, nothing will have us experiencing more emotions, real healthy emotions than a face to face conversation. Whether it be happiness, sadness, anger or contentment an actual conversation with other people looking into their eyes forces authentic community. Recently I read an article saying that the art of the conversation is lost amongst many millennials because of our extreme use of social media and texting. There are no conversations taking place amongst people anymore, this must not be the case within the Church. Once we as the Church seize to converse with one another, to look one another in the eyes and talk to a brother or sister  face to face how will we mourn together when needed? How will we rejoice when the time is right? How will we be shaped more into an image of Christ without vulnerability? Certainly this will not happen without taking part in authentic community that is Glorifying to God by actually talking to one another.

The Church need be a place that walks in brokenness together, not for the sake of realizing our depravity but for the purpose of looking more like Jesus with every conversation ending in prayer, ending in opportunity for accountability and ending with the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. We must be people who do life together, not simply walk through life with one another turning the other way when things get messy but doing life together no matter how messy or how uncomfortable things may get. The Church must be a people who love one another so dearly that we are willing to see someones pain and be an instrument used by God in someone else’s life, to speak truth, to encourage, to lift up one another for the Glory of God alone.

God’s Resolution for Mankind

I know that the “New Years Resolution” luster may already be dulling for many people, but I feel it necessary to take this opportunity to bring to light a few issues, ideas and truths to surface in light of the first week of the new year coming to an end. So many americans make these resolutions, “I want to lose weight, I want to go to the gym, I want to break this bad habit, I want to improve who I am…etc.” Whatever the resolution may be the truth is by December 31st at the end of the year our new resolution will be a distant memory. Now I have no problem with New Year’s resolutions, if you wanna lose twenty pounds, go for it! If you want to break a bad habit, I hope you succeed! The problem with the “New Year, New Me” mentality is the lack of follow through, the lack of real devotion, the failure to follow through. The failure to set real goals, to make real steps towards the goal is the issue at hand. People are great at having a great big dream but failing to achieve such a goal because they lack steps, tangible goal and most importantly authenticity in truly wanting to achieve their goal.

The Church, the modern Church does this all too often. We want to bring social justice issues to surface and spread awareness of a problem within our world, but behind our short rally is simply a yearning not for change but for popularity, a quick pat on the back form piers. Pastors love to preach on evangelizing and bringing new people to their congregation but in reality the giving was down the previous year and they need more people in the seats. Now, I am not universalizing this, I know people who have deep convictions in their spirit about social issues and participate in bringing awareness and even support. I know Pastors who could care less about a persons contribution but rather foster their faith deeply. The problem that the Church of today is facing is that we do not have enough authenticity, we have need of deeper leading within our spirits, within our hearts, within our daily life, we need more of Jesus.

How do we accomplish a goal in the Church? Well first we need to find something to strive to achieve. Maybe it is as a church leader to start a new bible study on campus, maybe it is to start several new small groups, maybe it is even to see peoples faith go deeper. For the individual person maybe a goal is to be in the word daily, to pray more frequently, to give more, to go on a missions trip, to lead someone in your life to faith… the list can go on and on and I hope the lists do go on. Think about something to strive towards, have something that has been pressing on your heart brought to light and see how God will move you to look more like him by giving you such a conviction. For myself, this year my aim is to strive for more godliness, to be a stronger man of faith, to lead in ways that reflect a love for Jesus, to listen to the Spirit and obey him, to have sinfulness rooted out of my life and look more like Jesus. Now you may say “Don’t we all have that goal?” Well ultimately yes, but will it just be another resolution that quickly fades in a few days, weeks, maybe a month and vanish? Will we continue to remain stagnant and be in the same place of faith next year that we are in right now? Or will we be pressed more by the word of God and will we look more like Jesus in a year than we do now.

