Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

The Church Is Changing: The Rise of The “Dones”

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A lot of focus and attention has been given to that rising demographic of millennials known as the nones.  Young people who have no religious affiliation whatsoever.

But there is another demographic that is growing in the Christian community that I believe will ultimately create a seismic shift in the way that the church expresses itself.

It’s the Dones!

Long time faithful church attendees who are simply done with attending church.

In a recent article on the subject author Thom Schultz describes an all to common, and growing, example of a “done”:

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously and leads others passionately.

But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.

John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”

Thom Schultz: The Rise of the Dones

 

Previously,  people who stopped going to church often did so as the result of a bad experience;

* sexual misconduct

* leadership abuse

* church split

* financial mismanagement 

But it’s a different story with the dones. 

They’re just tired.

I quit

After 20 or 30 years of:

* Sunday meetings

* Prayer meetings

* Men’s / Woman’s meetings

* Home Group meetings

* Leadership meetings

…they are just…done!

The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.

Thom Schultz: The Rise of the Dones

Many church leaders respond to these challenges by trying to spruce things up in their churches with new activities and a fresh direction.  But this is really just rearranging the deck chairs on a ship taking on water.  Most Dones have been involved with so many new church activities, visions, and directions that they are all but immune to yet another incarnation.

“So Steve, as someone who loves the church what do you see happening?”

At this point I don’t have a great answer to what the future holds.  What I do know is that the church will survive, and grow...

…but it’s going to look a little different.  Let me suggest one direction I see us going…

“Network”  Church Becomes “Cable” Church

Before there was cable TV we all watched the same television shows.  There were 3 network channels (ABC, NBC, CBS) and despite any personal preferences, if you wanted to watch TV, you pretty much were forced to watch it in the same way as every other person.  A certain show came on one time a week, and if you missed it, well, you tried to catch up next week.

Not unlike church today.

TV_Logos

Everyone wishing to participate in church today is made to do so in pretty much the same expression as everyone else.

* Sunday morning

* Praise / worship

* Announcements

* Teaching / Sermon

The church in many ways is a lot like network TV.   You might pick up something a little different by changing the channel (or church) but by and large,  you are all watching the same show.  ( “watching” being the operative word)

But now there is cable TV, on demand TV, Netflix etc.  There are TV shows, heck, there are whole channels that are geared to reaching a certain interest, demographic, hobby.  People can still watch Two and a Half Men or the latest incarnation of CSI on network TV if they like but if they are into history, there is the History Channel.  If they enjoy cooking, there are cooking channels.  If they enjoy travel, there is The Travel Channel or Discovery Channel filled with the adventures of people exploring the world, its food, and its cultures.

There are game show channels, movie channels, news channels, exercise channels; you get the picture!

…and if you miss your favorite program?  Well, you can stream or download it at your leisure.

And here’s the thing.  Network TV hasn’t gone away.  In fact, these new cable channels have made those traditional network channels better than ever as they have seen there are new and better ways of telling stories.

Conclusion

I am part of a small group that meets twice a month called Bread & Wine. We gather together as friends over food and wine to discuss our faith, struggles, questions, and doubts.  In many ways its a lot like a cable station.  Some people will find it interesting, others will “channel surf” right past it.   Just this week I had someone who visited it admit to me it “just wasn’t their kind of thing” while another person told me how much they needed the gathering as part of their Christian faith.

And that is where the expressions of church are heading.  From a traditional Sunday morning based gathering to a much more diverse and custom fitted expression that incorporates ingredients that will help grow our faith in ways much more specifically.

It’s not that “Sunday morning” is going away any time soon.  Much like “network TV” has survived in the community at large, the “regular” church will continue to be a mainstay of the Christian community.  And the growth of alternative Christian expressions will likely help the Sunday morning service become more impactful and meaningful in the future.

But the church IS changing …

Peace,

Steve

“I Am The Way, The Truth, And The Life” Is A Promise, Not A Threat!

