Postmodern Prophet -

Culture Wars

The culture wars are not winnable by Christians. Ask the Taliban.

Let it go. Let’s get our own house in order. We are in no position to be salt and light.

Instructions to the Church

I have been reading and thinking more about instructions and exhortations to the church. We need to get away from thinking of these instructions as directed to each of us as individuals and remember that they are addressed to our community. We are part of a community; we aren’t lone wolves.

Many of us long for community. The potential of the church to be a true community that meets that longing is tremendous. The Spirit is doing the work, but many times we work against the Spirit.

I want to share Ephesians 4:11–32 (NLT) and make some comments:

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Christ sets us up for success. Probably the gifts of pastors and teachers are the most influential for the local church. A pastor is another word for a shepherd. A shepherd is not a CEO or a leader in the mode of John Maxwell; a shepherd is in the field with the sheep. It’s rare to see that kind of leadership these days. We’ve rebuilt the church on a different model. I think that, perhaps, our changes were not for the better. If you have a true pastor, count your blessings.

Teachers interpret the word of God for the people of God. (Hint: It’s not about financial peace, or parenting, or being a good spouse, although these things are not unimportant.) Teachers don’t go off on their own as individuals — they stand in the tradition of the church through the years. In other words, if a teacher’s teachings conflict with the Apostles’ Creed, you may need to examine those teachings carefully.

These gifts are given to the church so we can be built up. I doubt that means the same thing as church growth. The goals are unity in our faith and in our knowledge about Jesus. We are to become a mature church, like Jesus himself. Individuals will be at all stages within the church, but the church is to be mature through the work of the Spirit of Jesus.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Churches can be immature. We aren’t supposed to be, but sometimes we are. When we are immature we fall for stuff. Like spurious “spiritual” movements that are for the benefit of a person and not the church. Like involvement in teachings that have nothing to do with living for Jesus. Like tons of activities that have no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

We need to mature like the body of a person. We are too often stunted. It’s not too late.

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

So let’s get our act together and get back to the basics of being the church. We aren’t a community center or a daycare center or an athletic club or a social club. We are the church. The very church established by Christ and sustained by the Spirit. Let’s get back to job one.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

See how the church community behaves? We don’t let anger control us. We are truthful with one another. We treat one another with respect. We encourage one another. I suppose it would be good if we got to know one another in more than a passing acquaintance.

We live in tune with God’s Spirit. He lives within us, individually and corporately. There are all kinds of ways we can grieve him if we try hard enough. Let’s not. Bitterness, rage, anger, harshness, slander, etc. have no place in the church. These are our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Instead, kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness should characterize our community.

It’s not too late. Read your Bible.

Fruit

In our Western individualistic culture we Christians tend to interpret the Fruit of the Spirit in individualistic fashion, as if this little passage sets out a set of goals for me to strive for and measure myself against.

As I read those words this evening, though, I remembered that Paul was writing to a church. The whole letter of Galatians is to the Galatian church(es). Paul is giving instructions and exhortations about how to be the church.

When you read the familiar words in that context and think about the Fruit of the Spirit as something addressed to the church corporately, they take on a more nuanced meaning. The application is different than the way we usually think about it.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22–23, NLT)

There you have it. The church of Jesus is supposed to be exhibiting these characteristics because the Spirit of God is supposed to be alive and moving in her. We may be a bit squeamish about the Spirit if we are not charismatics, but the Spirit of Jesus living in his people, the church, is basic Christianity 101. The Spirit of God is trying to make us into the church he wants us to be. Paul has given a little snapshot of what that looks like in general.

Reread that list.

Now, think about your church.

Down through the years I have seen so-called Christians treat their brothers and sisters in ways that do not reflect this list of characteristics. I have seen churches treat unbelievers of various stripes in ways that do not reflect this list of characteristics. I have seen the opposite of gentleness and self-control emanate from the church. The opposite of love.

How would you say we, the church, are doing?

Conversion

I’ve not been fond of the term “conversion”. I seems like an overly formal and outdated form of something that can be said more easily.