The American Church is filled with impatient people, I am certainly one of them as the dinner I microwaved recently took too long therefore I ate cold potatoes… but in all seriousness we desire things now. We want an instant fix, and immediate change, and a timely response. If you want to test this theory just text someone right now and I promise you will check your phone within two minutes to see if they have responded yet. It is a mentality we have developed, we have pushed away anything being a process and said “I want it now!” We do this within our Christian walks, whether we know it or not, we desire something such as peace or self-control and expect our one time desire for godly characteristic to be enough propel change! Well two things go wrong with the instant fix mentality; one there was no room for God to work, there was no opportunity for growth. The task was given up before the process even began! Lets say you have desire for more patience; you go to Starbucks that day maybe or that week even, the line is too long, the cashier is too slow, your drink is made wrong….  then you lose it! You forget that patience was something you were working on and become even more frustrated you couldn’t force yourself to be patient, then you give up all together on patience and move on with life, missing out on an incredible quality. The second thing wrong with the instant fix mentality is we buy into the “I can better myself” rubbish of the world and pretend to throw a Christian spin on it. So many people in Church on Sundays hear nothing but how they can become better people, how they can change, how they can fix their problems. Unfortunately this is either because they have no desire for Jesus or they have a poorly appointed Pastor. (Unfortunately some Pastors just shouldn’t be Pastors anymore, but I am not going to tackle this issue here) Christianity does not boil down to moral conformity, it does not boil down to a self- justification, it is by no means a bar of excellence to be reached. When we truly realize our brokenness and  come to terms with our deep imperfections and our unspoken failures we need nothing but the Gospel, we need absolutely nothing other than Christ.

Within the Gospel penetrating our hearts we then begin to interact and be changed within it, by no means of our own power, by no means of our own decisions either. Christ has brought us into his presence to be holy and blameless based upon nothing other than his own righteousness, and then the process begins. Justification and sanctification should never cross into the same category, otherwise you are dabbling in works righteousness, rather we are justified and seen by the father in the same way he looks upon Christ based on his merit alone, and then there starts a process to begin to look more like Jesus in our character, in our actions, in our thoughts and in every aspect of our life. Grace propels us to be transformed not to transform us to obtain Grace. The christian life is a process, one of many trials, of much pain, of much suffering, of much joy, of much rejoicing, of much grace and a whole lot of Jesus. Would the Church not be a people who refuse to wait upon the lord, who do not desire Grace to move them but try and figure it out on our own but would we be people who have been transformed by Grace and been brought into a long and great process of knowing Jesus deeply and being shaped more into his image as he leads and guides us.

In Light of Christmas

The Christmas season provides for us a comforting feeling, a warm spirit and a sentimental image in our mind of what the holiday season is all about. We love decorating our homes with bright lights, outdoing our neighbors with our massive inflatable Santa’s, hanging the wreath on our door, the gate, the back door and the front of our car. Replacing our boring tissue holders with a knitted box grandma made for us 20 plus years ago. The familiar Christmas tree smell, that comes from the candles we burn constantly to make it smell like a fresh tree is in our living room. We adore the thought of the holidays and everything that goes with it, and we love pretending we love what the holidays are all about. We love telling young children “It is better to give than to receive” but in all reality we would be hurt and unsatisfied if we gave gifts to everyone we know, and received nothing in return. We love saying “Good will to all men!” and the same day we flip someone off in the Target parking because they didn’t wait their turn at the four way stop. This is the reality of the holiday season we live in, a consumeristic culture driven by selfishness because the truth is many of us will be stressed over getting the perfect white elephant gift, funny and affordable, for one of the many parties we will attend this year while a single mother in our very own neighborhood will struggle to afford for her children just one gift for each of them. Why must we be forced into such a narrow view, why must we be so selfish and why must we refuse to see the reality of Christmas, a world of darkness that is in desperate need of true light, in desperate need of Jesus. Why must we continually “Remember the reason for the season” but in all reality Jesus is the last person on our mind, behind our children, spouse, best-friend, in-law, boss and even our mailman. Why do we not see Christmas for what it really is, light colliding with darkness and not simply interacting with one another in a dualistic way but light overcoming darkness in the most victorious way.

