Category Archives: Gospel

The Geography of Power and Privilege

First pile of books plundered from library

First pile of books plundered from library

This is the year I have finally started my Masters in Missiology (the study of missions or the study of “what the heck are we meant to be doing and how should we do it” as I prefer) through the University of Stellenbosch. I have harboured a deep desire to study further for many years but due to time, finances and circumstances this has never been an option. Until now… so due to a happy confluence of circumstances (Sovereignty if you will) I am able to dedicate a significant portion of my time to academic study of the next two years.

Although these things are notoriously fickle at the hands of supervisors and further reading here is my first attempt at articulating the area I hope to look at in my research.

“The effects of the apartheid system continue to affect the mission and the life of the church in Cape Town. In particular the long-term structures around which our city was re-engineered through the group areas act continues to entrench the division of races and economics in our city. The flow of power and of privilege very much follows the geographical contours of inequality in our city. The church has had a chequered history with these divisions at times supporting it, at times opposing it but mostly a quiet acquiescence through the development of a parallel structure of power and geography that mirrored, upheld or even enhanced the division of race and power. The post 1994 changes have mostly not brought about any significant changes in the geography of privilege and power. The evangelical church, by nature conservative lags behind entrenching often unwittingly the now traditional structures of power that so divide our city. What can the church do? Or perhaps more significantly what will the church do? Will we meekly wait for the city and the world to slowly and grudgingly change (if indeed we can even truly see our city redeemed) or will we act in spite of what we see, will we become a people of hope, willing ourselves to run counter cultural to the well established lines of privilege and prestige in our city. How can the church be a movement of hope in overcoming the geography of power that shapes and moulds our city still today?”

Advertisements

The Silence of Cheap Grace

origin_6801732893

“If we communicate only that part of the gospel which corresponds to people’s “felt needs” and “personal problems” (‘Are you lonely? Do you feel that you have failed? Do you need a friend? Then come to Jesus!’), while remaining silent on their relationship to their fellow men, on racism, exploitation and blatant injustice, we do not proclaim the gospel. This is the quintessence of what Bonhoeffer has called ‘cheap grace’. After all, ‘(God) is especially moved to wrath when his own people engage in such practices. It makes them disgusting in His sight, an offence to His nostrils; and in the face of this evil-doing He cannot stand their religious posturing. He cannot bear to hear their prayers; hates their festivals; is weary of their hypocritical sacrificings; views their faithful attendance at His house with loathing, as nothing more than an uncouth trampling of its precincts: “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly”‘

David Bosch: Witness to the World p206

Photo Credit: joybot via Photopin

Excuse me I believe your eschatology is showing

I think it is fair to suggest that whatever your view of the end of this age and beginning of the next age (eschatology is the fancy word for this doctrine) is will determine how you both live and engage in mission in this age.

If for instance, you believe that the goal of mission is to “save souls for heaven” – then your primary and over-riding concern will mostly likely be proclamation.  Telling people what they need to know in order to get them ready for heaven.  This life will have one primary purpose to keep yourself for heaven and to tell others about it. Your church will probably have a sharp distinction between word ministry/ proclamation and social works.  If you are really organised you might have a social work programme or two but you will spend large amounts of time making sure people know that you do not believe in the social gospel. But, at the end of the day, what really matters is getting people into heaven through hearing the gospel and making a decision for Jesus.  You might even say this is all that matters.

If, on the other hand, you hold to an in-breaking Kingdom of God paradigm, then you will see the Kingdom as not only, or even primarily, a future reality but crucially as a very real present dynamic.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus God’s end time kingdom has now broken into this world in the middle of history.  The Kingdom of God was not only announced in the gospel proclamation it was initiated in the life and mission of God’s people, the church.  One day we will see the Kingdom come in all its fullness and glory when our King Jesus returns but now the Kingdom grow largely unseen, through weakness and on the margins of society.

Life among God’s people will be a small and incomplete foretaste of what that Kingdom will be like when Jesus returns.  The people of God ought to be actively and intentionally living lives that embody that coming Kingdom.  Lives of justice, mercy, grace, peace, beauty, restoration and joy. The old discussion of social justice versus gospel proclamation goes out the window within a Kingdom “initiated and yet not complete” paradigm. We are both to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom (with the cross at the centre of that proclamation!) and live within the in-breaking Kingdom as those who experience the foretaste of the life of the kingdom and who long for the full wedding feast of the lamb.

When our heroes have become too small

Every culture, organisation and church has a prevailing myth that tells the story of who we are and what we value.  And every myth is held up and carried along by its heroes.  These are the human vessels that carry our ideals, our dreams, our aspirations.  These are the men and women who put flesh onto our values.  They are the ones who have succeeded in living the ideals and the dreams we hold to in some significant way.

