Glossy Brochures and Dirty Hands

Whoa! This post takes us to the next level. Seriously. Check it out.

Ramblings from a Dirt Road

Standing in a laundromat in the middle of nowhere, facing a bulletin board above a folding table, there they are – numerous glossy, full-color business cards and pamphlets/brochures from local churches. One in particular catches my attention. It invites me, “Join us and go on an adventure!”

What kind of adventure are we going on? Are we going to rescue a beaten prostitute, or are we safely going to a country for a photo op with people of a different color? Are we going to invite addicts into our homes while they detox, or are we going to set up a booth at a local festival and sell hotdogs? Will our adventure take us away from our comfort, get us dirty, maybe expose us to foul language, or will it be just more fun fodder to show visitors to the church website?

As I look into the grinning image of…

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Welcome the Stranger: What WOULD Jesus Do? (Mt 25:31-40)

Wow!

Jesus Unboxed

     In Matthew’s gospel, the story is told of King Herod who committed genocide on a scale we can hardly imagine. But before this happened, he was visited by Magi who told him they had traveled a far distance in order to pay homage to a new king that had been born. Neither Herod nor his scholars could figure out exactly where this new king was born. So he told the Magi to go and search diligently for him. When they found the child they were instructed to return to Herod and fill him in on all the details. Herod told them he also wanted to pay homage to this new king. But the Magi knew Herod better than that.

     And so when they found the newborn king, they paid him homage and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then they left by another route…

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Pharaoh, The Nazi Gospel, and The Lupton Center (Seeking Shalom)

According to THE BIBLE, when God first created people (and, well, everything, for that matter), “it was good”.  Day 1 came and went, and God held Judgment on it, and the verdict was “good”.  Day 2, the same.  Day 3, and so on.  “It was good”; “it was good”; “it was good”.

Think about that a minute.  Every day of Week 1 is Judgement Day, and every Judgement Day, the verdict is “Good”.

Hmmm… You know what?

Those of us among the ranks of Bible-believing Christians might oughta consider carefully what makes a Judgement Day so “Good” to God.  Just what is going on there to create and sustain such a beautiful shalom?

And before sin and death come on the scene, God has the man and the woman naked and unashamed cultivating a garden with no sweat of the brow anywhere to be found!  Just what does it look like when a naked man and a naked woman PLANT SEED???

(This sounds almost like the euphemism and innuendo of a bad country song!)

Well, according to Genesis 1:26-27, this is what God LOOKS LIKE – God FULL FRONTAL!  And, it would seem, creation is counting on the humans bearing this image so that it can maintain proper order – SHALOM.

Hmmm…

No sweat.

Cultivating with no sweat.

Hmmm…

How does that work?

Let me confess a shocker here: Agent X does not have all mysteries worked out.

But I do know some things.  And one of those things is that just a few chapters later God comes to Egypt to find his son toiling away by the sweat of his brow in Pharaoh’s brickyards and crying out for mercy.  And one thing is sure: God doesn’t call that a “Good” day.  There is something wrong here.  The people of God are working their tails off, and God is not pleased about it.

Hmmm…

Do I sound like I promote laziness?

Well, that is possible, but it is not the only possibility by any stretch.  So if you are stuck with only that alternative, then FREE YOUR MIND.

Let’s just stick with THE BIBLE here and see where this goes.

God sends Moe to Pharaoh with a message: “That’s My Son you are picking on.  Let My people go!”

And Pharaoh, not being one to let God’s people sit around being lazy all day says, “No”.  And not only that, but it occurs to him that if these Hebrews have enough time to cry out to their God, then they should gather their own straw for the bricks and keep up the quota too.

And so “the world” tells us: MUST MAKE BRICKS!

Does this sound familiar to you?  I think Amazon should sell an alarm clock that wakes you up really early every morning shouting, “Must make bricks!… MUST MAKE BRICKS!! … MUST MAKE BRICKS!!!

