As we prepare to celebrate Christmas tomorrow, there has been a recent focus on how Christ has been taken out of Christmas. Christmas in the context of this debate, has been turned into a consumeristic, marketing, and materialism movement. We were even lead to believe a few years ago that on Black Friday, our Christmas shopping could rescue the economy with this view of Christmas. Black Friday may one day become a holiday all by itself creating the trifecta of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas. But this isn’t the Christmas problem that I want to deal with. The problem I want to bring up has been an issue much longer. I want to focus on those of us that still keep Christ in Christmas. We have another problem.
Our problem is with the Christ that we lift up during Christmas. In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world, we continue to lift up a Eurocentric Jesus. The majority, if not all of the images of the Nativity Scene continue to be a White Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, even though this scene takes place far away from any European country. Our problem is that as we strive to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we actually lift up a false Jesus. By lifting up a false Jesus, we run the risk of that Western Jesus become the very symbol of what Christmas has become. We also must remember that Christmas isn’t a biblically based holiday in the first place. First century Christian Jews would not have placed the importance on Christmas that we do today. Over time Christian Gentiles made the pagan rooted festivals of both Christmas and Easter what they are today and have long forgotten the true biblical holidays such as Passover and Pentecost.
I’m not saying that we should move away from Christmas and Easter. No, I’m saying that we should recover the real roots of how they came to be celebrations for us in the first place so that we can present the real, biblical Jesus to the world. Christmas and Easter are pagan rooted festivals that were used for evangelism purposes to present Jesus to the Gentile world. This was a multicultural world. Over time though the European part of the pagan world came to dominate Christianity through Constantine and the Roman empire. This led to the re-birth of Jesus into a European.
In this Christmas season the church has the opportunity to recover the true Jesus based on Matthew 1 and John 1. We can also recover the mission of the true Jesus through Luke 4 and Matthew 9, 10, and 25. The real Jesus is a Afro-Asiatic Jew (Matthew 1), but most importantly the Son of God, Who has existed before what we know as the beginning of time (John 1). The real Jesus calls us beyond consumerism to a life of truth, transformation, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church must present the gift of the real Jesus to the world and solve the real Christmas problem.
1.) Become more of a movement than an institution.
2.) Become multi-ethnic.
3.) Proclaim and practice a deeply biblically-rooted strategy for compassion, mercy, and justice.
4.) Have a high priority and passion for evangelism.
5.) Involve large churches as a resource, but don’t lift them up alone as the highest model of a healthy and missional church.
6.) Affirm and train up men and women for the offices of Apostle, Evangelist, and Prophet based on biblical principles.
7.) Increase the number of women in pastoral leadership.
8.) Become students of how the Kingdom of God is being advanced in Africa, Central America, and South America.
9.) Expand the missional church conversation to include experts within the African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic, and Native American Church.
10.) Develop strategic Kingdom partnerships beyond your particular denomination.
As I was on a plane last night heading home to Northern California, I happened to be reading yet another book on the Missional Church. This time I was reading Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. Over the last year, I have read books by McNeal, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Darrell Guder, and many others. These book could read without knowing the authors and you might come to believe that they were written by the same person at times. On one hand, I have enjoyed reading these books and on the other these books have created much frustration in my heart and mind.
I have enjoyed reading these books because I’m very passionate about the church being missional. With the Church in the United States of America being so influenced by a corporate church model that tends to build its outcomes based on growth at the expense many times of depth and more holistic transformation, the missional conversation is one that is very needed. The frustration I have is that the missional church conversation is mainly a European-American conversation and to this degree is presented as if the European-American Church is the pioneer of missional ministry in the United States of America. I also have an issue with the lack of focus on issues of justice and racial righteousness that is avoided in much of the missional conversation. But, what is really troubling, is that the Black Church and the Urban Church in the United States of America is ignored as the true pioneering and Christ-centered forces behind a historic and present model of the Missional Church. Ignoring these church models makes it seem as if an emerging generation of European-American evangelicals discovered a missional approach to ministry through theologians such as Bishop Leslie Newbigin.