We do not like to think about the reality of depravity this time of year, we save that for black friday and leave it there as a yearly reminder, but we ought to. Not because we need to mourn and live in guilt of the depravity of man but because we need to remember, or maybe see for the first time, the light of the world stepping into his own people, living amongst his own creation, not being accepted by them and not simply being a light in his teaching and deeds but in his death. Has not the righteousness of God cast out all darkness for those who are in him? We do not like to remember our state before Jesus, and our current state as sinners and people who choose to live in darkness, but rather we enjoy showing off our own pitiful lights onto darkness during the holiday season. Families struggling with divorces line the house with colorful bulbs, people battling addiction decorate the tree with stringed lights, we light fires for warmth and comfort while we participate in fornication and debauchery. We give gifts to those we really don’t care for and we celebrate with people we would put out in the street tomorrow to help ourselves. There is an utter and looming darkness within us.

Christmas is about a God stepping into that, stepping into that exact darkness that is not only so prevalent but is enjoyed by so many! God coming into that darkness not only battling it head on but engaging within it through Christ and bringing light into the darkness. For those of us who are Christians it is really easy to look at this and brush it off and go pray for the lost, go mourn for those who don’t know Jesus but how do we react to this in our own life, in our own circumstances? By putting a bumper sticker on our car with our church’s website, by sponsoring the city nativity set this year, by praying prayers publicly in the malls, by giving the salvation army santa our spare change this year, by doing absolutely nothing except make ourselves try and feel better about the torment we have participated in and gone through all year! We really don’t do a lot when it comes to bringing the light of the world into the actual world. Jesus collides with darkness not only so that we may not live in blindness any longer but so that we may now, as the Church, be apart of that light, be a light in the world.

The Church does a good job this time of year focusing on those who are not apart of it, those who do not know Christ, those who do not attend Church. We know those who are CEO’s, Christmas and Easer only, and we focus on them so strongly this time of year. Would we continue to do so! And would we read them the Luke two story, and tell them John 3:16 and walk them trough the Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled. The Church needs to continue to do this and do it well, but would we not forget the Gospel of John. “4 In him was life,and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5. Would the Church emphasize this strongly, that in Christ alone is there life, eternal life, abundant life and joyous life. He is the only true light in the world, that he came into the world “not to judge the world” but to show it, I am your savior, you have desperate need of me and I call you my very own. The world in which did not know him he entered, the world in which hated him he loved so deeply, the world that was blind he gave sight, the world that was dark he lit.

It is nerve wrecking to meditate on this because scripture says that each of us, every last one, are in utter darkness, consumed by sin, swallowed by pride, arrogance, guilt, hate, pain and brokenness… and Christ steps into that, in the form of an infant child lying in a manger, a cave if you will, by redeeming the Church, the people of God, his bride, back unto himself by showing us our very sin that drives us away from him so quickly and shows us our debt to be owed, he illuminates it, he guides us off of a path of death and onto a path of light by becoming an incarnate baby only to see our sin, take it upon himself, despite our darkness, despite even our love for the darkness and is crucified for our redemption that we would no longer walk in the dark but walk along a path of righteousness. Christmas is about light colliding with darkness and Christ commissioning the Church, be a light in a world filled darkness, just as I have done victoriously.

The Reality of Baggage

We all have a past, not simply time we have lived in, but past experiences we carry with us. We walk in shackles, shackles of bad memories, shackles of pain, shackles of insecurities and worse of all, shackles of guilt and shame. We carry a load with us wherever we go, we carry baggage that we have accumulated over the years which transfers into every relationship we will ever be in, every conversation we will ever contribute to and every life event we will ever have. How we perceive the things going on around us is shaped by our life events and more importantly how we react to our current situations derives from  the guilt and shame we have accumulated and the baggage we are currently carrying. How does the Church function with each individual coming from some from of brokeness? How do we live freely without feeling the burden of guilt surrounding our hearts? How does the Church, and the individuals who make the Church, function with so much pain, so much guilt, so much shame and so much baggage within it? The more important question is how do we become beggars for grace at the foot of the cross rather than continue to live as people trying to numb the pain of guilt with our own righteousness?