What is the prevailing myth in your church?  Who are the prevailing heroes in your church? Meditate on this for a while.  The question is not what should be the prevailing myth in your church or who should be the heroes in your church.  The question is; what IS the myth and who ARE the heroes?

We say mission drives our church but yet we spend most of our energy and time on maintaining our existing structures and programmes.  We say we want to see our community reached for Christ but yet we employ numerous staff members whose primary responsibility is to care for us and our needs through teaching, youth work or kids programmes.  We say we serve Jesus and not money and yet we create an elaborate system of church which requires a large amount of money to keep it going.  We create a system that actually hinders us from mission rather than propels us forward into mission.  We speak about what we think ought to be the prevailing myth but yet so often our lives are driven by a darker, less obvious shadow myth.

Who are the heroes in our church communities?  The dashing youth leader?  The talented musician?  The eloquent preacher?  The brilliant exegete? The successful business man? Any defining myth we create is carried forward by its heroes.  If you truly want to know what the defining myth of your community is then ask yourself who are your heroes?

The bible teacher as hero betrays the myth that knowledge about God is our functional salvation story.  Bible college is seen as the ultimate experience for young Christians.   The worship leader as hero betrays the myth that the high that shared experiences bring is our functional Saviour.  The successful business man as hero betrays the myth that we will find happiness or significance through money and success.  The family man or stay at home mom or home-school parent as hero betrays the myth that family is the most important thing in the world.  All these heroes and myths contains some truth but as is the case with all great lies, the object of truth has been stretched to breaking point, beyond it’s ability to hold the disproportionate value we have placed upon it.

What if the myth that defined our church really was the gospel.  The gospel of Him who left all the security, the pleasure and the comfort of heaven to lay down His rights, his preferences, His desires in order to serve us.  To become one of us.  To die for us.  What if the myth that defined our values, dreams and aspirations was this gospel story?  What if our goal was sacrifice and not comfort?  Risk and not security? Service and not pleasure?

What if our lives were defined not by our rights or our pleasures but instead were marked as those who joined their story with the great Story, who laid down their lives for the True Myth, who become heroes in the Ultimate Adventure and who risked it all for a share in the Kingdom of our Great King.  What if we really were known as the friend of sinners, the defender of the vulnerable, the light in the darkness, the peacemakers, the kind and the just?

What if we really did believe that a man’s life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions?  What if we really did believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive?  What if we really did believe that our Father in heaven will clothe and feed us as he does the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?  What if we really did believe that our God is a good God and that his Kingdom is better than all the pleasures and joys the kingdom of this world has to offer? What if we really did believe that the gospel is true?

I am not reaching for some utopian ideal of church.  I know that anything we touch this side of Jesus’ return will be marked by our brokenness and sin.  What we need though is honesty, an honesty robust enough to admit that our defining myths are too small.  We have shrunk the kingdom vision into easily containable chunks that we can use to control our lives.  Our heroes have become too small and our dreams are too reasonable.

We have shrunk the Kingdom to a coke lite, kid friendly version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.  We need an honesty that leads us not to self-inflicted lynchings of guilt but an honesty that admits that we have been living for the wrong myth and inspired by the wrong heroes.  Our myth is sadly most often the coke-lite version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.

We need an honesty that inspires us to join our story with the Great Story, to give up our small ambitions and our small dreams.  We need heroes that inspire us not to greater church attendance but who lead us to far wilder, less safe and more beautiful places where only our faith and our hope in the Great King can ever hope to sustain us.  For it there that we will win glory for His Name and find the life we so desperately crave.  “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

Let’s Go Down the Hill

The other night a few of us in our gospel community got together to listen to this talk by Steve Timmis entitled Being Neighbours: A Gospel Strategy.

What was apparent to us as a community was that we need each other to help us intentionally “go down the hill.”  The hub for our community at the moment appears to be our house.  Our house’ it seems, is rather strategically situated at a confluence of at least two vastly different worlds.  If you go up the hill, broadly speaking, you encounter the cool, funky, hip (hipster actually) community.  The food is good, the beer is crafty, the people are nice (which is to say remarkably like us).  The vibe is creative, quirky and just a little bit grungy.  This is the fun and exciting part of our community.  All of us enjoy hanging out there.  We don’t need help going “up the hill.”  It’s going to happen.  Whenever we feel like grabbing a pizza or watching some sport, it’s natural and easy to take a walk up the hill.  This is also, perhaps it goes without saying, a community that deeply needs Jesus.

