Category Archives: Kingdom

The Silence of Cheap Grace

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“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

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

origin_7979114341American soul and jazz poet,  Gil Scott-Heron,  once famously wrote during the black power movement of the 1960’s and 70’s that  “the revolution would not be televised.”

There would be no theme song sung by famous singers. The main parts would not be played by famous and beautiful white actors and actresses. There will be no corporate sponsors , highlights on the eleven o’clock news or commercial breaks. There would be no time to stay home,  get high, get entertained or tune out for a while, because the revolution will not be televised.  The revolution will not be televised because the television is controlled by those in power. The revolution will not be televised because it would interfere with the drugged on comfort entertainment culture more concerned with what will happen in the latest TV show than with fighting the injustices of the day. The happenings of those TV shows will no longer be “so damned relevant” “because black people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day.”

Scott-Heron’s point was that the thing that was going to change people and change communities was not something that would ever be able to be captured on television. If you stay home you will miss the revolution.

And yet I find myself wanted to say something similar to the church of my day.  We are living in a world that is used to everything being “televised.”  But hear me most clearly the revolution will not be tweeted, liked, pinned, blogged, hyperlinked or instagrammed. The revolution will not be found on your church webpage. It will not be forwarded by tweets or likes. It cannot be watched on YouTube or blogged about. You will not be able to get the app or season one off your friend’s hard drive. Please allow me to reiterate, the revolution will not be televised.

Using the word revolution may seem like cheap sensationalism (do you get any other kind?) and I was loath to use it at first. But the more I thought about it, the more apt it seemed. Jesus did come to bring about revolution. He came to overthrow the world order. To wrest back and to invade the kingdom of this world with the Kingdom of God. He came to overthrow the ruler of the air, to tie up the strongman and to win the decisive victory against Satan.

But it would not be the bloody, anti-Roman revolution that his disciples expected. The Jesus revolution would be more far-reaching, insidious and long-lasting than any mere political conquest could be. The Kingdom of Jesus is the Kingdom of the King who lays down his power, gives up his rights, who loves extravagantly and who forgives scandalously. This is not the revolution that is primarily concerned with swapping the features of the powerful at the top of the pile. It is the bottom-up, inside-out, upside-down revolution of the Kingdom of God. It’s greatest weapon is love and it’s greatest warriors are the weak, the forgotten, the broken and the lost. The revolution will not be a battle for power but a fight to serve.

This revolution will not be televised but everywhere it seems the church is fighting for the airwaves. Slicker websites, more likes, tweeting pastors, blogging elders. We are clambering to be heard, to have our brand recognized, to be invited to the table, to have our stories told and our cause legitimized. The revolution cannot be televised. Ideas and concepts about revolution can be branded and downloaded but the revolution can never and will never be televised. You cannot watch the revolution from your seat at the Sunday show.  You cannot subscribe to the podcast of the professional revolutioneers.

The revolution is happening all around you but you have to look in all the wrong places. The revolution came from Nazareth and what good can possibly come from there? The revolution may not be educated, clean or articulate. The revolution is found in every Christian who sticks their flag in the cracked concrete of the inner city or dusty street of the township and says there is a new king who is invading here today. They fight the good fight with shared meals, kind words, laughter, inclusion of the outsider, forgiveness, mercy, grace and justice. They will tell of a different story, a better story, a story of hope and of glory. They will tell this story with words, with hugs, with food and with football in the streets.

As a church we are in danger of being more concerned with the appearance of the Kingdom than with the Kingdom itself. We are fooling ourselves into believing we can watch, download, tweet, blog, pin or like the revolution. We are obsessed with the appearances of revolution and the trappings of appearance. But the revolution will not be televised, it must be lived, experienced, caught up in, participated in, sacrificed for. Anything less is simply the delusion of those who like the idea of changing the world rather than actually changing the world and being changed ourselves in the process.

It is my prayer that finally we will get out the building, shake our neighbours hand, get to know someone who is different to us, play with the kids in the street, buy a homeless guy a cup of coffee and go looking for signs of Christ at work in the unplugged, unphotoshopped, untweeted or liked world of the ordinary. Perhaps then all these other things will no longer be “so damned relevant” because Christian people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day.

Photo credit: Yvonsita via  Photopin CC

When Justice is Silent

South Africa, it feel like, is often on the brink of another violent protest.  The poor and the marginalized are frustrated. Their voice is not being heard. They are being ignored. As a result they resort to violence or vandalism in order to get a hearing.  Most often it works. Even if it is only to get the politicians to argue about whose fault it is.   This same philosophical dilemma was debated in the 1960’s between the older ANC members and the young firebrands like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.  In South Africa, we celebrate the results of their decision to engage in the armed struggle.  The ends it seems have justified the means.  I suspect among Christians this may be something of another elephant in the room.