The Way

If you have ever witnessed a debate between Christians and members of other religious faiths you will inevitably see the verse John 14:6 strategically deployed by the Christian side.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “

This trump card has been played for centuries to bolster our Christian sense of security; that we’re right and everyone else is wrong.

And when the verse is deployed it comes with the not too veiled threat;

“You are on the “wrong way” and you have a small window of opportunity to come on to the “right way”, or else you will be judged and condemned.

Thankfully though Jesus never resorted to threats, he delivered promises!

So what if we approached the verse

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “

as a promise?

That people who seek him are promised they will find him. (Matt 7:7)

Love One Another

When Jesus reveals his “I am the Way” statement it was to put his disciples hearts at ease (John 14:1), not to reveal a new litmus test for the after life.  He was telling them things they could not understand.  That he was leaving them for a time but not to worry, he would be back.  In the mean while he gives them a new commandment.  One that would singularly identify them and anyone who followed after them as one of his disciples.

Interestingly enough this marker of a follower of Christ had nothing to do with

* a verbal affirmation

* an alter call

* spiritual devotion

* accepting a particular tribal or religious identification

No, it was one thing which seems both incredibly simple, and difficult, at the same time.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34

What if we stopped identifying someone as a disciple of Christ simply because they say they are, or were baptised, or attend church regularly?

What if the litmus test changed to something Jesus said would mark a follower of him?

That someone would be seen as following in the Way of Jesus by the demonstration of the love they had for others.

That a follower of Christ:

* preferred others before themselves

* saw the inherent value in people 

* always put the best spin in relating to people around them

Essentially became what the word Christian actually means; Little Christ

It’s safe to say it would radically alter who would be perceived to be a disciple of Jesus!

compassion

It’s interesting to note that in Matthew 25 when Jesus is sharing the story of the Sheep and the Goats, the sheep who are affirmed by Jesus as doing his will had no idea that the love they were extending to others was in fact being received by Jesus himself.

There are many people who through the lottery of birth, religion, culture, and nationality have certain obstacles to knowing and receiving Jesus in the way that many of us Christians have had the opportunity to.

But if they are following his commandment of loving one another, what makes them any less his disciple?

Does that mean there are many ways to God Steve?

No, there is only one Way.

But that Way, that Truth, and that Life that Jesus shares is a promise, not a threat.  And those that are of the Way are:

  • ….the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
  • ….those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
  • ….the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
  • ….those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
  • ….the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
  • ….the pure in heart: for they will see God.
  • ….the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
  • ….those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

So lets be all a little more humble as we share Jesus in a diverse world.

Peace,

Steve

Why I’m Not A Universalist: And How Rob Bell Helped Change My Focus from “Getting There” to “Staying Here”

Rob-Bell-ap3

Rob Bell is always getting me in trouble!  For every person who thanks me for introducing them to Rob’s books or teachings there is another who reminds me that he is a heretic leading people astray.

Yesterday I shared an excellent article about how Rob Bell is a better evangelical than the evangelicals.

And then I got into trouble…

See in 2011 Bell wrote a book called Love Wins and it sold about 100 kajillion copies.  But what drove evangelical pastors crazy, besides selling more books than they, was that Bell suggested that there may be no hell.

Yes, he dared to suggest that maybe…just maybe…Jesus wasn’t operating some eternal torture chamber for those who chose not to dance with him.

The evangelical leadership around the world (well…ok, mostly just in America) went crazy.

* Christian book stores refused to sell the book

* Evangelical heavyweight John Piper famously tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell”

* Francis Chan quickly made a video telling us not to worry, there indeed was a hell!

Farewell-Rob-Bell 

In the end, Rob Bell became accused of being a “Universalist” and being a universalist (The Big “U”) is the Scarlet Letter of the evangelical world.

It didn’t matter that:

* He believed Jesus Christ was the son of God and through his life, death, and resurrection God had restored, and was restoring, creation back to its original intent

* That thousands, if not millions, have been introduced to a God who loves them through Christ and have had their lives radically impacted through Bell’s messages.