Are you tired of the daily grind?  Got bills to pay? … kids to get off to school? … piano lessons & soccer practice? … a long commute? … a deadline to meet?… a double shift to cover? … dental work to pay for? …are you taking a “working vacation”?  SUCK IT UP, BUSTER, You MUST MAKE BRICKS!

Yeah, at 5:30 in the morning, let’s be honest, you want to smash that alarm clock, but you have the American Dream to live.  It’s not shalom, but you can’t imagine God’s world any gooder.  And so you listen to old Pharaoh, and you do what he says.

But that’s not what God says.

Fast forward to the Jews in Nazi concentration camps eons and millennia later.  The people of God toiling away at killing themselves just as fast as the murder industrial complex can muster.  And what do the Nazi taskmasters tell God’s people?

“WORK WILL MAKE YOU FREE!”

Yeah.  It’s Pharaoh’s gospel come back with a vengeance!  And all these people see is death and destruction, as they are tasked with killing themselves for the sake of killing themselves as fast as they can.  It is an urgent work.  Lot’s of sweat of the brow!  And just to put a little pep in the step, the Nazi’s tell them that work will make them free!

How’s that for Judgment Day”

How’s that for shalom?

I mean, as long as we are sitting around seeking shalom, why not Nazi shalom, huh?

So here we are talking about shalom on a homeless ministry blog.  And I now come to the “Seeking Shalom” class put out by the Lupton Center where our old friends Corbett and Fikkert have found “work” instructing Christians not to do for the poor what they can do for themselves as a means of God’s care in their lives.

Lupton calls this “Seeking Shalom”, but it sounds to me like its Seeking The American Dream, like a baptized Egyptian brickyard, like a precursor for Nazi propaganda.  And though they pepper their offerings with Bible quotes here and there, it is alarming how much they say with no reference to Scripture at all.  And then of the places where they do offer reference, matters like context and relevance to the subject are generally up for grabs.

Shalom.

We have some real and deep biblical insight into God’s shalom.  His Gospel message offers us Jesus, a Lord who does for us what we should have done for ourselves, but failed at.  He bears the image of God, utterly naked and unashamed on a Roman cross.  And he takes a wife, his church, to be faithful to him so that together they can sustain the shalom God gives by cultivating together in the garden of God.

How about we tell our homeless friends about that shalom?

Turns out, we would have to be seeking it ourselves.

Hmmm…

Meeting Needs vs. Seeking Shalom

One of the main slogans publicized by our friends at The Lupton Center in their Seeking Shalom class designed to have us “rethink charity” states: Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.  I belong to a church that offers this class to the congregation and embraces it’s teachings.  Despite my protest against it, leadership there very specifically rejects my rebuttal going so far as to say that my ministry does more harm than good.  I could not be more outright rejected.

But it’s not me being rejected.  Not really.  I bear real pain over it, yes, but I did not merely express my simple opinion, and made no protests on a whim, and despite the effort to turn my protests into an issue about me and my attitude, it’s really Jesus that is being rejected.  Jesus and the poor.

The church I belong to has a rich heritage of being “biblical”.  In fact, I have joined a number of Bible studies offered in this church where we search the Scriptures and listen, really listen, to the Word of God and submit to his authority as it is there revealed.  From time to time that listening process (in group settings) produces debates.  Not, generally, stern arguments, but various proposals for understanding a given passage are weighed in the discourse.  Frequently one proposal appears to hold more weight than another as they are analyzed carefully.  However, in practically all of these studies, the lesson is then spiritualized and made somewhat generic.  They do not call for a specific action from individuals or groups, but rather some spiritualized mental assent (or not).

In the Lupton class, there is a push to revamp the way people traditionally view almsgiving and charity.  They want us to “stop meeting needs” and “start seeking shalom”.

When it comes to “seeking shalom”, there is something of that spiritualized mental assent left up to the individual to embrace in that nebulous way that Bible studies often enable.  Basically, it’s a spiritual feel-good notion.  You can feel really enlightened by embracing it.