As I sit in Starbucks writing this I am surrounded by people who have a story, who have problems, who feel the weight of baggage and most of all have some level of guilt and shame in their lives they are currently carrying with them. I know this because I am in the same boat, the friend that is meeting me here soon is in the same boat, not because I know him so well, but because he is a human being with life experiences, and baggage that rests of his shoulders and on his heart. In our American culture we are often identified as a “Culture of Guilt” and we see the eastern world as a “Culture of Shame”. There is some level of truth to that in the way we live and perceive ourselves and others, but in our culture we have both, we simply confuse the two and think they are synonymous.

The problem is not, how do we deal with guilt, but how do we move from people of guilt to being people of innocence? Guilt is the breaking of a moral code we have failed to meet. It is driven by law and weighs heavily on our conscience when we fail uphold certain standards. How do we move away from shame and move into our true identity as children of God? Shame is driven by our personnel model we seek to uphold, we feel shame not because we break a rule but because we thought we were a better person than a rule breaker. We become shameful of what we have become. We may feel shame from something morally- irrelevant, such as our bodies not being the exact way we, or the world, thinks they should look. In this we are guilty of nothing but shameful because we have lost our purpose and replaced it with “Hollywood” ideals. Some of us walk in shame at who we are and some of us walk in shame in who we have become.

Guilt is not something the Church is unfamiliar with, scripture points out over and over that we are guilty before the law of God and the Gospel is God’s means for redemption of sinful people humanity. None of us are good, none of us can be saved on our own, it is only by Grace through faith that we are saved. It is Christ alone whose merit counts as righteous. We understand this in Church today, the forensics of it, it goes deep into our hearts because we like Justification but what we struggle with deeply, is Adoption.

Adoption is something the Church wrestles with because we don’t actually believe that we are delighted in and wanted by God! We are constantly living in shame of who we have become and as we look in the mirror we say “you need to work harder, make more money, be happier, look better…” and we foolishly buy into the way of thinking that God sees us the same way as we have made our own self-ideal out to be! We do not like to believe that we are delighted in, if you want to see this is action whether your at school, work, home or wherever you are, have one person with you stand on a chair in a room full of people and say ten things you love and are thankful for about them! I guarantee by number three they turn their face down and cannot look you in the face! Because they are shameful because they feel they have not lived up to those things, humans have the most difficult time accepting that we are loved deeply by God because it makes no sense, we don’t like how scandalous Grace truly is.

How many of us would rather work off a debt rather than have us be bailed out? Being bailed out never makes us feel better about our debt but rather moves the feeling of guilt from one party to another. For example, as a student I am deeply in debt when I graduate, lets say I get into some unfortunate events in 5-10 years and I cannot pay off my massive school loans. A good friend of mine is doing well and knows my situation and pays off my school loan! Although I would feel relieved I can now avoid prosecution form the government or my bank, I certainly would feel I owe my friend back every dollar and the cycle of guilt settles in again. Even though my debt has been Justified I would have a very hard time not feeling guilty for what my friend has done. Well, even though this example is a bit of a stretch it shows how we as people are ruled by settling debts. We are ruled by feeling shameful that we have to be bailed out. We are constantly feeling like we owe something to someone, whether that be our parents and living up to their expectations, the expectation of obtaining the ‘American Dream’ or whether that be our own model we have for ourselves. There is a constant cycle of fulfilling something that is driven by guilt and shame for breaking a standard or for not living up to an ideal!

If we are to live in the truth and light of the Gospel we have to understand something very deeply, that the cross of Jesus Christ says that those who are in him have absolutely no sin and will have no sin before God at any point in our lives. The Gospel is not something that we owe anything to other than our full surrender. How we often make the Gospel to be is it forgives the sins in our lives that we have moved past on our own, that is not living in light of a victorious death, that is living a life that buys into the falsehood of the world. We are not guilty people but free people living in the light of the Gospel. Our shame that derives from our trespasses has no place either, are we not children of God, does he not know us each personally, has he not reconciled us while we where far off? The cross says we are his people, would we be beggars of grace continually and stop attempting to live up to a perfect ideal we have in our mind. There is no shame in the Gospel, there is no room for it, we have been washed clean, we have been reconciled, we have been called according to his purpose. Would we stope beating ourselves up for something God has already forgiven and forgotten. Would we not be people who carry shame around with us, God delights in his people deeply, in a way we cannot understand but he does unconditionally. The reality of baggage is that it has been lifted off  us by Christ and he did so with joy, because of the truth is a Father delights in his children.

