Archive for August, 2009

I recently encouraged a friend of mind to read a book that is especially outstanding and, when I first read the book, was incredibly encouraging to me–introducing me to a pantheon of authors who I may not have otherwise heard of let alone read. Since reading Yancey’s book, I have read many of the works of 10 of the 13 authors that Yancey writes about in his book. He’s right: they are powerful thinkers, powerful writers–even if they are not all necessarily orthodox evangelical Christians.

Well, as I have told you, I have been ‘having issues’ with church lately due to my untimely and unfortunate dismissal from the congregation I served for nearly 10 years. After thinking about it, for like a minute, I decided that it would be a good idea for me to reread the book too. It might also prove a good conversation starter for us here at CRN.info.

The book was written by Philip Yancey and is titled Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. I certainly haven’t experienced everything that Yancey experienced, and I’m not for a minute suggesting that my friend has either, but I do think that Yancey brings up many important issues for Christians to consider and I’d like to share some of them here with you and invite conversation.

This first subject came to me in a powerful way this past Saturday when I was in class at CSU. My Saturday morning class is Diversity in Educational Settings and we were talking about race, race relations, and the early days of multi-cultural education in America (among other things). I was surprised to learn that among those who were the pioneers of multi-cultural education and the establishment of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History were Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, and one Charles C Wesley. Wesley is described, along with these men, as a pioneer of ethnic studies.

Thus the quote, from Yancey’s book, concerns race. I was a little taken aback Saturday morning when I realized how subtle and insidious hatred can be–hatred being the fuel of racism. My professor grew up in the South and lived through all the racial tension that existed there then. She has seen all sorts of stuff and lived through it. She said to me after class, “I don’t hate.” If The Shack were ever to be made into a movie, she would play the Father role. She doesn’t hate. I can tell by looking in her eyes. I want to be that person–the person who can experience what she has experienced and still not hate. So, Yancey,

Today I feel shame, remorse, and also repentance. It took years for God to break the stranglehold of blatant racism in me–I wonder if any of us gets free of its more subtle forms–and I now see that sin as one of the most poisonous, with perhaps the most toxic societal effects. When experts discuss the underclass in urban America, they blame in turn drugs, changing values, systematic poverty, and the breakdown of the nuclear family. Sometimes I wonder if all those problems are consequences of a deeper, underlying cause: our centuries-old sin of racism. (16)

I have a lot thinking, and praying, and repenting to do. I’m a little naive. I grew up in a ‘white’ town, went to a ‘white’ school, went to a ‘white’ college, and even now live in a ‘white’ community. My home church is ‘white’–literally, no one even of Hispanic background. For my entire preaching career I have served in ‘white’ churches. It’s not that I am a card carrying Klansman or flying the Stars and Bars in my front yard, but it is that more subtle form of racism that refuses to see certain advantages that are inherent in ‘whiteness’ and the all too willing heart to blame people instead of being compassionate–compassionate to all people–regardless of who they are or what color their skin is. That is, it really doesn’t make a difference why people are poor, or why there is no father, or why a person is homeless. Fact is, they are; and that requires response and action on my part.

There was a retired preacher who belonged to my home congregation. He used to pray, when he was invited to pray, that God would ‘forgive us our sins of omission and our sins of commission.’ I understand what he means now.

My first day in the diversity class, I was the only white man in the class of 30 or so people. My second day some other things happened. On the way in, one of my classmates needed help–parallel parking–and was waiving frantically for me to help. She is a student from the former Soviet Union, and at least nominally Muslim. I was able to help her get her car situated. In the class, I was seated in the middle of three African-American women–one from Ghana–who also became my conversation group for the day. On my way out, two African-American women were sitting in their van beside the curb and the van wouldn’t start. At first I walked by, on towards my car that I knew would start. Then the thought entered my mind and I turned around and went back–I have no particular knowledge of how to fix broken vans, but just to ask, to let them know I was thinking about them. I’m in a small study group for the class that includes and African-American man, a Jewish woman, and a woman of Native American heritage.

