A more relevant Gospel

              I would love to put the Mars Hill paradigm to rest, as in rest in peace.

              In Acts 17, Paul speaks to the Athenians about their unknown God. He uses some of their own lingo, and even quotes some of their popular literature. He ultimately claimed that Jesus is the judge of the living and dead and is proven to be by being raised from the dead. This episode has become paradigmatic for contemporary gospel preaching – specifically in attempts to be culturally relevant or missiological or strategic, etc. It is sometimes claimed that Paul searched through the secular literature in hopes of finding an analog to the gospel message. It is more often stated, as a matter of irrefutable fact, that this method must be employed if we hope to make the gospel message relevant.  I submit, or rather aggressively assert, that this is a large pile of hogwash.

              First, Paul’s excursion on Mars Hill was, arguably, measurably, his least significant and least effective. No Mars Hill church was planted that day (irrespective of attempts at contemporary cool expressions thereof). We have no epistle to the church at Athens. There were very few converts (in comparison to Paul’s other endeavors). There were no ongoing meetings. No baptisms. No elders. There were a small handful of names were recorded as believing. In comparison to Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, et al, Athens stands out as the model to be least imitated.

              Second, the approach Paul uses in Acts 17 is the single recorded use thereof. Meaning, if we saw Paul use this approach in other cities and locales, we might should consider it as a paradigm for proclamation. But we do not. If that passage weren’t recorded, we would have zero Bible for any attempt or thought that we must make the gospel relevant by seeking an analog with a targeted culture’s literature or legend.

              What we do see from Paul, far more often and far more effectively, is the claim that Jesus Christ died and rose again and will judge all men – but there is forgiveness for those who believe. And we observe Paul trust in (and remind his audience that he trusted in) the power of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the reality of the risen Christ. It appears from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that he was exasperated after the events at Athens and just swore-off trying to outwit his audience. We do not just need 1 Cor. 2:4. We have Galatians 3. We have I Thessalonians. We have Romans. We have repeated reminders that Paul thoroughly relied upon the demonstrated power of the Holy Spirit.

              It is this that makes the gospel relevant. That God anointed Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit and power, and that those who bear His Name go about doing good and healing all under the tyranny of the devil. What makes the gospel relevant is that Christ has (literally) entered into our sickness and pain and bore them, carried them. Jesus is relevant when Jesus does what Jesus does. God testifies to the Gospel with signs and wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is God’s preferred method of relevancy. Power is relevant. Healing is relevant. Deliverance is relevant. Every human being can understand being healed. Pain is common to every tribe and tongue and culture and land. Healing is the clearest sign that something is wrong, but that there is Someone who can make it right. To claim we must find a cultural analog in order to make the gospel appealing is not just false, it is heresy. If analogs exist – fine. If they can be used to illustrate – fine. If God has hidden symbols of the gospel in the hearts and minds of world cultures, wonderful. But not primary. Not pride of place. Faith must not be entrusted to the wisdom of man; it can only rest upon the power of God.

              RIP, Mars Hill.

Civil Disobedience in Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar made a 90 foot statue and covered it in gold. The decree was given that at the sound of the musical instruments, everyone must bow and worship the statue. This was likely to protect and promote loyalty to the king. All were to participate in showing their allegiance to, support of, even devotion to the king. At the sound of music – “”everyone do the thing!”

Idolatry was a party and a matter of pride. If you didn’t do as everyone else, clearly you were contrary. The allegiance had specific behavior to it – you had to bow. Not bowing was met with incineration. It wasn’t just cool and trendy, it was the law. If you didn’t participate, you didn’t just have to endure the “shame-squad,” you would be executed by being burned alive.

Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego did not bow. They didn’t curse the king, tear down the statue, nor did they criticize anyone for bowing. They just would not bow. And they faced the fiery wrath of a pagan nation. The Lord spared them from death, but their devotion to the Lord was not predicated on His deliverance. They would not bow regardless of consequence.

Years later, a law was put in place – for 30 days – that no one may pray to anyone but the king, under penalty of death. It was legal. It was temporary. It was applied – fairly – to everyone. No one was singled out or targeted (not legally, although those behind the law were aiming at Daniel). Daniel was an employee of the king. He was under the king’s rule as a citizen and under the king’s authority as an employee. And Daniel was prohibited, for a mere 30 days, from praying (or at least from doing so in a way where anyone would see, hear or know about it). It was probably ok to go buy furniture, bbqs, and medicinal marajuana, but not to pray (at least not in public).