* He hadn’t actually affirmed anything he was accused of 

No,  like an adulteress woman in times passed, Bell had a “U” metaphorically attached by the tribal leaders as he was ushered to the gate of the evangelical village to live in exile.

Then much to the chagrin of those self same evangelical leaders…

Rob Bell  got even bigger!

And there was weeping and gnashing of teeth :)

Why Bell (or I) am not a Universalist

Rob Bell has been very influential in helping me shift my focus from “out there” to Earth.  His talk on Beginning in the Beginning  (see below) I have watched no less than 10 times and it has helped me immensely to understand what God is actually focused on.

There seems to be a gulf in the understanding between traditional evangelical theology, and some of the theological direction taken by Rob Bell and others such as N.T. Wright, Brian Zahnd, and Greg Boyd to name a few.

In an exchange I had yesterday a friend noted something that is the root of the difference.  He noted a view I hear a lot which is essentially, “Hey, I wish God would just save everyone…that we would all get there (Heaven) in the end”

See, in traditional evangelical culture we are trying to get people saved so that they can go to heaven, and not hell, when they die.

The focus is always “out there” someday…one day.

Yet the Bible seems focused on Earth.  Even in Revelation 22 when we finally get to “heaven” the whole narrative takes place as “heaven” descends to Earth.

Which was what Jesus prayed…

Everything about Jesus’ message, work, and life was about redeeming people so they could be rebooted as citizens of a new country, and then bring the culture of that new country to the world!

Jesus is Lord…and Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Xiping are not!

Yet we Christians seem to focused on clinging tightly to our earthly national identities until one day when we finally die and “go to heaven” if we were members of the correct tribe…

…or to hell if we were not.

The problem I have with universalism is twofold:

* it still focuses salvation as something that ultimately happens “later, someday” (heaven) rather than “right here, right now” (heaven)”

* it suggests that God, who has been diligently guarding our ability to make our own choices (despite the misery and havoc it has caused), will suddenly ignore everyone’s free will and swoop us all into his presence whether we want it or not.

Love has to be freely given or it’s not love.

Rob Bell dared to suggest that maybe, just maybe, love wins in the end.

Oh, the heresy! :)

Peace,

Steve

PS: You can read more of my thoughts on heaven & hell here

 

“Believe Me” Takes Aim At Cheesy Christian Culture Without Being Cheesy

Believe_Me_Film_Poster

“Christian” themed movies have had their fair share of challenges.  For every brilliant film like Chariot’s of Fire or The Mission there have been far too many movies of the Left Behind or God is Not Dead calibur.  A good rule of thumb is if a Christian movie’s theme involves either “standing for truth” or the Anti-Christ, chances are you are in for 2 hours of painful viewing.

At one time I had high hopes for Pure Flix, a Christian film company producing some quite good movies dealing with real issues.  Alas, they too seemed to have jumped on the “defending the truth” and “Anti-Christ” bandwagon of late.  If you are producing films with Jerusalem and Countdown in the title, you have officially jumped the shark.    

That’s why I was very pleased to see a great new Christian themed movie recently called Believe Me.  No raptures, no anti-Christ, no university professors persecuting innocent young Christians, heck, Kirk Cameron wasn’t even in it.  I had started to feel he was just contractually obligated to appear in every Christian movie from now on.

No, Believe Me looks at what happens when 4 college seniors conspire to use Christian culture and form a fake charity to pay off their university tuition.  What starts out as a quick way to make a few bucks takes off as churches and Christians start to really back their “work”.  What really gets exposed though is a systematic faith culture of gullibility, hypocrisy, and farce quite at odds with what Jesus really came to teach.

In Believe Me director Will Bakke shines a light in the dark corners of American Christendom poking holes at:

* cheesy missionary money appeals

* narcissistic worship

* Christian “lingo”

*  pop star faith culture

and even how to use the word “just” as many times in a prayer as you can!

(Yes the writers certainly grew up in white, evangelical Christianity)


But Believe Me doesn’t leave the viewer hanging there.  I don’t think its a spoiler to say real redemption is seen and genuine faith in Jesus (and the Way he actually taught about) is found to be what is important in the end.