The Lord is teaching me something and interestingly enough I didn’t even know I needed to learn it. I’m not sure at this point it is necessarily about race as much as it is about noticing people–people I might otherwise overlook or ignore–and being available when the Lord moves people into the path of my daily walk, doing things that might otherwise make me uncomfortable, speaking with people who might otherwise make me nervous. And what strange people he moves into our paths. Perhaps keeping our eyes open and our ears open is part of the goal. Perhaps being open to the promptings of the Spirit is the key. Maybe part of the reason I have been having troubles with ‘the church’ (and not just the one that terminated my employment) lately is because as long as I was in one place, another ‘white’ place, there would never have been an opportunity or a reason to deal with these aspects of my life that were so glaringly deficient and sinful.

I don’t understand all the ways of the Spirit–and I’m not a little sad right now about working at Blockbuster video while I work on my Master’s degree–and maybe I don’t necessarily have to. Maybe all I have to do is be awake, aware, and alert and then God, in His time, will teach me what needs to be taught. Or he will teach me lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn in places I wouldn’t expect them to be taught and in ways I would never expect to learn. The preacher at the church this morning, Allistaire Begg, prayed this prayer:

Lord,

What we know not, teach us.

What we have not, give us.

What we are not, make us.

Amen.

Indeed.

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Short:

When it comes down to it, no matter how pious or like-minded [a person] might be, a Christian jerk is still a jerk.–Kevin Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, 277

Yep.

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Dearest Friends of CRN.info & Analysis:

Sometime today, if all goes according to schedule, I will receive my last severance check from the church I served for nearly ten years of my life. That’s what I got for nearly ten-years of service to one church: six weeks of severance and no going away party. I didn’t even get to go back and say good-bye. Just a ’sign this paper, clean out your office, and leave your door unlocked and keys on the desk’ was all I got. Life goes on.

So now I’m in a rather interesting phase of life. Even though I preached the Gospel with as much conviction and vigor as anyone, and I am as orthodox and conservative as the preachers I listen to (Carson, Wells, Keller; almost too conservative for CRN.info!) it wasn’t enough. The Lord had other plans for me and my family. So I have been hired to work at a local video store as an assistant store manager, I have gone back to graduate school to work on my M.Ed in Moderate/Intensive Special Education, and I am staying the community where the church I served is located which means I still hear the rumors, still see the people, and still have to drive by periodically and see the place that was my home for nearly 10 years.

Today I will receive the last paycheck I will ever receive from a church. It’s a weird feeling: Euphoric on one hand since I have always had issues with ‘paid’ ministry; heartbreaking on the other because I no longer have a pulpit to preach from and because, despite my flaws that were evidently too much for some, I really did love my people. Like I said, it’s weird. Churches are strange creatures indeed. This is a difficult period of life because all I have known since 1991 is church work: Preaching, teaching, funerals, weddings, etc. Now I am learning about Diversity in the Classroom, the Rights of Special Needs students, and how to teach phonics. Strange indeed.

Anyhow, I have decided that one of the important things I have to do, as part of this so-called reclamation project, is rededicate myself to the Word of God. I have thought long and hard about this because there is a large part of me that really wants to blog about the last ten years of my life and the church that so unceremoniously disrupted my life and that of my family. Instead, I am rededicating myself to Scripture. Thus I am starting at the beginning, Genesis, and taking a long, slow, pilgrimage through the Bible–one chapter at a time–and blogging my way through it.

This little post is to let you know what has been going on since the middle of July and why I may have been not a little tense. I have sadly taken out some of it out on some of you and I am sorry I did. I haven’t slept well for the last 8 months and my stomach is constantly upset–can’t shake the nerves, the tears, or the hurt. Good friends and a new church home have helped immensely. I’m trying to learn, trying to grow, trying to make sense of God’s will in all of this and it is difficult. There are no answers that seem satisfactory as I was never given a reason why I was asked to leave.

Anyhow, as a shameless personal plug, if you would like to follow me on my journey through the Scripture, I invite you to visit my blog: Pilgrim at Lake View Avenue. There you can follow as I chronicle my way through the Bible. I am not making any judgments. I am not consulting the 1500 theological books sitting in bookcases in my house–the ones that are no longer serving my former congregation. I am reading through the Bible, slowly, and listening to God’s voice as if for the first time. I am reading the Bible as if I have never read it before–getting a fresh perspective, fresh water, fresh bread. I would be honored and greatly appreciative if you would join me on the journey–even if only periodically you pick up your Back-pack, lace up your boots, and travel with me.

Below is where my journey led me today–Genesis 2. Yesterday’s post is for Genesis 1. As always, I appreciate the friendships I have here at CRN.info–especially the other writers who have been so gracious as to pray for me and my family and counsel me behind the scenes. Thanks again.

__________________________

It is hard to start a project so massive. I think maybe I’ve taken on too much. Day to day. My course load at CSU is rather intense; 10 hours of graduate work is nothing to scoff at. Still I’m going on with my project to stay grounded in Scripture during this period of transition. If I don’t stay grounded, it is likely I will fall apart. So, Genesis 2.

I am reading this as if it were the first time I have ever read the Bible. How would the first time reader or, better, listener, have heard this chapter? What would have gone through their minds? Fresh eyes will hopefully lend fresh insight and fresh understanding. I come at this chapter, Genesis 2, then with mounds of questions:

Why is there a ‘second’ account of creation? Wasn’t the first enough? Did we need more detail?

Why does the Pishon river get more attention than its more famous brother, the Euphrates? Or even the Tigris?

Why did God rest on the seventh day? Was God really tired?

Does this chapter ‘fit’ with the previous chapter? Can they be reconciled?

Why did God create man to work? Why not create a self-sustaining world that never required any maintenance?

Why are we given so much information about this garden that God ‘planted’?

Why are we told about the gold in Havilah? The bdellium and onyx stones? Will knowledge of these ancient things give us greater insight into the mysteries of God? Will knowledge that there was good gold in Havilah, a place I cannot go now, give me greater wisdom unto salvation?

Why did God create the possibility for man to do the wrong thing by creating a tree ‘of the knowledge of good and evil’?

Did Adam and Eve understand what God meant when he said, ‘On the day you eat of it you shall surely die’? Did they know what death meant?

When man was in the garden, with God Almighty, why did God decided it was ‘not good’ for man to be alone?  Did God really expect Adam to find a suitable companion from among the oxen, beavers, and rattlesnakes?

What sort of drug did God use to cause Adam to fall into a deep sleep? Or is this a subtle way of saying that without sleep the creation of the woman would have caused man a great deal of pain?

Why did God entrust Adam to name all the animals? Did Adam ever have any regrets about the platypus? Did he have to think twice about the armadillo? And where did okapi come from?

Why did God shape the woman out of flesh but the man out of dust?

I wonder what the first night of sex was like? I wonder how they discovered it? I wonder who was on top? Did they do it for hours like teenagers who cannot get enough of the joyous discovery? Or was it like 10 minutes and done? Were either of them disappointed? Was it awkward or were they pros?

I wonder what it was like to not be ashamed? I wonder why we are told they weren’t ashamed? Is it to shame us who are ashamed?

I wonder what Adam and Eve looked like? Were they the quintessential buff models of physical perfection? Or were they rough, hairy, and reeking of body odor and bad breath?

Why are told more than once that ‘God put the man in the garden he had formed’?

What kind of work did Adam do in the garden without tools like shovels, hoes, spades, edgers, post-hole diggers, backhoes, front-loaders, and Chevy pick-up trucks? How did he get along without mulch and manure? What about a John Deere? How did he manage without that?!?

If chapter 1 teaches me a great deal about God, chapter 2 teaches me a great deal about man. Man was formed, shaped, created for work, given instructions, a consumer, married, unhappy as a loner, creative, fragile, and in love. And even in the midst of all this, all this newness and wonderment, man somehow survived. I mean, if I have this many questions, and more, imagine Adam’s questions. One day he wasn’t; then he was. Did he have to learn? Or was he like Neo: Plug him in and upload the knowledge?

I wonder what Adam’s first words were? What was the first breath like? Did he play Yahtzee?

I wonder what it is like to be in the presence of Almighty God, in a really cool garden, and yet still be rather lonely–lonely enough that God Almighty recognizes it and decides that despite all the ‘good’ stuff he had created, man’s loneliness is ‘not good.’

I wonder why God was not offended that man was lonely enough to need a companion other than God?

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#2 in a series of quotes about faith, life, or religion.

“Of all religions, Christianity is without a doubt the one that should inspire tolerance most, although, up to now, the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men”

Voltaire

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I heard this quote in a sermon by Tim Keller [The Community of Jesus--you should listen to it.] and found it posted in a review here.

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion – without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see onself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.” (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p.124)

Wow!

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In the wake of John Piper’s announcement that a certain natural disaster that hit a certain part of a certain city on a certain day at a certain time was the direct providence of a certain Deity, many have taken up the pen or key board to say one thing or another about Piper’s seeming omniscience into the mysteries of Trinitarian oeuvre.

David Sessions quoted Andy Crouch:

“All efforts to pin down the details of where and when we can say that God is working in history are fraught with the danger of self-deception, if not outright blasphemy. The commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain seems especially to apply to human attempts to recruit God for one cultural movement or another. The warning that “history is written by the winners” should caution us that any attempt to discern God’s activity in particular historical events runs the risk of self-justification, claiming after the fact that God was on our side all along.”

HT/RT: imonk

Rather than post an entirely new thread on this subject, I’d like to direct your attention to, what one friend described as, an ‘extra-awesome’ take on the Piper post. I concur. It is super-awesome. Click this link and find out more: Did God Send a Tornado to Warn the ELCA?

I am especially fond of this awesomeness:

3. One has to wonder why God would single out the ELCA’s discussion of homosexuality as worthy of a tornado hit while by-passing so many other serious issues. To give one example, there are over 400 distinct passages encompassing over 3,000 verses in the Bible that address issues related to poverty. Compare this with homosexuality, a topic that is explicitly mentioned a total of two times in the Old Testament and three times in the New. On top of this, the most frequently mentioned reason God judged cities and nations in the Old Testament was because they failed to care for the needy. And, finally, if there’s any sin American churches fail to seriously confront, it’s this one.

In light of this, wouldn’t you assume that if God was going to send warnings and/or inflict punishment with tornados he’d strike some of the many American churches and denominations that condone, if not Christianize, greed and apathy toward the poor? Yet John would have us believe that God had his tornado skip past these churches (and a million other punishment-worthy locations, like child sex-slave houses) in order to damage the steeple of a church because the people inside were wrestling with issues related to homosexuality. If John is right, God’s priorities must have radically changed since biblical times.

This goes well with my post the other day concerning the Gospel and the Poor.

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I was introduced to Frederick Buechner by a friend of mine a while back and have found his writing to be amazing to say the least. This quoted was posted by a blog friend of mine:

‘Hate is as all-absorbing as love, as irrational, and in its own way as satisfying. As lovers thrive on the presence of the beloved, haters revel in encounters with the one they hate. They confirm him in all his darkest suspicions. They add fuel to all his most burning animosities. The anticipation of them makes the hating heart pound. The memory of them can be as sweet as young love. The major difference between hating and loving is perhaps that whereas to love somebody is to be fulfilled and enriched by the experience, to hate somebody is to be diminished and drained by it. Lovers, by losing themselves in their loving, find themselves, become themselves. Haters simply lose themselves. Theirs is the ultimately consuming passion’. – Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 57.

HT: Cruciality

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Since ‘we’ do not have a blog publishing clearinghouse per se, I thought you might be interested in something I came across.

It appears that The White Horse Inn blog section will be posting Mike Horton’s unpublished reviews on NT Wright’s latest book Justification. I don’t know if ‘Wright Wednesdays’ is the title of the full series or just of today’s post.

I like The White Horse Inn and listen when I can via podcast, although, to be sure, I think the esteemed fellows of the establishment are off the mark at times. Still it makes for good, thought provoking provocation. Here’s an excerpt from Horton’s first post:

So along came Tom Wright, saying that the gospel is the Jesus Christ is Lord, proved and in fact achieved by his resurrection from the dead, as the first-fruits of the age to come right in the middle of our history.  While the Greeks (and many other religions) treat salvation as the escape of the soul from its prison-house of flesh, the world, and history, biblical faith anticipates the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in a new heavens and earth.  Much of this has been put together for a wider audience in his book, Surprised by Hope (2007). Amazingly, the secular media treated this book as a radical departure: the sort of thing one expects from an English bishop.

Part of this reaction is no doubt due a shallow form of popular Christianity that is insufficiently grounded in its own biblical story.  Part of it can be explained also by the enthusiasm with which Bishop Wright presents his views, sometimes conveying the impression that he is introducing a completely new understanding of the Christian faith.

Justification is no different.  After writing several scholarly monographs on the subject (as well as a couple of brief popular treatments), the latest was provoked by the critique, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (2007), written by John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.  I won’t be interacting with the specific charges and counter-charges between these esteemed pastors, but will focus on Wright’s book.  In many respects, this is the best of Wright’s treatments of this subject.  Besides its accessibility to a wide audience, its polemic is sharp and to-the-point, clustering his arguments into a narrative of Paul’s gospel as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 with sweeping exegetical vistas.

We have discussed Wright’s book a week bit here at CRN.info, and we have beaten to death the subject of justification. I’m posting this to give you access to another point of view that you may or may not agree with. Horton is a respected scholar and a bit of a firebrand at times, but I’m persuaded that he loves the Lord Jesus and serves him well.

I’m still awaiting my copy of Wright’s book to come in the mail so I haven’t read it yet, but I will look forward to reading Horton’s reviews. Be well and live blessed in order to bless.

ps–I’m sorry for the formatting issue. I just cannot seem to get pictures correct here. :-)

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“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

In the December 2008 issue of the online journal Themelios, Tim Keller has an article titled, The Gospel and the Poor. I’d like to share some of the highlights with you and make a comment or two about the content.

I think one of the main questions I have always had when it comes to the Christian and the poor runs something like this: Does the Bible command us to be rich towards all poor or just our ‘own kind’? When I read the book of Acts, I see a congregation we are told had ‘no poor among them.’ The author of Acts wrote, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money to the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)

Well, does this refer to the church alone? Does this mean that the church had a (re)-distribution center among themselves and that the only way to participate in the program was to be one of the church (folk)? Or does this mean that the church shared liberally with ‘anyone’ who had need? I’m not sure we can make any definitive statements about this. I think we need to be cautious at best and ere on the side of generosity at worst. Or maybe the other way around.

Then there’s another verse that might contradict this verse (if we take the verse to refer strictly to the church’s actions within itself). That verse is found in Matthew, and was uttered by Jesus himself. Consider:

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:44-46)

I kind of find it difficult to believe that God is generous towards the unrighteous poor and that we are somehow only to be kind to the righteous poor. There would seem to be a disconnect somewhere if that is true; and I cannot imagine God is into disconnects. So Keller begins his essay by asking this question, “How does our commitment to the primacy of the gospel tie into our obligation to do good to all, especially those of the household of faith, to serve as salt and light in the world, to do good to the city?”

Keller then moves on to demonstrate the primacy of the Gospel as a mainly proclaimed Gospel. To be committed to the primacy of the Gospel, he writes, means that ‘first…the gospel must be proclaimed.’ We are, he contends, mainly a people of speech. However, we are not only a people of speech even if, as he writes, preaching and proclamation cannot be replaced: “Gospel ministry is not only proclaiming it to people so that they will embrace and believe it; it is also teaching and shepherding believers with it so that it shapes the entirety of their lives, so that they can ‘live it out.’ And one of the most prominent areas that the gospel effects is our relationship to the poor.” (Keller, 9-10)

The best part of this essay by Keller is that his main defense for his position is an essay by Jonathan Edwards called ‘Christian Charity.’ Edwards based his understanding of the Christian duty to the poor on two thoughts. The first, is that believing the Gospel will move us to give to the poor. The second, is that ministry to the poor is a crucial sign that we believe the Gospel. Consider these excerpts from Keller explaining these two broader points of Edwards’ thesis.

Edwards repeatedly shows us how an understanding of what he calls “the rules of the gospel”—the pattern and logic of the gospel—inevitably moves us to love and help the poor. While Edwards believes that the command to give to the poor is an implication of the teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God, he believes that the most important motivation for giving to the poor is the gospel: Giving to the poor “is especially reasonable, considering our circumstances, under such a dispensation of grace as that of the gospel.”

One of the key texts to which Edwards turns to make this case is 2 Cor 8:8-9 (within the context of the entirety of chapters 8 and 9). When Paul asks for financial generosity to the poor, he points to the self-emptying of Jesus, vividly depicting him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and on the cross. For Edwards, Paul’s little introduction “I am not commanding you…for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant. The argument seems to be that if you grasp substitutionary atonement in both your head and your heart, you will be profoundly generous to the poor. Think it out! The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to get out of his spiritual riches into spiritual poverty. This should now be the pattern of your life. Give your resources away and enter into need so that those in need will be resourced. Paul also implies here that all sinners saved by grace will look at the poor of this world and feel that in some way they are looking in the mirror. The superiority will be gone. (10, for point 1)

And:

In the most powerful part of the discourse, Edwards answers a series of common objections he gets when he preaches about the gospel-duty of giving to the poor. In almost every case, he uses the logic of the gospel—of substitutionary atonement and free justification—on the objection. In every case, radical, remarkable, sacrificial generosity to the poor is the result of thinking out and living out the gospel. (11, to point 1)

And Finally:

In short, Edwards teaches that the gospel requires us to be involved in the life of the poor—not only financially, but personally and emotionally. Our giving must not be token but so radical that it brings a measure of suffering into our own lives. And we should be very patiently and nonpaternalistically openhanded to those whose behavior has caused or aggravated their poverty. These attitudes and dimensions of ministry to the poor proceed not simply from general biblical ethical principles but from the gospel itself. (12, also for point 1)

This last block means that, yes, we should give generously even to those who have made their situation worse by being irresponsible. Some would say we don’t need to give to those who have created their situation, Edwards (and Keller) argue to the contrary).

Now, on to Edwards’ second point:

The principle: a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the needy is the inevitable outcome of true faith. By deeds of service, God can judge true love of himself from lipservice (cf. Isa 1:10–17). Matt 25, in which Jesus identifies himself with the poor (“as you did it to the least of them, you did it to me”) can be compared to Prov 14:31 and 19:17, in which we are told that to be gracious to the poor is to lend to God himself and to trample on the poor is to trample on God himself. This means that God on judgment day can tell what a person’s heart attitude is to him by what the person’s heart attitude is to the poor. If there is a hardness, indifference, or superiority, it betrays the self-righteousness of a heart that has not truly embraced the truth that he or she is a lost sinner saved only by free yet costly grace.

Edwards’s appeal and argument is very powerful. He begins his study asking, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?” He concludes his survey of the biblical material with Proverbs 21:3: “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he shall cry himself and not be heard.” Edwards adds, “God hath threatened uncharitable persons, that if ever they come to be in calamity and distress they shall be left helpless.” Edwards brings home the Bible’s demand that gospel-shaped Christians must be remarkable for their involvement with and concern for the poor. We should literally be “famous” for it. That is the implication of texts such as Matt 5:13–16 and 1 Pet 2:11–12. (13, to point 2)

Thus far, I don’t think we have answered the question I posed at the beginning. That is, is the church to be a place of circular generosity or a place of centrifugal force? The church in the book of Acts didn’t seem to wrestle with this question: They gave themselves wholly to the work of Christ and did whatever it took to minister in his name to whoever happened in their path on any given day.

In other words, I think maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all whether the poor person put in our path is a Christian or not. Maybe what matters is whether or not I believe God has put me in a position to help someone. Maybe what matters is how I consider what God has re-created me for, what he has re-created me to do, what works he has predestined me to accomplish by His power, in His Name, and for His glory.

Maybe we church folk spend far too much time trying to figure out who are to serve at the expense of serving anyone. Perhaps the church is so consumed with the idea that there ‘be no poor among us’ that we miss opportunities all around us, every day, to serve the least, the last, and the lost—who are also among us. Perhaps the church is so intent on hoarding God’s blessings for ourselves that we have forgotten to be a blessing to others.

Perhaps we are so intent on maintaining our property that we have forgotten to be stewards of his planet, his creatures, his image.

If I may say it this way: Perhaps the church is too damned selfish with God’s blessings. The church is so damned concerned about their image that they neglect God’s image or, worse, defame it by their inaction towards the poor. Could be. I hope I’m exaggerating, but I don’t think I am. My experience has taught me differently. It’s not true of every church, but probably more than we care to admit.

There is something remarkably beautiful about Jesus who hides himself among the poor, downtrodden, broken, and beaten of this world—hid so remarkably well that we can’t even see him or tell that it is him. There is something remarkably beautiful about a church being as poor as Jesus.

We are quite ironic Christians–we Americans.

“Jesus wants to save the church from thinking that the priests are somebody else” (Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 178)

The church has ceded too much of its responsibility and obligation to the poor to the very powers that Christ destroyed at the cross. We need to be reminded again of who we are created to be in Christ.We need to be reminded again that our Master gave up all to come among us. We need to be reminded again and again that we are, in fact, quite poverty stricken regardless of our personal wealth.

In part 2, I shall investigate Keller’s essay a bit further and try to answer my question a bit better and try to wrap my head around Keller’s profound statement, “The basis for ‘doing justice’ is salvation by grace.” In the meantime, you might click the above link and read Keller’s excellent essay for yourself.

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[After a bit of wrestling/internal debate, I've decided to go ahead and cross-post my guest column from VerumSerum last weekend that primarily deals with healthcare, but ultimately with issues of "right to life" and where such responsibilities ought to lie. One more note: If you don't understand satire, please read no further.]

A MODEST PROPOSAL

For Preventing the Poor Senior Citizens in America from Being a Burden to Their Children or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public

It is a tragedy today to encounter men and women who have passed by the productive years of their lives – times when they held meaningful jobs which provided the grease with which the wheels of society are oiled. Men and women who now find themselves in the pitiable situation where they are dependent upon the generosity of others to provide their ever-growing needs. Needs that, when met with increasingly sophisticated technology, will expand the duration of years in which they live in such miserable dependence.

I think it is fair to say that all parties concerned would agree that the huge number of senior citizens that must be carried on the backs of their children and society is a looming nightmare, and that their deporable state is partially the fault of a healthcare system that is going bankrupt at a time in which they need it the most. Therefore, it seems to me that whoever can find the easiest, cheapest and most fair way of rescuing these citizens from their state of dependency, and society from the burden of their care, would be owed a deep debt of gratitude.

As such, I feel that it is my duty as an American to come forward with a modest proposal that would be such a welcome remedy. A proposal that would fit well, and most logically, with plans already in motion in our fair capital, where lawmakers toil in their benevolent desire to aid the citizens of this grandest of nations, Washington D.C.

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