Saturday, January 23, 2010

Only light drives out darkness

"The ultimate weakness of violence
is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate...
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Corner in Memphis

One of my favorite artists. His lyrics and his voice are both rough in a way that allows his message to cut to the heart of the true Gospel.

Do you think Jesus would like the songs that we sing?

Corner in Memphis by Todd Agnew

Saturday on Beale St. with the drunk and the searching
I hear an old man playing guitar
I can't make out what he's saying
But I can tell you that he's suffered
And that he means every word from the bottom
Of what's left of his heart tonight

A few hours later, I slip into church
Singing songs about saving grace
One guy's nodding off and another hates to be here
And we all mouth the words to save face
It's 11:15 on Sunday morning
And I wish I was

On a corner in Memphis listening to the old man
Singing out his sorrows and laying down his pride
He's telling me his story or at least his side
With no need to pretend and nowhere to hide

'Cause we are all broken here
We are all ashamed
I couldn't fool you if I wanted to
Our stories are too much the same

And what about this Jesus?
They say He drank with the poor and the blind and the lame
Do you think He'd like the songs that we sing?
Or would He feel the same as I do?
What if Sunday School was on Saturday night?

What if their heart-breaking cries of pain
Are the first hymns of tomorrow's saints?

On a corner in Memphis, we're singing with the old man
Crying for his sorrows and laying down our pride
He's telling us our story, or at least his side
With no need to pretend and nowhere to hide

On a corner in Memphis
We're singing out our sorrows
He's telling us his story
With no need to pretend and nowhere to hide
On a corner in Memphis

Jah puts His soldiers everywhere

After Serenity and I had the opportunity to share at Grace Chapel last Sunday a friend of mine, who is on staff at Grace, told me I had to see this video. He linked to it on his blog as well. The video is set in Atlanta, Georgia. The guitarist and lead singer is Carlos Whittaker of Integrity Worship and is an artist and pastor at Buckhead Church which is part of a large church in the ATL. He was filming a new music video and a man walked up to him and started singing along. Interesting side note: while on our journey, we actually parked in the parking lot of Christian Church Buckhead, which is not Buckhead Church, but is obviously frequently confused with it. :)

Here is what Carlos says about the encounter on his blog:

If you listen carefully at the end you hear me saying this to Danny:

“Keep trying to make it man.”

He looked me square in the eye…cocked his head sideways with a confused look on his face…and said,“Trying to make it? No man. I ain’t trying to make it…I’m making it. Jah puts His soldiers everywhere. Jah says, Yea 'though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death'… He places some of us, in that valley.”

It reminded me of a post I did while in Charlotte, North Carolina about Jo-Rob. I encourage you to read it, but the basic jist is that in our society we are so focused on trying to "fix" others that we miss the point that God might be making. We may actually be working against the Kingdom of God. Maybe God doesn't want us all to have houses, jobs and comfort, maybe God puts His soldiers everywhere, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Before we try to fix someone, maybe we should simply try to love them first.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Set Apart

Ronald J. Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (a book that deeply impacted me) just released a new book titled The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. In it, Sider paints a pretty disturbing picture of the Evangelical Christian, asserting that the average Christian lives exactly the same as their non-Christian neighbor. Specifically, Sider argues (backed up by information compiled by the Barna Research Group) that Evangelical Christians have similar rates of divorce, premarital sex, domestic violence and use of pornography than non-believers, and are actually more likely to hold racist views than other people. Sider says, "by their daily activity, most Christians' regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is their Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate their allegiance to money, sex, and personal self-fulfillment."

God gave the Isrealites the Law not so they would have rules to follow and be able to achieve worthiness, but so that they would be set apart, so they would be different from others.
"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9
Is personal moral purity wrong? Obviously not, but we can quickly become so focused on our own purity that we miss the message Jesus spoke. We begin to reduce the Gospel to a formula for the forgiveness of sins and the saving of our own personal soul, Bonhoeffer called it "cheap grace." Rather, Jesus called us to a life of transformation "out of darkness into His marvelous light," one marked more by action rather than reflection. Once again, is reflection wrong? No. But if all we do is reflect inwardly on how to become a better person and how to follow Jesus more precisely, we will simply become pharisees.
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:6-12

If we spend ourselves on behalf of others, our own personal moral purity mysteriously appears. Our salvation is not earned through works, but our complete restoration is achieved through works.

Evangelical Christians have a problem, we are so focused on our own personal walk with God that we don't see our neighbor's need (and unfortunately they see our hypocrisy) and miss the opportunity to incarnate the Good News. This was recently on a friend's blog that I found remarkable:

We have become so fixated on personal (and very political) issues that we have missed our true calling as followers of Christ. We are more defined by what we are against rather than what we are for, who we don't like rather than who we love. The sanctity of life is a huge issue, but what about the sanctity of the lives' of children (or adults for that matter) in Iraq, or the 30,000 children that die every day from hunger and poverty?

Sadly, most Evangelical Christians have bought into "cheap grace." If we are going to be the Church that Jesus intended us to be, we must be a community set apart, not individuals living moral (or as the study shows not-so-moral) lives separately. We must live out the upside-down nature of Jesus' message by listening to His Spirit and following His call together, in the opposite direction of the culture. Most of us have been, to paraphrase Shane Claiborne, admiring and worshiping Jesus but not following Him and actively doing what He did. . . . We adore His cross without taking up ours.

We don't simply need to be believers, we need to be converts, converted from conforming to the patterns of this world.

We need to be set apart.