"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Invitation to Balance

I am not a Muslim. Nor am I a Jew, a Hindu, Buddhist, Methodist, Catholic or Baptist (although I honor and cherish my Baptist background); nor am I an advocate for any of the above. I recognize that each has made positive contributions and had negative impact on human history, and I respect the right of anyone to adhere to any of them.

This writing will not argue the relative merits or weaknesses of any of the above. While I am more than willing to share my own faith perspectives with any who want to hear, I have no desire—indeed, I have no right—to inflict my perspectives on anyone who does not wish to listen.[1]

I advocate open sharing between all the above, in order to generate greater mutual understanding and appreciation, because there is much common ground among all us—common ground upon which to build a more peaceful, cooperative and enriched humanity.

But I face a wall. I've lived on the other side of the wall, so I think I understand and empathize with those who are there, and I have no wish to insist that they conform to my perspective before we proceed.

Here’s the wall: there are those who, because of their utterly sincere faith and commitment do insist that all humanity accept their confession of faith before we proceed. Nor does their faith and commitment encourage them to collaborate with those who are not under their roof.

I understand that. As I say, I’ve held the same passion as they; a passionate belief that they hold the exclusive, ultimate truth of God—which is the only path to God and to eternal salvation—and that they are responsible for proclaiming that truth until all of humanity has accepted it and has made the same affirmations they have made.

I honor that sense of commitment, nor would I ask them to cease and desist in their efforts (although I would wish them to honor the rights of those who feel violated by some of their strategies. Indeed, I find some of their strategies counterproductive to the Gospel. That’s another debate I’m willing to pursue, but in a different venue.)

Jim Wallis[2] recalls a public forum in which he debated a close friend and colleague, Southern Baptist seminary president, Dr. Albert Mohler. The topic was, “Is social justice an essential part of the gospel and the mission of the church?”[3]

Wallis argued yes, justice is integral to the gospel. Dr. Mohler said no, arguing that social justice was important but that “the gospel” was the atonement brought about in Christ that saves us from our sins and secures our souls for heaven. Wallis reports:

“It was a very civil and respectful conversation because Al and I know each other and because both of us wanted to demonstrate a kind of discourse different from what now prevails in our culture and politics. But we did disagree, and our disagreement is at the heart of very different visions today for the future of the church” (emphasis mine).
First of all, I find it refreshing and encouraging when disagreeing Christians debate with civility and respect, and remain close friends.

In this writing, let’s affirm Dr. Mohler’s stance that biblical imperatives for justice are important, but only an implication of the gospel. In practice, I have rarely seen evangelicals acknowledge social justice as important at all.

In fairness, I confess that, except for a few congregations and isolated judicatory examples, my own denomination is seriously lacking in effective evangelistic theory and practice. Actually, many of our constituents reject evangelism as valid (although, I have the sense that by evangelism they mean those counterproductive strategies to which I refer earlier).

So, here’s my question: can we overlap? Is it possible for evangelical and mainline Christians to work together on both evangelism and social justice without anyone compromising a priority?

I understand that we don’t even agree on terminology (e.g., I and most mainline Protestants don’t buy “substitutionary” atonement.) 

But, bottom line, whether atonement/justification/salvation is substitutionary or exemplary or sacramental or reconciliatory or universal, the overwhelming majority of Christians will agree that Jesus is the medium through which God extended (or at least demonstrated) that salvation, and that such extension/demonstration was an expression of pure grace.

Never mind that we won’t even agree totally on what grace is (e.g., virtually all will say it is “unmerited favor;” that it can’t be earned. But some will place prerequisites upon the reception of grace, while others will say it is given gratuitously.)

Never mind that we will never agree on all of the faith. Can we at least start to work together, just so the world can witness what a united Body of Christ looks like?

Gandhi is reported to have said, “I love your Jesus. It’s Christians that give me problems.” 

A sizeable portion of the generation called “Millennials” would agree, and are leaving the church en mass. Thomas G, Bandy calls them the fastest growing spiritual population in North America: the "spiritually yearning, institutionally disillusioned public."

Can we begin to remove that roadblock to the Gospel?

That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] I do not limit this discussion to the groups named above; indeed, should I try to be all-inclusive, it would be an exercise in futility. Suffice it to say that the above constitutes a representative sampling of the human diversity that I believe enriches humanity.

[2] Wallis is a self-proclaimed evangelical; although, his social activism has resulted in his being pushed, at best, to the periphery of evangelical circles. Indeed, many evangelicals reject him as a valid Christian voice.