However, I had some thoughts the other evening that make the term seem more useful.

“Conversion” implies change from one state to another. That idea has some application to becoming a Christian. It’s not so much about changing from being a “non-Christian” to being a “Christian”; it’s deeper than that.

It’s more like this:

  • I used to be a ________, but now I am following Jesus.

For example:

  • I used to consider myself primarily an American, and now I am primarily a Christian. Though I am still American, that is not the set of ideals and beliefs that guides my life any longer.
  • I used to be a religious nut, but now I am a Christian instead.
  • I used to be a self-centered narcissist, but now I’ve decided to follow Christ instead.
  • I used to only care about having fun and getting more stuff, but now I am a Christian.

You get the idea. It’s deep than simply deciding to be a Christian. In fact, the whole decision be a Christian involves a lot more than a momentary decision. It is commitment to a new life because it is allegiance to a new master.

Happy Birthday

I had a nice birthday yesterday. Sixty-five years old.

Carol gave me a nice lens for my camera. Actually, she gave it to me early and my photos lately are all taken with that lens. I love it. It opens up possibilities I’ve not had before. She also gave me some other photo equipment so I have some stuff to play with.

She took me toe PF Chang’s for lunch yesterday. It’s one of our favorite spots for special days for just the two of us. We no longer eat at Chinese buffets, so we get our Chinese food about three times a years.

I brought the Great Wall of Chocolate home and that was my supper.

Many of you reading this sent greetings on Facebook and I sure appreciate that. I hope I will get to have another birthday next year, but that is not guaranteed. Really, I guess, none of us has any guarantees.

Enjoy the time you have. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your food. Enjoy your cake.

Trust Jesus.

Tempted and Tried

I have this terminal illness. My energy level is microscopic.

[People ask me how I’m doing. I say I’m hanging in there. They say they are glad I’m feeling better. How do I tell them I’m not feeling better? I think I might just start mentioning that I’m dying, but other than that, I’m not too bad.]

My mind is very active and I have more time to read than ever before in my life. My choices of reading material are made with great care; I will read a limited number of books in the time I have remaining.

I have always been a teacher. I am frustrated now because I have almost no outlet for sharing what I have learned or what I am thinking. I feel like I’m at an all-you-can-eat buffet, stuffing myself. People all around me are hungry, but I’m only feeding myself.

I’ve always had to feed myself. I’ve never ever had a church experience that fed me much. I don’t understand people who leave a church because they aren’t being fed. If that was what it was all about, I would have attended a different church every Sunday of my life.

But now I can’t share myself with anyone else. I’m too tired to go to church, too tired to teach a class, too tired to lead a group, too tired to write anything meaningful, too tired to even converse with friends, too tired to find a creative way to share.

I am in turmoil, because I know that I could have some influence on a small group of people if only I had some energy. But I have none to share. My energy gets me from my bed to my desk to my chair to my bed and that’s about it. Meanwhile, the world is burning around me and I can’t do anything about it.

I know that I have wasted the opportunities I once had to be of use to God. I see things clearly that most people don’t think about. But clear sight is now a mockery. My spiritual gifts are wasted and wasting. I could write my own book of Ecclesiastes. Maybe I will.

Just now I was reading something that made me aware (again) of the wrong direction the evangelical church has gone in my lifetime. I hurt in my bones because of it. I want to shout and rant and scream. I’ve done those things before to no avail. Now I can’t do them.

My temptation is to stop reading stuff like that. It hurts like the dickens. Maybe I should just read some novels and some classics and some short stories and some light fiction and slowly put my mind to sleep. Maybe I should stop reading about the theological interpretation of scripture, about the Old Testament being neglected as scripture, about the people of God. Maybe I should fold my tents and get ready for the long sleep. Just wait for resurrection.

That’s what I’m tempted to do. I doubt I’ll give in to the temptation.

