I’ve just started reading James KA Smith’s new book Imagining the Kingdom. Smith’s basic argument is that our actions are not really based on conscious rational choices but rather on how ritual behaviors have caused us to imagine the world around us. Most Christian thinkers from the beginning have unconsciously bought into a Platonic “rationalist” conception of human nature in which our behavior is supposed to be regulated by our conscious rationality, and the fact that it isn’t reflects our fallenness rather than a condition innate to our humanity. Continue reading
On the last day of our GBCS young clergy leadership forum, we learned the term “glocalization.” It’s actually not an affirmation of the activist world cliche that we should “think globally and act locally.” The problem is precisely that we too often think about activism in global terms instead of local ones. Activism that is understood in kingdom terms should always seek as localized a form as possible even if it occurs over a distance that is global. Let me explain. Continue reading
Is Jesus saving the world from us? It’s a different way to talk about salvation, but honestly it’s the gospel that I’m hoping to be true as an evangelical afflicted by what Rachel Held Evans calls “the scandal of the evangelical heart.” When did we become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being? How many of us have been secretly asking that question in our minds? How many of us need to be saved from a toxic salvation? I really feel that we are in the midst of a great awakening. The legion of demons that poisoned our gospel for so long is running off a cliff in a herd of hateful pigs, leaving us to wake up in the graveyard where we chained ourselves. We are discovering that Satan is our accuser and oppressor, not God. We are realizing that our need to be right and justify ourselves has kept us inside a tomb whose stone was rolled away by Jesus. So I wanted to share five things God has been teaching me over the past few years about what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us for. Continue reading
I have reduced my book to seven chapters and have given it a new title: Mercy Not Sacrifice: Salvation for Recovering Evangelicals. It may be too bold; I almost feel like checking the sky above me for lightning. My brother John Meunier had challenged me to come up with a unifying theme, and last night in Bible study we read about Zacchaeus where Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house.” So it hit me this morning that there’s one question that evangelicals think we know the answer to but really ought to step back and reconsider: What is salvation? I propose 7 answers. Continue reading
Is God’s goal for humanity communion or correctness? The way you answer that question will determine your understanding of atonement, orthodoxy, holiness, Biblical interpretation, and just about every other major issue within Christian thought. Does Jesus’ cross serves the purpose of imputing perfect correctness to imperfect people or creating peace and reconciliation between otherwise irreconcilable people? That is the distinction. For the purpose of this piece, I want to define correctness very specifically as a way of thinking about behavior and opinions in which there is one right answer and the goal is absolute uniformity. Righteousness is different from correctness; its absolute would be perfect love for God and neighbor which would not necessarily result in identical decisions being made in the same circumstances but a perfect disposition for making these decisions. I believe that a certain threshold of correctness is important for the sake of establishing communion between God’s people, but if correctness means chasing after an elusive goal of absolute ideological conformity, then it is a source of schism in the body of Christ and as such a heretical pursuit.
This morning we kicked off our 8:30 am Wednesday morning prayer service for the fall. Basically what we do is listen to God through various means of prayer: liturgical, silent, extemporaneous, etc. We close by lifting up the concerns of the church. My favorite part happens in the middle when we read a scripture, meditate in silence, and then speak as the Spirit leads. It was during this time today that my sister Jacque said something that blew my mind. Continue reading
I wonder how many Biblical literalists take John 6:53 literally. In it, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus isn’t being “metaphorical” or “mystical.” He clarifies any confusion as to what He means by His flesh and blood in Luke 22:19-20 when He breaks the bread and passes the cup. For the first 1700 years of Christianity, communion was the centerpiece of our weekly worship (even for most of the Protestants who broke off in the 1500′s). The revival movements of the 1700′s and 1800′s effectively replaced the communion table with the altar call as the climax of worship in evangelical Protestantism at least (yes, that is an oversimplification). What I don’t understand is why communion and the altar call can’t be the same thing.
I was at a friend’s wedding recently at a United Methodist church. When communion was served, about half of the people in attendance did not come forward, including a large number of people I knew to be non-denominational evangelicals. I felt hurt to see that even at a wedding we couldn’t be one body of Christ, though I recognize not everyone shares my understanding of communion.
About two-thirds of the way through Chris Tomlin’s Fairfax, VA show last Friday, he joked that there was probably somebody in the crowd who was still standing with his arms crossed despite the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit in the room, etc. Well I was that guy. I tried to clap for at least some of the time, but a lot of the time I had my arms crossed because it was crowded and I didn’t have any other place to put them. I also wasn’t really feeling it. Continue reading
Deadly Sin Sermon Series, 3 out of 7 — 10/30/2010
Text: Luke 16:19-31
How many of y’all have heard of the freshman 15? It’s the 15 pounds that college kids put on in their first year in college from all the carbs they eat in the campus dining hall. Well, for the past few months, I’ve been learning about something I’m calling the first year pastor 20. It comes from all the potlucks and eating out that we do. It’s been a humbling experience to preach on gluttony this week when every morning I get on the scale and the number keeps going up and up.
The biggest irony is that gluttony is exactly what I turn to when I’m doing something that fills me with anxiety, such as writing a sermon on gluttony. I like to make all kinds of dips like humus and pesto to take to all the church potlucks. And when I’m feeling under pressure, I get out the pita chips and start mindlessly gobbling, thinking that it will be easier to face the challenge if my body is just a little more comfortable.
