Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Next Christians

Gabe Lyons (bestselling author of UnChristian) new book, "The Next Christians" is a good read that captures the heart of a new generation of followers of Christ. I think some are in denial in the shift of Christianity for new generation Christians, some are excited to be a part of it, some think that there is no need for another "reformation" of faith, while still yet others wish we would just go away. Lyons proposes (and I agree) that the shift is irreversible.

The message at the heart of this book is that the next Christians are restorers. I couldn't agree more. Here are a few quotes from the book:

".....patterns of historic changes in the Christian faith taking place every 500 years. The first shift took place roughly 500 years after Christ's death when the Roman Empire fell and with it, Constantinian Christianity. 500 years later, the Great Schism of 1054 divided Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church. Finally, in 1517 the Reformation gave rise to Protestant Christianity. With history catching it's stride, the movement seems primed for the next iteration of Christian practice."

"Christians who engage the world - like the many stories I've (Lyons) shared and the many more I could have - are consumed by this "the way things ought to be" mind-set. They eat, drink, and breathe restoration. They see injustice and they fight it. When confronted with evil they turn it for good. They are motivated to bring the love of Christ into every broken system they encounter. Instead of being cynical and hopeless, they bring optimism and expectation. For them, the entire world has been flipped on its head. Their focus has moved from self to others; from problems to solutions; from failure to redemption; from brokenness to restoration. They recognize the broken, weak, fallen, and corrupt but can't leave them in that condition - they are moved to change things. The next Christians are offering a new way forward - a way to act, live, and bring others along with them into the new reality of how things ought to be."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Poem, by Marcus Goodyear

Every string of electric Christmas is a promise
begun across the ocean in a factory–run
by children maybe–that the light will shine.

You must be ready to make the unexpected
purchase in the midst of all the Jesus buys,
egg nog and rum, port, chocolates, toys and toys.

We conceive our lists by the spirit of something,
not just greed, not just the birth of God,
but mixed motives and sweet teeth
ready to sing and to feast.

The time is near.
Santa rides down Main Street on the back
of a fire truck.

We wave from the sidewalk,
wondering if our house lights will work
when Jesus rides up our street,
following Santa on a donkey.

At last, he is taking a stand,
running for office, stopping the stories,
starting the action.

There is a party at the red house
on top of the hill and Jesus waves to us,
hello, at least, a politician’s good cheer,
but maybe an invitation,
maybe approval of our colored lights,
each gripping the shingles with a plastic bite.
Or we hope too much
and the fourth strand pops the breaker,
burns the fuse in every plug,
leaving us in the dark
holding promises broken across the ocean.

Even so, the party still works like a party should,
drawing people, even people like us
whose houses are shadows between festivities.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reimagining Christmas Traditions

The holiday is season is rich with traditions. I can think back to my childhood and pretty easily recall the various activities we participated in as a family, some key gifts I got, family dinner, church services (most notably red sweaters), Christmas trees and decorating them, sugar cookies, Santa, etc. I could go on and on.

I often wonder what early Christians did for Advent, for Christmas. My guess is that what I described above wasn’t really part of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the early days. Contemplating this sent me down a path of critical discernment about Christmas traditions, and specifically what Christmas traditions I wanted to lead my new family in. My goal in setting forth new traditions for Christmas included: presenting a prophetic alternative to mainstream American Christmas culture, maintaining the aspects of celebration (but also reflection), representing incarnation (both in message and deed), and downright fun. I wanted to share with you some (new) Walsh Christmas traditions. Maybe this will help spark some imagination, maybe you will (continue) to think I have lost my way, or a mixture of both!

Having the homeless over to our house on Christmas Day. Jesus once said, “When you have a party (dinner), do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” (Luke 14). When I read this passage previously, I could only think of college parties I attended or at the very most going to feed the homeless (please notice the seemingly small, but huge difference between bringing people into your home that are poor, etc. as opposed to going to them). Then I got to thinking, what greater party do we have as Christians than celebrating the Incarnation on Christmas Day? Surely, this yearly party we have with friends, brothers, relatives (the people Jesus said not to ask) would qualify as a prophetic time to open up our homes to the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. Right?

My wife and I have since invited a couple of homeless people over to our house for Christmas Day. We are excited and anticipate a rich time of solidarity with one another in celebration of Incarnation. I want them to stay the night as well, sleeping in our bed (sorry honey if you are reading this for the first time…still need to get my wife’s permission!!) while we sleep elsewhere in the house so they can enjoy the warmth and comfort, if even for one night, that we are afforded daily.

Redefining family. Jesus also did this. Christmastime has always been about family, and that is good and should be honored…however, I am convicted that family through relationship with Jesus is redefined. Now the poor….our neighbors….our co-workers….are all family. I want to teach Judah that our visitors for Christmas Day aren’t just visitors, but that we are all family. I will try to pound that message home to my son and purposefully try to reflect that conviction in my life as well...redefining family. See what Jesus says about family here: Mark 3:32-34 and Mark 10:29-30.

