Sunday, October 07, 2007

My Blog Has Moved

Click on the title for the link to my new blog or paste this link ( into your web browser.

- Rex

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Liberty or Tyranny?

If I was to declare that God is more than one, it would be obvious to all Christians how false such a belief is and thus would be rejected. However, if I took a more subtle approach, say, by appealing to your emotional senses, such a fear and happiness, that peace and happiness is found in financial security, I then could lure some Christians into the practice of making money their god (even if they would not acknowledge this in such language).

For sometime a similar phenomenon has been occurring with the use of the term “freedom.” A recent article “Has The Jihadist Movement Temporarily Peaked?” (Outreach to Muslims 12, July/Aug/Sept 2007) suggests that the difference between liberty and tyranny rests within the powers of people, nations, and political structures – in this case, between the West and the Middle East. The article discusses the responsibilities of national leaders in regards to Muslim relations and then states, “Our well-being is wrapped up in the success of their efforts” (p. 6). I contend that this is but one of many examples taking place in our culture that subtly denies part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We would be deeply troubled by any Christian who dared to suggest that our faith allows for two Lords, two salvations, two hopes, etc… But when it comes to “freedom” we have become quite comfortable in declaring the existence of two or more freedoms.

Jesus himself declared the very nature of the good news of God’s kingdom. Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus described his mission saying:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4.18-19, TNIV)

The very core of the Christian faith believes that all people have become slaves to the evil and sin of a fallen world (tyranny) and are redeemed only by God’s offering of his Son, Jesus on a cross (liberty). The scriptures only know of one freedom which originates from God and has already been made a reality only through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Without Jesus we will always be slaves to tyranny. In Jesus we have true liberty. Let’s never forget that the difference between liberty and tyranny is not dependent on the things of this world but instead is holistically dependent upon God who sets us free into a new world that can never be penetrated by tyrannical forces.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

When All is Gone!

What if one day we lost everything? What if life as we know was one day taken from us, leaving us to continue on with the painful memory of loss and the confusion of trying to make sense in a strange new set of circumstances? On another blog (click on the title for the link), Donna poses a similar question. The following was my comment and I though I would post this on my blog too.

The death of a son was enough to tear down the foundation of my faith. After the death of my son, the only thing I was sure of was that there had to be a God or else this life was nothing but a cruel joke that made even less sense then a life originating from God yet contains immense human suffering.

At the moment of realizing you are not sure about anything in terms of religious faith, it becomes quite a lonely world. You may still "go to church" but you have no adequate words to express the present crisis of faith.

For me, eventually I began to read scripture again. I read it with an open mind but also with a mind-set that was not sure if I would find what I was looking for. I didn't but I also did. I didn't find just another manual with a set of instructions on how to adhere to another religion nor did I find the answer to why human suffering exists. What I found was a witness to life and hope. I understood at that moment why these pages of scripture were described as Divine Revelation. I understood why those who read these scriptures before have passed them down. For in them I not only found my own story setting and conflict, I also found the climax and resolution -- the promise that a crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ is the reality of hope -- a hope that says the present suffering is not the end of the story. This was truly a liberating moment and still is.

Friday, September 14, 2007

God or Other?

God or the Other… To most of us, that seems like a simple choice. We choose God. Do we really? I know we like to think we choose God but then there are so many ways in which that choice can be construed. God or riches, God or fame, God or career, even God or family… The list goes on and on. What would our choice be? We want to choose God but the alternative can be so enticing that we can become lulled into believing it is the better choice.

I am reminded of a story in the Gospel of Luke about a “rich man” who met Jesus one day. The man appears to be very religious, as religious as anyone of us. But Jesus found one facet of his life that was keeping him from truly choosing God – his wealth. When Jesus confronted the man, Luke tells us, “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy” (Luke 18.23, TNIV). The story never actually tells us that this man failed to choose God. Instead, it only implies the failure to make the correct choice. What Luke emphasizes is the sadness. That is the part of the other never advertised.

Today I came across a story about a man named Jack Whittaker who won a $315 million dollar lottery several years back (Shaya Tayee Mohajer, “Is Powerball Win a Nightmare or Fantasy?,” Associated Press, 2007). Today, according to the article, Mr. Whittaker claims sadness. He says that becoming rich has left him without any friends, became a source of trouble that has left his family and marriage in disarray and for all the money he has, he is not able to buy a cure to his daughter’s cancer. In the end, Mr. Whittaker is quoted saying “I'm only going to be remembered as the lunatic who won the lottery… I'm not proud of that. I wanted to be remembered as someone who helped a lot of people.”

I don’t know what Mr. Whittaker religious convictions are. I do know that for most of us, we have and will continue to face the choice of God or Other. There may be a lot of things about the other choices that appear attractive but in the end, there is sadness when that choice becomes a choice against God.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Best Life Now... For Who?

Click the title of this post to be redirect to the blog of Jordan McCall for which I am making this post. Jordan, a young wife and mother of two, is battling cancer. As she battles cancer, she also sits in a Sunday-School class studying the book “Your Best Life Now” by Joel Osteen. She sits and listens to Christians speaking about how God wants them to have a “blessed life” (materially abundant life without struggle) while she prays that God will just heal her body and allow her to see her children grow up.

I must admit that I have not read the above mentioned book. I have read enough reputable reviews to know I don’t want to waste my time or money on the book. I am not sure how Churches and Christians can read their Bibles and yet believe and promote a “health and wealth” gospel. I never believed such a gospel before the death of my son. After the death of Kenny, the health and wealth theology became outright insulting. What is more troubling is the fact that contemporary trends in Christian rarely encourage and foster an environment for open grief and lament before God (try finding a song of lament in any church hymnal).

