WHY MIGHT WE GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER?

Michael Kelly has a great blog about faith life.  This post gives us much upon which to reflect. – STEVE

WHY MIGHT WE GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER?

by Michael Kelly

The writer of Hebrews gave a very practical instruction in Hebrews 10:24-25:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Don’t give up meeting together. Translation?

Keep going to church.

Which when you say it like that, sounds pretty dumb, right? Of course we know that we should keep going to church. But if it’s it that simple, then why give the instruction? In other words, what might keep us from meeting together?

For the Hebrews, it was persecution. This letter was written to a group of persecuted Christians who, based on what we read in the letter, were teetering on the edge of going back to their former way of life. That’s why you find such a strong emphasis on perseverance – it’s because those who persevere to the end show their faith to be true and authentic. For these Christians, then, one of the ways (and maybe even the primary one) that they demonstrated their lasting commitment to faith in Jesus was the fact that they were willing to keep showing up.

This was no small thing for them.

Showing up and meeting together marked them as a community of believers, and when they were marked they were targeted. Property was seized; prison terms were handed out; jobs were lost and livelihoods were in jeopardy. But on they came.

I, however, don’t live in a situation like that. Is there then any value in giving a command like this to a society where there are no restrictions on going to church and meeting with other Christians? Of course, the answer is yes, but we get to that answer by asking a similar question to the one we asked of the Hebrews:

In an affluent and relatively free society, safe from persecution based on religious preference, what might keep us from continuing to show up? Many things I suppose, but at least these two:

1. Convenience.
I know, I know – the church is right around the corner, right? Just down the road? At worst, on the other side of town? But despite the proximity and availability of local congregations, the call to meet together challenges our sense of convenience.

We live in a culture that’s microwaved; we want what we want, when we want it, and what we want is NOW. Meeting together, though, is a long range strategy interjected into a short term society. Relationships of trust and mutual sharing don’t automatically happen; they develop over time. A gospel-centered worldview isn’t formed overnight, but through the process of hearing the same thing over and over again. The ability to recall and apply Scripture to specific life situations doesn’t happen automatically but slowly over the course of listening to others do the same.

All of these things involve time, and therefore all are inconvenient. This fact all by itself might make us give up the long road of meeting together and instead just look for the DVR version of the church so we can skip to the high points.

2. Discomfort.
Meeting together – showing up at church – is (and should be) uncomfortable. That’s because truly meeting together involves a level of self-disclosure that hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

That’s the difference between “meeting together” and “meeting together”. In the latter, we aren’t spectators; instead, we are active participants, longing for not just a connection with others but the kind of connection that will truly help us follow Jesus. And because that kind of connection is only inspired by walking the difficult road of confession and transparency, many of us aren’t ready.

It’s just easier to stay home.

But the question, as the writer of Hebrews put it, is where do you want to find yourself as the day of the Lord is increasingly approaching?

Probably not on the couch.

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I AM OFFENDED AND TROUBLED

BY STEVE DUNN

Duck Dynasty is everywhere. The largely unscripted reality show has captured the cable-waves and rocketed A&E Network to the top of the charts. It has already generated a fortune for Walmart and other retailers–secular and religious–by pasting the face of the Robertson clan on every imaginable household item.

Anyone who has watched the show will know that Phil Robertson and his clan are conservative Christians, staunchly patriotic, sometimes outrageous in their opinions, and firm in what they value–which leans heavily towards traditional American values.

I’ve enjoyed a few episodes with friends, but my reality TV tends to lean towards The Voice, The Sing-Off, and Major League Baseball.

It was only a matter of time before these high profile and often delightfully humorous self-proclaimed Christian rednecks would fall afoul of the media and liberal political establishment with their narrow definition of “free speech.” Phil set off a firestorm.

Now A&E has suspended him, his family has threatened to stop making the show without him. (I don’t believe for a minute that a profit-driven network is going to jettison its most profitable possession nor that the Richardson family will abandon their income and platform.)

I am both offended and troubled.

I am offended when the self-appointed guardians of the Constitution continue to extend the defense of free speech to pornagraphers, the worst of America’s haters here and abroad, people whose sexual orientation offends so many of their neighbors, and people whose politics are left of center; but have singled out conservative and evangelical Christians as people whose views threaten to destroy the fabric of society. The bias has now become so obvious that even some of my most liberal friends have pointed it out (although I see few pushing back against it).

Phil Robertson is an American citizen–living in the land of the free and the home of the brave–a land governed by its Constitution. He is entitled to the same rights and at the very least, the same tolerance that we extend even to most unsavory citizens of this land.