[3] Wallis, Jim (2013-08-15). Who Jesus Is and Why It Matters (Ebook Shorts) (Kindle Locations 192-213). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to Decorate Your Time

I've been thinking about time and how we measure it (you know, what with it being a New Year and all)—kind of an Andy Rooney stream of consciousness thing. Time: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. In the language of the New Testament the word is χρόνος (pronounced krō – nōs). You can see the similarity with the English word chronology.
Chronology tracks time with sun dials, clocks, calendars, etc. To my knowledge God has not revealed a clock or a calendar, so we humans devise our own—lots of them (Sumerian, Mayan, Julian, Gregorian, et al). Some have different starting places, and some ancient calendars monitored time by the moon and some by the sun.
Another New Testament word for time is καίρος (pronounced kaí – rōs). The New Testament Greek Lexicon defines it as … a fixed and definite time, the time when things are brought to crisis, the decisive epoch waited for, opportune or seasonable time, the right time...”
Sometimes “Kairos” is understood as “God’s time.” It most frequently is translated, “in the fullness of time,” “when the times had reached their fulfilment,” “the signs of the times”. In Jesus’ final words to his disciples (Acts 1:7), he said, It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (NRSV) Same word, but plural.
Ephesians 1:9-10 says: “(God) has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,  as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (NRSV). Same word again. 
Years ago a woman called me at the office demanding to know why Easter was late that year. I explained that Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover, which is always celebrated on the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, which is March 21. Passover, then, can be as early as March 22, or as late as April 25. In most Western Christian traditions Easter is the following Sunday.
That didn't satisfy her. She said God created time and we shouldn't be messing with it! That’s what she said. She was talking about Chronos—clock time; calendar time. And she was right. Not only should we not mess with time; to my knowledge there’s nothing we can do to mess with time.
The longer I live the faster time seems to fly. For my eleven-year-old granddaughter, time apparently drags excruciatingly slow! She loves boredom. Why else would she spend so much time doing it, when the alternatives under most circumstances are infinite?
In the waiting room at a hospital ICU, time is experienced differently than at a shopping mall or at a party or (ahem) at church.
Some people don’t seem to be able to pack enough busy-ness into an hour; while others seem always caught up and serenely at leisure and still others procrastinate and end up in a panic at the last minute.
It’s my observation that we humans mix our metaphors in response to time. We procrastinate in “chronos”, waiting for the pressure of a deadline (“Kairos”).
The closer (in chronology) Holidays, wedding dates, anniversaries, etc. (Kairos) approach, the more important time becomes. It’s at that level that we may understand the New Testament concept of “Kairos”.
God has a plan, and it’s not a mystery or a secret. In fact, it’s openly revealed in Ephesians 1:9-10—the passage quoted above. That plan is to “…gather up all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth.” The New International Version says, “…to bring unity to all things…” and the Revised Standard Version says, “…to unite all things…”
The church has spent generations fighting over what “…in Christ…” or “…in him…” means. Some churches insist that invoking very specific vocabulary and/or rituals is required before something can be considered to be “in Christ.” Others are more concerned with behavioral manifestations [“feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. (Matthew 25)].
I lean toward the latter; although, the New Testament obviously calls for speaking the faith, too. Still, I’m more concerned with that “bringing all things together” part of God’s plan—that part about the unity of Christ’s Body.
God calls us humans to be partners in the accomplishment of God’s plan. Jesus of Nazareth was the full manifestation of what it means to live in that kind of partnership with God; and while Jesus is infinitely more than example, he is at least that.
So, how will you decorate your time in 2015? We’re facing a couple of generations who’ve heard enough about what we believe and what we don’t believe and who’s right and who’s wrong and what we think they should believe. Poll after poll confirms that 95% (give or take a percentage point or two, depending upon which poll) of North Americans “believe”.
But the millennial generation notes a significant difference between what the church says and what it does. They say we obsess over rules and doctrines and “being right”, when we should be concentrating on being more like Jesus. Of course, I know they’re not talking about my church; and if they’d just give us a try they’d quickly see how right we are.
I think I’ve spent enough time (chronos) talking the talk. I think it’s time (Kairos) for me to give more effort to walking the walk. I don’t recall Jesus ever saying anyone will be known by his beliefs or her creed or their political ideology. I do recall him saying we’d be known by our fruits. And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
 My orchard’s a little bare. I need to spend more time (chronos) in it. And time (kairos) is getting short.
That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What's In A Name?

A few days ago a Facebook friend posted the following :


While he and I disagree on almost every element of political ideology, we still are able to maintain a healthy respect and love for one another—I suspect because neither of us takes ourself with ultimate seriousness. 

We’re also cousins, and we realize that our relationship is more important than any issue that may arise between us.

I understand his post. I don’t agree with it, and think it presents half-truths and inaccuracies; but I understand the feelings behind it because I have very similar feelings myself; therefore, I have undertaken to respond in kind:

      WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?

I’m UNAMERICAN for not being an “Obama Basher”.

I’m a TRAITOR because I favor accountability for gun ownership.

I’m a LEFTIST for supporting the whole Constitution, and not just that part that undergirds my political ideology.

