Thursday, May 26, 2011

hidden in plain sight

What was Jesus thinking? I ask myself that question sometimes. In particular, I've been asking that question as it relates to the recepients of Jesus' ministry. He gave to people who either couldn't pay him back, or could but were unwilling to. He spent himself on outcasts and people of ill repute. He embraced children. He stuck up for professional fornicators. Then he commands all of us to do the love people who won't love us invite people over who are too broke to return the pray for people who didn't ask to be added to our prayer list. And if that weren't enough, he then demands that we do it all in secret! I've had a revelation. I'm not willing to minister to people who can't pay me back unless I get to broadcast it to people who can pay me back. I demand compensation for my works of charity, and my right hand is fully informed as to the actions of my left hand. As far as I can understand it, Jesus was thinking that his heavenly father had his back. He didn't feel the need to gain worldly approval or compensation because he actually trusted his father. I would like to propose that we actually don't. I know I don't. I want too, but i don't. I care too much about what people think of me to give wthout interest, and I crave the strokes of admiration too much to invest in people who don't know or care how important I am. There are more of you out there. If you're a professional minister, then you know you're in this boat.Stand up and be counted. He told us not to lord it over people, but we insist on titles. We will only wash the feet of those who are willing to pat us on the back while we do it. The only way that we would ever hide our good deeds, is if we were certain that an important person would catch us doing it. Maybe the better question is...what are we thinking?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Allow me to introduce you to Dae Dae. His government name is Datreal Neal, and over the past four years he’s become something like a son to me and Laura, and a big brother to Anna Grace and Ellis. Dae Dae and I were matched-up through a mentoring agency here in Asheboro before we had really begun any work on the East Side. Dae Dae has a mom, a brother, a sister, and a pit bull from whom I keep a safe distance. Dae Dae is a member of the track team, and the varsity basketball team. He comes equipped with an explosive first step, but an inconsistent jump shot. Your best bet is to make him go left.

Dae Dae is seventeen years old. For the past four years I have been his mentor, and he has been my teacher. He has articulated for me what life is like for those to whom God has called me. His insight and sincerity have been priceless. Now that you’ve met him, you may well be curious as to the occasion of this introduction. You’re meeting Dae Dae because he is the newest member of our team. Starting in June, Dae Dae will be our first ever summer intern. He will counsel at summer camp, help tend the garden, help with vacation Bible school, pitch in with mission teams, and who knows what else.

In case you’re wondering, here are my motives behind this decision.
1.) Our summers are busy, and I could use some help.
2.) I like Dae Dae, and it will be fun having him around more.
3.) Because we are paying him, he may feel morally compelled to answer my phone calls.
4.) For some time, he has been wrestling with a call to ministry, and this opportunity may help clarify things.
*I’m not sure about #2, and #3, but #1 and #4 are pretty solid.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A vote for ethics

I raised a question a couple of weeks ago that I never really addressed. Which is more important, theology or ethics? In other words, which is more revealing of our spiritual state, what we believe or how we behave? My vote goes for ethics. Theology matters only to the extent that it informs the way we live. Or as Wendell Berry puts it , "you don't believe anything until you believe it with your whole body." I love that old man. True belief is a matter of what you do with your body, not what you think with your brain.

This conundrum wreaked all kind of havoc in the early church. It is especially evident in the relationship of two of the pillars. There is at best a creative tension between Paul and James. One is preaching that salvation comes by faith, while the other insists that faith without works is dead. Go read Acts 15 and 21. Then read Galatians 1 and 2. Though these elder statesmen of the Jesus movement clearly revered each other, the incongruities of their respective messages helped define the first 25 years of Christianity.

First there's James, otherwise known as the brother of Jesus. Although he was not among the original 12, it's apparent that he had ascended the ranks in the Jerusalem church within a few years of Pentecost. In fact, the aforementioned chapters in Acts and Galatians portray even Peter and Paul as deferring to his leadership. By all accounts of church history, James remained a devout Jew. It's even possible that he was a Nazarite ( no bath, no shave, no meat ). James was a Jew who led a Jewish church. He was considered righteous even by his adversaries. He was put to death by the same sad souls who did in his brother. How did James view the Jewish Law? As a joyful obligation for Jews, and a blessed option for God-fearing Gentiles. Note: the Law that James and other Jewish Christians ascribed to was not the Law of the scribes and Pharisees. His was a radical interpretation of the Law set forth by his Lord and brother. It was a Law based on purity of intent and compassion. It was not based on religious zeal and scrupulosity.

Then there's Paul. Paul viewed the Law as a blessed option for Jews, and as utterly pointless for Gentiles. As an ambassador for Christ to the non-Jewish world, Paul felt compelled to strip the Gospel of any undue cultural trappings. Kind of difficult seeing as how Jesus lived his whole life as an observant Jew. How does Paul write 13 letters to Christians and not make one mention of the earthly life of Jesus? That was not his concern. His concern was preaching salvation by faith alone based on the atoning death and Resurrection of Jesus. Let me say this...there's a long line of folks waiting to lambaste Paul for un-Jewishing the Gospel. I don't want to be in that line. At its best, Paul's message depicts an unbiased, all-powerful God with a diverse group of redeemed followers. Without Paul, we may have little clue of the eternal Christ. But taken on its own, his message can also give rise to a generic, three day Gospel that leaves us all worked-up over eternity but secretly wondering what to do in the meantime. Those who want to, can assume that Paul's command to believe in the empty grave relieves us of Jesus' command to take up our cross and deny ourselves.

Ironically, there may have been little difference in how these two actually lived. Acts 21 even has Paul undergoing a thoroughly Jewish purification rite at the behest of James. But can there be any doubt that there was some significant divergence in their preaching? I love James, but I'm not against Paul. My concern is that the church today is dominated by Paul's emphasis on right belief, while James is relegated to the shadowy regions of church history. I guess we're lucky we have him at all, seeing as how Martin Luther seemed hell-bent on striking him from the record.

My point? It matters how we live. My take is that an ounce of ethics is worth a pound of theology. Faith without works is a fat man eating a fifty-dollar steak while preaching on the wages of sin to a starving child.