But I am also troubled by my conservative Christian friends, many of whom profess to share the same belief in the truth of the Bible as God’s Word and the commitment to live by its commandments and teachings–who roar back like cornered lions every time they are not treated with respect, or where their rights are undermined. People who now often define their worth and identity by the rights they have in the Constitution, rather than in living by God’s truth.

And this is my reason–three statements by Jesus.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” – Matthew 5:11 New Living Translation

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16.33 New Living Translation

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15.18-19 New Living Translation

I simply am concerned that we as Christians take the world’s views PERSONALLY, as attacks on us when they are really attacks on Christ. Too many Christians want to stand up for Jesus without paying the price of rejection and opposition that Jesus said to expect if we were being faithful to him in a world that WOULD BACK AWAY.

We have a persecution complex, or better yet–a rejection complex.

And in our vehemence and in the manner of our communication we often show the world that we do not really trust in God to make things right-and that the acceptance of men is more important than faithfulness to God.

Or that being left alone to believe what we want to believe (even if it is the truth) than paying the price of truly being salt and light where we will stand out from the crowd who often cares little about God.

Something to think about and to pray about.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn

THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER

I am an evangelical Christian. Unfortunately because so many Christians have abandoned authentic discipleship and think of the Great Commission as a marketing tool, I feel compelled to use the adjective. I am also a life-long Republican who found both candidates being offered by the major parties to be persons with whose values I was at odds. I found Rachel Evans blog about THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER to be right on (and no, I do not agree with every theological or social position that she holds) and believe her thoughts grow from a deep concern for the most important thing that matters – “faith expressing itself in love.” (By the way, this is not a quote from Rob Bell–it is from Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus – Galatians 5.6) – STEVE DUNN

The Real ‘Evangelical Disaster’

When Republican Governor Mitt Romney lost the presidential election earlier this month to incumbent Barack Obama, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary classified the election as “an evangelical disaster.”

Concerned also by state measures legalizing gay marriage, Mohler said that, aside from the 79 percent of white evangelicals who voted as they should, the “[evangelical] message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.”

“If we do not become the movement of younger Americans and Hispanic Americans and any number of other Americans, then we will just become a retirement community,” he told NPR. “And that cannot, that cannot, serve the cause of Christ.”

As a young evangelical myself, I confess I have grown tired…no, weary…of responding to comments like these with some honest suggestions for how my fellow evangelicals might avoid said retirement, only to be discounted and disparaged for believing the earth is more than 6,000 years old, for voting for Democrats from time to time, and for daring to serve communion to gays and lesbians. The fact that I can affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, that I am an imperfect but devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that I am passionate about spreading the gospel, and I believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and still my evangelical credentials are constantly being questioned and debated reveals just how narrow evangelicalism has become.

The word evangelical means, in the Greek, “gospel” or “good news” (evangelion). And so an evangelical, in the most basic sense of the word, is simply someone who is committed to spreading the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. There are plenty of Hispanics, plenty of young people, plenty of African Americans, plenty of Republicans, plenty of Democrats, and plenty of people around the world who believe this to be true, and yet Mohler will not be satisfied until American evangelicals become a monolithic and reliable voting bloc that keeps his preferred politicians in power.

This, I believe, is the real evangelical disaster—not that Barack Obama is president and Mitt Romney is not, but that evangelicalism has gotten so enmeshed with politics, its success or failure can be gauged by an election.

It’s this idea the “cause of Christ” is to vote against gay marriage and for tax cuts, and that the hope of evangelicals lies in election day returns. It’s this idea that a Christian worldview is something we can vote for because it fits on a ballot.

When I tell a reporter or a new acquaintance that I am an evangelical, inevitably the person will respond, “Oh, so you are a Republican?” Sadly, evangelicalism has ceased to represent the Kingdom of God, which transcends all political parties and national allegiances, and has come to represent kingdoms of this world. And so the strengths and weakness of evangelicalism are conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican Party.
The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This happened long before the 2012 presidential election.

It happened when we turned the Bible into a conservative position paper and Jesus into a flag pin.

It happened when Liberty University invited Donald Trump to speak in chapel because devotion to the GOP matters more devotion to the teachings of Jesus .

It happened when we traded the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord to the bad news that our influence in this world is limited to how much power we can grasp.

It happened when we restricted “Christian values” to one or two social issues while leaving others out.

So I will try one last time.

Want to win young people back to evangelicalism?

Then start preaching the Gospel again.

Start preaching the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Caesar is not.

Start preaching the gospel that drew both tax collectors and zealots—political enemies— to Jesus’ side.

Start preaching the gospel that God so loved the world that God became flesh and lived among us, taught among us, loved among us, died among us, and rose again among us.

Start preaching the gospel that through Jesus, we find reconciliation with God and with one another.

Start preaching the gospel that they will know we are Christians by our love—not by our votes, not by our protest signs, not by our power, not by our campaign contributions—but by our love.