No Santa. Not much explanation needed here, as many of our friends and family are doing the same thing. Though this could bring of immense joy for Judah, waking up Christmas morning to find a stocking filled with presents, it is not worth the price of deflecting glory from Jesus. This is something we feel convicted on but understand that other Christians feel differently and that is ok.

“Advent Conspiracy” Gifts. We decided last year that Judah didn’t need more toys for Christmas. He has plenty. He has all he needs. But many kids out there do not. We asked family and friends to give to charity, or make something, etc. instead of sending Judah (toy) gifts. As he gets older, he may resent us for not allowing him to have gifts for, we are thinking that we can make sure people aren’t just getting him random toys and unnecessary things, but give him a handmade/meaningful gift that focuses more on the relationship and the giver than the item itself. We have also contemplated not doing gifts on Christmas Day, but rather New Years. But that may be a bit too much….I will let you know where we land. We also decided last year to give gifts to the less fortunate on behalf of our nephews and nieces. We know that they will get plenty of gifts from others, so we decided that giving a gift to a needy child or needy people on behalf of them would show our nephews and nieces that they impacted the lives of others. Are we sounding really crazy yet??

Rest assured, we haven’t changed everything…we still have a real Christmas tree with ornaments, play Christmas music at home, decorated cookies, have candy all over, go caroling, and to church…we have still maintained many traditions. However, I am ready to make some changes and the ones mentioned above are moving us in a different, counter-cultural direction for Christmas. What is left to be seen is if I am simply Scrooge, or if this is something fresh and meaningful. As my wife and I discussed all of these things, we both concluded it is a matter of the heart…and we are moving forward only if our motivations and passions accurately reflect the grace and calling of God. Please pray for us.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Advent: The Kingdom of God

Advent started on Sunday, November 28th. Did you notice? Sandwiched between cultural holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Advent was easy to overlook. However, as Followers of Jesus we should be more in tune with our faith tradition’s calendar and less concerned with the world’s calendar. We should have far greater care for “the coming of Jesus” than “door busters”. So what is the significance of Advent and how should it impact us?

Advent simply means “coming”, as in Christ’s coming. The First Advent would be the Incarnation 2000 years ago, and the Second Advent, Christ’s return. Having said that, Advent is much more than a historical event to be celebrated every year…it is a truth, and it is about celebrating that truth…that God revealed himself in Jesus through the Incarnation.

Truth, huh? Celebration, really? Why do I (and perhaps we) find it so hard to keep Advent at the forefront of our hearts and minds during the Christmas season? Advent gets sucked of significance and meaning when we are easily distracted by things the world thinks brings significance and meaning during the holidays: consumption, busyness, ease, self-centered feel-good emotions, etc.

I recently noticed that some “Christian” things and traditions suck significance away from Advent as well. The other day I was with a group singing Christmas carols and found myself having a hard time with some of the expressions and sentiments of the songs. Let me give you some examples:

“All is calm, all is bright…..holy infant so tender and mild…sleep in heavenly peace…”
-Silent Night

“The little boy Jesus lays down His sweet head…the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay…no crying He makes…
-Away in the Manger

Seems like I am not the only one who is caught off guard by some of our Christmas songs. A recent article in Christianity Today highlights this issue: . Trust me, I am not overly concerned by this…but its worth mentioning.

After we sang, we read some Scripture passages that reflect Advent. We read Isaiah 9:6-7 and Jeremiah 33:14-16. It was at this time that another foundational truth about Advent and the Incarnation that hit me….

We mostly connect Christmas with the aspect of the Incarnation linked to the redemption of our sins through Jesus (and the Cross). This of course is praiseworthy and amazing, yet fails to really embrace the fullness of Jesus coming to earth. If you read through Advent verses (like the ones I mention above) it is clear that the kingdom of God was the central message of Advent and the Incarnation of Messiah. Forgiveness of sins is an aspect of the kingdom, a huge aspect of the kingdom, but not the entire kingdom.

Both Isaiah 9 and Jeremiah 33 foreshadow the kingdom of God, using words like: government, righteousness, justice, judgment, throne, peace, etc. Certainly there are great Christmas songs that reflect this truth, but how many of us really focus on the kingdom of God during the Christmas season. Justice? Righteousness? What about presents? Family time? And lots of food? Yet the prophets foretold of this all-encompassing truth of the kingdom.

May the kingdom of God be at the center of our theology of Incarnation and Advent. May we seek to push forth His kingdom of “justice, righteousness, and shalom”. May we see through the eyes of Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out while being oppressed in hopes of deliverance from the injustice of the world. May Advent be marked by the expectation, anticipation, preparation, and longing for the kingdom of God: a King who will rule with truth, justice, and righteousness over His people and His creation in a world marred by sin and death.