Tag Archive: the church


So the books have arrived and with one week to go [well three days] until launch number 1 [which is totally FULL UP], i thought i would give a more sizeable taste of what you can expect.

One of the chapters in the book is titled, ‘6 passages the church needs to take more seriously’ and while i do believe the church needs to take the whole bible seriously, these were 6 particular passages that stand out to me, that we REALLY need to start getting more right more frequently.

And this is the first of those:

[#] Matthew 22.34-40:

”Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him
with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest
commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself’. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”.

This is the whole Bible summed up in four words for me – Love
God, Love people. Whenever it gets confusing or complicated or
whatever, i think it is good to head back to this foundation of the
church and be reminded of what it is all about.

What i’ve noticed about this passage is that it seems like a
contradiction if we approach it mathematically. If you love God
with ALL your heart, soul and mind then you actually have nothing
left to do any more loving with, because you’ve used it all up
already, right? i mean, that’s what ALL means surely?

Unless you realise that the two commandments are not to be taken
separately at all. As we “love your neighbour as yourself” so we are
demonstrating our loving of God with all our heart, soul, mind.

Loving God means doing His will and His will is that we love other
people and so by loving others, we demonstrate our love of God.

So it is more a two part commandment than two different rules
for living. If we love God with everything, then it will naturally
pour out into loving people around us. And as we love the people
around us, so we are demonstrating love for God because we are
obeying His command.

The second thing to note is Jesus’ little p.s., “All the Law and the
Prophets hang on these two commandments”.

What were the Law and the Prophets? It was Jesus’ Bible. It was
the Jewish scripture and if we continue the metaphor on to us
today now that the New Testament has been written we can take it
to mean that the whole of scripture hangs on those two simple
commands. Love God, love people. Simple in understanding but
not so simple when we try and live them out all the time.

If the church could keep on coming back to this passage when
things get tough or complicated, we would cover a multitude of
sins and confusions and unnecessary conflicts. When we have a
denominational issue, when someone in leadership is caught in
sin, when we are deciding how to use the budget, when there is a
public debate on abortion or homosexuality, do we approach it
from the point of view of, “Is this loving God?” and “Is this loving
people?”

This is the foundation – everything hangs on these two ideas.

We need to keep on going back there and holding firmly to
them. And if anything we are doing or saying or getting involved
in is ever contrary to either of them, then we need to really
rethink and replan and do things differently.

As one rabbi said, “Love God, love people, all the rest is
commentary”. If Jesus says this is the most important thing, how
dare we ever make anything else the most important thing?

To find out what the other 5 passages are, you’re just going to have to get the book… [or ask me what the other five passage are – either way.] 

[To see where the venues are for the book launches and to read a little more what it’s about, click here]

This morning tbV and i went to the Warehouse in Wetton for an informal talk and conversation with Ron Sider [ah, you see what i did there, you should apologise for thinking bad thoughts about my spelling prowess!] who is the author of, among other things, ‘Rich Christians in an age of hunger’ which is completely the sound of a book title that needs to be in my queue.

Anyways we had a most excellent time as he looked some issues regarding to Christians and Social Justice from a theological [but seriously not boring and completely relevant and hands on] point of view. He will be doing another session there tonight [12 Plantation Road at 7pm, rsvp Linda@warehouse.org.za] and if you can make it, you really should try and come.

But i thought i’d share some thoughts in the form of one liners and sound bytes that i was able to furiously scribble down [cos seriously, who writes these days? You take your finger muscles completely by hysterical surprise any time you try to] during the speak and Q & A that followed. This is obviously not as helpful as if you’d been there [come tonight!] but hopefully there are some moments of lightbulb that you can take away from this:

Firstly, Ron Sider is a 75 year old Jewish man who converted to becoming a follower of Jesus and then got completely dissatisfied at their response to issues of poverty and social justice until he researched a little more and saw that Jesus and the whole bible was actually all over that stuff:

One of the things Craig [who MC’d the vibe] mentioned was that when he was a frustrated Christ follower during his varsity days because of the disparity between the politics of the land and the actions of the church, that reading Ron’s book gave him permission to have an authentic faith that caused him to engage with the politics of the land. [Too many of us were shut down by the ‘You can’t mix the church and politics’ narrative when we were growing up and yet if God is a part of every part of your life then surely He needs to be in your politics?]

# Maybe the statement i liked best out of the whole morning was another one Craig said while speaking about Ron’s stance from his book which was ‘I’m not a social activist, i’m a disciple of Jesus.’ That is just s beautifully true. These are not the acts of a social activist specifically or separate to them being the acts of someone who genuinely follows Jesus and tries to live up to His teaching and example.

