Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent 2011: The Already Here and Coming Kingdom, Week 1

Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming") is a time of reflection and thankfulness for the king/messiah Jesus' arrival thousands of years ago and the anticipation of His return to fully realize and completely usher in His Kingdom.

No other topic has captivated my heart, my studies, my attention, and my desires over the past several years than Jesus and his primary message of the "kingdom of God". I am intrigued, challenged, motivated, and laser-focused on this Kingdom. It is the reason I go to Asia. It is the reason I pursue justice, righteousness, and shalom. It is the reason I pray, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth AS IT IS in heaven." I would give anything for this kingdom. My life. My family. My possessions. My nation. My earthly inheritance. My comfort. My well-being. My all. I love Jesus. I love his Kingdom.

Jesus, hear my prayer:

But according to your promise, I am waiting for the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3). Until you come, enable me to be a small, feeble part of proclaiming in word and deed your kingdom now (John 20). Amen. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful, Yet Not Really: Confessions of a Greedy Sinner

"Gratitude... goes beyond the "mine" and "thine" and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy."  - Henri Nouwen

Thanksgiving holiday is once again upon us. And I, for one, have a lot to be thankful for. I have wonderful family, friends, and co-workers. I have been blessed by the calling God has on our lives and the people who have rallied around us. I am healthy, have plenty of resources, and I am not consumed by an anxious, nervous spirit. I have a wonderful wife and an energetic, healthy, and loving son.

However, my heart doesn’t naturally turn to thankfulness in the day-to-day. There are several reasons for this. Of course my sinful nature and forgetfulness that God is my only Sustainer is a huge reason. But I have also built up so much worldly infrastructure in my life and my circumstances, that it hardly seems I “need” God. For instance, when I read the passages on “daily bread” or “(daily) manna”, I have a hard time relating because I have about 4 weeks of food in my fridge and plenty of other resources to fall back on otherwise. Those passages, for all intents and purposes, mean nothing to me.

One of the reasons my wife and I are choosing to live in solidarity with the poor as part of the calling God has on our lives, is because as Shane Claiborne would say, “I want to be less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.” I want to stop relying so heavily on myself and my resources, and start relying more heavily on my God to provide and care for me, my wife, and my son. As one outcome of this desire, we are stepping into extreme poverty, into a place with diseases like malaria, Dengue fever, and tuberculosis, and into a culture we have never lived in, all with the purpose to incarnate the good news to those around us. Like my time in Central Asia, it will be filled with many failures and setbacks, but likely will be the richest spiritual time in my life as I rely on Him alone to carry me through.

As I think about Thanksgiving, I believe our world is in desperate need of going back to biblical fundamentals. I wonder how other affluent global citizens (i.e. myself) approach/feel about  the “manna” and “daily bread” verses. I don’t think I am alone in wondering what I am missing out on…I know I cant be alone….But as I have experienced in America, it is hard to take the steps to completely rely on God to be our primary Sustainer when everything in our culture tells us otherwise. We just have too much. In fact, if you combine the annual incomes of all Christians living in the USA, we would have a seat at the G8 summit. That is how wealthy we are. But yet we seem to do everything possible to deny our corporate responsibility, and cloth it with rhetoric called “individual choice”. Yet, I am reminded of the apostle John who says:

But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

and I am also reminded that Scripture time and time again reminds us that its not about individual aspirations or choice, but about “one another”.

This Thanksgiving, a time of feasting and fun, I thought these headlines were prophetic:

 “Obesity Costs Americans $146 Billion Annually”

 “16,000 Children Die Every Day of Hunger”

Our world is in critical need of prophetic imagination. I need to “take the log out of my own eye” and remember that I need to be the change I want to see in this world. Will you do the same?

 Here are some ways you can start (from World Vision):

1.   Invite someone other than family to Thanksgiving with your family. Like a student or someone in your community who is away from family.
2.   Get creative with your leftovers. Give them away to those in need.
3.   Take the time to say thank you. Make a list of 5 people who have taught you something new to expand your worldview or challenged you to grow in your faith over the last year. Who has been influential in your life? Take a minute to write them notes of gratitude.
4.   Give back. Spend some time over the long weekend serving others. Seek out a local organization or church that puts together and delivers Thanksgiving baskets to families who can’t afford a big meal. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Witness to All the Nations (Ralph Winter)

I talk about the "unreached" a lot. It is something I am very passionate about.

Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14). A close look at the end of this verse says a lot about what we should watch for and work toward in this age. Jesus says that before the end comes, there will be “a witness to all the nations.” The “nations” Jesus was referring to are not countries or nation-states. The wording He chose (the Greek word ethne) points to the ethnicities, the languages and the extended families which constitute the peoples of the earth. Who are these peoples? Jesus did not provide a list of the peoples. He did not define the idea of peoples with precise detail. What matters most is not that the peoples can be definitively identified and counted, but that God has given us a task that can be completed. By “witness” Jesus meant that the “gospel of Ethnolinguistic Peoples by Language of the Same Area the kingdom” will be proclaimed in open view throughout entire communities. The gospel of the kingdom is Christ prevailing over evil, liberating people so that they can live obediently and freely under His lordship and blessing. God wants a persuasive display of that kingdom victory exhibited in every people. What better exhibit of God’s kingdom than a community of people who are living under Christ’s authority? That’s why we should aim at obedient disciplemaking fellowships of believers within every people. While not the only way to glorify God, nothing puts Christ’s lordship on display like a community of people dedicated to following Him and effectively pushing back against the dominion of darkness.

Matthew 24:14 makes it clear that we must make it our first priority to see that every people has a living testimony of the gospel of the kingdom.

What is needed in every people group is for the gospel to begin moving throughout the group with such compelling, life-giving power that the resulting churches can themselves finish spreading the gospel to every person. Good but lesser goals may delay or distract us. Evangelism among street vendors or students might lead to discipleship groups for personal growth and even evangelism. But why stop short of anything less than a burgeoning movement of Christ-followers characterized by whole families? Why not expect that God is well able and willing to attract to His Son a substantial movement that will spread rapidly, spontaneously and thoroughly within whole peoples?

We have done our basic mission job when individuals within the society (even those outside of the church) acknowledge that the movement belongs to their society. Only when this level of cultural adaptation is achieved will the dynamic, life-changing love of Jesus become available to move freely throughout the people group. Donald McGavran referred to one form of missiological breakthrough as “people movements to Christ.” We can hold this goal as the minimal achievement within every people in order to give a realistic opportunity for everyone in that people group to say “yes” to Jesus Christ and His kingdom, without adding cultural barriers to the already steep spiritual demands of the gospel. Jesus commissioned us to accomplish nothing less. We should settle for nothing less.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reminded: Woe is Me

Woe is me….

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith (in other words, Micah 6:8). These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”

“Woe”…hmmm…where else have I seen that:
 This “woe” oracle reminds me of a similar one in Luke’s account of the Beatitudes.
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God….
  But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation…”

Which then reminds me of these rich men:
 The young rich ruler was told to sell everything and give it to the poor and come follow Jesus. He didn’t do it. Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

But apparently he didn’t think it was hard for the poor to inherent the Kingdom, for it is already theirs (i.e. blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God)…

Another rich man denies the crumbs from his table to the poor man Lazarus sitting outside of this gate. Lazarus dies and is then comforted in heaven, while the rich man (never named, just “rich”) is in Hades. Why is this? Abraham replied to the rich man “remember that in your lifetime you received your good things (i.e. riches) and likewise Lazarus evil things (i.e. he was a beggar/poor) but now he is comforted and you are tormented.

Which of course reminds me of the Song of Mary:
He has filled the hungry (in other words, people like Lazarus) with good things, and the rich he sends empty away.”

Which of course reminds me of Matthew 25, the “least of these” passage in which: 
The sheep are separated from the goats, one group going to heaven the other to hell, based on how we treated the “least of these”
What was this treatment?
Feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty drink, caring and visiting the sick and imprisoned, and opening your home to the immigrant.

Which makes me wonder:
Was Lazarus a sheep and the rich man a goat?

Which of course reminds me I need to repent, in which I recall the instruction of John the Baptist who says:
Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”…
in which an onlooker responds, “what shall we then do?”
And the Baptizer responds to one of them,
“if you have two of something, give one of them away (or redistribute).”
Which he also called, “bearing fruit worthy of repentance.”

Which of course reminds me of two things:
Its more blessed to give then receive… and
The first century church community who, “had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all as anyone had need....nor was there anyone among them who lacked, for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and delivered the proceeds to those who had need.”

