After watching the horrific shooting of Republican congressmen, lobbyists and support staff on a baseball diamond, it has now come to the point that we as believers must be very clear about how we go about our mission and not be bound to one side or the other of fallen political perspectives. We simply cannot be a part of the divisive problem, in our language and our approach – even if we strongly disagree with views held by the other side of political conversations. Michael Bird, who writes in Christianity Today about the attacks on Christianity in Australia, makes some great observations we all could stand to bear in mind here in America.
He writes that our new strategy must entail “love of neighbor as the defining theme. We must champion confident pluralism as a socio-political philosophy, demonstrate community-in-action, embrace people of all faiths and none, and live in such a way that those who hate us cannot give a reason for their hatred. The Thessalonian Strategy is not about establishing a new theocracy. Rather, it means advocating for a cultural pluralism where all religions are free and all people respected. We have to show that we are the ones who believe in tolerance, diversity, and respect. We demonstrate the sincerity of this commitment by listening rather than silencing our opponents; explaining rather than demonizing; affirming people’s right to be different rather than demanding uniformity; and turning the other cheek when assaulted by activists.”
Now I know some of my readers, who feel safer on their “side of the aisle,” may feel very uncomfortable with what Michael Bird is saying, but I believe the “Thessalonian Strategy” he references (referring to the Apostle Paul’s approach to reaching Thessalonica) is correct and we must wrestle with it.
On Monday I put up a great video interview with Bono. It was a conversation about the Psalms and about honesty in prayer and in art. As a side note, it made me wonder: is all good art ultimately some form of prayer aimed at either God or something bigger than us? What continues to strike me is that something as simple as just being honest is actually truly frightening to most of us. We don’t like being honest with ourselves because we then have to face the real us. We don’t like being honest with others because it puts us in the vulnerable place of possibly being disliked or even abandoned. We certainly don’t like being honest with God because He has every right to treat us in all kinds of scary ways if we told Him what we really thought.
As I prepare to preach this coming Sunday, I’m digging up all kinds of research that essentially is saying our American culture has become the most emotionally disconnected, and most fearful of honesty than almost any other culture on the planet. As a result we have become, what researcher Brene Brown, describes as “The most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in history.” Clearly, our fear of honesty isn’t really working for us.
Our faith community just began a teaching series on prayer. I encourage you to listen to this conversation between a believing rock star, and David Taylor professor of theology and culture at Fuller Seminary. It brings up some very good things to think about from a different perspective.
On Monday I shared some great stuff from the book “Sabbath as Resistance.” When you actually explore the many things God established for the people of Israel, as they left their slavery in Egypt behind and entered into the freedom of being God’s people, you clearly see that ceasing from striving and consuming were very important issues to God. In fact Brueggeman observes, “YHWH (Hebrew word of Lord God) is a Sabbath-keeping God, which fact ensures that restfulness and not restlessness is at the center of life.”
I’m surprised to see how God designed this rhythm of rest-and-then-work for His people, this rhythm which demanded that limited consumption and limited productivity go hand in hand if they wanted to be a truly free people – as free as God Himself. In other words, if you’re constantly consuming and constantly producing you will not find rest and you won’t be free. Some people are actually pretty good at limited productivity, but not so great at the limited consumption side of the equation. These are the people who are quite good at being very unproductive as they consume more life experiences – more frappuccinos and more online purchases with ever-expanding, easy credit. In the process they evolve into a less than whole person under the frantic pursuit of the next entertaining experience. There is a whole other group of people who are good at limited consumption but not limited productivity. These are the workaholics and misers who can never produce enough and never save enough. The working and the saving are simply never enough! In the process of pursuing the unattainable “enough” they slowly evolve into a less than whole person who must always be working in order to validate their existence. The rhythm of rest-and-then-work has the power to destroy these forms of slavery that hold so much power over our western culture.
So take a moment to resist and enjoy your freedom. Take a break, smell the roses, and do it now.
I like that title! My good friend, Pastor Ben Hartell, suggested I read “Sabbath As Resistance” by Walter Brueggemann. Yes, Ben is right. It is a good book worth reading as we all enter into the summer season. Here’s an excerpt. Be careful it will challenge you so if you don’t want to be challenged don’t read any further:
The celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. Such an act of resistance requires enormous intentionality and communal reinforcement amid the barrage of seductive pressures from the insatiable insistences of the market, with its intrusion into every part of our life from the family to the national budget. In our anxious society, to cite a case in point, one of the great ‘seductions of Pharaoh’ is the fact that ‘soccer practice’ invades the rest day. Families, largely contained in market ideology, think of themselves as helpless before the requirements of such commitment. In context it requires . . . enormous, communal resolve to resist the demand.
But Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our ‘rest time.’ The alternative on offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God. To be so situated is a staggering option, because we are accustomed to being on the initiating end of all things. We neither expect nor even want a gift to be given, so inured are we to accomplishing and achieving and possessing. Thus I have come to think that the fourth commandment on sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to intent and conduct that defies the most elemental requirements of a commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses . . . along with anxiety and violence.
The title of this blog post alone makes it so that if you actually continue reading you win the prize of being the only person curious enough to read on. The least read book in my personal bible is the book of Leviticus. This is for good reason because I’ll be honest: it’s hard to be inspired by a bunch of liturgical rules, animal sacrifice, barbecuing specifications and prohibitions about molds, skin diseases, and more. I do go into it wondering, “What does this have to do with me?’
And yet, right now as I read through Leviticus I’m really being struck in the face with the grave seriousness of sin. You read Leviticus and you quickly see how committed God was to show His people that sin was serious, costly, and damaging. All the rituals of worship and of atonement teach the sober reality of the cancer of sin that we in our western culture are very uncomfortable facing. In addition, all the seemingly silly rules about skin rashes, molds, and human discharges (yes that is in the bible) reveal this complete picture of a God who wants to help His people be – not just spiritually whole – but also emotionally, and physically whole. Interestingly these same truths found in Leviticus point forward when they are viewed in completeness in the New Testament where I see the seriousness and cost of sin in the crucifixion of Jesus in my place. There I also see the commitment God has made through the presence of the Holy Spirit to bring me into spiritual, emotional and physical wholeness.
If you finished reading this post, you have my respect. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have a read it either.
On this Memorial Day we all pause to remember the fact that our freedom truly is not without great cost. From the American Revolutionary War, and through all the wars that lead up to our modern-day war on terror, 656,109 men and women gave the ultimate sacrifice on the field of battle in order that we could continue enjoying the freedoms given us in the US Constitution. I personally also want to thank the veterans in my church who have served honorably. Thanks Bart Barker, Mike LaMarche, Jason Lanoie, Willy Snow, and Sam Nigh for serving our country and making our freedom possible!