I’m a NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT (plus, I’m unfriended by 14 Facebook “friends”, and blocked by 6 others) because I speak my mind.

I’m a TROUBLEMAKER for asking unanswered questions.

I’m NAÏVE AND GULLIBLE because I dare accept the documentation of the President.

I’m a COMMUNIST for exposing the corruption in the American corporate world.

I’m A CONSPIRATOR for presenting documented facts (which nobody will accept unless he or she already agrees with them).

I’m ANTI-AMERICAN for not toeing the party line. [Sorry. I’m also a Grammar Nazi, and “towing” means to pull.]

I’m UNAMERICAN because I support the troops but not necessarily the political corruption that puts them in harm’s way.

I’m a SOCIALIST because…

1.      …while I believe I’m entitled to what I earn (which, incidentally, includes Social Security, Medicare and Veterans’ Benefits), I don’t’ believe I have a right to intrude on others’ rights or wellbeing in the process of earning it.

2.     …I believe there are people who legitimately need the safety net of Food Stamps, unemployment and other public assistance programs.

3.     …I believe it’s unjust to remove a public assistance program because some people abuse it. Humans can always find a loophole, and nothing is so pure that it does not have its pornographers.

4.     …I believe in protecting the innocent at all costs, even if in the process some of the guilty “get away with something,” and I don’t believe in punishing all the guilty at all costs IF IN THE PROCESS some of the innocent are harmed.

5.     …I believe the abuse of public assistance programs should be eliminated as much as possible; but without depriving those with legitimate needs from their benefits.

6.     …I believe, related to public assistance programs, that fraud and abuse are relatively small, and that fraud is much heavier at the administrative level than at the receiving level.

7.    … I support labor (but not necessarily unions).

8.    …because I believe human need always trumps political or economic ideology.

Now, the original post ends with an antagonistic, “So what?” I’d like to pursue that “so what?”

1.     So, there are two sides to every issue, and every person deserves to have his or her side heard, understood and respected.  

2.    So, name-calling is a useless exercise that accomplishes nothing good, and accomplishes much harm.

3.    So, until we decide as a society that our ideological log-jam is the greatest immediate threat to our unity and security, we will continue to be a house divided.

4.    So, as long as a substantial population of Americans believes, “I’m totally right about everything and anyone who disagrees with me is totally wrong and is an idiot (or whatever name comes to mind),” we will continue to be a house divided.

And you know what is said by so many, including the Lord of Christianity, about a house divided: “It will not stand.” At this point in history I am much more afraid of our own obstinacy than I am afraid of any outside threat.

There are proven ways of negotiating and collaborating and finding common ground upon which to build. But all of them require that we let go of our absolutism and that we give valid effort to find something good in those with whom we disagree. 

The first step to unity is a question: “What if I’m wrong?”

That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Milestones for the Journey (Through 2015)

The Holidays were active at the Robinson’s this last year. Kids and grandkids came and went from Thanksgiving until after New Year’s Day. We treasured every moment, and welcomed every headlight. But we also rejoiced to see the last tail light drive out of sight. In each case, the last thing we said was, “Drive carefully. Have a safe trip.”
A safe trip is good. I want them to stay between the ditches. It’s winter; the holidays. Safety’s an issue. But my friend and colleague, Arnold Nelson, reminded me one year in his newsletter that life is not always about “playing it safe.” It’s skimpy well-wishing to say, “Have a safe trip,” without including, “Have a great time!” “Enjoy the drive!” Wishing for safety isn’t wishing for very much.
Truthfully, I hope none of us try too hard to have too safe a new year. I hope we can try for more than that. Abundant living is found elsewhere.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of motivational books; and last week I re-read the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is as timely as this morning’s headlines.
There are 31 chapters in Proverbs—just right for reading one chapter a day, at least in seven of the twelve months out of the year. Here’s a challenge for you: read a chapter of Proverbs every day this year. Start today. Read Proverbs 7 today, and each day read the chapter whose number is the same as the day.
From various sources and resources over the years I’ve collected eight milestones from Proverbs that can guide our journey into abundant living in 2015.
First: Travel Light (12:25). An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Excess baggage slows you down. Don’t pack failures, disappointments, worries and resentments from the past. Stop opening old sores and bad memories. Decide to forgive. Travel light.
Second: have a plan, but live one day at a time (6:6-11). Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
On this journey into the unknown we likely will encounter the unexpected. Have a plan and live responsibly, but ready to improvise on the fly. Be accountable, but welcome every serendipity.
Third: Be Generous (3:27-28). Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.  Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"-- when you now have it with you. A world reeling with greed, intolerance, bitterness, prejudice, hunger, disease, and cold needs every drop of simple goodness in our veins.
Fourth: Face Your Problems with Faith and Courage, Rather Than Avoiding, Resenting or Fearing Them (4:25-26). “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.” Remember: because we are children of God, we are family. We don’t have to bear our burdens or work alone.
Fifth: If You Can’t Change Your Circumstance, Change Your Attitude (15:16-17).  Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.  Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred. Sometimes we may feel we could do better with life if we could start over, somewhere else. Rather than a new environment, what we need is a new inner life. The Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous is helpful here: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Sixth: the Secret of Relaxation Is Essential To Health (17:1). “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.” Stress endangers both mental and physical health. Inner quietness is a vital pathway to abundant living. Resources are abundant. A good place to start is the website, renovare.org.
Seventh: Trust God (3:5). Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… TRUST. There’s always risk in trusting: a risk of being let down, being disappointed, betrayed. Trust is risky; not safe. Trust anyway.
And Eighth: “Go For It! Go for The Abundant Life” Even If It Involves Some Risks (14:4).Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean; but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.”  I remember a poster with a picture of a beautiful tall sailing ship in rough seas, under full sail. The caption said, “A ship in harbor is safe; but that’s not what a ship is for.”
Don’t adopt the philosophy of life that says, “You can’t fall out of bed if you sleep on the floor.” I don’t advocate reckless or irresponsible risk-taking; but always playing it safe will take the “abundant” out of “Abundant life”
Safe is good; but it’s far shy of joyous or blessed or merry!
Attributed variously to at least three different writers, there’s a quote I like so much that I’ve put it in my Facebook profile: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”
That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Shine!