As I thought about what made Believe Me different than the run of the mill independent Christian movie I realised it is how it separated following Christ from the Christian culture around it.  Many faith based films tend to honor the “system” rather than expose it for the farce it is.  Modern day Christian culture is often at odds with what Christ taught.  Thats why the “cheese” level in Christian movies is so high; it makes Jesus the leader of some kind of silly, ridiculous system that is disconnected from the real issues of life.

Believe Me is none of those things…it’s “cheese free”… and funny!

It’s not a perfect movie but it is a good movie.

And for a “Christian” film, thats high praise indeed!

Peace,

Steve

Old Testament Wrath or New Testament Mercy? What is God Really Like

what-is-god-like-570x320

In Hong Kong we have two official languages; Chinese and English. Because of this it is quite common to see information in the city displayed in both languages.  Many times however legal documentation will have a clause that reads something like; When a discrepancy between the English & Chinese translation occurs, the Chinese (or English) translation will take precedent.

In principal the legal documentation should say the same thing but in reality sometimes the nuances of language makes what should be the same appear different.  In cases like that the proper lens for interpretation must be applied.

The Old Testament and the New Testament operate in a very similar manner.   God is portrayed in both but sometimes in vastly different ways.  In the Old Testament he can be seen as merciful one minute and wrathful the next. Confusingly showing forgiveness for large crimes but dealing out wrath and death for far smaller.

In the New Testament however, Jesus displays God in a much more consistent way.  He confirms the merciful acts and compassion of God we see in the Old Testament but seemingly shuns the violence and  judgement.

For this reason there is sometimes a huge gulf in understanding God whereby he can seem to order the wholesale slaughter of children in one testament but proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven is made up of ones such as these in the next.

So people have been rightly asking for thousands of years,

What is God Really like?

And so God answered…

He is like Jesus

No human eye has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the Father’s bosom–He has made Him known.

John 1:18

Or

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,

Hebrews 1

Basically before Christ came, many prophets explained God to humanity in many different ways…some good, some not so good.

Sometimes they got what God is like right

Sometimes they got what God is like wrong

So God clears away the confusion…

…He sends his Son!

The exact representation of who God is and what God is like!

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father  ”Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.…

John 14: 9

So now like the legal example earlier,  when a discrepancy exists in the understanding of God between the Old & New Testament the Jesus interpretation will take precedent.

jesus_puzzle___m

Jesus as the Lens

There is a great story in Luke 9 that illustrates why Jesus MUST to be the lens by which we understand God.  In the story Jesus is not well received at a particular village and his disciples want to bring out some good ol’ Testament wrath and judgement!

And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him (Jesus).  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.  And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

James and John knew what God was like…or they thought they did.  They had read the scriptures and now wanted to do what what the great prophets of old like Elijah did when they were representing God.

“Let’s kill these unbelievers”

But Jesus is appalled at this suggestion

 But He turned and rebuked them (translation, “Are you two crazy or something?”), and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

Jesus says that James and John don’t even know what they are talking about.  They had viewed the scriptures (The Bible) through the wrong lens and thought they understood God and what he would want..

but by viewing God through Elijah and the prophets instead of Jesus they got Him all wrong!

Jesus confirms he is here to SAVE people, not destroy them!  If someone doesn’t want to receive us, we simply move on to the next group who does…

…and no one has to die in a fireball from heaven!

Everytime Jesus has the opportunity to clarify whether God is compassionate and merciful OR wrathful and judgmental he ALWAYS comes down on the side of compassion and mercy.

Everytime!

The Old Testament and New Testament have the SAME God but where there is a discrepancy between the two versions, the Jesus language will take precedent! 

As my oft mentioned Brian Zahnd quote states:

God is like Jesus.  God has ALWAYS been like Jesus!  There has NEVER been a time when God was not like Jesus.  We haven’t always known that…

…but now we do!