Which naturally reminds me of the “rich fool” (as called by Jesus) who decides to not sell his house, or give away his excess goods, but instead:
“pulls down his smaller barns in order to build bigger barns to store all of his goods and crops.” This rich fool says to himself, “Soul you have many goods laid up for many years, take your ease…” God replied, “Fool! Tonight your soul will be required of you.” (those are big words….)

Which prompts my recollection of this command to:
“not store up treasures on earth”.

Which then makes me recall:
We are told to pray “give us this day our daily bread” (not excess crops like the rich fool, or for our context, money and goods)…. and
That Jesus promises to give us our basic needs of food, clothing, etc. because loves us more than the sparrows or lilies.

Which reminds me that :
Jesus sat opposite of the treasury and witnessed “many who were rich give much
yet commended the poor widow who gave out of her poverty.
He commended her because she “gave everything she had” while the others “put in out of their abundance.”


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Investing in a New World (Shane Claiborne)

Nearly a decade ago, we threw a party on Wall Street where we gave away $10,000 outside the Stock Exchange. The money had formerly been invested in stocks but was divested, broken into thousands of small bills and coins that were dumped at the NYSE entrance, where we invited homeless folks from around New York to join the party.
As the opening bell kicked off the day's trading, we blew a ram's horn and announced the Jubilee vision, and money fell from the sky. You can catch a few glimpses of it here:
The ancient Jubilee was God's alternative to the patterns of inequality. It was a systematic interruption of injustice -- where property was redistributed, debts were forgiven, and slaves were set free. It was God's way of making sure masses of people do not live in poverty while a handful of folks live however they wish.
No doubt Wall Street has some things to learn about Jubilee. Jubilee was God's alternative to the patterns of Wall Street.
As the Occupy Wall Street movement catches the world's attention, those of us who are critical of Wall Street have a responsibility. We can't just be defined by what we are against, but should be known by what we are for.
After all, the word "protest" originally meant "public declaration". It wasn't just about being against something, but it was about declaring something new and better. "Protest" shares the same root as "testify".
It's time to protest-ify.
Gandhi spoke about the need for a "constructive program" -- insisting that the best critique of what is wrong is the practice of something better. So his movement started making their own clothes and marching to the sea to get their own salt. They were building a new society in the shell of the old one.
I think the Occupy movement is off to a good start, and will continue to be a catalyst for change … as long as it stays nonviolent and humble.
The Occupy folks may not have all the answers but they are stirring up the right questions. Saying "no" to the way things are is the first step towards a better future.
Something is wrong with a world that continues to privatize wealth and subsidize debt.
There is an entire generation that is saying no to a world where the average worker makes $7 an hour while the average CEO makes over $1500 an hour.
The world is saying no to the patterns where 1% of the world is using up 36% of its wealth.
We can do better. And we must.
But saying no to Wall Street is only the beginning. We need to create alternatives to Wall Street.
I got excited this week when I heard about "Move Your Money Day," one of the concrete constructive-program suggestions coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
On Nov. 5 folks all over the world will divest from Wall Street and its banks … in order to invest in a better world.
Ideologies alone are not enough. There came a point in the movement to abolish slavery where ideology required responsibility. As one abolitionist said, "The only way to be a good slave-owner is to refuse to be a slave-owner." To truly be against slavery also meant that you didn't drink sugar in your tea, because sugar was produced with slave labor.
So on November 5, my wife and I will be joining the "Move Your Money" celebration, moving our money from Bank of America to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia.
It is one small step away from the vicious cycle that continues to see money transfer from the increasingly poor to the increasingly rich.
It is trying to take to heart Jesus' command to "Get the log out" of my own eye.
It is a move towards Gandhi's call to "Be the change you want to see in the world."
It's one little step towards being less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.
Although moving our $2,000 savings may not break the Bank, we realize that we are one little drop in what we hope is becoming a river of justice flowing through the streets of New York City and 1,000 cities around the world.
Enough small things can become a tipping point for massive change. When Rosa Parks decided not to move from her seat on that bus in Montgomery, she said one little, "No" that changed the world. So can we.
Can you imagine if the universities started relocating their endowments?
What if religious denominations moved their retirement funds?
It would be an honor to be a member of the post-Wall-Street Jubilee generation.