One of the reasons it may be difficult for the European-American Church to recognize both the Black and Urban Church is because it would then have to deal with how it historically played a role in the development of some of the injustices that plague Black and Urban communities today. One example is the issue of the White Flight from urban communities in the 1960′s and 1970′s when Black families began to integrate these predominately White communities at the time. White Flight assists in the creation of middle class and upper middle class suburbs, which in turn lay the foundation for the development of well-resourced suburban European-American mega churches. Evangelicals have to be willing to deal with this history. It was the conservative Christians that fled to escape integration while in many cases more liberal mainline churches stayed in the city and began to develop ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice.
Now, please understand that I’m in no way against large churches. And theologically, I am very evangelical. I do have an issue with large evangelical churches that help to sustain the segregated church in the United States of America by not understanding the roots of their existence. Some large churches in the suburbs are successful off of the flight and abandonment of the inner city years ago.
The Black Church has been missional since its beginning. It had not choice. The Black Church is created and evolves in the midst of a mission field, which soil produced slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and inner-city ghettoes. The Black Church was simultaneously the developer of new missionaries and the object of the White missionary, who was sometimes also the slave owner. The Black Church is forced within this mission field to not only be a worship center, but also a center of leadership development, community development, healthcare, education, and economic empowerment. These initiatives were rooted in Scriptures such as the Book of Exodus, Matthew 25, and Luke 4. The Black Church is still one of the most visible signs of the Missional Church in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston just to name a few.
It’s time to have a broader and more ethnically diverse conversation about the Missional Church. Are you ready? Then start by reading the following Missional Church writers that can broaden your theology beyond just the European-American Church perspective-
* Soong-Chan Rah
* Brenda Salter-McNeil
* John Teter
* John Perkins
* Martin Luther King Jr.
* Howard Thurman
This is just a start.
Maybe like me, you felt today as if the weight of the world was upon you. In your own power you were trying to provide all the answers, take care of all the business, and find time for your family as well. As the day comes to an end there’s still an opportunity to do what should have been done at the beginning. Approach the God of the universe with the weights upon your shoulders. Allow God to lighten your load. None of us have the ability in our own might to handle the full load of life’s journey. Find the rest and the strength your soul desires.
Right after I posted, “The Art of Discipline”, I began to think about being disciplined verses being driven. My thoughts were based on my reading about Gideon in the book of Judges within the Old Testament. Even though he was used by God to bring great victory in war on behalf of the nation of Israel, his victory soon turned into idolatry.
I would think that it took great discipline and submission to follow God in only taking 300 warriors into battle against thousands and come out victorious. The discipline comes in terms of putting yourself in position daily to hear from God and then the discipline to follow all instructions when all odds seem to be against you. Then there’s the discipline of being a trained and ready warrior as well as providing leadership by example to those following you into battle.
When your in the position of leadership discipline can soon turn to a state of being driven. This is when the purpose and plan moves from being about God, to being about you. After deliverance and victory brought about by God, Gideon was driven to receive the credit and to be rewarded. Instead of worshipping the One who brought victory, he became self wanting.
Where being driven can become self-centered is when we seek to gain power for ourselves instead of living a life of discipline, empowered by God. Leaders who are driven must be cautious of the power-seeking nature of wanting to be in the driver’s seat. Be careful that in being driven, you desire to drive life by your own power. This driven life is about wanting power and control verses being empowered by God and under the control of the Holy Spirit for a larger purpose. I desire that my life be bigger than me, but I fight the temptation daily to be driven to make life all about me.
Gideon in making victories brought on by God about himself, took riches and built what would become an idolatrous shrine. Within the next generation of his family there was murder in the form of one of his sons killing all of the rest of his sons except one. This murderous son was driven by the desire of rulership over the family and the nation. This murderous son lost sight of the disciplined life of being led by and empowered by God. Instead he was driven by seeking power in his own might.