Daniel could have complied, or at least found a way to comply. He was pretty smart. He could have prayed in a closet, under a bed, or rode out into the countryside alone and prayed. There were no Yahweh-centric sites in Babylon, so no particular place would have mattered anyway – prayer isn’t a “place” anyway, right? The law wasn’t permanent. It would pass. They were all in this together.

But Daniel went up to his room, the same place he always went to pray (which would have been a considerable place, visible and known). He opened the windows toward Jerusalem. And prayed. He prayed aloud (as all Jewish men did). And he did so three times a day. He got down on his knees and prayed. He did not stand on the balcony and proudly thump his chest. He knelt in humility and devotion to God, giving thanks and asking for help (6:10-11). Daniel disobeyed a royal law and a direct order. There was no actual OT law that required him to pray from his room, aloud, three times a day. But he did so in devotion to God, in desperation for God’s help, and in direct disobedience to the ruler of his day.

Both of these examples were rife with risk. The first was a refusal to comply with the crowd’s idolatry. The second was to worship openly under prohibition.

Civil disobedience in Babylon is nothing new. The need for conviction, courage and humility continues.

Your location is not your destination

I feel like a broken record that is responding to a broken record, or that I am beating a dead horse but the horse won’t die. By the way that is a horrible metaphor.

Blogs, articles, commercials – so many telling us that this is the new normal (covid culture). We have to get used to this. Drink the cool aid.

I’ve written elsewhere some argument against all of that. But this morning, reading through the life of David in 1 Samuel I see a great example.

For 16 months David and his army lived in Philistine territory in the town of Ziklag. Before that he’d been living in Gath for a season. Let’s be conservative and say it was at least two years of living in and with and in some cases “as” Philistines.

That would be pretty persuasive. Meaning – it would be easy to conclude that “this” was the new normal. But the life of King David shows that this was not normal – it was an anomaly. They made the best of it. Killed bad guys. Kept Ziklag for future Kings of Judah. But this was not indicative of their identity or destiny. It was a season. And that season passed. Their location was not their destination.

Yet we have two months of covid culture and the gurus claim this is now the way it is. We need to adjust to this. This is the plumb line. We can only grieve well for anything that once was.

Horseradish. This is a season. It’ll pass. We’ll learn stuff. Gain stuff. Get some victories. Make some changes. But this is not our identity nor our destiny. We have greater battles. We have sweeter joys. We have whole new paths to forge and dreams to pursue.

Your location is not your destination. Greater things are yet to come.

~ Dav

Four Cornerstones of Conduct

To whatever degree I have a responsibility to serve others by way of example and encouragement, to whatever degree I must make decisions that affect others, I must base my conduct on four cornerstones.

Conviction: It all begins here. What is true? What is right? What is non-negotiable? What is “worth it”? Conviction is the fundamental “what is” and “why it must be.” Without conviction I will waver. Without conviction I may pander. Conviction cannot come via consensus (although it should be informed and measured by advice). Conviction is what I believe, so help me God. Conviction must prompt action – or prohibit it – or it is just an idea.

Courage: This is my will, my resolve to act upon my convictions. Whether applauded or attacked, whether alone or among others, I will act according to conviction.  Has He not commanded? “Be strong and very courageous.”

Compassion: My conviction and courage must never lead to crassness or callous. Doing what I believe is right will not justify treating someone else wrong. Boldness does not require harshness. Speaking up never requires talking down. Being strong isn’t being a bully. I must care enough about others to respect their courage to disagree with my convictions.

Cool-head: Temperature is “average kinetic energy.” The higher the temperature, the faster the molecules are moving. Hot heads have hyper molecules. Cool heads have self-control. Proverbs says that a fool gives full vent to his anger. James says that everyone one must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Without a cool-head I am just a fool with an overheated opinion.

These principles, in concert, must guide and govern my conduct.

Humanity and post-covid culture

I hear and read many posts / articles / emails that suggest much of the corona-culture will become a new normal. I don’t agree and I want to say so as publicly as I can.

It’s true that many have been exposed to technology – the creative use of technology – that will become part of their on going traditions. It may become a permanent option for some programs and groups. It should!

It’s also true that people have rediscovered the value of sabbath, quiet, even solitude.
People have found out what they can live without. All this is true and will be fascinating to observe unfold.

It will be trendy and profitable to sell business or products or services that are more sanitary, more protective (look for supplements and wearable paraphernalia that aid immunity). For a while, everyone will want everyone to know just how vigilant they are regarding cleanliness and safety.

There have always been germaphobes. There will be more. We may need show greater respect toward subconscious concerns about safe handling of food and other products.

However, I believe it is a massive mistake to assume that humanity will cease being fundamentally human.

