Monday, February 22, 2010

There is no peace without justice

I had the pleasure of going and seeing John M. Perkins speak at George Fox University's Center for Peace and Justice. Perkins is a remarkable character and it was wonderful to see him face to face. You can read more about Dr. Perkins on his website here. I was able to hear Dr. Perkins speak on two occasions; one night he spoke about 50 years of highs and lows of reconciliation ministry and the next afternoon I took part in a small group discussion about his new book he co-authored with Shane Claiborne titled Follow me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical. After both occasions I was able to speak with Dr. Perkins about our heart for our neighborhood as well as some obvious racial reconciliation issues that are present in our racially diverse community. Listening to Dr. Perkins speak was a high-point in my own walk.

Here are a few of the stand-out points I wrote down from his message:
  • He left his job 51 years ago and has not worked for a paycheck since. He "has lived at the absolute mercy of both his Friend (meaning Jesus) and his friends."
  • Repetitively made it a point to mention that we must be "doers of the word not just hearers."
  • As believers we use the Holy Spirit to try to heal our personal selves rather than to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us all together collectively to be the Kingdom.
  • Injustice is simply when we don't affirm the image of God in others.
  • "We have deified Capitalism. It's a good system, but it's not divine."
  • Speaking about divisive politics: "We have consolidated hatred in a language of division."
  • As a church we no longer have a prophetic voice that would call out power to meet the needs of the people and break the chains of injustice because we have come to accept the system.
  • Our best approach may be to lower our own voice so that others will be forced to lower theirs.
  • We all need friendship because their is something in you that is missing in me.
  • Suffering is redemptive.
  • Our religion has become, to many, a superficial therapy.
  • We can't have peace without justice.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jesus Christ was a White, Middle-class Republican?

King and a Kingdom by Derek Webb

who's your brother, who's your sister
you just walked passed him
I think you missed her
as we're all migrating to the place where our father lives
'cause we married in to a family of immigrants

my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom

there are two great lies that I’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

but nothing unifies like a common enemy
and we’ve got one, sure as hell
but he may be living in your house
he may be raising up your kids
he may be sleeping with your wife
oh no, he may not look like you think

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brand Jesus

I have been reading a book titled Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age by Tyler Wigg Stevenson. The author has a degree from Yale Divinity School and does a pretty good job sounding like he does. I disagree with some of his premises, however, there are some very interesting concepts discussed throughout the book that have brought me into some deep contemplation.

Basically, Stevenson argues that all of us purchase things that define who we are, or who we want to be. Hundreds of years ago we went from a society that produced to a society that consumed, rarely do any of us "produce" our own possessions (i.e. self-sustained food production, weaving our own clothing, etc.). Since this is the case for nearly every one of us, we use our consumption to define who we are.
"Our image, our identity, who we are in respect to others, how others view us, and how we view ourselves -- in a consumerist society, all of this is up for sale in the products and services that we choose. This means that we become the products."
And it doesn't just stop with our culture, it permeates the Church as well -- that is Brand Jesus, an impostor that poses as truth and allows consumerism to grab hold of our spirituality. Here is a particularly amusing quote from Stevenson:
"Brand Jesus batizes consumerism and is utterly amenable to the presence of other brands. Are you a Christian yuppie? Enjoy Brand Jesus alongside Mercedes, Dom Perignon, Lacoste. How about those Christian punks? Brand Jesus rocks hardcore with P.O.D., Kerusso, and NOTW. For all the Christian patriots out there, know that Brand Jesus salutes you, along with manifest destiny, partisan politics, and anything that combines crosses with flags and/or bald eagles."
Now, this is funny because although we may not fall into any of the above categories, we can probably think of a different "Brand Jesus" category we fit our spirituality into. When we really think about it though, it no longer is that funny -- we have begun to unknowingly worship Mammon.

The conclusion is made that we are all part of the consumerist system that we have in this country and there is very little we can really do to change that. His argument is actually that we SHOULDN'T fight to change the system -- and I agree with him. Stevenson writes:
"any actionable plan against Brand Jesus [a fake Christianity based on consumerism] is doomed. And that is because consumerism is better at cultural judo than any of us will ever be: It will take our own efforts and turn them against us. Any active attempt to resist consumerism can and will be packaged, branded, marketed and sold back to us. And when we consume our own identity as the resistance -- as we invariably will -- we will have surrendered, in advance, the very battle that we aspired to fight."
I am reminded of Revelation 18 where Babylon is condemned in John's dream because they have hoarded their riches, they have traded and purchased, they have grown "rich from her excessive luxuries." John goes on and writes: "The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more." In Revelation 18:13 he goes as far as to say those cargoes were the "souls of men." Consumerism can wrap around our souls like a tumor and choke out any life.