Peace,

Steve

 

Interstellar: My Top 5 Movies That Explore Wonder, Awe, Mystery…and Science

interstellar_movie-wide

After much anticipation, speculation, and yes even salivation, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar premiered last week.   The film is Nolan’s brave attempt to mimic Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and create a “hard science” film that also inspires wonder, awe, and a new perspective on our own humanity.

So does he deliver?

Yes…um, mostly I’d say.

Even as the film was finishing I had already slotted in Intersteller at # 5 in the Steve’s Top 5 Sci-fi movies that inspire awe, wonder, and a fresh optimistic view of humanity’s place in the universe.

So what comprises the Top 5?

# 5 Interstellar 

Ok, this movie is so fresh I won’t give any serious spoilers.  I had hoped going into the film that this would end up higher on this list.  Sadly, that’s not the case. Nolan delivers a good film with Interstellar, Heck I would even say a great film. (It made this list after all)  But it seems every moment of wonder which blows our mind is balanced with a movie convention that brings us crashing back to Earth.  All I’ll say is where would 2001: A Space Odyssey be if Kubrick had added a fist fight, Matt Damon, and a high speed rescue?

But hey, I’m focusing on the negatives.  Interstellar’s underlying message that love and hope can transcend time and space…all while exploring black holes, other dimensions, and theories of relativity?

Pretty cool!

Top it off with a pot shot at the current “dumbing down” of the government towards science and you have the makings of a great movie.

# 4 Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

Steven Speilberg was one of the first to imagine advanced aliens coming to Earth not to conquer, invade, or eat us…but as friends.  Richard Dreyfuss plays a father who, along with others, feels compelled to travel to the Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming where the aliens eventually make contact.  (In American movies the aliens always choose to land in America).

close-encounters-3

The only critique I have in this movie is the family relationship and breakdown of Dreyfuss’ family.  They don’t trust him, the wife thinks he’s crazy, and Dreyfuss doesn’t seem to care that much.  Speilberg admits that he wrote Close Encounters as a much younger man and probably would not write family dynamics in the same way today.

Makes me wonder what a remake of the movie might look like.

#3  2001: A Space Odyssey

This would top most people’s list in this category but for me its # 3.  Kubrick’s masterpiece couldn’t be more ambitious taking us from the dawn of humanity to “beyond the infinite” and suggesting that through the process an unseen hand is guiding us.  Throw in a battle of wits between man and machine and you see why its a classic.

I wanted to tell Christopher Nolan you don’t have to have fist fights when you have dialogue like this.

 

# 2  2010: Odyssey 2

Purists will hate me for putting Peter Hyams sequel above Kubrick’s original. Ok, I get that. I’m not saying 2010 a better film, I’m just suggesting for me it inspires an even greater feeling of awe, wonder, and hope.

In 2010 a joint U.S.- Russian mission goes out to Jupiter to figure out what happened in the first movie.  I love this film so much!  The “hard science” is put front and center (hey how many movies will spend 10 minutes on showing you how “air-breaking” can slow you into an orbit around Jupiter) but through the whole film you are told “something wonderful” is about to happen.

And it does!

#1  Contact

I must watch this Carl Sagan penned film at least every six months.  There is hardly a movie that puts more of a “spring in my step” than this one.  In it Jodie Foster plays a scientist who is searching for extraterrestrial life.  She is written off as crazy until one day, she gets a transmission.

What follows is a wonderful examination of the ballet between “science” and “faith” and how we know what we know!  We see government paranoia, religious zealots, narcissistic scientists, and even a capitalist with compulsive disorder.  Yet through it all we are given the message we are not insignificant and …

… we are not alone!

Honorable Mention: Blade Runner

While arguably not a movie revealing the wonder and mystery of the universe I felt compelled to mention it for highlighting what it means to be human.  The final scene with Rutger Hauer saving Harrision Ford rather than killing him after explaining “all that his eyes have seen”

Classic!

Ok, those are my 5.  What have I missed?

In “Jesus Christ Superstar” Judas Asks All The Right Questions

Curiosity…JCS-Poster

Doubt…

Questions…

Themes raised in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar which has been playing from Broadway to school auditoriums since 1970.