We won’t avoid large crowds – not for long. I will wager that, soon, events will be held specifically for the purpose of just having large crowds together – for the energy of it – even for the “edgy-ness” of it. Fear is not a long term deterrent of social behavior. We’ve seen more deadly viruses, shocking and devastating plagues… but none of them have prevented humanity from being human – in the long run. We are risk takers. We are rule-breakers. We crave one another, often in copious portions.

A more immediate and urgent trend will be people seeking meaningful connection in person. Sharing meals together. Singing together. Sharing experiences together. We’ve always identified ourselves (to one degree or another) by our clan, our group, our people. People will crave and cling to groups.

And church: I don’t believe people will drift more toward or settle for screen-time. We SHOULD continue online presence and proclamation!! But there will never be a substitute for the gathered community. There will be an increased desire for authenticity, for real presence, for God’s presence, for participation over presentation.

Some will remain impacted by the fear and trauma. Folks that lived in the Great Depression kept certain spending and saving habits. But those habits soon evaporated (within a generation) in the heat of human nature’s desire for ‘more.’

Hope. Hunger. Passion. Joy. Community. These cannot be restrained, not at length.
History, anthropology, sociology, and THEOLOGY are better guides for navigating the future than are trends, fads or fears.

We will be more human, not less, after all of this. I plan on it anyway.

Thru the Bible

This year I am nudging our congregation and any others willing/interested to read through and respond to the Bible together.
One way that I’ve committed to helping is to offer some videos via social media.
I will also post them here.
Below is a link to the thru the Bible playlist on my you tube channel where I save these vids (they are uploaded to FB and Insta ‘Thru the Bible’).
Just the first vid explains what / why / how… and then we get to the daily…


https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3vSwmi4JzatwWXVGyPhLzELuW14G4-kG

The difference between burning and burning out

I learned something today. I imagine that a host of you might scoff that I did not know this before, but I am honestly happy to at least have learned it now.

Last year, after teaching through the book of Revelation, I became quite intrigued with the lampstand. Jesus walks among them; they “are” the church; the lampstand may be removed… And the idea of the church burning with light that is not its own but fueled by the oil of the Holy Spirit… all these mystical, analogous, yet very real and powerful things left an impression on me.

Today I decided I wanted to try and “light” the lampstand and display it during our all-day prayer meeting. You can’t fit candles in there – and I knew it was supposed to be oil… so I bought a wick, cut it in pieces and placed them in the lamp. I filled the cups with oil and lit the wicks.

Here was my personal “ah ha” today: fire destroys the wick. The wick will burn up, quickly, when set aflame. But… BUT if that wick can soak up the oil, it ceases to burn up, and just burns. The oil burns, but the wick just hosts the flame. The wick becomes the conduit for the oil. The wick can burn bright and pure as long as there is oil running through it. Without a supply of oil, the wick burns out. With fresh oil, it just burns continually.

Wow. There is no substitute for oil. There Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary and totally sufficient. Oil-less effort, personality, will-power, busy-ness, self-reliance, ego, the flesh… all of it will burn into ash. It cannot host the flame. But as we receive and rely (totally) upon the oil of the Spirit, we become conduits of the oil; we host His fire. We burn, but we will not burn out.

Thanks for reading,

Dav’

Life Is Not A Marathon

They – whoever they are – say that life is a marathon. I get the point – that it is long and not a short-term thing and requires endurance etc. But I don’t think life is a marathon. For one thing, marathons are exhausting and people collapse at the finish line. Life is not Designed to be that way.

Life is not a marathon; it is not made up of decades or years or months strung together all the while just looking for the finish line.
Life is made of moments. Small, priceless moments. Moments that, if recognized and embraced, if savored, become rare tiny gems. And if you are careful, you can collect a treasure-chest full of them. If you’re careless, you may have nothing but sore legs at the end of the race.

Tonight, as I was going through unceasing motions of study, writing, and study, my nine-year old came into my office. He asked if his big brother had gone to bed (his brother is 10 years older than he). I said, “yes, Bubba’s been in bed for a while.” “Can I go say goodnight to him?” “No, bud, he’s probably asleep by now.”
He broke. He crawled on my lap and wept. No agenda. Nothing to gain. He just was deeply sad to have missed “good night” to his 19 year-old brother.
He sat on my lap (he’s a biggy) and cried for few minutes. I could have patted him off and sent him to bed. But I had the state of mind – of heart – to just wait. This was a priceless moment. This is life’s savor. I am holding my youngest son to comfort him over not being able to show enough love to my oldest son.
I just got richer.
And I wasn’t running anywhere.