In the collection of Psalms, we read, “I cry aloud to the Lord, I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble” (Ps 143.1-2, TNIV). This is just one of many laments found in the Psalms and throughout scripture. If we are going to be a Christian community shaped by the words of scripture, then we must recognize the place of lament in our communal life. Just as we express our praises throughout worship, people who suffer must be allowed to express their faith – a faith of pain and lament – to God as well. Then we become a community for both the happy and sad, the blessed and afflicted.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Towards a Working Purpose for the Church

When we consider the entire story of scripture, we realize that God’s redemptive plan is already complete in one sense but not yet fully realized. This is the paradox within Christian eschatology. The final or last events of history, the goal of God’s redemption, have already been established. Yet these events are still to come – future to present history. The church, the community of redeemed people, is called to live the reality of this history while also living in anticipation of this history. I can think of no better passage that describes this reality than two passages of scripture from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

To save space, I will not quote these passages but you can read them for yourselves. Here I will just provide a brief synopsis. In Colossians 1.15-23, we learn that the fullness of God dwells within Jesus Christ who is the first born from the dead. We, who were once alienated by sin, have been reconciled by God through Christ and are now called to stand firm within this new reality called the gospel. In Colossians 2.9-15, the new reality is described in terms of Jesus Christ head over every power and authority of which he has triumphed over them through the cross. We, who once belonged to the old and dead reality because of our sin, became a part of this new reality in Christ through our baptism by being raised into Christ.

It is important in these two passages to keep in mind that Paul is speaking about the Church. In my past I have read these passages with myself in mind. While these passages certainly are true for me as well as every other individual Christian, the passage is talking about the reality for the church as a whole – every Christian throughout history. Coming to this conclusion has helped me reflect more clearly (and even rethink) what it means to be church – what the purpose of existence is for the church. Out of this I have developed my own working definition for the purpose of the church:

The church is the future community existing in the present world as the representation of God’s finished work of redemption.

If I am correct or at least on to a correct ecclesiology, which I believe I am, then it makes all the more sense why the writers of the New Testament put so much energy into their writings regarding the moral/ethical conduct of Christians, the way Christians relate to one another and the outside world, and how the church serves as a living testimony to the world for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Given this purpose for the church (the future community existing in the present world as the representation of God’s finished work of redemption) and given the reality that the New Testament is comprised of occasional writings which help us understand “how” to be church in our own cultural contexts but do not always specifically address every issue we face, I wonder how this purpose should shape us as a church in our own cultural context. First, we must ask what exactly it means to represent God’s redemption. What does that look like? Secondly, with a few generalizations, how do people who are generally affluent and educated (compared to the entire world) and who live in a free-democratic society express this redemption? Thirdly, what did it mean for other periods of Christianity who lived this purpose out to be moral and ethical and what does that imply for us? Fourth, how do we express our fellowship with one another in our culture (i.e. church buildings, house churches, other…)? And lastly, how should this purpose inform the preaching and teaching of the church for both the Christian and the non-Christian seeker?

I do not have all the answers to the list of five questions that I proposed in the last paragraph. I have some ideas and thoughts but am also still working those out (I suppose I always will be to some extent). However, I am convinced that it is these questions that the church as a whole will need to wrestle with, answer, and live out if we wish to be and have hopes at being salt and light in the emerging world that is really already upon us. What are your thoughts?

Friday, July 13, 2007

About Annie

Tonight I met Annie. I was driving in Ithaca and there at the intersection was a young woman holding up a sign that read “out of work and hungry, please help.” This woman, or should I say girl, was young and looked less like she was homeless (I hate that – do the homeless actually have a look) and more like someone who had ran away from home. So I pulled my car into the nearest parking lot and walked over to talk to this woman.

Her name is Annie and she is from Wisconsin. She came out to Ithaca to stay with a friend but the friend is poor as well and had two children to worry about feeding. So there was Annie asking for help.

We struck up a conversation that was mostly about her circumstances. What struck me was her humble demeanor flavored with gratitude. I only had five dollars on me and I offered it to her.

She asked me if that was all I had and I said “yes!”

She said “what I mean is… you only have a five dollar bill and not any singles… because I don’t want to take your last bit of money.”

I replied “this is all I have on me but you are not going to take my last dollar by taking this."

Now I normally make it a rule to refrain from giving out cash for the obvious reasons. However Annie did not have that Crack or Meth addiction look to her. She just looked like someone who ran into some hard times, maybe made some bad choices.

As we continued our conversation, I told her that I was a minister and gave her my card. I said that we might be able to help her in some more substantial ways, as several of our members work in the social-work field. I then told her that I did not believe God created any of us to live in need to the point that we are left to worry about how we are going to eat.

Annie responded “I believe in Jesus but I also believe that sometimes we make mistakes that we have to live with.”

I am not sure what those mistakes were for Annie and I did not feel it was my right to ask either. However I did respond.

“Annie, I believe in Jesus too" I said. "And I believe Jesus came to show us grace and mercy rather than to make us suffer the consequences of our past mistakes. If I had to suffer the consequences of my past mistakes, I would not be standing here talking to you right now.”

At this point I stopped as I could see her bottom lip start to quiver. I am not sure how Annie arrived at the point of life she is in now but I am quite sure she longs for something better.

When I meet the Annie’s of this world, I am always frustrated because I feel so helpless. I hear echoes of Jesus telling his disciples before the crowd of five thousand “You give them something to eat.” So I try and do what I can. Maybe that is enough. Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and turned them into enough food to feed the entire crowd. I guess I just need to trust God to turn that five dollar bill into enough doe to help Annie stay off the street corners of Ithaca.