Full disclosure: JCS is the first musical theater I ever saw when my parents took me to see it at the tender age of seven.  I still remember the lights going down as the electric guitar notes of the Overture echoed through the theater.

I was hooked… and subsequently wore out the double LP album on our turntable over the years.

Just this week I found myself listening and watching Youtube clips from the show and stumbled upon one from the 2012 Broadway revival where the cast performed the song Superstar at the Tony awards.

Jesus Christ
Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

For those unfamiliar with the show, Superstar is sung by the actor playing Judas Iscariot as Jesus is being crucified at the end of the show.  In the song Judas is asking questions…

…questions every honest person would ask.

* Jesus, are you really what you say you are?

* Jesus, why did you let the things happen the way they did?

* Jesus, did you really plan your death this way?

* Jesus, who are you? And what did you sacrifice?

He begs Jesus “not to get him wrong, he only wants to know

Just like us…

As “Judas” sang at the Tony Awards suddenly the large screen behind him filled with the person of Jesus as he spoke from the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven:

Matthew 5: 43-45

At the end of the song Jesus emerges from behind the screen with the cast representing a lot of humanity that we would probably NOT first associate as being religious.  Across the giant screen behind them the words appear:

To The Ends Of The Earth

Most of the church culture today would have little time for the Tony Awards or the people and culture that swirls around it and yet I couldn’t help but feel the audience there wants  Jesus to be who he says he is and wants the Good News that he brings.

I rather suspect the crowds around Jesus when he delivered his Sermon on the Mount 2000 years ago were a lot like the audience at the Tony awards. Despised by the religious leaders of the day…  not particularly good at the spiritual stuff …full of questions and full of doubt.  Wondering if this Jesus is who he says he is…

…is he the real deal?

The crowd probably had a lot dirt in their lives but they were drawn to a man and his message that proclaimed to the them:

“Cheer up, because for those of you not so good at being spiritual, the Kingdom of Heaven is for you too!”

 

Mick Mooney’s Huffington Post Piece Is Way To “Liberal”

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAApparently Mick Mooney’s recent HuffPost piece, WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? Do You Really Want to Know?  has caused a bit of a stir in certain circles.  In the post Mooney has a bit of fun imagining a modern day parable where a mother gives one of those WWJD bracelets to her son.

The boy promptly begins acting like Jesus much to the chagrin of his religious mother who gave him the bracelet in the first place.

she was shocked to see that her son had become friends with prostitutes, was hanging out with ‘sinners’ — even buying people who were already drunk yet another round of beers!

Worse still, he had walked into their church the previous Sunday and tore down the book store, overturned the tables and threw the cash register through the window, he then made a whip and chased the pastor out of the building, declaring he was turning God’s house into a den of thieves.

Most shocking was what happened when his mother went to picket the local abortion clinic. To her embarrassment, her son was also there, but he was standing with the women who just had an abortion, and yelled at the protesters: “You who are without sin, throw the first stone!”

The mother promptly gets the boy a “What Would A Pharisee Do?”  bracelet replacing his “WWJD”  and all is returned to normal as the son begins doing all the traditional things he was expected to do in the first place:

he has become a dedicated tither, a public prayer warrior, an active condemner of ‘sinners,’ a passionate defender of the Old Covenant law, and has a great reputation as a godly young man amongst other religious people.

Understandably Mooney’s parable has it’s critics.  Dr. Joel McDurmon from The American Vision writes in a response piece What Would Jesus Do? Not what this liberal says He would do

So what would Jesus do? Not what this liberal (Mooney) says (dreams) He would do. Jesus would “do” Old Covenant ethics. Anything else is more like what a Pharisee would do.

See, in American politico-Christian culture the worst thing a Christian teacher can accuse another Christian teacher of being is not “erroneous”, “heretical”, or even an “unbeliever”.

No…it’s being called a “liberal”. 

pavlov_conditioning_dogs

Many Americans have been conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to respond to someone labeled with the dread moniker with a responding gnashing of teeth. So it’s interesting to note McDurmon’s …um, liberal use of the word liberal throughout the response.

  • A great example of this appears in a recent column on HuffPost, by a liberal religious writer Mick Mooney.
  • Usually, the liberal intellectual elite are a bit more subtle and sophisticated.
  • These and other questions need to be qualified before undertaking such a liberal crusade.
  • The overwrought analogies are bad enough, but with the twist of the alleged “Pharisee,” the liberal becomes more transparent than he wishes.
  • Jesus in Mooney’s story looks doesn’t look very much like the law and promises; He looks a whole lot like a modern liberal.
  • Why it just so happens that this Jesus’ values line up exactly with those we would expect of a liberal writer like Mick Mooney.
  • Despite the derisive parable of our subject liberal, Jesus Himself was a passionate defender of Old Covenant law,
  • conservatives are often quite Pharisaic in their personal and political ethics. That hardly means liberals, humanists, have the solution.
  • So what would Jesus do? Not what this liberal  says (dreams) He would do

If nothing else McDurmon knows his American audience.  Label your opponent as one of “them” liberals and then pile on.

Unfortunately for McDurmon, Mick Mooney isn’t American.  I don’t know Mick personally (although I have friends who do) and I’m pretty sure he’s from Australia. (My apologies if he’s actually Kiwi).  As such, he’s immune from the political – religious chatter that conditions American Christians to respond in predetermined ways.

That’s what has been a relief for me living outside America for so many years.

God just becomes so much bigger and better!

He becomes a God who is no longer invoked in an attempt to get others to join or defend their “side” but a God who is calling all creation to instead come join him on his.

Mick Mooney is declaring who that God is to the world while Dr. McDurmon steadfastly stands guard over a sheep pen whose sheep are increasingly slipping through the cracks.  Slipping through to find fresh water and pasture from their true Shepherd.

Oh, and ironically, in Australia the Liberal Party is the party for the conservatives and the liberals are in the Labor Party.

Just saying…

 

 

Betrayal & Grace: When Doctor Who Gets All “Jesus-ee”

God I love Doctor Who!  Doctor Who Series 8

And admittedly I love Doctor Who even more in the episodes where the Doctor gets all…well…um

Jesus-ee

Yes, like Aslan (and Willy Wonka) our beloved Time Lord Doctor Who tends to often say, do, and act in ways most associated with a certain Son of God I tend to write about a lot.

No more so than last week’s episode Dark Water which spoke unconditional love and grace as beautifully as I’ve ever seen it done on TV.

If you are not a Doctor Who fan (you should be) stick with me a moment. In the following scene the Doctor’s companion Clara is grief stricken over the senseless death of her finance Danny in a car accident.  In her mind she feels she is owed help by the Doctor and concocts a plan that involves threatening to destroy the TARDIS (the police box the Doctor travels in) if he doesn’t help her alter time to bring him back.

After one of the most tense scenes in Doctor Who history in which the Doctor reveals again he has everything under control he lets Clara know that despite her betrayal of his trust, he’s still going to help her find Danny :

Clara: Well, what do we do now?  You and me, what happens now? (Pause) Doctor?

The Doctor: (Calmly) Go to Hell

Clara: (Clearly hurting) Fair enough…absolutely fair enough…

Clara begins to walk towards the TARDIS exit.  The Doctor looks at her confused

The Doctor: Clara (Clara turns)  You asked me what we’re going to do.  I told you.  We’re going to hell or wherever it is people go when they die…if there is anywhere.  Wherever it is we are going to go there and find Danny.

Clara: (In disbelief) What?

Clara receiving grace!

Clara receiving grace!

The Doctor: And if it is anyway possible, we’re going to bring him home.

Clara: (Beginning to cry) You’re going to help me?

The Doctor: Well why wouldn’t I help you?

Clara: Because of what I just did because...

The Doctor: You betrayed me.  You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything I ever stood for. (Angry) You let me down!

Clara: Then why are you helping me?

The Doctor: (In disbelief) Why?  (Walks toward Clara) Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

(It was about here where my eyes welled up)

______________________________________________________

Grace!