May we seek the life of discipline over the life of the driven.
I’m a huge Minnesota Vikings football fan. This usually causes me to become sad year after year with the disappointment of another year without a Super Bowl win. Those who know Super Bowl history know that the Vikings have lost four Super Bowls and have not been to a Super Bowl since the 1970′s. We have lost 3 NFC Championship games over the last 20 years as well, with the 1998 and 2010 games being the most painful (At least for me). I provide this introduction because the Vikings released a Pro-Bowl offensive lineman last week for being overweight. He reported to training camp at about 400 pounds. This has made me wonder about discipline. Wasn’t making millions of dollars a year enough to keep him in shape? The answer is no. The next question becomes then, “What drives one to be disciplined?”
I began running about a year ago. I now run about 4 days a week. I never thought I would like running. To be honest there are days when I don’t. What causes me to get up and run? Discipline. I don’t say this to brag because all of my attempts at discipline are not successful. Some of the enemies of discipline are procrastination, distraction, discomfort, and challenge. You can pursue something that takes discipline and the moment it gets hard, give up. I have many examples of this in my life. The question now becomes, “What fuels discipline?”
Discipline is ultimately fueled by something beyond ourselves. For me that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides an empowerment and equipping beyond what I can manufacture on my own. The Holy Spirit is a counselor (John 14). As a counselor, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the true character and values for living life more abundantly. The Holy Spirit reminds me that you can’t separate discipline from discipleship.
The Holy Spirit is also the place where we find communion with God. This is where we experience God’s great love for us. This makes discipline not something we pursue because of law, but because of love. Discipline is not a checklist, but an art. Discipline is a dance whose rhythm comes out of intimacy. It’s connected to a Covenant with a loving God. When I dance with my wife, I experience the art of our Covenant together. I’m reminded of our love and commitment. We must be willing to dance with our God daily. Discipline is part of this glorious dance.
Last week I received the latest addition of Outreach Magazine. Attached, there was a notice that it was time for me to re-new my subscription in order to receive another full year of the magazine. A bonus gift comes if I take advantage of a special offer right now. This special gift is Dr. John MacArthur’s new book, “Slave.” The caption next to the book says, “Best-selling author and pastor Dr. John MacArthur reveals one crucial word that revolutionizes what it means to follow Jesus.” On the back of this advertisement it says, “What does it mean to be a Christian the way Jesus defined it? MacArthur says it all boils down to one word: Slave.”
Well, I respectfully have some issues with Dr. MacArthur. First of all the book is black, which I think is somewhat ironic. I realize this was probably more a publishing decision, not Dr. MacArthur’s. A black book with the word, “slave” on the cover written in white. I’m sure purely coincidental.
Second, and more important, is this question- Is slave the primary way Jesus defined the Christian life? What about this text-
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15-NASB)
And what about this text-
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because he has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the Poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19-NASB)
Is the primary way Jesus defines the Christian life and His role in it deem us the slaves? Even if you believe this to be true, there is enough Scripture to provide other identifications for the Christian than just slave. What about the Christian as liberated, beloved, child, heir, and friend? Why does slave get to be in the driver’s seat of the car of Christian identification?
I have to say that I have not read this book yet, so I’m just commenting on the advertisement of the book. I realize what an influential theological figure Dr. MacArthur is, which is why I must challenge in love, the premise of the advertising of this book. Why is it hard for some European-American theologians to see the bible story as one of liberation, not enslavement?
