Monday, August 27, 2007

Cool Christianity from hell

Let me set this up by saying how thoroughly I disagree with this crap. I understand these videos are widely shown in churches, no doubt to cheers and derisive laughter. If you've bought into this, I ask you to look again behind the cute veneer.

Thanks, Jared Wilson for your post on this subject. Very long, but a brilliant read, and VERY timely for we who fancy ourselves as the great hope of the Church.

The Tithe Blessing

The discussion in the post below continues, but it's time to move along to something else. I think we can manage two discussions at once.

    "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."
The passage from Malachi chapter three is an interesting example of the "Tithe-and-Be-Blessed" mentality, and it's a fascinating one. You can't argue that God is telling his chosen people, "Stop robbing me. Give back to me a full 10% of your crops and food, and I will bless you abundantly."

That's not the only verse in which God tells us that we will be blessed through our giving. And we do hear stories from numerous people about God blessing those who give sacrificially.

Yet, I sometimes hear an argument against this mentality. "That's not what it's about," some say. "It's not about GETTING SOMETHING. It's about giving. You can't just tell people to give because your life will be blessed."

The thing is, I often agree with that critical sentiment. Even though it's fairly Biblical, it seems a bit strange. How is it giving sacrificially if we're going to be so hugely blessed by God as a result?

And, as Biblical as that is, is it true?

I sometimes wonder if there are stories about a family giving a tithe and then not being able to pay the rent. I wonder if there are stories about a person giving sacrificially, but then having the electricity turned off because he couldn't afford the electrical bill.

The simple answer is that we should be good stewards of our money, right? We can live off 90%. And he'll provide.

    As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." [Luke 21]
Hmm. Well, okay. We all know that passage. It's about giving sacrificially, of course! But look at it for an extra moment... Do you wonder what happened to the widow after she gave? She's broke! Did she starve? Did she die in obscurity? Did a non-profit charity feed her a meal and give her a cot to sleep on?

Quite honestly, I don't think giving your last dollar to the church would count as being a good steward of your money. I think God would want your family fed first.

Everyone says that giving is a heart-issue. It's about intent, it's about how we feel about it. "If you don't do it joyfully, don't do it at all!", we'll say.

I'm not even sure about that. I'm not very joyful to pay my student loan bills every month. But I do it, because it's required of me. I suppose one could say I'm blessed as a result of the education I received.

Are we to give because we'll be blessed financially? Or just because God requires it?

Once again, I'm full of questions and very few answers.

But hey, isn't that what blog comments are for? Answers?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Eschatologically Focused

I just like to use the word "eschatology," because it makes me feel smart.

Although I don't think I can really turn it into an adverb by adding that "-ly" at the end, honestly. Plus, it becomes really hard to pronounce.

Anyway... One of the things we've discussed (and made fun of, via "Church Musical") is how overly-focused the modern day church has become on all things "rapture" related.

We talk so much about going to heaven. And NOT going to hell. And getting our friends to go to heaven with us. So they WON'T go to hell. We talk about evangelism in very narrow terms, as in "what steps must one take to get to heaven?" We wait for Jesus to return and take us away from this dreadful place.

Because obviously, this world is not our home, right? We're just passin' on through.

And in all of this, perhaps we miss the big picture.

The Jews of the first century weren't talking nonstop about heaven and hell, and going somewhere far away after they die. And really, Jesus didn't talk a great deal about it. His "kingdom of God" was something much bigger than just a place for the faithful to go after death.

I'll fully admit that a lot of the ideas I've gotten lately are thoughts I've gleaned from NT Wright, Rob Bell, and Joe B (the three wise men). And I still struggle to completely comprehend everything that we talk about when we say "the kingdom of God."

Why? Because my entire life in the church, Christianity has been about telling other people about God so we can all get to heaven. That whole "Romans Road" ideal. Not that evangelism is a bad thing -- far from it -- but perhaps we need to rethink what we are selling.

Jesus' proclamation of "the kingdom of God" was much more than just escaping the fires of hell. The fullness of what it is, though, is hard to explain to people. Because yes, we DO want people to be saved and know Jesus personally.

So... [nudge, nudge] What IS the "kingdom of God"? What was Jesus talking about? We know that the Jews were expecting a political and perhaps military savior, to save them from Roman rule. And we know he didn't give them that -- He gave them something entirely different than what they were expecting.

If that something is not just "heaven," what is it?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Intentional Community

Here's a link to an article that someone forwarded me about Christian community. Actually, the whole website is for groups that might be considered "Intentional Christian Communites," some of which live together, some of which are just tight-knit groups of people. They've got 65 different groups like this in a number of countries.

Interesting stuff. Here's a small portion of the article:

    The early Christians recognized one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Before them, the Jews also had understood themselves as brothers. Among the Jews, brother meant not only "blood brother", it also meant the relationship all Jews had with one another because they were members of the Jewish people.

    Jewish law spelled out the responsibilities of this relationship in some detail. Deuteronomy instructs the Jews: "At the end of every seven years...every creditor shall release what he has lent to...his brother, because the Lord's release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it; but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release."

    "You shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be."

    "You shall not lend upon interest to your brother... To a foreigner you may lend upon interest, but to your brother you shall not lend upon interest; that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake" (Deut. 15:1-3; 15:7-8; 23:19-20).

    The Jews of the old covenant understood that their relationship with each other was different from their relationship with all men. Their relationship as brothers and sisters was a relationship of full commitment. To be members of the same people meant that each person was responsible for the welfare of all others (See also Leviticus 19:18).

    The relationship was the same for the early Christians, and it should be the same among Christians today. But today, few of us experience a definite relationship with many other Christians. We may be close to a few Christians, but most are complete strangers to us, even those who attend and support the same church.

And one other part I have to highlight:

    Having our lives in common also means sharing other personal aspects of our lives. In our culture, if we sin, if we are plagued by sexual temptations, if we are anxious or depressed, we keep these problems to ourselves. Victories over difficulties are similarly private. We might share our personal lives with our spouse or a very close friend. But most of us grow up with the firm conviction, perhaps arising from bitter experience, that our personal lives are strictly private.

    However, as brothers and sisters in Christian community, nothing in our lives is entirely our own. My life belongs to my brother. I cannot construct elaborate strategies to keep him from finding out what I am really like. In fact, opening up our lives to our brothers and sisters in the Lord is usually necessary to begin overcoming our problems and experiencing the freedom that the Lord wants us to have.

    Most people who belong to Christian communities where personal sharing is encouraged find quickly that they can be more free about their personal lives than they ever imagined. Personal sharing must be done with discretion and in the appropriate circumstances. But it should be done, for it is part of sharing our lives in Christian community.

There's a lot of great stuff in this article.