But down the hill a simple five-minute walk away from the hip side of town’ life is completely different.  Poor, drug ravaged, high unemployment, little or few role-models.  Kids wander the streets, sometimes till late at night.  Family breakdown, crime, drug addiction and jail sentences are fairly common aspects of many families lives “down the hill”.  These are not “our people” (and our community is fairly mixed racially).  It is not comfortable, fun or safe by our usual standards.  This is the kind of place we have to intentionally choose to be.  It will not just happen, naturally or organically.  It will take sacrifice, effort and a grab me by the neck kind of reminder these are exactly the kind of places where the light must shine brightest in the midst of the greater darkness.  And sadly these are also the places where traditionally churches have been at their least effective.

I don’t need my community to help me go up the hill.  I like them when we go up the hill.  But I need to get me to go down the hill.  Perhaps we don’t fully understand the mutual necessity that Jesus builds into the church as body image simply because we simply do not go down the hill enough.  We like each other when we go up the hill but we need each other when we go down the hill.

Mental illness, gospel community and the rocket tree

Tonight we cancelled our team training, took our dinner and together as a Gospel Community (GC) went to visit a friend who was struggling with depression and had been booked into Kenilworth Clinic for a couple of weeks. It was cold outside on the benches (even the smokers were not venturing out) but we ate together, prayed together, laughed together and encouraged one another in the gospel. It was great to see our friend who we came to visit encouraging other members of the GC in the gospel.

DSCF1635

We have been a few times to visit friends who have been booked into clinic. What encouraged me the most was that the last time we were there, it was just Jo, myself and the kids but this time we went as a community. A community who are learning to love Jesus and to love others.

1477940_10151737360132201_726619723_n

The boys of course got to play in the famous “rocket tree”… I love the fact that my kids know and look forward to playing in the tree at Kenilworth Clinic. I hope that they grow up visiting hurting and struggling friends at places like Kenilworth. I hope it is normal that they learn to follow Jesus as we try to love and serve our hurting, broken and struggling friends.

What if money was no object?

origin_3807166444

If money was no object what would you do with your life?  Great diagnostic question to get you thinking and evaluating your life right?  But not really a practical question at all… we all need money and money for most of us is always an object.  So is this the type of question that makes Oprah a cupboard full of cash and leaves the rest of us chasing the wind?

But what if money really was no object?  What if when it came to the Kingdom of God, money really was no object.  What was it again that Jesus said to his disciples again when they were worrying about clothes and food?

“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

“Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I spend a lot of time in the week working to supplement our income the bulk of which comes from “missionary support”. The supplementary work is good, honest, hard work.  I even think we are rather good at it.  I think it could even develop into a mainline source of income if we wanted it to.  As a sideline business, though there are some aspects of it (namely the ones that bring in most of the cash) that stink as a sideline.  As a sideline it struggles to know its place.  Like a cameo actor always trying to squeeze into the limelight, and upstage the main actors.  Or like details in a verbose novel that distracts from the main story.

But money is an object.  I have bills to pay.  Kids to feed and clothe.  Medical aid, pension, car payments…

But what if this ministry really was not my ministry… not in an abstract, read it in a textbook kind of way.  But what if it really is God’s work, his ministry, his Spirit changing lives, opening hearts… What if money was no object for Him?  What if following Him meant giving up my right to a self-perceived security?  What if it made sense in every other sense except in the money sense to give up a sure stream of income to follow a reliable God into an unsure future?  I don’t simply believe in a closed, rationalistic universe  but most days you would not know that.  Too much of my life can be planned, organised, drawn on a graph, explained, reasoned out or reasoned away.  Most days my life could be quite easily explained as if there were no God.

But start acting like I believed all that Jesus talk about feeding the birds and clothing the flowers and I can almost guarantee you that I would have any number of Christians eager to remind me to be “a good steward” and not do anything rash.  Quite frankly I don’t think most of us would know a rash if it broke out all over our body.  When I read the gospels I cannot help but think that if we did half of what Jesus did we would certainly we would not be considered for the church council or invited to run the youth group.

What does it mean to live by faith?  Sure faith says that God has given me work so work at in gratitude and worship to Him.  But what if it just felt wrong to follow the money stream?  What if my reasonable, non-Charismatic, evangelical theology feels like it is a burden wrestling me to the ground when all I want to do is love people, trust God and forget about the money!  Sounds so simple when I write it like that… but we all it’s just not that simple.  Is faith reasonable or is it crazy? What if both ways sound like they are trusting God?  Do I go with my feeling, my gut?  What if the people I trust agree both ways?

Just thinking out loud I guess… what if?

Photo credit: nycandre via photopin.com