Our Daily Bread

In todays world we walk through life always asking for more, always asking for God to provide more for us than he already has, always asking for things that we do not need. It is a disease that has infected the Church, the disease of never being satisfied, never being thankful and never giving thanks for the great providence the Lord has already blessed us with, but rather, we have become people of dissatisfaction and un-contentment. The Church, specifically the American Church has an enormous black stain within it that is living and active and it ought disgust us as the people of God, that we are seeking the things of the world rather than our greatest joy and our only joy for that matter, God almighty.

The Churches only prayer when it comes to our need ought to be “Give us this day our daily bread.” When we unpack that we find several things that we as individuals need to root out of our hearts, by it being exposed as sinfulness within us, and as a body how we ought to react to and perceive the things in which we actually need rather than the things we selfishly want. When I say this I do not mean that we ought not to pray for a new promotion, or a raise, or a new car. If that is within the needs of your life pray boldly and steadfastly for those, but rather that our selfishness that is rooted in never being content with today and always being worried about tomorrow. The Church of today has become a control freak, a worrying creature of un-contentment with today and constantly seeking to control tomorrow rather than live within the satisfaction and joy of our God today and by doing so, we have become stagnant, short lived and the  modern Church has been swept up in the fear of what tomorrow will bring.

Fear has taken over our Church in that many believers constantly talk about the “end days” rather than being satisfied in what God has planned for today and fearful for what is to come tomorrow. Helicopter parents seeking to perfect their children in every possible way rather than love their children unconditionally and go after their heart and push them towards being men and women of God, they push them towards an Ivy League worthy grade point average, sports practices five nights a week in fear that if their children are not taught to “stick with something” they will become no body’s one day regardless if their children are actually passionate about the sport they play or not, parents are living through their children. Most likely because Dad did not make varsity football, his son now has to attempt something that he barely has interest in. This teaches the youth of today that living in constant stress and anxiety of tomorrow is more important than the only message that really matters for a young persons  life, God is your Greatest joy above all things and everything else is rubbish compared to him. The message we ought to be teaching our youth is not, how does God fit into your life of being a good student or being an athlete but rather how does being a good student or an athlete fit into your life as a child and servant of God? Our design is to rely fully on God and to be completely content within him through worship, and everything else is utterly temporary and meaningless compared to him.

The modern Church lives in so much fear that we even fake giving up control of our lives, when we are called to give up control of our lives once and for all the first thing many people do is start to scheme, “how can I control the lack of control I just handed over to God?” How can I give money to the Church while still having enough for my $5 morning latte every morning. “I cannot continue mu tithe because its almost December and my Children deserve more than God this month.” This is the type of ‘Christian’ life we falsely walk in, and regardless of all the abundance God has provided us with, the prosperity of the Gospel which is the Cross of Christ Jesus alone, we always are seeking after more and more and constantly living in fear of tomorrow and will we have enough when tomorrow comes aorund.

We have become a people of fear, if every Pastor across America asked their congregation this Sunday “How many of you have had points in your life or currently are walking in fear about what is going to happen tomorrow?” If people tell the truth, everyone above the age of 6-7 years old would raise their hands because even elementary school aged children are fearful of getting their spelling tests back because God Forbid they get a B- in the eyes of their parents! It is foolish and it is unbiblical to live this way. It is a fear that is built on the false promises that world presents to us such as; having stuff satisfies us, safety is our number one priority, even financial security is good stewardship. It most certainly is not! None of that is biblical neither is it moving the Church more towards being formed into the image of Jesus, but rather the it is doing the opposite. We have lost trust, and therefore rest, in our Lord. The Lord has marked out my days! How foolish am I to try and fight him on what he has already planned for me!

