Sunday, March 20, 2016

Now in Print: Pause to Remember

The reunion eventually shifted into slow motion, contemplating the broken body of the man at the center of their fellowship, focusing our thoughts on the legacy of the man without whom we would not be a family. We paused to ponder the death that brought us all to this place.

Death itself, usually kept carefully on the fringes of daily life, shouldered its way to the forefront and demanded to be noticed.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Missional Politics: The Stumbling Block

My niece was just learning to walk. She would see the face and welcoming arms of someone she loved - her parents, grandma and grandpa, her many aunts and uncles - and she would try her best to stumble toward us.

Of course, we would make sure the path ahead of her was clear of stumbling blocks. Everything was picked up and moved out of her way, both to keep her from stumbling over them or becoming distracted by them.

I was glad to be one of the smiling faces she recognized and stumbled toward.

I also remember the time she was playing with me on the floor and she turned her face away from me for a moment. I chose that moment to remove my glasses to wipe them free of dust.

My niece turned back toward me, took one look at my face and screamed in terror. It took quite some time before she quit crying and even longer before she felt comfortable with me, the uncle whose face had suddenly changed.

The Bible tells us Jesus is both the cornerstone which upholds our faith and the stumbling block over which many people stumble before they ever reach faith.
6 For in Scripture it says:
     “See, I lay a stone in Zion,
       a chosen and precious cornerstone,
       and the one who trusts in him
       will never be put to shame.”
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
     “The stone the builders rejected
       has become the cornerstone,”
8 and,
    “A stone that causes people to stumble
      and a rock that makes them fall.”
              (I Peter 2:6-8)
If my political obsessions lead me to argue to often and too vehemently with non-believers about political issues, I've become a stumbling block. I'm distracting them from the smiling and welcoming face of the Father who loves them. I also risk causing them to stumble when they look at me and, instead of seeing the love of Jesus in my actions and attitudes and words, they see someone scary, someone who only wants to convince them of some political opinion.

Misisonal politics means making every effort to always point seekers to Jesus and to his love, even if you're engaged in a political conversation.

Get out of their way and let them see the love and righteousness of Jesus more than they see you and your opinions.

Get out of their way and let them stumble their way toward Jesus.

Get out of the way and let Jesus be the stumbling block.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Missional Politics: The Pendulum's Swing

In 2008, when people around me were reacting with shock and fear to the election of Barack Obama, I cautioned them to be patient.

In my experience over half a century of observing politics, the one thing you can always count on is the predictable swing of the political pendulum.

Whenever the electorate swings toward the Democratic Party or the liberal side, the pundits warn of the death of conservatism. And then, after a handful of election cycles, the general public becomes disenchanted with the liberal agenda and swings back toward the conservatives. At which point the pundits predict the death of liberalism. And the pendulum then makes its inevitable swing to the extreme and starts its way back to the other side.

Over and over and over it happens. So, I counseled, just wait. People will tire of the liberal agenda and the pendulum will swing back the other way.

Little did I know the ensuing eight years would bring about a somewhat different twist on the predictable pendulum dynamic. Instead of simply swinging back toward conservatism, the general public has instead swing farther out to the extremes in both directions, driven by the internet's tendency to amplify extreme opinions and splinter traditional alliances.

As a result, we see the electorate splintered, chasing after extreme socialism, extreme conservatism, and - the swing that's generating the most buzz - chasing after the elusive "different", also known as the "against". Many don't really seem to care much what Donald Trump's actual political opinions are, they're just glad to cheer him on in being against politics as usual.

So how can a Christian who wants to exercise discernment keep from being carried along with the latest swings in political thought?

By being missional, not only in your "religion", but in your politics.

While people around you are hopping onto the bandwagon of the blunt outsider, reacting against perceived political correctness, the mission minded believer will continue to counter correctness with righteousness, while also countering bluntness with kindness and love.

You want to be a contrarian, standing against the status quo? Follow the example of Jesus, who refused to take sides with the Pharisees or the Sadducees or the Zealots or the Romans or the masses who hopped on the pendulum, clamoring after his "different" teaching, pushing him to set himself up as a political leader "against" all those other unsatisfactory choices.

When asked by the highest political leader in the land whether he considered himself a king, Jesus set Pilate straight.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)
While people around you are telling you what they're against politically, the missional believer will distinguish him or herself as different by testifying to the truth of God's righteousness and grace.

You want extreme? Follow the example of Paul, who didn't follow the pendulum swings of his culture but instead lived on the edge, consistently stretching the envelope for the sake of God's mission.
We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;  in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;  in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;  through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors;  known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (II Corinthians 6:3-10)
While people around you are pushing the edge of the envelope in favor of an extreme, whether politically conservative or liberal, the missional believer will continue to stretch him or herself to sacrificially seek and save the lost.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Now in Print: Eat, Pray, Love?

Popular culture doesn’t see or accept the possibility that some inner callings are inherently wrong. They don’t acknowledge the existence or authority of God, so their only authority becomes themselves, with societal good and empirical data sometimes earning attention on a secondary level.

The biblical concept of calling, however, is anchored in the authority of the Caller. Submitting to his calling can sometimes mean we find ourselves doing things contrary to our own inner desires and perceived best interests.

God sometimes calls people to things they find unpleasant and personally dangerous. Paul, in 2 Corinthians, repeatedly describes the physical pain, weariness, and psychological struggles he experienced as a result of doggedly pursuing the calling God set before him.

Occasionally God calls people to do things that seem at odds with common sense. Jonah certainly thought it was pointless to go to Nineveh and risk his life preaching to a people who would, at best, ignore him and, at worst, kill him.

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