Time Flies when you are Having Fun

The tradition I grew up in taught us that the joys of the “world” were not truly joys. They were imposters sent out by the devil to trap us. The only true joys were to be had when we withdrew from the “world” and became a holy enclave. The devil was hiding around every corner trying to trip us up and make us Communists.

The Sage disagrees.

This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts. Ecclesiastes 5:18–20 (NRSV)

There is a lot of negative stuff in Ecclesiastes, for sure. But this little passage is as positive as can be.

  • Enjoy the stuff God gave you.
  • Including food and drink and ephemeral stuff.
  • Because God gave it to you. That’s why.
  • Do you have a lot of stuff? Enjoy it.
  • Do you have only a little bit of stuff? Enjoy it anyway.
  • Because God gave it to you. That’s why.
  • Time flies when you’re having fun. Have fun.
  • Because God gave it to you.

Who Am I?

  • I am a Christian. People like to use all kinds of modifiers and qualifiers and alternate terminology for Christian, but that’s probably not necessary. Jesus is my King and he has my highest level of loyalty.
  • I am a Bible reader. The Bible (the 66 books in the protestant canon) is a record of God’s word to his people. It is God’s word in the words of men (no women, as far as I know). A lot of it is narrative and not really amenable to easy translation into propositions, as so many want to do.
  • I am a thinker and a questioner and a poker.
  • I am sometimes irreverent when it serves the purpose.
  • I am a teacher and a student. I want to learn so I can share. I’m sick with cancer right now, so I’m not able to fulfill the need to teach very well. Very frustrating.
  • I’m a churchman, meaning that I support the church of Jesus. I’m not a Christian anarchist. But I am a would-be reformer.

No Energy

My energy level is not good these days. I don’t think I have energy to write much here. I’ll try to keep some stuff going from time to time. 

Also, I am considering trying a weekly (short) video talking about what I’ve been learning from the Bible. It could possibly turn into a Q&R thing. Interested?

Quiet

Iain Provan speaks of the lack of silence in our experience.

Silence is undervalued in the noisy, intrusive world that most of us inhabit. Constant traffic and chatter surround us in our public spaces, and where these are mercifully quieted for a time, their place is taken by endless radio music and inanity. We retreat to our homes, but then we voluntarily recreate the noisy world there as well. The TV provides constant background noise, whether it presses on us the fantasies of soaps and movies or the horrors of the endless daily chat shows, with their multitudes who want their chance to speak but in truth have little to say.

The evidence suggests that we are afraid of silence—discomfited by it and unable to deal with it. There must be noise—any noise. I have personally witnessed in our home the panicked disorientation of a young child, visiting for the afternoon, who was unable to locate a TV in our main living space and, without this comforting presence, seemed unsure what to do with himself. We have all met his adult counterparts, and perhaps we ourselves are some of those. We have, in essence, made it extraordinarily difficult for ourselves in all our technological sophistication to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

This is a tragedy, but it is also a perceived necessity. Silence gives us too much time to think, and thinking raises too many awkward questions we do not wish to address about the nature of reality and our personal identity and destiny. We live in a culture that therefore feels a deep need to push reality as far away as possible and uses noise to this end. We have become, corporately, the man in the doctor’s waiting room who feels compelled to break the silence with an asinine, jovial comment.

If it is bad enough that the culture should be of this inclination, it is entirely tragic that the people of God, who are called to witness to a different reality, should be found playing the same game. Christians, too, often inhabit all-too-noisy space. Their noise is more religious, perhaps, but it is still noise. “Worship services” provide little opportunity for silent awe in the presence of God but plenty of opportunity for performance on the part of a select few professional speakers and musicians, who fill all the space with their words and sounds. Other gatherings of the church are characterized by relentless activity. It is Christian activity, of course, but it still fills the space that might be taken by silent adoration. Thus, “church” comes to resemble simply another form of human group endeavor and indeed often comes to mimic in a serious way the culture around it that is supposedly governed by different values. “Church” is increasingly thought of in terms of organization rather than of people worshiping God together, and leaders bring business and management models to bear on its development—planning growth, programming success, and managing change.

Iain Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 120–121.