It seems innocent enough – the need to be physically comfortable. All the other animals are instinctually driven by this need. When they’re hungry, they eat; when they’re tired, they sleep; when they need to go potty, they go where they’re at, unless they’ve been house-trained. Part of what makes gluttony such a deadly sin is that it seems so innocent. Eating one more chip doesn’t feel like a big deal until we reach into the bag and it’s empty. Gluttony gets serious when it becomes more than just a stomachache but something we build our lives around. And I’m not just talking about food. Our nation’s lifestyle is shaped by relentless advertising that tells us that our lives are supposed to be as comfortable and convenient as possible.
It’s easy to get trapped in an endless cycle of consumption. Take interior decorating, for example. If I buy a nice couch for my living room, then I need a nicer table to go with it. When I get the nicer table, the lamp starts to look shabby. Then the rocking chair needs to get upgraded, then the bookshelves, and before long the nice couch I bought in the first place isn’t chic enough for all the other new furniture so the cycle starts over.
With technology, we don’t really question whether or not we’re being gluttonous, because it’s always better to be faster and more efficient. Do any of you remember how long we used to sit in front of computers waiting for the floppy drive to boot up? Now, if facebook fails to come up in a few seconds, I get irritated and hit reload on my browser, and if it doesn’t correct itself quickly, I might say something that pastors aren’t supposed to say. Jesus said it’s better to tie a millstone around your neck and throw yourself in the sea than to lead others into sin. So if my laptop makes me a glutton, should I duct-tape it to a rock and chuck it into Burke Lake?
But gluttony is about more than just its tendency to make us into irritable, impatient people who are addicted to our own comfort. There are people and things that we neglect when we are gluttonous. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus shows how easy it is for gluttony to make us oblivious to other peoples’ suffering. The rich man in the parable is described with the stereotypical marks of gluttony at the time – dressing in purple and fine linens and feasting sumptuously every day. The reason he ends up in hell is never stated explicitly, though Abraham’s words suggest it has something to do with his neglect of Lazarus.
In a culture where our highest virtue is individual responsibility, this parable doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There is no indication that the rich man was in any way related to Lazarus the beggar’s demise. He didn’t do anything to hurt Lazarus. He didn’t lay him off from a job or repossess his trailer. Lazarus wasn’t his secret illegitimate half-brother. In fact, the Bible says that someone else put Lazarus down at the rich man’s gate. Why didn’t that person take care of the beggar instead of dumping him on the poor rich man to deal with? And Lazarus didn’t knock on the gate; he didn’t ask for anything; the Bible says he longed to eat the crumbs from the rich man’s table, but he never spoke up. So why should the rich guy be held responsible for this unassertive beggar who was probably homeless because of a drug addiction or some other personal moral failing?
And the Bible refutes our objections with a minor detail that speaks volumes. Even the dogs would come and lick the beggar’s sores. Despite the fact that the beggar never said a word, despite our lack of knowledge about his background and whether or not he deserved his predicament, even the dogs could muster up enough mercy to go and lick his sores. Even the dogs are more compassionate than we are when our focus on our own physical comfort has made us oblivious to the beggars at our gates. This is the poisonous outcome of gluttony: when our appetites rule our actions, when we put all of our focus on the mindless consumption of food, home improvement projects, electronic gadgets that are faster and sleeker, things that aren’t bad until they become all that we do with our lives, then we lose our humanity to the point that dogs are more attuned to the needs of others than we are.
Now I want to be very clear that the solution to gluttony is not to go in the opposite direction and completely neglect our physical needs. It’s true that Christians throughout the ages have fasted as part of their spiritual discipline. I know that would be a lot more grounded spiritually if I fasted from some of the activities that I’m gluttonous about (such as facebook and the internet). But sometimes Christians develop a very unhealthy martyrdom complex in which we give ourselves points according to how overworked we feel and how much we can say that we sacrificed our own needs. 2/3 of our country’s population is overweight not because we take long siestas like the Spanish do, or work 35 hours a week like the French do, but because we’re so stressed out that eating has become a mindless activity. Pastors in particular have very unhealthy lifestyles, which is why most of us get chubby over the years. Running from one meeting to the next, we might not eat lunch until 3:00, but when we do eat, we gorge ourselves.
What if eating were a sacred activity? What if it really were something we did for the glory of God. Now this means more than just saying grace before I pig out. If everything I do is for the glory of God, then all my eating and drinking and interior decorating and gadget-buying should be shaped by the mission of advancing God’s kingdom. Eating and consuming in and of themselves aren’t bad. It’s eating and consuming without a purpose that is gluttony. If we’re going to be soldiers for the kingdom of God, then we have to eat; if we’re going to open our homes to share Christ’s love with our neighbors, then we need enough furnishings for at least a decent ambience. The rich man in the parable we read today is not a glutton for wearing purple and linen and feasting sumptuously; he is a glutton because he did these things as ends unto themselves rather than opening the gate and giving Lazarus a purple robe and some moist towelettes so they could feast together.
We have a model for the type of consumption that we are supposed to be doing. It’s called Holy Communion. It may sound ridiculous to call a chunk of bread dipped into juice a feast, but what we do when we all come down the aisle to eat from the same bread and dip into the same cup is a symbolic reminder of how every feast in our lives should be. Every meal we have together should involve two things: thanking the God who created everything that is in our plate and forming community with God and other people. We can’t do that if we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off, scarfing down fast food in between meetings and soccer games. The way to build Christian community is by taking the time to gratefully break bread together.
When I feast without communion and without thanksgiving, I am being a glutton. This is true about all my activities, whether it’s eating, buying things, mindlessly surfing the Internet. But when every meal we eat and everything that we do is shaped by our prayerful journey of following Jesus and seeking His will for our lives, then our life is not gluttony, but a foretaste of the gospel feast we will share with God forever and ever.