In the Old Testament, we read of a God who releases a people out of slavery, makes a covenant with them, and calls them to bring justice to the poor, orphan, widow, and alien (immigrant). Humanity is enslaved to sin, so in the New Testament we read of a Savior who comes to set us free by bringing new life. Is the God story really about slavery or about liberation and empowerment? I guess to a degree it depends on the cultural slant from which it is read and interpreted. As one who can trace his heritage back to a slave girl on my mother’s side, I see the primary way Jesus defines the Christian life as a life of freedom, follower-ship, an friendship. But, is this just my heritage or is it a true interpretation of the meta-narrative of Scripture; love, new life, freedom, and a new Kingdom? This is not to take away from obedience, worship, and Lordship. Jesus didn’t come to put us on a plantation, but to fulfill a promise. Is the Christian as slave revolutionary? Release from slavery is a more true revolution.
I will renew my subscription to Outreach Magazine so that I can read this book and speak more specifically to the theology being presented.
10.) Act as if justice is simply a social issue and not a biblical one.
9.) Reduce the Christian life to individualism.
8.) Major in the minors theologically.
7.) Stop saying “hate the sin, but love the sinner” when we don’t do it.
6.) Feel comfortable with segregated church.
5.) Confuse political ideology with biblical theology.
4.) Act as if race, class, and gender are no longer issues to be dealt with.
3.) Avoid prophetic preaching.
2.) Missing out on being blessed by women in pastoral leadership.
1.) Ignoring the biblical mandate of reconciliation.
I am honored to be featured in this publication of Duke Divinity School. Check it out and let me know what you think.
In recent years I’ve heard some notable Christian leaders say things like this regarding the current political landscape in the United States-
“The conservatives have lost their hearts and the liberals have lost their minds.”
“One political side represents Socialism and the other, Empire.”
Regardless of if these quotes are true of the current political state in the U.S. of not, I have great concerns that political ideology has many Christians held captive. I’ve talked to Christians who religiously listen to political commentators who aren’t even Christians themselves. If someone critiques one of these commentators or disagrees with them, it’s as if they disagreed with Paul in the Scriptures or maybe even Jesus. I’m saddened by Christians that are set on fire by political shock jocks getting wealthy on the extreme edges of conservatism and liberalism. These same Christians don’t seem to be set on fire in the same manner by the Savior who proclaims that, “the Kingdom of God is now at hand.”
Now, I know that these Christians would passionately disagree with me, but that is because they see political conservatism and evangelical theological conservatism as the same thing. Others believe that biblical kingdom justice and political progressive ideology are the same thing.
We cannot allow fallen political ideologies and structures to limit the possibilities of true Kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. The Kingdom of God as proclaimed in Scripture is supreme over and against any earthly government, including the one I like best. This means that though I believe democracy as worked out historically and currently in the United States is a better government model than others around the world, it doesn’t compare on any level to the truth, justice, compassion, transformation, reconciliation, and unity that comes forth from the Kingdom of God. And even though I believe what I do about democracy, I also believe that our government structure in the United States is currently broken, because every man-made structure in our world is fallen. Since all humans have fallen short, so are the ideologies and structures that we’ve created.
The Christian church is the vehicle which God has chosen to express the values, power, and outcomes of God’s Kingdom. The values of this Kingdom where communicated by our Savior Jesus Christ within Scripture. The church from this foundation ought to be presenting a Kingdom alternative and transforming solutions to the challenges we face today within the family, education, economics, community, health, and even tougher issues such as immigration.
But, because the church in many cases is being held hostage by extreme political ideologies from the edges, many outside the church don’t know the difference between God’s Kingdom and empire or God’s Kingdom and socialism. Now here is the challenging truth though; there are parts of the value system of God’s Kingdom that sound socialist on first listen and there are parts on first listen that sound like empire. But, when you look at all that is the Kingdom of God now and into eternity it is so much more than any earthly government could ever accomplish. Within the Kingdom of God value system there is the individual responsibility found within the necessity of new birth and the communal call to care for the poor. One must take ownership of their own spiritual development and be willing to share the first fruits of their resources to help the hurting thru the mission strategy of a local church.
No matter if you believe in big or small government, you can’t deny a big God who desires to love the lost, heal the broken, and bring justice to the oppressed thru the church.