When you are not being heard through the normal channels, do you do whatever it takes to get those with the power to listen?  And if these actions gain you a hearing or a victory are these actions then made righteous because of the favourable outcome?

I get it! On purely rational or even emotional grounds these arguments resonate with me. But the biblical reaction, I suspect, is something altogether different.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), for instance, Jesus clearly says, that our righteous acts alone are not enough to make us just in the eyes of the law. It is not enough that we do good deeds we must also desire to do that good.   It is not enough to not murder someone rather we must love them, even our enemies. It is not enough not to commit adultery rather we must be pure in heart. True righteousness, are righteous acts fuelled by righteous desires. Neither grudging righteous acts nor unrighteous acts in order to achieve righteous goals fit the criteria for true biblical righteousness.

Jesus’ words in Mark 7:14-23 make it clear that anger, pride and violence come from the unrighteous desires of our heart. Our actions are the overflow of our heart. If our actions are evil that is because our motives and desires are evil. Unrighteous actions cannot come from a heart that is righteous or which desires righteous outcomes. If the means to bring about the result are unrighteous then the result cannot be righteous. Even if the outcome is the desired outcome or the outcome benefits people – it cannot be regarded by God as righteousness.

A robust belief in the sovereignty of God confronts us with the reality that it is not all up to us. In other words Christians cannot partake in this type of thinking that believes that if we do not stand up for ourselves and make ourselves heard then no one will do it on our behalf. Or which says we must force them to listen to us, because if we do not do it then no one will.

So what do we do, when we are not being heard? When everything within us cries out for us to force ourselves to be heard? Do we “sell our soul” to commit injustice in order to fight injustice?

No, we go to the one who sees the injustice. To the one who always hears, always sees and always listens. We fall on our knees before our Heavenly Father, crying out for mercy, for justice and in repentance for our own hearts filled with violence and evil desires.

We petition the one who has all the power to soften the hearts of those in power, to calm the restless spirits of those who would resort to violence. We pray that we may persevere to do what is right even when it feels foolish and powerless. We trust that God sees, God hears, God acts and He will do what is right.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Will we trust God’s unseen hand at work today in the midst of chaos and uncertainty?

Too often, when the pressure is on, our theology is revealed, and it is revealed to be man-centred and not God centred. We are found to be those who trust in the immediacy of the hand of man rather than the seemingly hidden hand of God.

All true theology is cross-shaped. The cross demonstrates once and for all that God takes injustice seriously.  At the cross God has dealt decisively with injustice.  Wicked and unjust acts do not escape punishment. And not only the institutional or systemic injustice against which we protest but also the self-centred injustice that lurks within our own hearts.

The paradox of the cross is that whilst God takes injustice seriously, he is also the one who, in mercy, lays down his own life, in order to redeem us from the consequences of our sin. At the cross we see justice and mercy hand in hand.

It is the cross which must drive all our thoughts and actions against injustice. Work hard against injustice, cry out for change, lay down your finances, your time, your comforts and your preferences in order to bring about change. Get involved in change in your community. But fight to remember that a fight for justice must always come from a heart that knows and extends mercy. Mercy not only to those who are victims but also to those who are the perpetrators. That is the scandal of grace.  Grace offers humanity, forgiveness and love to those who would dehumanise, humiliate and oppress.

When we remember the cross we are compelled to cry out, not only for the victims but the oppressors also. We must ask ourselves what does it mean to bless, to serve and to love, not only the victims but the oppressors too. We cannot dehumanise, demonise or hate those who are as much the recipients of Jesus grace and mercy as those whose needs we feel. The way of the cross is a mystery, a paradox, an unnatural, uncomfortable, irrational way of following Jesus who holds grace and mercy together as he builds his Kingdom of peace, healing, justice, mercy and forgiveness.

 

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.

Stop Spiritualizing the Bible when it comes to Social Justice

Christopher Wright on the evangelical tendency to spiritualize the Bible when it comes social justice and economic exploitation.

“This spiritualizing way of interpreting the Bible, and the missiological implications that go with it, requires us to imagine that century after century, the God of the Bible was passionately concerned about social issues – political arrogance and abuse, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, the evils of brutality and bloodshed. So passionate indeed, that the laws he gave and the prophets he sent give more space to these matters than any other issue except idolatry, while the psalmists cry out in protest to the God they know cares deeply about such things. Somewhere, however between Malachi and Matthew, all that changed. Such matters no longer claim God’s attention or spark his anger.”

The Mission of God p280

Make us into People of the Ascension

For you, O Lord, see the tears of the widowed, the sobs that overtake them when the rest of us are not looking.

You see the disorientation in which so many people live every day—confusion borne of war, poverty, abuse, or chronic illness.

You see the people in dead-end jobs who trudge to work every day filled with so much despair that they can hardly breathe.