It’s why Jesus could still called Judas friend at the Last Supper despite his betrayal

It’s why Jesus could still commission Peter for ministry despite his denial

It’s why God can still consider us his children despite our (often) rejection of him

And of course the Doctor is willing to go even to hell to rescue Danny.  Isn’t Jesus all about descending even into the depths of hell itself in order to bring his loved ones home?

Interestingly after Clara’s betrayal she is insecure about her relationship with The Doctor.

She expects rejection and judgement

Instead The Doctor gives her unconditional acceptance and friendship.

As Christians we often ask the question Clara did after her betrayal.  ”What now Lord?  What about us?  Where do we go from here?”

Do we think the Maker of Heaven will be less gracious than a fictional character on TV?

I think not…

PS: Here is a link if you want to watch the scene for yourself at 14:56 (but watch the whole scene in its context from 8:26)

A Texas School, Christian Plaques, And How Fox News Gets It Wrong…Again!

In Midlothian, Texas a school is under fire for displaying a dedication plaque stating the following:

Dedicated in the Year of our Lord

1997

to the Education of God’s Children

and to their Faithful Teachers

in the name of the Holy Christian Church

Soli Deo Gloria

Yes, you read that right.  This wasn’t laid in “1697″ or “1797″ which the Christendom - like vernacular would suggest.

No…

This plaque is less than 20 years old…

plaque

Simply put, the ceremonial plaque is dedicated not to God but to staking out territory. To marking where the frontier of Christendom borders with the heathen hinterland.

It’s the equivalent of a dog peeing in the corner to mark his spot.

Let me put it another way…

As a member of the aforementioned Holy Christian Church I find this plaque positively offensive and a stumbling block to the Good News that Christ truly came to bring.

Apparently though the Freedom from Religion Foundation also found it offensive (for other reasons) … as well as unconstitutional and has initiated legal action to have the school remove the plaque.

Of course Fox News, being Fair & Balanced, jumped on the bandwagon sensing bloody meat they could toss in the culture war waters and work the piranha up into a frenzy.  Nothing gets the Religious Right riled up faster than cranky northern atheists up in Wisconsin sticking their nose into good ol’ Southern Jesus Culture and telling them what they can and can’t do.

As the pastor in the Fox News interviews admits

“We want to see the cause of Christ go further, we want to see the Cause of Christ in more public arenas.”

See, this dedication plaque is not really a dedication plaque.

No…

It’s a tool… a proxy for an ongoing cultural war between Christendom and the heathen.

Unfortunantly the Cause of Christ the pastor speaks of is the same cause that

* fueled the Crusades

* burned witches in Salem

* displaced the native peoples in America

It’s the Cause Jesus rejected a number of times when the people sought to make him king (John 6:15).  It’s the Cause that he rejected when tempted by the devil (Matt 4: 8-9) and it’s the Cause he rejected when he went to the cross rather than calling on 12 legions of angels to kill his enemies. (Matt 26:53)

It’s a Cause that uses the power structures of this present world system to shape history and manipulate people to prop up “us” at the expense of “them”!

It’s the Way of the World which Jesus came to deliver us from, not to champion!

In many ways the Freedom of Religion Foundation is no different.  They are using the weapons at their disposal to get “their way”.  Both sides of this issue are using power re-enforced with threats and intimidation.  Fortunately in America we have progressed to the point where these skirmishes are usually fought in the courts and not on the battlefield but don’t be fooled…

…the same spirit both sides of this argument advocate would be killing each other not that long ago.

And once you peel away all the legal jargon, religious posturing, and civic wrangling you discover what the real root of the issue is…Fear!

Fear that “them” will get a foothold in “us” territory.  Fear that the barbarians are at the gate.  Fear that sin will enter the camp!

The temptation then is to Make a Stand But the Good News of Jesus is not about making a stand!

It’s about telling people they are free…

…and they don’t have to be afraid.

Christ didn’t come for a Cause…he came for a Kingdom.

And it’s a Kingdom that won’t be advanced by religious plaques!