We have but one choice when it comes to fighting the consumerism that is plaguing His chosen people, not fight the system that has created so much pain and anguish, but remove ourselves from that system. Verse 4 says:
Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
[speaking of Babylon]
"Come out of her, my people,
so that you will not share in her sins."
This is our only choice. To be honest, I have no idea how we do it, but we can no longer go on living like the consumerism that permeates our lives is not a problem. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." We can no longer sleep as the evil one destroys our homes.
"Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cleaning Up The Cross

Maybe some of you have had this experience before, but I was sitting listening to the message last Sunday and as I was listening the Lord was downloading something completely different than what the point of the message was. I understood the pastor, I was tracking him and it was a good sermon, but the message the Holy Spirit was giving me was different, and each main point, each scripture verse, even the songs we sung, zeroed in on what the Holy Spirit was telling me in a much more finite way than what the pastor was.

I have expressed this before, but I think it is important to say it again, much of what I write is a form of mental processing. Some stuff is very set in my mind, I know it to be truth and I want to express it that way. Other stuff is just me talking, I might believe it, but I'm wrestling through the "truth" of the matter, while other stuff is just what I'm thinking, I'm not so sure and I'm using this medium to process through it. In a lot of ways I am holding a mirror up to myself - if I'm writing about it, it means I probably struggle with it just as much or possibly more than the body of believers out there. Please struggle through these things with me.

As I was listening to the message last Sunday the words I kept thinking were "cheap grace." I asked myself, "What does that even mean?", and I started to get the picture of a "cleaned-up crucifix." One that has a solemn looking Jesus on the cross with a crown of thorns and possibly even a tear in his eye.

This is how many of us see the sacrifice of Jesus, or at least that is how we live our lives. We take Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and we sanitize it, we dab up the blood and clean up his wounds. This is cheap grace. Cheap grace gives us the ability to justify our sins, to ignore the deep sacrifice of Jesus to erase those sins - and so, we keep on sinning. Romans 12:1 says:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.
When Paul spoke of "our bodies" he wasn't speaking of simply our physical bodies and sexual sin, but of our mind and our soul as well. Giving God everything. We tend to compartmentalize and give God our Sunday mornings, or our 15 minutes before the day begins. Paul urges us to become "living sacrifices" that is how we worship God. I think this becomes clearer when we see a vivid depiction of Christ's sacrifice for us. However you feel about the gore in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, most scholars agree that it is an accurate portrayal of the crucifixion. If you have objections to the film, that is fine, but tell me which of the two, the picture above, or the video clip below, shows the deep sacrifice that Jesus demonstrated for us?

Christ commands us to live a life of sanctification, meaning a process of becoming holy. As Paul says, offer a living sacrifice, "holy and pleasing to God." Are we on an all-consuming journey to become Christlike, to become holy? I know that at times, I can be all consumed, but then it fades, and I either ignore the cross, or I take some bleach and wipe up the blood, clean it up a bit. I make His sacrifice seem insignificance, which also makes my sin seem insignificant. I fully understand the concept of grace, but true grace is different from cheap grace. The grace that we experience through Christ cost a lot, it wasn't cheap. We can do nothing to earn this grace, but if we grasp this sacrifice, we should have the all-consuming desire to be holy and to be like Christ. If there is one thing that Christ commands us over and over to do it is to follow Him, to learn from His ways, and then, as Ephesians 5:1 says, "be imitators of God."

At the end of the message we sung the song Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle. I was deeply convicted and knew the Holy Spirit was asking me some very pointed questions: Does your life reflect a desire to be Christlike, to be holy? Do you drink in His suffering? As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, are you crucified with Christ?
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The very least we can do to show our connection with Christ is to obey His commands, to keep His ways. Each time we sin, we cheapen His grace, we cheapen His sacrifice. Only through accepting that there is nothing that we can do and then allowing Christ to plant a desire to do everything for Him can we begin the process of sanctification. Only then can we begin the process of being crucified with Christ, dying to ourselves and allowing Christ to fully life through us. Listen to the words of this song below, read the lyrics, and ask yourself as I did, "Do I drink in His suffering?"

Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just


At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled


In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness