just thoughts

just say no to a christian subculture

In an email to a friend, I recently wrote: “Let’s quit doing the Christian subculture – things that pull us out of the world that Jesus so naturally lived in. We lose, and those who are trying to be saved lose. He wants our lights to shine on top of the hill, not hiding under the sofa.”

About 10 years ago I read a book by John Fischer called, What On Earth Are We Doing that was formative in my early years of breaking away from the Christian subculture. It’s a quick read (189 pages), which are the only ones I seem to get all the way through, and I still recommend it on this topic. From the introduction, John writes:

“Now, enterprising Christians create and market thousands of products and services to a Christian market eager to pay for a safer version of contemporary culture – a sort of decaffeinated world where Christians can have their Christianity and their culture, too. This book is concerned about the emergence of a Christian subculture that encourages us to see ourselves as separate from the world not by beliefs and attitudes but by definable practices, identifiable markings, and cultural artifacts . . . I believe Christ established the church (his body of believers on earth) not to develop its own separate customs, civilization, and achievements, but to infuse the customs, civilization, and achievements of every age and society with people who love and fear God. In opting to abandon the world for our own safer version of it, we are failing to deliver on this vital aspect of our presence in the world.”

And that was published in 1996!

We need more like John.

just thoughts

Paul the older brother, from Colossians

If we consider Paul of the new testament an older brother in the faith, and our coach or mentor, how would he guide us on our quest to carry out our calling as the church that follows Jesus today? I have a goal of looking over Paul’s writings with this question in mind and see what falls out as recurring themes. Below are my notes from reading his letter to the Colossians, with summary comments at the end.

Many of those who would read this letter of Paul’s were people he didn’t personally know that well – he hadn’t even met some – so he takes the time to give some orientation on what he’s all about, and what he feels is fundamentally important in the gospel message.

What Paul said are his purposes:

  • being a servant of Jesus’ gospel message, charged with presenting this message to others
  • proclaiming Christ – using all wisdom to admonish and teach everyone
  • The goal is that everyone would be “perfect in Christ”
  • he wants people’s hearts to be encouraged and united in love
  • he wants people to be have the full riches of complete understanding
  • he wants people to know God’s mystery – that is, Jesus Christ, who contains all treasures of wisdom and knowledge

What Paul desired for his readers:

  • be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing him:
    • bearing fruit in good works
    • grow in knowledge of God
    • be strengthened in all power
    • have great endurance and patience
    • joyfully give thanks
  • be orderly and firm in faith in Christ
  • be rooted and built up in Jesus
  • be strengthened in the faith
  • be overflowing with thankfulness
  • Keep your heart and minds focused on Jesus, remembering that He is our very life now.
  • Be immersed in
    • compassion
    • kindness
    • humility
    • gentleness
    • patience
    • forgiving others
    • peace in your hearts
    • thankfulness
    • the word of Christ: teaching/admonishing one another with wisdom, singing, spiritual songs and gratitude in your hearts to God
    • and above all, love.
  • Wives, husbands, children, slaves, masters: be submissive, loving, obedient, fair, etc. – as if doing it unto the Lord himself
  • Work at things with all your heart, as if working for Jesus, and he’s got an inheritance waiting for you as a reward
  • Be ruthless about getting rid of behaviors that come from a sinful nature.
  • Be devoted to being watchful and thankful in prayer, praying for others – to the point of “wrestling in prayer” for others to stand firm in all the will of God, being mature and fully assured.
  • Let your actions and conversations with outsiders be wise and gracious, so you’ll always know how to respond to them in any situation.

What Paul wanted his readers to avoid:

  • don’t be deceived by “fine sounding arguments”
  • don’t be captivated by deceptive, but hollow, philosophy that depends on human traditions and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ
  • don’t allow yourself to be trapped/condemned/judged by earthly principles and human teachings regarding rules about eating, drinking, religious events, special days, etc. They can be tricky and sound “wise”, but have no power for right living. People who get caught up in these have lost connection with Jesus, the Head.

What Paul indicates are the essentials of the Gospel message regarding Jesus Christ:

  • We are rescued from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son, redeemed and forgiven from our sins
  • said another way, we were dead in sin, but God made us alive to Christ due to our faith in God’s power, that raised Jesus from the dead
  • Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities that were against us (making a public spectacle of them in plain view for all) by his death on the cross and then resurrection
  • Faith and love spring from the hope we have in heaven
  • It’s a message of God’s grace
  • Jesus is supreme over all other powers, rulers, authorities, and is the head over all the church
  • Through his death, Jesus made us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation —
  • this requires us to continue in our faith, staying established & firm, not departing from the hope
  • that’s in the gospel
  • It’s a message cloaked in mystery, which is that Christ lives in us, and is our “hope of glory”
  • All the fullness of God is in Christ, and we have get all the fullness in Christ

Summary of primary themes for our purposes:

1. Paul’s overall goal is to admonish and teach everyone in all of God’s wisdom so that they grow to be “perfect in Christ.”