That said, I would not in anyway wish to inhibit shalom.  Surely shalom is the Christian goal, the description of Christian utopia, no less!  In fact, if there is a criticism here, it is the rhetoric of the statement that suggests we were not seeking shalom before we took the class.  If there is any truth to that, then we have a far more sinister heart problem than the nebulous mental assent can handle.  But if it never was a real problem, and if we had in fact been seeking shalom all along, then it is just a rhetorical device that lends rhetorical weight, not real substance, to the Lupton Center program.

However, the first part of the slogan, “Stop meeting needs”, is not so nebulous, and in fact the Lupton class explores this notion at length in various ways and approaches.  Very specific prohibitions (along with some general ones too) are discussed.  One thing for sure, according to this philosophy, you should never give cash to a needy person.  In fact, you should never give them anything they can obtain some other way.  You should never do for a needy person something they can do for themselves.  The idea is that a needy person has needs alright, but it will only do them more harm than good if you meet their needs rather than direct them to meet their needs themselves.

Now… back to the Bible.

First off, as I search the Scriptures, I NEVER find a passage that says anything like “Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom”.  It’s not a verse anywhere in there.  There are no such sayings, no such directives, and no examples demonstrating this “wisdom” in any concrete fashion at all.  If, and I mean IF, you can find a passage that lends weight to this notion, it is only in the most abstract way.  You really have to work it in between the lines.  This runs a strong risk of being eisegesis, not exegesis.

On the contrary, just reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry (never mind all the rich narratives, the prophets, the psalms and proverbs that would challenge this slogan), we find him meeting needs on page after page – sometimes in rapid fire/quick succession – multiple times with various people.

He heals Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever, the paralytic lowered through the roof, numerous demoniacs (including the one called Legion), lame people, blind people, lepers, a bleeding woman, a dead girl, a dead man, a dead son, and on and on and on and on.  News of his needs-meeting abilities spread like wildfire and crowds come from far and wide to see him, hear him, touch him, be touched by him, even for him to just walk past them.  If meeting needs were somehow inhibitive of shalom, Jesus would be doing more harm than good!

But he’s not done.  Even his own apostles find themselves in need, certainly on a boat in a storm, and they cry out in fear.  And he asks why they have no faith!  It would seem that they should be having faith that would save them, but they don’t, and so he meets their need by stilling the storm (pretty much half the definition of shalom, btw).  And what about the “woman caught in the act”?  This is a woman caught up in her own sin, caught in the very act, and there is no dispute about it!  She should not behave like this.  She got herself into this mess with her own poor choices, and the law would have her stoned, but not Jesus.  Jesus meets her need and spares her life!

How did there come to be a wedge driven between the meeting of needs and the seeking of shalom?

I don’t know for sure where it came from, but I am certain that it did not come from God.

Meeting needs does no harm to shalom.  Don’t let the nice folx at the Lupton Center tell you otherwise.  And I hope, really hope, your church does not reject Jesus and embrace this garbage.  If it does, I challenge you to show me where God’s Word ever tells you to “Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom”.  Listen to me carefully here.  I am not saying show me how smart you think it is; I’m saying show me where God says this.

If you can, I will hush my mouth.

Blessed Assurance: Call to the Table in the Face of Terror

Wow! Come to the TABLE!

Radical Discipleship

ChildrenBy Ken Sehested

One important thing that hasn’t been said this week [about the savagery of separating of children from parents at the US-Mexican border] is that this Department of Justice policy change is in fact a form of terrorism.

