BBQ (Blog, Book and Quote)

Blog … Brian McLaren: Notes from Mombasa. Brian writes briefly about creation and shares 5 possible ways of seeing Genesis 1. Read more here.

Book … I’m currently reading two great books–If God is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World by Philip Gulley & James Mullholland; and The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation by Barabara Rossing. Both books contain some degree of controversy (if you are part of the Evangelical movement in the Christian Church), yet answer some rather meaningful and necessary questions that people ask–and should be allowed to ask. While I haven’t read these books in their entirety yet, what I have digested is enough to recommend them to anyone who is (or has been) entertaining a suspicion of what is mostly the conventional fare in Evangelicalism.

Quote …  “A selfish love seldom respects the rights of the beloved to be an autonomous person. Far from respecting the true being of another and granting his personality room to grow and expand in its own original way, this love seeks to keep him in subjection to ourselves. It insists that he conform himself to us, and it works in every possible way to make him do so.” – Thomas Merton, quoted in If God is Love by Philip Gulley & James Mullholland.

No Agenda But Love

We all have agendas.

When my boss enters the room and tells me that he wants the report ready by the end of the day, his agenda is that he wants efficiency in decision-making and needs the report in order to achieve this aim. When my daughter’s (annoying!) meowing ball of fluff is scratching at the back door for food, his agenda is probably getting a full tummy, though I often think it’s just to have Emily’s attention. When I say ‘Well done’ to my son after he takes out the rubbish, my agenda is that this good behaviour will be repeated with the least possible amount of nagging in the future.

We all have agendas. Often they define how we live, how we act,or how we interact with others. But they are there. It’s the old ‘What’s in it for me?’ question.

So when I hear people speaking about being ‘missional,’ or having some form of ‘outreach’ ministry in the church, I can’t help but see agendas, possibly because the overall aim of the church is clear: get more people in the door, share the gospel with as many as possible, see more baptisms, develop more successful programs, have  more money in the offering each week to pay the increasing salaries and overheads of the ministry. . . . and I become skeptical.

I see too many times how our own agendas can easily creep into our service for others: we love and do acts of kindness with the hope of getting someone’s approval, someone’s attendance at a church service, or getting someone’s ear as we share the good news of Jesus. But is this truly the love of Christ?

I remember reading about a church somewhere in the midwest of the U.S. that began a servanthood evangelism ministry by simply doing small acts of kindness in their community. No gospel tracts. No flyers. No invitation. No newspaper columns or PR photos. Not even a ‘disclaimer’ note explaining the church’s involvement. The goal was to simply be good neighbours.

They gave energy-saving light bulbs out door to door. They washed cars for free. They mowed lawns (also for no charge). They pulled weeds and planted flowers. They simply did. No agenda. No strings attached. Just being the people they believed God wanted them to be.

When interviewed about this ‘successful and visionary program,’ the pastor stated that the only agenda was to show the love of Jesus to his city in any way possible. If someone happened to ask ‘Why,’ then they would share that God loves us so much and we want to share that love with our neighbours. Period. No gospel message. No invitation to a service. No payment of any type sought or received.

I don’t know what this did for this particular church, or even if that program is still continuing. My own feeling would be that the people of that community couldn’t help but be impressed. But that wasn’t the goal. Their story brought home to me the importance of being the light in the world and the salt of the earth without any underlying goal except to love.

Too often when I serve someone (or the larger church) I’m in it for my own agenda–for a payment of some sort. While it may not be money, it can often be praise, self-satisfaction, even for the development of my personal giftedness. I may speak with the aim of seeing how much I can convince people into changing their ways, or sing with the hope that I’ll move someone to tears or to ‘Hallelujahs.’ I may carry on a conversation with the goal of presenting my own perspective in a convincing manner. My agenda too often is anything but love.

Jesus never intended to start a religion, let alone recruit people to join one. I don’t see the Jesus of the gospels as having any agenda but to show the love of God to all he met. He never asked for a show of hands, never counselled people into accepting him, never told his disciples to build big church buildings then fill them with like-minded people. He never sought for himself anything, not even shelter or food. He simply lived love. And this attracted more and more people to follow him (and  some to seek his death!).

Paul wrote to the Roman church, ‘Let love be without hypocrisy’ (Romans 12:9).  I have often paused on this verse, wondering what he meant. Looking at it in the context of the self-sacrificing love of Christ, I believe it could mean loving purely for love’s sake alone, not with the duplicity of having an agenda for every act of kindness.

If we show love to someone with the goal of getting them to come with us to church, is that hypocritical? If we do an act of kindness for a neighbour simply so we have an opportunity to share the good news with them, is this loving like Jesus? If we mow someone’s lawn and help them clean out their gutters because we want to share the love of Christ which (we hope) will bring the end result of their ‘salvation,’ is this agenda pure?

