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Archive for January, 2014

Love is a Verb

January 29th, 2014 No comments

“Love is not a matter of the feelings; it is a matter of the will. And because it is of the will and not of the feelings, it is something that is always possible and that may always express itself in good actions. This we can do—whether or not we feel like it…. It is important that we do come to this fuller experience of God’s love because it is from such loving conduct that the gospel of Christ is communicated to the unsaved world. … You are the closest some men and women will ever get to Jesus Christ. If they do not see Christ’s love in you, they will never see it.” – James Montgomery Boice

Not Adieu, Au Revoir

January 25th, 2014 No comments

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. (Mk. 14:26-31 ESV)

Think about this dramatic scene from the point of view of the apostles. There was a depressive air over the celebration of the Passover meal they just finished. Jesus warned them that one of them would betray him. This shocked them enough that they questioned their own dedication. Now they’ve had time to process that warning and have decided that whoever Jesus was talking about, it wasn’t them. Now he says something even more ominous. He assures them that they will all fall away.

The situation is devastating. But in this little section of scripture Jesus says two things that, if the apostles could process it, would shed a very different light on what they are experiencing. In verse 27 Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah. The prophecy itself might not seem very uplifting: it predicts the failure of the disciples. But, it stands as a reassurance that nothing has gone wrong. Nothing has gone wrong. Jesus informs his followers that as bleak as things look, it’s part of the plan. Jesus has been predicting his death for a while. As tragic as the prospect is, it is necessary. It is integral to God’s plan of salvation. It was foreseen, in sometimes excruciating detail, by prophets hundreds of years before. Its outcome is certain: victory; redemption and glory.

The second thing Jesus says to them, in verse 28, is that he will see them again. He is not saying adieu, he is saying au revoir. They are all about to undergo a terrible ordeal. But as bad as it all seems now, there will be a happy ending. Jesus will overcome. It’s his promise.

In three different places in Chapter 6 of Matthew Jesus tells us his followers not to be anxious. But how can we not be anxious in the world we live in? Contemporary life is anxiety producing. Even driving to the grocery store can be terrifying. Even the most secure of us are beset by financial and physical insecurity. Nothing is certain. Danger lurks at every turn. For some of us, things may indeed look bleak. But if we are in Christ, things are not different for us than they were for Jesus’ apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Peter, as the spokesman for the eleven remaining apostles, bravely declares that he will not fall away, and the others agree. But they all fall away. They all fail. In the end Jesus faces his fate seemingly alone. We should be grateful that Peter reveals himself to be so weak. Because we are all Peter. But in the end, Peter was the rock. In the end, Peter trusted Jesus and stood firm for the gospel. He learned from his experience at Gethsemane. And so can we.

 

Foreigners in a Post-Christian Culture

January 22nd, 2014 No comments

“Christians are now the foreigners in a post-Christian culture, and we have got to wake up to this reality, if we haven’t already.” – Dan Kimball

I recently read an article about the inter-relationship of the terms “Post-Christendom,” “Post-Christian,” and “Post-Modern.” Most of it was academic mumbo jumbo but underneath was a very important observation about contemporary culture. The three terms are overlapping but do not represent identical concepts. In my mind “Post-Christendom” refers to the by now almost complete fading away of the medieval social order, “Post-Christian” refers to a culture that celebrates itself as pagan rather than Christian, and “Post-Modern” is the failure of the meta-narrative that accompanied liberalism and industrialization (modernity) in the West.

Historically the medieval social order (Christendom) was transformed into modernity during the era of the so-called “Enlightenment,” represented in the modern meta-narrative that asserted that humans could and would by the application of science, technology, and reason create a paradise through their own efforts without the need for a god. Historically Enlightenment philosophy is at least ambivalent to Christianity, in most manifestations downright hostile. The fact that we call the Enlightenment the Enlightenment indicates that the metanarrative succeeded in capturing the popular imagination.

But the social order created by the Enlightenment was founded on the culture of Christendom and thus there developed a kind of a strange symbiosis between enlightenment philosophy and Christian culture. Thus, for example, we see the prominence of the rather peculiar notion that the United States is a “Christian” nation even though it was founded on non- and even anti-Christian philosophical principles.

To put it briefly popular faith in the modern meta-narrative was called seriously into question by the middle of the 20th century. If the application of science and reason were supposed to lead mankind to liberation and enlightenment, how could you explain the Western Front, the Holocaust, the Atomic Bomb? So we see the emergence of what we today call post-modernism as the rejection of the modern metanarrative, but not the adoption of an alternative narrative. We have become a culture with no story to explain and give our lives meaning. I need to be very clear here that the transition from modernism to post-modernism is not a transition from one paradigm to another; it is to no paradigm: to disillusion and bewilderment.

The irony is that the result is a world whose Christian roots have been worn away by modernity so that contemporary culture looks remarkably like the culture the church was born in. Contemporary churches do not thrive because they are still identified with modernity (“God and Country”), and the culture has rejected that. So there is a lot of hand-wringing and lamentation about the culture becoming “post-Christian” when it is in reality “post-modern.” American culture has never really been Christian, it has been modern, and American churches have unfortunately historically hitched their wagon to that star. Now that the wheels have come off of modernity, the Church curses the road, when in fact the problem is the wagon.

What I really mean by that is that with the rejection of modernity the culture is hungry for a story that explains and gives life meaning. The Church responds with shrill cries for a return to modernity (pedaling harder) but that isn’t the church’s story. Our story is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In my opinion it is better for the church that the culture no longer thinks of itself as “Christian,” because if the culture is already Christian there is no need for the gospel. “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” Jesus said, “but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, ESV)

So, again ironically, the fact that the culture is “post-Christian” creates the very atmosphere in which the gospel can thrive. The contemporary church is indeed foreign to the “post-Christian” world. We want that. Our challenge is not to be foreigners to the gospel.

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