The point of terrorism isn’t killing people. Terrorists make strategic use of aggressive trauma to spread fear for the purpose of affecting social or political objectives. Look up the FBI’s definition.*

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Let Me Tell You Something About Poor and Needy People

Poor and needy people will mob you with their needs (Mark 1:37, 3:7-8, 32, 5:21, 24, 27, 8:6, 10:1, 46; Matt. 4:25, 8:1, 19:2, 20:29, 21:8-9, 11; Luke 5:1, 7:11-12, 8:24, 9:11, 11:29, 14:25, 23:27; John 5:13, 6:2).  They will quite literally wash up on your shores in droves, come poring across your boundaries without asking, and press in on you from every side (Mark 5:31).  And if you give even just one of them a healing touch, they will follow you all the way to Jerusalem (Mark 10:52).  Like a stray dog you let your kids feed, they will never go away.  In fact they will tell all their friends, and more will come (Matt. 4:24).  You can try to get away from them, but they will find out where you are going and race there ahead of you and meet you when you get off the boat (Mark 6:33; Matt. 14:13).  And the poor, you will always have with you (Mark 14:7; Matt.26:11; John 12:8).

But let me tell you something else about the poor: They know how to party! (Luke 14:13).  In fact they know how to take your party to the apocalyptic level! (Luke 14:14).  It turns out these poor people are the V.I.P.’s you always wanted to rub elbows with, but did not recognize at first (Matt. 25:31-46).  In fact, the poor and needy are the Main V.I.P.!  And he is knocking at your door – your boundary crossing – hoping you will lower your velvet rope and invite him in (Rev. 3:20).

So, where have we got to now with this new insight?

Ordering the world for Jesus is really about the easiest burden and lightest yoke you will ever be called to bear.  In fact the LOVE you find in your heart can lift this burden and bear this yoke with both your hands tied behind your back.  But of course your CONTEMPT can’t even lift a finger.

Wanna fix the problems in God’s creation?  Wanna be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?  Wanna be the difference you want to see?

Then get with Jesus.

Would-Be Disciples, Beware!

Check out these convicting thoughts, and imagine the homeless and poor flooding your church when you boldly bring them in to party with Jesus.

KINGDOM UPGROWTH

If I ever make it to Greece, one of the places I most want to go is to the Monasteries of Meteora. This is a place of great value to the Greek Orthodox Church, both because of the monasteries and because of the massive rock formations upon which they are built. The views are incredible, and I imagine it would be a fantastic place to pray and reflect.

I read an article a few years ago about Meteora, where someone compared their approach to the modern seeker-sensitive churches. It’s quite a contrast, and the hard-to-reach location isn’t even the primary reason for the contrast. 

Can you imagine going to a place like this to worship? After all the journey involved in getting there, you would be greeted inside with a fascinating collection of artwork. Though the lives of significant Christians and Biblical stories, such as the Transfiguration, are well…

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Eating & Shalom

Almost 15 years ago I found an obscure book on a bookstore shelf by Walter Brueggemann I had never heard of before.  Turns out, it was a book that had gone out of print under a different title, and Chalice Press brought it back.  The previous title was Living Toward A Vision, but the copy I got was simply called Peace.

Peace

The whole book is definitely worth the price, but there is one chapter (Chapter 6, called “Ordering and Eating”) that almost immediately impacted me, and over the years I have reread it many times.  It became, in fact, a ministry-shaping chapter that opens up my prophetic imagination* to the reality of God with power and grace beyond the telling.

The chapter opens with quotes from Genesis 43 and Luke 14.  Brueg pairs the biblical stories therein.  The first tells of Joseph in Egypt when his brothers come before him, not recognizing his face, but nevertheless Joe feeds them from his table.  The second covers a series of parables Jesus tells at a party about giving parties, and in particular the directive Jesus issues that “When you throw a party, do not invite your rich friends and family, but instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind….”  Then Brueg goes to telling us about his experience at his favorite drive-in hamburger joint with a sign that says, “No Shirt, No Shoes – No Service, No Exceptions” and how that this sign reflects world order and world ordering agendas.

