the gospel announcement

If you know anything about the word ‘gospel’, you probably know that it means ‘Good News.’ You may also know that it is the word (euangelion‘) that a Roman herald would use in making the announcement that there was a new Emperor in the Empire. I love the way that Tom Wright points out that these Roman heralds were not offering an invitation, but rather making an announcement. As Wright says, these heralds didn’t ride into town and say, “In case you are interested in offering your devotion to someone, you may wish to try Caesar, who has recently become the Emperor of Rome. He would be delighted if you should wish to follow him.” Instead, it would have been more like this, “We bring you the good news (‘gospel’) of Rome that Caesar Augustus is now our beloved Emperor, and demands your allegiance and taxes! On your knees!” In short, these heralds were declaring that Caesar was Lord!

The idea of ‘good news’ was certainly not just a Roman thing, however. The Jewish prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries ago about ‘good tidings’ for the poor, etc. (ch. 52 & 61 and other places). In fact, when Isaiah was translated into Greek (in the Septuagint), they used the same word (euangelion‘) in these places! Indeed, the word ‘gospel’ had a very different usage when the New Testament was written!

Believing the ‘Gospel’ in the first century came complete with side-effects, and it wasn’t simply that you belonged to a club that you didn’t before. If it was the Gospel of Caesar, the side-effect was that you would swear allegiance to him as Lord – lived out by paying taxes and obedience to the Roman system. Whether you were an orator, civic benefactor, patron, client, land-owner, peasant or slave, obedience meant knowing your place and not rocking the boat.

With the coming of Jesus, the word Gospel took on new meaning – as did the side-effects that went with believing it. For Jews, believing the Gospel of Jesus meant that the ‘good news’ of Isaiah had never been announced like it had been with Jesus. In the Roman world, however, believing the Gospel of Jesus was hazardous for your health! Believing that Jesus was Lord meant believing that Caesar was not! It meant believing that the ‘good news’ of Jesus made the ‘good news’ of Rome look like a cheap scam. It meant no longer living according to a system which really only served an elite few at the top, but rather living according to the character of a Lord, who is nothing at all like Caesar.

What in the world does this mean for us today? Possibly more than we care to know. I think it means that the Gospel of Jesus has little to do with an invitation that I accept (as if it were about ‘me’), and everything to do with an announcement that is true. Jesus really IS Lord. My life needs to give voice to that, and simply saying so won’t do. Simply associating with others that say so (or not associating with those that don’t) won’t do either. Our spending habits, dreams (‘American’ or otherwise), time, money, standard of living, and much more – they all must bow the knee to the fact that Jesus is Lord. Announcing this is our calling. It will definitely require our words, but equally (or more) so, it will require our lives.

the spiritual world – 3 options

Do a ‘google-search’ on the word ‘spiritual’ and you’ll find thousands and thousands of results. There seem to be as many views on ‘spirituality’ as there are types of music. All of the endless talking and writing about spirituality seems to stay close to a few types of questions…-What is spirituality?
-How do I practise it?
-What does it ‘look’ like?
-Whose version of it works the best?
-Is there a ‘best version’ at all?
-Am I spiritual enough?
etc.

Well. Of course, I cannot possibly address every idea about spirituality. I haven’t even heard every idea out there – and I seriously doubt anyone has. I can’t even address every idea about spirituality that supposedly comes from the Christian community! The topic is so vast and it contains so many contradictory ideas, it can be quite exhausting even thinking about it for long!

What a tough deal. Huh? I firmly believe that ALL humans are spiritual beings, and I think most people would agree (but again, it depends on your definition of ‘spiritual’). We all seem to have this deep sense of this thing we call ‘sprirituality’, but there are so many views out there (even within Christendom), that trying to find the best (true, correct, right?) one can wear us out quickly.

I want to encourage health in this area. For those seeking a better ‘spiritual health’ that are growing (or have grown) tired of the search, I want to encourage them to not give up. Our lives matter just that much.

Instead of delving into this bottom-less pit of ideas, I thought I would share a ‘set of glasses’ with you. I discovered them from reading a book by N.T. Wright called “Simply Christian”. These ‘glasses’ provide a framework with which to evaluate various ideas about spirituality and the world. My hope is that they will fuel your search with enthusiasm.

Right about now, some readers might be thinking, “But we have the Bible. No search is necessary. Just read what it says,” to which I would respond, “OK. Then how can there be so many different – even contradictory – ideas about spirituality which all claim to be ‘biblical’? While I believe that the Bible does have the answers, I’m nervous about such a simplistic pat-answer to this very important question.