# From a conversation Ron had with a jewish student one day who was attracted to the passion of the christians in terms of meeting together and so ended up at one of their conferences, but then ended up in long conversation with Ron saying, ‘I don’t want to be like these white christians who sing about heaven and talk about Jesus but don’t care about justice in South Africa.’

# Referred to the book of Amos and how this prophet tackled both the sexual injustice that existed in the present time BUT ALSO the structural and economic injustices that were rife. How often we as the church have picked and emphasised the first almost at the complete expense of the latter.

# The importance for both evangelism [ we need ‘good people’ so people who have been transformed by God] and structural change.

# That the Gospel is NOT purely forgiveness of sin, but the Good News of the Kingdom. Jesus formed a new community when He came, who lived out His message and challenged the status quo in many ways:

– Jesus and the lepers and blind people was Jesus connecting with groups of people who had been completely alienated and shut outside of the city

– Jesus and His attention and focus on women was radical for that time period where they were considered not just not equal to men, but as animals in some cases – the one quote Ron read was that a jewish saying at the time was that it was better to burn the Torah [the first 5 books of our bible] than to teach it to a woman [we’re talking hectically radical in approach of both teaching and living.

So both the forgiveness of sin and the formation of a new Messianic community where justice and peace break in.

# Also Ron mentioned, like in the Acts 2 and 4 pictures of the church, that a huge evangelistic tool that the early church had was the way in which they lived this teaching out, like in areas of social justice – looking after widows and orphans and the poor.

# Ron shared about how in Romans 8 it talks of the groaning creation that will be liberated. In Revelation 21 and 22 it talks of the glory of the nations being taken up into the New Jerusalem and then later about the healing of the nations. And then referred to the N.T.Wright book ‘Surprised by Hope’ where one of the conclusions is that we don’t try to escape the world [christians with a heaven only point of view] but we try to change it.

# An important mindset to cultivate is that God is obviously on the side of the poor [hundreds of verses throughout the bible back this up] but that God loves both the oppressed AND the oppressor and is wanting both sides to be liberated.

# Ron said that he thought many people misunderstood the Acts 2 and 4 passages as indicating that the early church had a common purse [shared money that belonged to everyone]  – the form of the Greek verbs gives the translation to be more like ‘In the habit of’ when it comes to giving so it was not an obligation but something that seemed to come naturally to them because of their changed dispositions.

They were so committed to each other that they went to dramatic extents.

In Deuteronomy 15 vs 3-4 it says ‘If you live this way there will be no poor among you’ [echoes of Acts 2] but then a few verses later it says there will always be poor among you. [As if it’s a wink from God saying because I know you].

One part of what it means to be the church = dramatic and significant economic sharing.

And a quote from i forget where, ‘As long as some christians are trapped in poverty, the eucharistic celebration is imperfect.’ 

One of Ron’s last points was almost like a prophetic declaration, saying that, ‘It would be an incredible thing if the whole church of South Africa would get the economic call of the bible and start living it out. This would be the hugest witness to the world – it would involve costly redistribution..

And then during the questions, a comment that my friend Rene made, was ‘The church doesn’t see itself as the empire’ and there is much to be discussed around that and i think it touches on the whole race/reconciliation/privilege conversation as well. It’s not me – it must be someone else.

But all in all a really great session – hope there was a morsel in there for you to grab hold of and if you are in Cape Town and can possibly make yourself free for tonight – this does feel like it will be a significant meeting time.

ron

yaholoI met the guy with the interesting name of Yaholo by stumbling upon an article he published on the Red Letter Christians site titled ‘Let’s end our silly battle for Jesus’ personality’ and then his ‘Putting God in a box to keep people out’ sounded a lot like my ‘God is bigger than my box, He’s bigger than my theology, He’s bigger than my understanding, He’s bigger than me’ statement and song that I would often make groups sing before I spoke to them. So i took a chance and contacted Yaholo and asked him if he would consider writing a guest post for my blog… and here it is:

“You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.” – Mr. Rogers

If someone were to ask you what the most controversial or divisive subject among Christians was, you might pull out the usual suspects like abortion, LGBT rights, or long-standing theological debates like water baptism and penal substitution. However, I have found the most controversial expression which riles up the blood is “accepting people just the way they are.” The debate is not just whether or not we should “accept people,” what what “accepting” even means

What Does “Accepting Others Just They Way They Are” Mean?