But fair warning: If you start preaching this gospel—this gospel of reconciliation and peace—you will attract more than just Republicans. You will attract people of all backgrounds and races, political persuasions and theological preferences. You will attract rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. You will attract people like me who are concerned about defending not only the unborn, but also the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the war-torn. You will attract people like me who love Jesus but know that no single vote, no single political party, can represent my values in their totality or bring the kingdom of God to pass.

If we start preaching the gospel again, we will have to get used to ethnic, theological, and political diversity because we will share our lives with people whose ultimate allegiance lies with something greater than a political party, greater than a ballot measure, greater even than the highest office in the world.

We will share our lives with citizens of the Kingdom of God.

We will be evangelists, bearers of good news.

And no matter what happens in the halls of power, we will never be part of a disaster. Instead, we will be part of a stubborn and relentless movement of hope—the kind of hope that can heal the world.

We will be true evangelicals.

RENDER UNTO CAESAR

This is a great post from THE RESURGENCE, the blog of Mars Hill Church (Mark Driscoll).  Matt Wilson gives us some important food for thought. – Steve

Render Unto Caesar: In All Things Charity

Matt Johnson » Church Worldviews Ethics Culture

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15–16)

We are to lift up the name of Jesus, proclaim his kingdom and call all people to repentance and life under his gracious rule.

Mrs. Manners and dinner party conversation

Mrs. Manners 101: politics and religion are not polite topics of conversation in mixed company. At the church I attend (Mars Hill Church in Seattle), politics are curiously absent from conversation. But it’s not as if our community is shy about controversial topics. No, the lack of political talk doesn’t have anything to do with fear of killing the dinner party vibe but everything to do with identity and calling. The church exists to lift up the name of King Jesus and to call all people to live under his gracious rule. All other causes—including Chevy versus Ford, Coke versus Pepsi, and political party endorsement—will always be secondary to the cause of the gospel.

In all things charity

Augustine’s oft-quoted maxim, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity,” is a wise stance to take as Christians in political discourse and practice. My church favors expository preaching, or studying entire books of the Bible in a series. When a loaded political subject arises—such as the sanctity of life or the biblical definition of marriage—you can be sure these issues are addressed biblically and unapologetically. However, there are things that Christians can disagree on. These issues go in the open hand where debate between brothers and sisters is encouraged. Then there are other issues, such as the abovementioned, that the Bible is very clear regarding. These are non-negotiable, closed-handed issues.

An IRS worker and an anarchist

Only Jesus could draw to himself a ragtag bunch of disciples that included a political zealot bent on seeing the overthrow of Roman rule (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew) and bring them together for the singular cause of the Kingdom. Think about it. This pairing is the modern equivalent of a buttoned-down IRS worker and a black hooded sweatshirt-wearing anarchist sporting a bandana over the face. There isn’t a single cause or organization I can think of that could rally people of such disparate walks of life except the church. We all have tribes we run in. And each tribe has distinct rallying points. For the music fanatic, it’s their favorite band. For the activist, it’s The Cause. For the academic, it’s a favorite thinker or social experiment. But for the Christian, it’s Jesus.

Jesus rules over all.

Not choosing teams: the prophetic edge

My hope is that party-line endorsement and pet causes are secondary issues in your church community. Jesus rules over all, and no one earthly political party or “ism” has all the answers. From this vantage point the preacher has a prophetic word for everyone no matter what the affiliation. Republican, Democrat, Radical, Moderate, Independent or Undecided—none are off the hook from receiving the righteous judgment of the prophetic Word. Your party affiliation does not equal your justification. 

Civic, not political

Fostering a politically uncommitted church isn’t really the point. Civic engagement should always be encouraged. This most definitely has a political component, but in a secondary way. Because we love our cities, we seek the welfare of the city, and in turn we serve civic causes (Jeremiah 29:7). As an example, there are many in Mars Hill leadership that encourage, and participate in, civic engagement through neighborhood cleanups, partnering in business associations and neighborhood chambers of commerce. And we have encouraged community groups to apply for micro mission grants so that they can bless their neighborhoods. These are just a few examples of how the various ministries around Mars Hill are encouraged to give time and energy to civic causes for the good of the city.

Vote and serve with conviction

It is a blessing to live in a democratic society like America. We have freedoms and opportunities many do not—namely, the opportunity to participate in democracy, to influence public policy and to help direct social change as we engage the culture and back politicians we agree with. In addition, some Christians are called into the public square to run for various offices, and we thank God for their service and pray they remain faithful to both their work and faith. But we must remember to never confuse our role as the church. We are to lift up the name of Jesus, proclaim his kingdom and call all people to repentance and life under his gracious rule. Amen.