The spheres of ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ are overlapping to say the least. Ask just about anyone what spirituality is, and they will eventually say something about tapping into a ‘greater’ reality, God, god, being, existence, mindset, Mindset or whatever. Using 3 ‘options’, these ‘glasses’ provide a way of viewing the universe we live in and how ‘god’ fits into the picture.

Option 1
The first option is to see the entire universe as being – in it’s very nature or essence – god. This is known as the pantheist view (pan = everything, theos = god). As N.T. Wright points out, the unavoidable difficulty with this view is that it is hard to account for the obvious evil that we see so clearly around us. If everything in itself is divine, and evil is so apparent, then the divine must contain evil, right? This tension is seen in such symbols as the yin-yang, used in Confucianism and Taoism. Unfortunately, we are left with a corrupt deity in this view.

Option 2
This option views god’s realm as being detached and/or dis-interested with our realm. The idea is that because the divine must be pure, and our world is so obviously corrupted, stained and flawed, the divine simply cannot have anything to do with this existence. This god may have created the world, but now must have more important things to do, because our world certainly is being ignored. Perhaps this god may come down and do something scary every once and a while, but for the most part, is distracted by ‘heavenly’ business. Many versions of this view have been articulated, but perhaps the most well known person to do so was Plato. His view has become known as dualism, in which this world is merely a flawed copy of the ideal world. (Though we may not realise it, many so-called Christian ideas and Bible verse interpretations are tainted with this understanding of the universe.) The problem with this view is that while we admit that our world is most certainly flawed, we still behold it’s beauty and majesty. We find mountains, hills, fields, flowers, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, sunsets, full-moons, and ocean waves to be deeply moving. Indeed, the Bible gives repeated testimony to the greatness of God’s good creation.

Option 3
Option 1 cannot solve the question of evil, and leaves us with a deity that is in some way – at least in part – corrupt. Option 2 cannot explain the richness and glory of the universe, and leaves us confused about how to get the attention and favour of it’s distant god. Continuing with N.T. Wrights ‘glasses’, our third option is to see two dimensions – Heaven and Earth – which ‘overlap’ and ‘interlock’ in various ways. The divine interacts with and relates to this world. This highlights the personal nature of this God. This God is somehow able to act in our very own space and time while at the same time remaining sovereign over it. This God is able to promise His people that He will ‘dwell among them’.

Perhaps this is already sparking some thinking and re-thinking about some things. Perhaps you’re wondering about some versions of spirituality. Which option do they fit most comfortably in?

Option 1 spirituality can seem to not have any real substance or meaning. If everything is god, then I don’t need to ‘tap into’ anything, but instead I must try to make the idea work in my brain that the ground, the air, the water, my computer, my car and myself are all god. How does that help me live? I have no idea.

Option 2 spirituality can leave us confused about how to relate to the god. If this god is so distant, I probably have to use the right techniques, prayers, rituals or words to get its attention. If this existence is just a flawed copy of the idea existence, then it certainly can’t matter very much, and what real difference do my actions make? If they matter at all, it must be so I can secure for myself a better after-life, right? Again, many ‘Christian’ ideas are polluted with such thinking.

Option 3 provides us with an existence that is dripping with spirituality. Not a spirituality of self-realisation that seeks to understand our god-ness (option 1), and not a confused grasp in the dark at a face-less ‘something out there’ which I can try to manipulate into working for me (option 2), but rather, an existence that: calls me into relationship with a Creator God who wants me to be His image, reveals the character of the Creator to guide me to a lifestyle of this image, and gives me a role to play in the Creator’s unfolding story of redemption.

We don’t have to live in a mediocre, bland fake-ness that suggests everything is fine and divine (option 1). We don’t have to ‘hold our breath’ between ‘spiritual moments’ as if they only come every once in a while – perhaps miraculously (option 2). We instead are given the task of passing on the gift of Grace which we have received freely from the Creator, using not just the right collection of ‘spiritual experiences’ to do this, but rather, we realise that our whole life is a spiritual experience and journey in which we grow in relationship to the Spirit of the Creator, who ‘dwells with us’ and orients us to new life. A life rich with meaning, direction and purpose. A life that is part of the Creator’s story. A life of strength in weakness. A life of weeping with those who weep. A life modeled after the life of Jesus.

good will toward us

At the time of Christ’s birth, the angels said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14) Isn’t that an amazing idea that God extended His good will in our direction? He did so in the very act of Christ taking on our flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). It’s the act of incarnation. Christ gave up the comfort and prestige of heaven and willingly chose to live a life filled with discomfort and mockery. Our Lord went through times of loneliness, being misunderstood, physical exhaustion, hunger, agony, pain and yes, death.