You see those who search a loved one’s eyes for traces of love but find only an empty stare. As Lord of the earth, you spy every instance of one person cutting another to the quick, every place where a child lives in fear, every bar where someone tries to drown their sorrows.

Yet you are our world’s every hope. You are tender enough to weep with those who weep and yet strong enough to lend comfort and not be consumed with the sorrows that overwhelm us.

You are discerning enough to see where our lives run off the rails and yet gracious enough to forgive our foolishness and open again the better path that leads into your kingdom.

You are the bright centre to all of life, O God! Your lordship helps us glimpse our future with you in your kingdom, even as it points the way home.

Make us into people of the ascension, Christ Jesus!

Make us your hands of mercy, your voice of grace, your presence of love.

Whatever we do, whether in word or deed; whatever we see, whether sinful or salacious; whatever we hear, whether uplifting or depressing; whatever we face in this world, help us to face it in your power and with the knowledge of your grace and goodness.

Help us to be gentle with prodigal children. Help us to be stalwart in the truth with people in love with lies. Help us to be radiant with hope with people who fear death.

Help us to be your people, Lord God.

For today, as always, this world needs your shalom-filled presence. Bring peace to war-torn places and help people everywhere to see in one another your image.

May those who delight in the paths of suicide and destruction be turned instead to delight in life and in mutual flourishing. End the terror in which so many live, and thwart the dreams of those who plot still more terror on the unsuspecting.

Where there is hunger, bring bread; where there is drought and thirst, send refreshing rains; where there is hatred, bring your peace; where there is greed, bring your own fullness and so turn appetites run amok away from short-term pleasures toward things that last and that foster richness and plenty for all.

We are the people of your ascension and reign, Holy Christ of God. Whatever we do, help us never to forget who we are, whose we are, and where true joy may be found.

In the power and blessing of your name we pray. Amen.

(I found this prayer somewhere on the internet.  Used it to close out our Story telling nights last year but as usual forgot to note where I found it.  But it is pasted to our fridge if that helps at all)

I’ll fight to the very end

With the South African elections coming up tomorrow we are inundated with talk of this party fighting for this right or that right or this cause or another. Even Christians seem to be primarily concerned with standing up for and defending our rights or protecting our religious freedoms.  At best case Christians will stand up for one or two personal morality issues. As commendable as this is and as necessary as it is for Christian men and women, in all the various parties, to go to parliament and to conduct themselves with honour and integrity; what I really want to know is what we middle-class Christians will be doing to change the context in which many of our great injustices are given born. Or put another way, what will we do in order to fight for the rights of those who are not like us

Let me use the contentious issue of abortion as an example.  It is easy for me as a white middle class male to be anti-abortion (and in principle I am) but far harder for me to be about changing the context in which most abortions in this country occur.  It is easy to point fingers at the people getting abortions as lacking morality, and whilst not discounting the reality of our own sinful hearts, I think the truth is more nuanced than that.

There is a reality that in many communities life is cheap, sex is disposable and your worth is measured by your sexuality.  Rape is an ever-present shadow of possibility.  Sex can be used as a powerful tool to get out of poverty or abusive situations.  Young girls barely able to care for themselves get pregnant.  Get abandoned.  Possibly even ostracised by their family. Alone and desperate they face what seems to them to be the only option open to them.

But what if we as Christians spent less time protesting at abortion clinics or picketing parliament to change the laws but instead went to the source and got our hands dirty changing the context in which the need for most abortions in this country take place.   Abortion is not a problem, it is an inadequate solution to a far bigger problem.  What if we as Christians were more concerned with creating the kinds of communities where abortions were not necessary rather than kicking against what is, in some cases, the inevitable outcome of a broken society.

What if some of us moved into these communities bereft of role models and lived our lives there as signs of hope?  What if we intentionally chose to open our lives to young people, modelling family, worth, integrity and love?  What if we were more concerned with showing young women they had value and honour and did not have to use their sexuality to prove their worth? What if we taught the young men on our street to be men who stand up to their responsibilities?  What if we stood with them, when it was easier to run away?  What if we showed them that real men use their power not to dominate or possess but to love and serve the weak and the vulnerable?

What if we opened our homes to rape victims?  What if we took in young moms or soon to be moms who had nowhere to go except the abortion clinic?  What if we were prepared to adopt these “unwanted children”, to include them in our family, our homes?  To spend our finances and give up our plans so we could love the most vulnerable of society?  What if their problems became our problems?  What if their community became our community?  What if their brokenness became our brokenness?  What do you think Jesus said when he meant we are the light of the world?

Some Christians have a problem with me voting for a party that is pro-abortion and say that I am complicit in that act.  I say no, I would rather vote for a party that promotes dealing with the issues that underline the context out of which most abortions in this country occur.  I choose to fight not for my rights but for the rights and value of those who are forgotten or marginalized.

In the words of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army:  “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in an out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end.”