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 currency of influence

honor
You have access to what you will honor.
 
At least, you should only have access to what you will honor…
 
I have made an error in my journey – I have given influence to people who did not honor leadership. (Gasp – I know it sounds foolish and it is, but let me explain…)
 
I have made the mistake of undervaluing my responsibility as one entrusted with leadership. In a misapplication of humility, and an over-realized desire to be “empowering,” I’ve given people access to me and influence in areas where I am responsible, without first requiring them to honor leadership. It’s never worked out well.
 
If you have a responsibility over a resource, ministry, or organization – you need to be courageous enough to recognize that the buck stops with you. You are the one held responsible by the Lord. You should not be bullied (not even by your own insecurity) into thinking that you’re just being an egomaniac if you steward and protect what you’ve been entrusted with. Don’t buy the lie that you have some “agenda.” IF someone wants influence without honor, THEY have an agenda.
 
And on that note, if you find yourself part of an organization or ministry and you want to be part of making things happen, being a catalyst or influence, then find someone who has been entrusted with responsibility and honor them. I don’t mean go tell them why they should listen to you and value your gifts; nor do I mean going to them and asking for meetings, for coffee, for fellowship, for a chance to “hang out and connect, and get to know each other more.” Chances are they are buried and aren’t looking for ways to use up spare time…I mean go honor them. Help them in a way that helps them. Encourage them. Be kind; be generous; be helpful. They’ll notice. They will notice. They may eventually seek out your company, opinion, input and even your friendship.
 
Honoring someone isn’t manipulation or any such thing.
Honor is the currency of influence. Without the former, there must not be the latter.
 
At least that’s what my mistakes have taught me.

Come, Holy Spirit

hands_raised_up

“Come ,Holy Spirit!”

What does this mean?

When I pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” I offer no erroneous assertion. I recognize He is already present – I could never go somewhere where He isn’t. Nor am I capable of summoning the Sovereign of the Cosmos.

For me to pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” is to ask that He manifest His presence and influence in my life – in my person and circumstances. There is little question that there is a difference between the acquiescent (omnipresent) presence of the Spirit and the dynamic, manifest presence. Even if that difference is often (or mostly) only realized by faith (and not necessarily the senses), it is in fact faith that I exercise with the words, “come, Holy Spirit.” By faith I embrace and make myself aware of His presence. Often this results in some form of sensory awareness, ranging from a mild, personal, subjective sensation to a shared, powerful experience with others.

For me to say, “Come, Holy Spirit” is an expression of my own submission to Him. I consciously yield my cognitions, my affections and my actions to His immediate influence and infilling. With gratitude I patiently reflect on my circumstances, surroundings, and concerns and visualize all things surrendered to Him.

For me to say, “Come, Holy Spirit” is to honor Him, to reverence Him, and to welcome Him. I am expressing a sacred awareness of the Presence of the Holy One in my heart and life. I am deeply humbled and pristinely happy to host His Presence.

For me to say, “Come, Holy Spirit” is to value Him above the pressing matters and urgent concerns of the moment. It is to give my attention to Him first and most. It is to magnify Him in my perspective so that He eclipses all other things. Only in this light do I see clearly.

So I quite often, throughout the day, quiet myself and focus with joy uttering the phrase, “Come, Holy Spirit.” And to my immense awe and wonder, He always does; He always “is.”

Blessed Holy Spirit, Come!

*Come, O Creator Spirit, blest, and in our souls take up Thy rest;

Come, with Thy grace and heavenly aid, to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

Great Paraclete, to Thee we cry: O highest gift of God Most High; O Fount of life! O Fire of love!
The sweet Anointing from above!

The sacred sevenfold grace is Thine, Dread Finger of the hand Divine: The promise of the Father Thou, Who dost the tongue with power endow.

Our senses touch with light and fire; our hearts with charity inspire; And with endurance from on high the weakness of our flesh supply.

Far back our enemy repel, and let Thy peace within us dwell; so may we, having Thee for Guide, Turn from each hurtful thing aside.

O may Thy grace on us bestow The Father and the Son to know, and ever more to hold confessed Thyself of each the Spirit blest.

*The Hymnal: Published by the authority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1895

Therefore I will not fear

fear

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear thought earth gives way, through the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling (Psalm 46:1-3).

A sturdy truth: God is present, very present.

Response: Therefore we will not fear. Never.

Even if: the earth gives way, the mountains crumble into the sea, the sea itself roars and foams and cause the earth to shake. Still, we will not fear. We will not fear.

Trouble can, does and will happen. It can go from bad to worse. But because God is a very present help, the singular resolve of my heart is this: I will not fear. Not even if cataclysmic events cascade around me (or even if a bunch of little things pile up and cast a shadow of threat).

I will not fear. I may lose everything, but I cannot lose if I will not fear.

The Lord is transcendent, greater than and existing over every and all temporal concern.

There is nothing to fear – but Him – and He’s here to help.

The human heart is quick to fear, a result (I suppose) of the fall.

Fear is the condition of the heart when it has lost consciousness of God.

It is why Jesus never was afraid. Except perhaps for that one instant, “Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani” – when for a moment of eternity He took upon Himself the abandoned, fearful heart of an orphaned people.  Jesus bore our fear.

It is why “fear not” or its likeness is one of the most often repeated imperatives in scripture.

The prescription for fear is a deep awareness of God, that He is a very present Help.

The nearness of God, the conscious awareness that He is very, fully present leads my heart to this resolve: I will not fear.

Fear not, and thanks for reading,

‘Dav