Christ knew from eternity what would come with His incarnation. This Christmas, perhaps we can recognize our calling to be like Christ in this way. We are called to go into the world in the same way Christ did. All too often Christians instead choose to live cozy lives of faithful church service attendance, Bible studies, and friendships with other believers. We are quite comfortable to speak to each other in Christian-ese and continually listen to our favourite style of worship music.

Of course, I’m not trying to devalue the utter importance of Christian fellowship. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that our calling includes so much more than fellowship. We must go into the world. We must learn the language of the world. To do this we must risk being… uncomfortable. It means we don’t force people to listen to our stories until we’ve listened to theirs. The willingness to do this doesn’t come naturally, but super-naturally. May we have the courage of Christ in us to motivate us to sacrifice our comfort, reputations, productivity, lifestyle or anything else that is keeping us from fully answering our calling to be incarnational.

fools and rules

Last week, we talked about how important thoughts are.

This week I want to continue that theme as we look at a passage in Galatians. Our thinking about sin and righteousness just plain matters. In the first century, Paul, who was a Jew among Jews (Gal. 1:13-14), was radically transformed into the Apostle that we know so well for reaching Gentiles (non-Jews) with the Gospel. When he converted, he eventually joined the rest of the Apostles. In Galatians, Paul recalls a ‘disagreement’ he had with Peter (yes, Peter.) and a few of the other Apostles. (And you thought disputes in church were a recent thing?) Paul literally got in Peter’s face about being a hypocrite. When Peter was at Antioch, he had no problem eating with Gentiles until some folks arrived that said that believers had to be circumcised. Peter was afraid that he would be seen eating with these uncircumcised Gentiles, so he stopped eating with them!

Paul openly rebuked him, asking him why he should expect Gentiles to live as Jews, when he (a Jewish believer) lived as a Gentile? Paul then reminded Peter that justification was not from keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ!

Some of the early Jewish-Christian believers of the 1st century struggled to welcome Gentiles into the church. After all, they were the good, moral, circumcised, Sabbath-keeping ones. They were appalled by these Gentiles walking around like they own the place. After all, these ‘other’ people didn’t keep the Sabbath, they weren’t circumcised, they ate pork and other non-kosher food… they just weren’t like them! How could these people be believers?

The Apostle Paul consistently reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the grace of God. That’s it! It’s true! Done deal! You don’t have to jump through all the right hoops or measure up to any standards.

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21

May we recognise where our life comes from, and extend grace even to those who don’t dress, talk, smell, look or act like we do.

Trusting in His Grace,
-Dale

help! i’m not acting right!

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions

Here’s a theologically loaded statement:
Right beliefs (ortho-doxy) create right feelings and lead to right actions (ortho-praxy).

As Christ-ians, our life (and thereby, our life-STYLE as well) is all about Christ. This is true isn’t it? Whatever we think, feel or do ought to be thought, felt or done in regard to Christ. Pretty amazing to think that Christ wants to renew our thinking, give us joy, and (as if that’s not enough) DO great things through us.

Thoughts
It starts with our thinking or our beliefs, doesn’t it? They are of utmost importance. When we actually believe that the God of the universe would not just merely be interested in us, but also would be willing to die for us, that has an effect on us!

Feelings
Once we are thinking straight, and it starts to sink in that Christ paid a debt that we would never have been able to pay, I’m just guessing that our feelings should take perhaps a small positive turn! That is what joy is all about! Would a prisoner that had been freed from a death-sentence show no emotion? Well, whether you realise it or not, or just have forgotten, If you are a Christian, you were a prisoner, and you have been set free from your death sentence!

Actions
This is where it gets interesting. We tend to be terribly distracted when our actions (or someone else’s) are either lacking or not of the right “kind.” If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of thinking that our actions shape and form our beliefs. It’s the other way around. Our REAL thoughts and beliefs are seen in the way we act. It’s a tricky distinction that can easily be missed. Put plainly, you can’t serve your way into having Christian beliefs. You can, however, believe your way into serving in a Christian way. As church-type-people, we often act like the former statement is true. We care less about what people believe or how they feel, and instead just try to find ways to get all of the Christian jobs done! We must not do this.

If you are experiencing a ‘dry spell’ in your Christian life, check your beliefs and feelings. One of the many great things about the Christian life is that we are not simply converted and then put on a shelf, we are grown, tested, tried, bruised, etc. These bumps are to cause us to remember Who we are intended to rely upon. The dry spells aren’t there to get us to try harder, but to help us realise our inability to please God with our flesh, and remember Who our strength is. One of the greatest passages in the Bible about God’s will for living the Christian life is the beginning of the 12th chapter of Romans. Among other things, it says to “be transformed (continually) by the renewing of your mind.”

Thoughts are important.

Blessings,

Dale