The meaning of this clearly hinges on people having the character qualities of:

  • be strengthened to stand firm in faith and in God’s will (in the face of opposition)
  • being mature, that is fully assured and confident
  • being rooted and built up in full wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God

and living worthy lives, demonstrating love, compassion, gentleness, patience, thankfulness (mentioned many times), wrestling in prayer for others, and several other qualities listed.

which all comes from investing ourselves purposefully, intently in Jesus – that gospel mystery where Christ is in us. It’s all about being very, very vested in knowing Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, the Supreme being over all of earth and all of heaven, and what he’s all about by making us his people on earth. Paul didn’t point people to any man that they should learn from. In fact, he said be wary of how people can philosophize about junk and lead others astray.

2. I’m struck by Paul emphasis on the gospel message being a mystery-yet-now-revealed-by-Jesus, and his intent on proclaiming it clearly as such: Jesus will come and live inside people, and open to them treasures of all wisdom and knowledge, and he becomes our hope for glory in our personal existence. What an awesome and appealing message!

Putting the above points together, he’s all about getting people connected with Jesus, the Supreme Head, so they embrace the gospel mystery (get saved), which joins people into this band of Jesus-followers called the church, and together we all continue living our whole lives from that connectedness to Jesus to fulfill his intentions (get perfected). There’s no escaping these high-level directives, which
must happen so that the Head, Jesus, fulfills his purposes in and through us.

So much of today’s church is patterned after modern business, which is all about having specific objectives, strategies for accomplishing them, which translate to specific objectives and actions at each level, which all roll up to the stated corporate objectives. At each level you have people acting as “heads” over their piece of the bigger picture, knowing what the need to accomplish, how it fits into the bigger picture, and planning/strategizing how to accomplish it. But my understanding from Paul here is that the Kingdom of Heaven is different in that there is only one Head, and the rest of us comprise the body. I see Paul trying to get everyone to fulfill their role in the body in “perfection in Christ”, and having the perspective that “we’re in this together as a single overall body”, but I don’t see him trying to help people be good “heads”, nor does he attempt this either. Jesus, the Head, has the master strategy for accomplishing his objectives, and we don’t need to go about trying to make up any new ones, or even require ourselves to know what his are, beyond what he’s clearly given us for fulfilling our parts. And our strategy for fulfilling our part in perfection is to live out of that connectedness to the Head. The way on is the same as the way in – come to Jesus and follow after him. This needs to be central to all we do.

just thoughts

a testament with a view

I’ll start things out with a simple thought process I like to use when I’m wondering what God’s take is on a topic. It’s nothing original, but I find it a bit curious that it isn’t used more often. It goes like this: when I’m thinking over a topic, wondering what to do, a simple first step is to ask, “What would the believers of the new testament think about this? Was this something they spent time thinking about? Was this a question they were asking?”

Now I’m not talking about using the new testament like an updated old testament (lawbook 2.0). So I don’t mean we should look at what they did, and try to essentially do the same. I have this theory that things really haven’t changed much when it comes to the challenges we face – whether hundreds or even thousands of years ago or what we face today. I just haven’t found that many really important parts of life that aren’t addressed in some manner in the life and times of Jesus and his first followers. But I also don’t think that Jesus intended us to read the letters & documents of the new testament and somehow woodenly “just do” what they did, the way they did it, today, without hearing from him on the matter. It was a testament of how they worked out this life with him in their day, and we need to do the same. This whole thing of the Holy Counselor living inside us, disclosing to us the things to come, guiding us into all truth, is my salvation for this life. I’d have nothing going for me without it.

I find great value in trying to get into the heads and hearts of Jesus and those men and women with him, and ask myself “What were they thinking? What was really motivating them to do and say those things? What was important to them, and what wasn’t important? Why? Why Not?” At the end of the day, we live by the Spirit – by hearing from the Lord on a matter, and moving out in faith to obey his prompting. By looking through the new testament letters this way, it’s like the early followers become our older brothers and sisters in the faith, putting their arms around us and telling us “Here’s how he led us; how we lived and why, so now you can make this your inheritance and go to him for his leading in your life.”

It becomes a critical point of reference for me, and I’ll use it often. Have you ever had one of those times when you just couldn’t seem to find the answer from God on something? When I get there I find it’s a good idea to consider that I may be asking the wrong question. It’s meaningful when the new testament is “silent” on a topic. If life’s challenges were really much the same for them as it is for us, and it’s hard to imagine them wrestling with something we’re wrestling with, it’s instructional to ask “why is that?”. Conversly, if I don’t find myself working over the same kinds of things that they did, it can be a good thing to ask “why not? God, what am I/are we missing here?” Much of what we spend time on in church businesses (what we call “churches” today) was not a concern in new testament times, and this “silence” speaks volumes. This will be a popular area of discussion for me here because “something like scales” are falling from the Church’s collective eyes, and it’s important that we see what God is revealing to us.

Thanks for reading. If you’re truly interested in these things, I welcome your thoughts in response.