The Church desperately needs to gain a satisfaction with the person and work of Christ alone and put off all fear and anxiety of tomorrow. Jesus has the most crucial and even harsh words about this for those living this way, he says in Matthew Chapter 6 starting in verse 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

From this we learn that the end game of life, this life, is not to gain peace and prosperity but rather we obtain those two things as the result of overflowing goodness and grace from God himself while we walk in him alone! God did not put us here to gain things, to walk in earthly fame, and he certainly did not put us here to earn enough money to feel safe about our 401k! He put us here that we would walk in him alone and have him as our greatest joy and enjoy him forever! That we would be content in him alone today! And within that he roots out the fear that we have falsely built up for ourselves as well as strip off anxiety that has no place in the heart of the children of God!

The Church needs to be people who are not anxious about anything, who do not walk in fear but when we walk through trials would we realize that at the end of trials God turns us around to show us that it was not that bad, he walks with us! The truth is that on yours and mine last day on earth we will see all the worrying we have done as utter foolishness and a complete waste of time. For our joy rests in God alone and our hope is built on absolutely nothing else. Would we have the faith to believe that God truly is good and reigns over our lives with more wisdom than we could ever do for ourselves! Would we be present in today, would we ask for our daily bread with the knowledge that God has blessed us abundantly as a God of providence, and he will continue to bless us regardless of the things we are surrounded with and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. Would we truly lose the false promise that we have bought into that we have control of our lives, would we live in the freedom of having absolutely no control and trusting abundantly in our Heavenly Father.

Restoration

We all know the Lord’s Prayer, we say it before communion, we say it on Holidays, we have grown up with it in our mind. But like so many other Biblical principles has it become something that we grow numb too? or something we say automatically without realizing what we are really praying? Would the Church have reverence through prayer and would we understand the Lords Prayer in a new way.

The Second article has always captivated me “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Gods will can be confusing for us, it can certainly be unclear and even frustrating but at the core of this prayer what are we actually saying? When we corporately pray this what we are saying is that as the people of God we recognize that there is need for Restoration within the Church as well as in our own lives. That we have a brokenness within us that is in need of desperate repair as well as the world around us. Why else would we address God almighty as a community of Believers for his will to be done in the same manner as it is in Heaven? We are praying for divine intervention in our lives, in our covenant community and in the greater world around us. We are praying for Restoration.

We as creatures of worship are most prompted to pray in times of turmoil, in times of distress and in times of pain. A non-believer will have a hard time praying before a meal or even during a worship service but, God forbid, they be stricken with something as horrible as cancer or a terminal disease… they will pray somewhere. In the face of hardships we are people who run to help, we run to our Father in Heaven. We OUGHT to be prompted to pray during these times, we should desire to call upon the name of our God in our distress or on behalf of another because we are praying that God intervene, that his will be done and those very prayers ought to prompt us as believers to move into action.

In other words the Holy Spirit has prompted you to pray, and therefore has placed a need on your heart and now by the will of God have we found ourselves recognizing a need for restoration in our world, and it is now his will for the person of prayer to be moved into action. Now of course there are times when our prayers are simply to wait upon the hand of God to reveal itself, but for example; someone you know is sick and you are prompted to prayer for them by the Holy Spirit, are you not then called to go and visit them? To send them encouragement? To pray OVER them? God prompts us into action by our desires to call upon his name. It is part of his will.

What God desires is that his Church, his bride, come before him in prayer that he may restore us as broken individuals to be made new, and as hurting communities that he may heal our Churches. Would the Church, in our Prayers for his divine will to be done. recognize that it is his will that we be reconciled unto himself by the work of Christ alone and be restored by his own hand. Would there be rebuilding of Broken people by a Holy God according to his will and would we see more restoration within our own lives and in the world around us as we become people of prayer and are moved to action as he is the author and perfecter of our faith.