Loving without an agenda is radical. It calls into question so much of what the Christian Church promotes. As humans, it is extremely difficult to do. But following the example of Jesus, who loved the world even to the point of death, has never been the easy way. Yet for all who seek to follow him, it is the only way. We are his hands, his feet, and his voice. Through us he has chosen to display his love and grace with no strings attached.

May God help us to be light and salt–with absolutely no agenda but love.

Guilt vs Freedom

This weekend is the time of year when we reflect on what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. Traditionally it is on Good Friday we remember his crucifixion and then celebrate his victory over death on Easter Sunday morning.

I was having a conversation with Vicki (my beautiful and intelligent wife, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of an introduction) about the usual Easter sermons that appear on the church’s ‘menu,’ and she made a really good point: the punishment Jesus received was not unusual or even extraordinarily harsh for the empire in which he lived. Many, many people before him suffered the same fate. The court system was as corrupt and unjust for countless others before him. The flogging, the mocking, carrying his cross, dying this cruel death was common. And the people who witnessed it, those who called out for Barabas, those who watched his last procession down the Via Dolorosa, those who stood around the Roman execution stake on which he hung, were possibly no more moved than we might be watching the latest action flick or monster truck rally. So ‘normal’ was this scene in first-century Jerusalem.

But preachers, it seems, are after some type of emotional commitment and, for many, their message goes something like this: ‘Jesus died a cruel and horrifying death [insert gory details here] inflicted by such despicable men [insert character references here] and suffered such torture on on the way to his death [insert horrific acts of cruelty and barbarism here], all because of an unjust and corrupt Roman judicial system [insert examples here].’ By this time, the congregation is feeling so horrible, tears are starting to well up, hearts are starting to beat faster, and the preacher goes for the clincher: ‘And it wasn’t the Jews or the Romans who killed Jesus. It was you and I that drove those nails into his hands and his feet and lifted him up on that cruel cross to die a slow and painful death.’

Talk about a major case of guilt! I murdered my Lord! It was my hands that killed the Messiah! How could God ever love me? I am so unworthy. . . .

In my opinion, this borders on spiritual–and, potentially, emotional–abuse of God’s people.

Jesus didn’t die so that on Good Friday and Easter Sunday churchgoers everywhere could partake in a ceremony of guilt and fear. God, contrary to increasingly less-popular belief (Hallelujah), does not think I killed his only son. In fact it wasn’t even my sin that nailed him to the cross (that spoils a few good hymns, doesn’t it?). Technically, it was the Romans at the insistence of the Jewish religious leaders who did the terrible deed. Biblically, Jesus laid down his life willingly to show his kingdom was about a new way of seeing, a new way of relating, a new way of being. In giving up his life (by his own authority, Scripture says), Jesus embodied in reality what he taught in theory: how love truly is a better way.

Jesus would not have wanted us, 2,000 years down the track, to feel responsible–or guilty–for his death. He did not come into the world to condemn, but to deliver us from condemnation. He didn’t go to the cross with the idea that millions of people will feel oppressed by fear of God’s wrath in millennia to come, but that they, instead would experience the freedom of God’s forgiveness and grace.

If grace is true–and I believe it is! Praise God!–then Jesus died to show us God’s love and the freedom that comes from experiencing his unconditional love.

So, thank you, Jesus, for willingly submitting to the death of the cross to demonstrate that your reign indeed is not of this present world system, but is able, through love, to redeem it eternally for God’s glory.

And praise to you God, holy Three-in-one, Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, for the freedom we enjoy because of Jesus.

* * * * *

This morning I arose early and went to Holy Cross Church to celebrate Easter with my Anglican brothers and sisters. At 6.00 a.m. they held an Easter Vigil where we lit our candles and processed into a darkened church to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ as the Passover Lamb, and then to declare his resurrection in exulting and light-filled celebration. In doing so, baptismal vows were renewed and the Eucharist was celebrated. It was a beautiful and moving service, full of Scripture, prayer, and simple faith–not a hint of guilt or anxiety in sight. Thank you Fr Neil for such a blessed reminder of the joy and freedom that is ours because of Jesus. He is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. Alleluia!

Great Song

Brian McLaren just posted a YouTube clip of Michael Gungor’s ‘White Man’ on his blog. Check it out.

In the forefront of all our thinking, dreaming, and journeying should be the truth that God is not bound to our ideas of him, not does he fit well in any box we may construct to hold him. He is unbounded love, expressed freely in Jesus, and given freely to all without exclusion.