Thursday, May 21, 2009

Working in the World

Most of the adults in churches on Sunday have 9 to 5 jobs during the week. It is difficult for pastors to bridge the gap from Sunday morning to everyday life in a way that gets to the heart of issues that employees face on a daily basis. How does an employee perceive his/her faith in the crisis of being berated for some mistake they made? A deadline missed? An oversight? Or worse, blamed for a problem someone else caused? How do you handle the promotion of another less-qualified person ahead of you because of his/her abilities to schmooze the bosses, while shirking their own responsibilities or shifting them onto others? Or because of race, gender, weight, age or natural affinity?

It may be the easiest path in the world to profess our faith with our mouths on Sunday in worship songs, creeds recited, and "amen!" to the sermon – that God created all things, that God loves all creatures, that God is light, grace, and truth, and that we, as members of the Body of Christ, are called to be bearers of the Holy Spirit to these very people. It certainly is the most difficult path to give grace and speak truth in darkness to the schmoozers, the shirkers, the liars, the back-stabbers, idea-stealers, and the duped, agenda-ridden or vindictive bosses, or to face the facts that we, ourselves, may be perceived as these things by others because of our own faithless choices. We try to navigate our way through the quagmire of office politics, pettiness, offensive and defensive reactions, office/cubicle placements, and work assignments. Most of us try to rely on our own perceptions and our own abilities to dodge this bullet, to avoid that trouble-maker, to keep our mouths shut or open them at the "right" time.

While not negating some folks' natural instincts that carry them well through these dark warrens of politics, God's ways are not ours. The facts speak loudly: many of these very activities go on in church offices, denominational authorities, church judicatories, pastors' groups, and mission organizations every day, too. Church leaders frequently are wiser in the world's ways than they are mature in Christ, too!

We need to read Scripture about handling people and situations "in Christ", and learn how to trust God in the human darkness we face daily.

God is the one who we call on. The Psalms contain the laments of people getting shafted for doing or seeking to do righteousness in their relationships to other people. This morning, I was re-reading a favorite of mine, memorized long ago in another translation. It is so easy not to believe who will give us ongoing employment and take care of our needs. The obvious "who" are the ones we see in front of us: the bosses, the people who make up the company, those people whose hoops we have to jump through to get the contract or close the deal. Our natural tendencies are to please these people so that we may be rewarded with paying work. Our natural methodologies are to skirt the truth – if "necessary", lie – if "necessary", over-promise the impossible – if "necessary", and under-estimate the costs – if "necessary."

None of that behavior reveals any faith in God. We need to face this about ourselves and those around us.

Our worship is clearly seen in our choices at these moments. Our faith is in the Almighty God who alone ensures the value and enduring quality of our work here and now, as we are faithful and righteous to others and to Godself, bearing grace and truth to others God has placed around us:

Psalm 90

11    Who considers the power of your anger?

    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

12    So teach us to count our days

    that we may gain a wise heart.

13    Turn, O LORD! How long?

    Have compassion on your servants!

14    Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

    so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15    Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,

    and as many years as we have seen evil.

16    Let your work be manifest to your servants,

    and your glorious power to their children.

17    Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,

    and prosper for us the work of our hands—

    O prosper the work of our hands!


Trusting in the unseen God reveals the God we trust to those around us through our faithful and righteous actions. We may look like and feel like fools, but we're revealing Someone to those who long for God when we have integrity.

1 Corinthians 4

10We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, 12and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.

We are all "sent out" by God into the world, wherever that may be, whatever office or factory floor or street may be our place of work. May we show those around us what it means to be a fool for Christ to their blessing and hope, to be gracious and forgiving empowered by the Holy Spirit, to reveal the strength in eternal love for others who deserve God's wrath as much as do we ourselves.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Culture, Context and Biblical Interpretation

RJS at Jesus Creed asked this question [The Bible and Knowledge 1 (RJS)]:
How much of our view of scripture - our interpretation of scripture - is determined by our cultural context - and how much of our view of scripture is inherent to the viability, the truth content, of the Christian faith?

This statement seems to me to inform the question:
The battle between traditional Christian faith
and rational enlightenment thinking was intense and gave rise to many of the conflicts we see and suffer from today.