Today is Epiphany.  Yesterday was the infamous twelfth day of Christmas (“twelve drummers drumming”).    
Epiphany comes from a Greek word which means “to shine”. Light has always been a primary symbol of God and truth.
Epiphany (or the Sunday before) is the day the church celebrates the revealing of Jesus, not only as a lamp unto my feel and a light to my path, not only as a light to the Jews, but also as a light to the nations—the “Light of the World”.  Matthew sees that revealing through the adoration of the “Wise Men from the East” (2:1-12). In the original language of the New Testament the word is μαγοι (pronounced "magoi") Various versions translate it thus:

·        Magi (note the similarity to the word, “magic”)
·        Magicians (Moffatt)
·        Astrologers (Goodspeed)
·        Wise Men (most versions)
They generally are understood to be from a caste of priests from the Medes who adapted Zoroastrian religion when the Persians conquered the Medes.
Zoroastrian priests were forerunners of modern astronomy; but in their day the stars held a magical attraction. The religion began about the time Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians; a religion that said light from the stars represented knowledge and goodness.  They taught that one would come, whose nature was light—one who would be born of a virgin, and whose light would overcome the darkness of evil.  They were on the right track, at least. And their timing was right, too.  And they got all this from the stars. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
But this was the first time the Christ was acknowledged by the wider world. Epiphany.
Tradition says there were three wise men—probably because of the three gifts:  gold, frankincense and myrrh. But there also is a story about a fourth wise man who never saw Jesus. Henry Van Dyke is the author of the story, which is entitled, The Other Wise Man.
It tells about a "fourth" wise man, a priest of the Magi named Artaban. Like the other Magi, he sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King has been born among the Jews. Like them, he sets out to see the newborn ruler, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child - a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl of great price.
Artaban chooses his fastest steed and sets out for Borsippa, located in what we know as Iraq, where he is to meet the other Wise Men at the temple to Nabu, known as the Temple of the Seven Spheres.
At Babylon he encounters a man who is dying, and battles within himself whether to minister to him. "God of truth and purity," he prayed, "direct me in the holy path, the way of wisdom which Thou only knowest."
Then he turned back to the sick man and ministered to him until he died, and then performed the proper funeral and burial rites. As a result of the delay he is late to the meeting place, and the caravan of the other three wise men has moved on without him.
Having missed the caravan, and realizing he can't cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell the sapphire in order to buy camels and supplies for the trip.
He then sets out on his journey, but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled with him to Egypt. In Bethlehem he is offered hospitality by a young mother, and Artaban muses, "Why couldn't this child have been the king?"
The peace of the moment is interrupted by confusion and the sound of screaming women as Herod’s soldiers move through the streets killing boy babies. Artaban blocks the door to the house where he has given hospitality, and bribes one of the soldiers with the ruby he has brought as a gift to the king. A child is spared.
He then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way.
After thirty-three years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light. He returns to Jerusalem just as the crowds are dispersing after the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery.
He is then struck in the temple by a falling roof tile and is about to die, having failed in his quest to find his king, but having done much good through charitable works.
As his life slips away, he has a vision in which a voice tells him "Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)
Artaban dies in a calm epiphany of wonder and joy, having found his King--or, rather, having been found by his king--through his own acts of kindness and generosity.
May you find him--and may he find you--in a similar fashion.
That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,

Jim