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. – Matthew 7:1-2

To live “without judgement” means that we do not condemn or condone. We reject the “eyes of man” which looks upon others according to their circumstances, appearance, or behavior. We look at people with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, which sees in everyone as a Child of God. Wherever people are in a moment is irrelevant, each person is valued and loved in the sight of heaven.

To “accept people as they are” is to see through whatever externalities surround them, look right into the soul and say “you are important.” As such, we make no excuse to alienate them, reject them, shame them, or diminish them.  We find every reason to show hospitality, respect, appreciation, and thankfulness of their presence.

Accepting People is NOT “Moral Relativism”

One of the biggest accusations thrown out in the plea for our society to become more accepting of others is that somehow doing so is throwing out our sense of morality or truth. Quite the contrary, accepting people as they are, wherever they are, into our culture, society, and organizations IS a declaration of truth. It is an affirmation of the love of Christ and states that people are more important than ideology. The truth that all people matter and have value is a more important truth than any theological dispute.

True Christian Morality is NOT a List of “Do’s and Don’ts” It IS Loving One Another

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” – John 15:12

Jesus Christ and the Apostles never defined morality as a list of good and bad things to do. Christian morality has always been about how we treat one another. Therefore, to accept others “as they are” is not a belief that morality is ambiguous, but that treating each other with respect, dignity, and appreciation IS morality. We do not examine our own spiritual health by our ability to “avoid temptation” but by our ability to show the love of Christ to others.

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” is Still Hateful

This expression has been used to justify pure hate, judgement, and condemnation under the auspice of personal detachment. In other words, “I am treating you like a dog because of your sin, not you.” The truth is that at any given time we all have plenty of sin, immaturity, and corruption in our own lives. How hypocritical is it then that we make others feel so bad for sins which are simply more apparent or culturally less acceptable than our own?

“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:4-5

So Do We Just Stop Trying to Change People?

Short answer, yes. No one can change people accept the Holy Spirit working in their lives. Long answer, we have a lot we can do to improve a person’s life and show them the love of Christ. The key difference is that only a judge tries to change a person’s life, our calling is to participate in the lives of others. We never rescue or “save” another person, we connect with our neighbors and those around that we all may continue to become whole (holy) together. It is our privilege and honor to affect good in the life of another.

So What’s the Point of Preaching the Gospel?

If you are asking about the “Good News” then there is a great purpose for it. If you are talking about “Sinner in the Hand of an Angry God” then no, not so much. Most (if not all) of the sin in this world is a void of love. People lost in self-destructive habits, despair, depression, or unstable relationships are not needing reminded of how “bad” they are. Most of people already believe they are useless, worthless, and unloved. Our job is to fight this darkness with the message of God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice for us, and then take VERY seriously our call to demonstrate it.

Understandings of Acceptance

  • Our job is not “fix” or “change” people, but to always, intentionally, and consistently participate in the lives of others. Most well meaning Christians experience “good samaritan” burnout. They interfere in another “lost person’s” life in hopes of changing it, and then get disillusioned and cynical when they don’t “succeed.” This was never our calling. We do not have the capacity to know what a “fixed life” looks like, we do not know how an individual needs to grow, such things are God’s alone. We must only take responsibility for our own selves, and constantly bring the love of Christ into the world.

  • Individuals must figure life out for themselves and be graciously allowed to do so. Persuading someone of one thing or another, means they will eventually leave it. If someone does arrive to an understanding on their own time, in their own way, then there is NO understanding. The evidence of truth is example, we show Christ to others and give light to follow, we must not persuade, proselytize, or persecute.

  • Those living in what we call “sinful habits” are usually people just trying to survive. They are surviving emotionally, financially, and socially. Our job is not to judge or condemn such behavior but to see it as a sign that our help and participate is required. We seek to relieve the burdens of the lost, sick, and drowning that they might be able to grow of their own effort.

  • Few of us ever really discover our gifts, talents, and purpose. If there is any obvious ministry of the Church community, helping people discover their own value is sacrosanct. We cannot rest in our society or communities until we learn to help everyone discover their value and find an exalted place among us. Such things are not meant for a few, but for everyone. Those of us who become “realized” as individuals must labor to help others do the same.

  • People cannot believe in a loving God without believing in love. If they have never been shown love, how can we ask them to believe in our Gospel? Love is the evidence of Christ in our world, without an abundance of love, hospitality, and acceptance how can we proclaim anything else?

[To read more from today’s guest, Yaholo, check out his blog over here]

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