In the course of the discussion, Brueg considers the relationship between eating and ordering our world.  He recalls growing up in in The South before the Civil Rights Movement and how the local café in his community had a section for “Whites Only” which was much more attractive that the “separate but equal” room in the back for blacks that ate food from the same kitchen served by the same staff, and how that community leaders from various councils and boards of directors ate in the main room while setting policies for the community.

But then Brueg brings these insights to bear on the Joseph story.  (Actually, I think Brueg could have said far more in connection with this than he does!)  The brothers do not recognize Joe, but they fear him and bow down to him.  He is in charge of the food for the whole known world and they come to him in destitute need, bowing down to him as he inquires about his maternal brother and his dear old father.  Joe has to retreat in tears so as not to blow his cover!  But he serves a meal to these wayward brothers, even designating extra portions for his favorite brother!  Joe is reordering the world for God’s purposes, and doing it AT TABLE!

Jesus comes along in Luke 14 and instructs his disciples (readers of Luke) to re-order the world for God’s purposes by way of THE TABLE (the party).

Brueg fails, in my estimation, to bring this analysis in close proximity with Eucharist.  He could give us insight into Jesus’s experience AT TABLE, since, when the church comes for communion, we congregants take a prophetic role portraying Joe’s brothers – eating what we don’t fully appreciate, seeking Jesus (sure, but) in a mirror darkly!  And Joe takes a prophetic role portraying Jesus in this prelude, giving us insight into the heart of Jesus who withdraws to weep as we bow low before him and then come to the table to eat his flesh and drink his blood!

Brueg falls short, I think, in declaring and demonstrating the Power and Grace of God for bringing SHALOM to bear in God’s economy when we forego the invitations to the rich and powerful and instead invite the poor and the lame to eat/party with us/Him!  We too might withdraw to weep at the stench of our homeless brothers who dare to come into The Presence (our presence too) soaked in piss, but finding God’s love and nourishment from his table.

One of the strong points going for Brueg, though, is his observation from Scripture that “Those whom the gods would value, they first eat with” and then he quotes Exodus 24:11.  Taking up a passage from the New Testament, he notes that Jesus is revealed in the “breaking of bread” as we find in Luke 24:28-35.  But then Brueg points out that it is no mere coincidence that the Civil Rights Movement came to a head at a lunch counter!  Who you eat with says a lot about how you order the world.

This leads, then, to a sentence he pens, which once set in this context becomes so very life-shaping.  He says, “We knew intuitively that with whom we eat is a highly symbolic act expressing the covenants we honor and the shape of shalom we affirm and choose” (page 78).

I cannot overstate the importance this book, and especially this chapter, have for my life and my work.  I encourage my readers to find a copy of the book and soak in its message.

To be frank, there are elements of Brueggemann’s work I quibble with, even in this book.  But the ironic part, for me, is that even after opening up the Word of God with such power and grace as he does in this chapter, this same man has gone on to work with The Lupton Center on their Seeking Shalom class which goes to pains to make us rethink (and thus revamp) Jesus’s own directives for charitable giving – as if Jesus himself needs improved upon!

Nevertheless, this bit from Brueggemann is well worth your time and consideration.  I hope you find it, read it for yourself, and then discover it as meaningful and fertile for growing your prophetic imagination as I do.

 

* Prophetic Imagination is the title of another Brueggemann book, btw.

Rwandan Prophecy

A post worthy of consideration AGAIN

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

In his book Mere Discipleship, Lee Camp tells us that at the time of the Rwandan genocide (1994), Rwanda was “‘the most Christian country in Africa,’ with as much as 90 percent of the population claiming some Christian church affiliation.”  This is particularly shocking when you consider how that these Christian neighbors rose up against one another in a slaughter of genocide that left nearly a million dead men, women, and children.

I was a young man in my mid-twenties at the time.  I recall the reports on the nightly news, and how I felt a vague tug on my conscience but was not actually moved to do anything except go on eating my dinner.  In fact, I do not recall even praying for those people.  They were just so far away, so different, so black, so African… that I barely cared enough to have a brief feeling for…

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