I think what I've found most valuable about my own work and studies of Scripture, Pauline theology and James is that it's clear that the Church (and churches and denominations) have frequently missed something that seems central in both OT and NT. I think some theologians are moving in a direction that is more true to both Judeo-Christian tradition and the text. The New Perspective on Paul and Scot McKnight's blogs on James seem to me to help re-frame our understanding of the Christian journey as "doing as we become." I'd hope that new focus is true to Paul's mission to the Romans, as one having received "grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience that comes from faith."

Because the mission is clearly cross-cultural as stated by Jesus, Paul, Luke and Peter, e.g., it's also evident that theologically from God's view our cultural context is superceded by God's Word, but from humanity's standpoint our context (cultural, gendered, racial, economic, wounded, broken, etc.) cannot help but frame our interpretation - as clear in the different facets of Paul's epistles to different communities.

So, the point about modernism which has the battle between "traditional Christian faith and rational enlightenment thinking" seems to me to mark human pride - a premature pretense of understanding. There is no such rational, intellectual and bodily-detached abstraction in the Scriptural understanding of Christian faith. "Knowing" in Scripture does not precede "doing" but increases with the "doing" of the Word in our bodies. (IMHO, this is exemplified in our children saying "I know!" to our reminders to do the right things, and then not doing them! cf. Matt. 21:28-ff.) Further, the "doing" requires receiving God's love in Christ, the Spirit's empowering of us to be crucified with Christ first in all of our contexts (no slave or free, male or female, barbarian or Jew or Greek, etc.) in order to love the others whom God has placed in our lives. Only then does faith begin to be knowledgeable of God and to hear the Word. If we cannot die to ourselves, truly hear the neighbor next to us, we cannot hear Godself.

This isn't works-based obedience to the Law, but love-inspired obedience to God-in-Christ. We should welcome everyone who comes to us, whatever their culture and context, hearing them as bearers of God's image, yet discerning through love where their context and bodily deeds chain them still, and listening to them through love to hear where our own context and "doing" also chain us in "this body of death."

Thus, my answer to the question is that IF our context (cultural or otherwise) is interpreting Scripture, we're not dead enough yet! And Yes! cultural context will inevitably affect interpretation, which is absolutely, positively why we need the Body of Christ in all its members to hear the voice of God.

May we have eyes that see and ears that hear the One Lord and each other!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Object Exercise in Missing the Point

This series of photos came from an email circulating the internet right now. What's so remarkable to me is the number of ways the conversation on these signs miss the point about Christianity, relationships between God and between one another, heaven, etc., etc.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin anyway?

@ Dan: LOL! Yes, it's just another internet farce! (see Snopes regarding how it was done: ) However, I still thought them illustrative of what we too often do - talk past one another and engage in arguments for the sake of "winning" [but not winning friends!]. I appreciated the internet monk's posting on this subject, too, the other day:

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Fulfilling of the Law

Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore,
the fullness of the law = love (Rom. 13:10).

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes... (telos, in the Greek, has the meaning of "end" and "goal toward which movement is directed"). (Rom. 10:4)

We pour our hearts out. Sometimes, we revealed our hearts to those who didn't hold our inner person caringly and with love. Pouring our hearts out to God in prayer, lament, praise and mourning is safe. Our hearts are not safe in the hands of most people we encounter in our daily lives, our workplaces, and sadly, our hearts may be in danger within churches and our own families, too.

If we know we're not safe, how can we plumb the depths of our souls' pain and the outcomes of our wounding? If we can never meet our brokenness with courage, we can never know the fullness of the healing of Christ.

There seems to be connections: the more time spent in the presence of God, the more carefully held the outpouring of others' hearts, and the more others pour out their hearts, spontaneously.

I wonder if a pastor needs to stay constantly in touch with the awareness of how people are sharing with him/her as a barometer to others' sense of the Holy Spirit's tenderness within the pastor's heart. I'm not talking about that which is easily shared, but the heartaches, the disappointments, the losses, and the need for God's touch. Then, a pastor may not use that heartache for anything other than prayer and intercession before the Father. The righteousness is met in the tender caring of relationship which permitted the outpouring.

If the members of the church aren't safe with one another, then we've failed in being the true Body of Christ and the fulfilling of the law in love. Each of us needs time in God's presence so that we will hold another's heart with love and care. Only God can enable that love, and only God can empower that sacrifice when betraying or turning against the other is easier than facing our own brokenness.