I haven't been writing for a while--it isn't because I don't have anything to write about; I just haven't had the time or energy to invest in developing ideas beyond a few sentences... here are some things I have been thinking about:
Recently Don Miller, Christian author, wrote about why he doesn't attend church anymore. In his defense of his original article, he wrote that he is not the only Christian leader that doesn't regularly attend church. I take issue with this--you are not a leader, or a Christian leader for that matter without followers. A 'Christian leader' outside of the church is no leader at all. This idea can be taken in a lot of different directions--what does it say about current Evangelical Christianity when the people we hold up as 'leaders,' are in fact not leaders at all, but professional thinkers--do we prize scholars, thinkers, preachers, theologians over ministry practitioners, or the lay people actually living out their faith? What does that say about us?
This leads into another thing I have been thinking a lot about lately--the Epistle of Mathetes! Of course not everyone sits around meditating upon an obscure second century text written by one of the early church fathers--but then again, I am not everyone. One of the most interesting things about Mathetes is that it is the earliest Christian apologetic outside of the bible--but it is unique, in that it does very little to appeal to reason, but instead points to Christians as the main apologetic for Christianity! Like, hey, dude, you should believe in Christianity--what evidence do I have for you? Look at the way that Christians live their lives! That has to be the work of God... This line of apologetics is so unfamiliar to me that it has been quite jarring as it has rattled around in my brain the past few weeks.
Anyone who has ready anything on my blog before knows that I have fruit on the brain... every other post is about fruitfulness. Trust me, I have plenty more I can write on the topic! Mathetes has a great section near the end about the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. He makes the case that the tree of life in itself was not bad, because it was created by God, so it must be good. So knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge is good--but Adam and Eve sinned because of their disobedience, not because there was anything intrinsically evil about the tree. Mathetes goes on to say that the pursuit of knowledge needs to be held in tension with the pursuit of life--or, we need to eat of the tree of life, have new life in Christ before we can eat of the tree of knowledge.
Earlier this week I was at a prayer meeting with some different pastors--during the prayer meeting one of the leaders said, "calling comes first, then competence, then character." I had to think that this was the wrong way around. The more and more I have been thinking, character has to come first! But none of our discipleship is built around developing character before knowledge or gifting. Character gets the short stick! The Christian life, the real meat of it, is the new life change brought about by the Holy Spirit. Yet we have substituted knowing the right things for living out of new life.
I was out at a church in a rural area recently--the area is known for its apple orchards. When talking about missions to the Japanese I explained that it takes years to see fruit in a person's life--one can't expect to plant a seed and come back the next day and find fruit. I said it could take seven years from the time one plants the Gospel seed in Japanese person's life until the point that they begin to follow Jesus as Lord--but that we are urgently trying to speed up the process. Several of the farmers perked up when I began speaking with this language. Afterwards, one of the church elders came up to me and said, "when I was a child, when we planted an apple tree we didn't expect fruit for seven years! Nowadays we have much better agricultural techniques, but it still takes at least four years for a seedling to grow into a fruit bearing tree!"
Exegeting another culture is difficult--I can talk about Japanese or Korean culture all day though, because I have a lot of experience with them. I still don't know nearly enough to be fruitful in those contexts, but I have been wrestling with them long enough to know that I do not know what I need to know. That being said, exegeting one's own culture is a much more awe inspiring and difficult process. Which is why I have been surprised to have noticed three things recently--among some of American's highest cultural values are efficiency, expediency and cost effectiveness. We value things that get the most results in the least amount of time at the lowest cost! It is not surprising at all then that so much money has been invested in Short Term Missions--or as I call them, 'Pop-Tart Mission,' because they tend to be short, sweet and usually unhealthy. We need to challenge Western Christians to develop a 'slow food' movement culture for missions.
Character takes time to develop. Our culture values knowledge over character. But is that exclusive to Western culture? As I think about the Sadhus and Gurus of India and Nepal--it is their ascetic lives that draws others to them. There is a dichotomy in Christianity between works and faith--but as one of the early church fathers, Clement of Rome so eloquently explained, we don't do works to be justified--we are justified by the finished work of Jesus--we do good works because God does good works, and we desire to imitate God! How much do Western Christians need to understand imitating God?
Last night I was listening to Pastor Paul Jones at Reality Church in Olympia WA preach about the 'everyone' of the Gospel. He shared three stories from the Gospels about the people that Jesus met with--sinners, tax collectors, demoniacs, religious leaders, unclean women, the sick and dying (and dead in the case of Jairus' daughter). As I listened to this sermon, I couldn't help but thinking about an article I read recently on honor-shame cultures. One of the interesting points it makes is that Jesus by virtue of his obedience and sinlessness was actually a channel of purity--and everything that he touched became pure (think of the woman who touched the edge of his robe). Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we are now salt and light--we literally have the ability to dispel uncleanness through our presence and our prayers! That is why Christians can eat 'unclean food,' because the defilement wasn't in the food itself, but in the defilement of the person eating it, and we have been cleaned by Jesus!
Last weekend I was up at the Crossing Church in Port Angeles. I had the opportunity to stay the weekend with Pastor Glen Douglas, and we talked quite a lot on Saturday night. One of the things he shared was that in the last year, more than 200 visitors came to the church, but virtually none of them stayed around. I wonder whether this would be true of most of the churches I visited? I usually function outside of the church walls--and so thinking about how to help churches be more effective at reaching out is where most of my thinking comes. I am climbing high up into the tree to get the fruit that is far away from the reach of most people, and calling others to climb up with me. However, there is this low hanging fruit, which often falls to the ground and rots. If a person comes into your church and goes right back out the door without being engaged with intentional relationship--then that is almost more tragic than the church not being engaged to reach out to those that are even more far away! Is the low hanging fruit rotting on the ground at your church?
All right, I have written enough for this morning, thankfully I cleared out my brain a little. If you would like to have me write further on any one of these topics, let me know!