gratitude & hoopla: June 2006

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton


Just Stopping By

I'm just stepping in to say, go read Brad's recent post, Paul & the Gospel. Cross-blogging at its best.

I'm leaving for Boston later today to see my son, Tim, in a performance of Romeo & Juliet (playing the fesity Sampson). Cool, huh? My son Tim. What a guy. Painter of extravagant canvases that he stores, sometimes, in my shed, composer of delicate and tasty animation soundtracks (well, just one so far), and now he "strides the boards" in a shoestring theater in Boston. Is there another quite like my son Tim? I think not.


On Indulgences in the Modern Church

Yesterday's post seemed to touch a soft spot for several people. American consumer culture makes us all its victims, treats us all as nothing more than sources of profit, and the deceit-ridden promotional strategies by which that culture perpetuates its existence does so first by drawing our hearts and minds to believe preposterous claims, and thereby causing us to volunteer the cash from our wallets (which is, after all, the whole point). We have all been acculturated to this process and hardly recognize the lies any more. The sad thing is, this mindset, these strategies, are endemic in the American consumer church, and yet we all seem perfectly willing to play the game.

Please understand me: I am not against selling. I am not against buying books and videos and going to conferences. But what appalls me is that the secular world's methods have been accepted hook line and sinker as the way to promote these products. Appeals to human vanity and pride, promotion of insecurity if you don't buy the product, over-the-top promises--and all this leading to a lifestyle of incessant consumption as we search for the one product that will finally fulfill its promises.

But what if God cannot be bought in the marketplace? What if freedom and joy were priceless, beyond the purchasing power even of Buffett and Gates, and the only way to receive it was as a gift? Surely the Christian marketplace undermines the reception of this truth even as thoroughly as, say, the indulgence-sellers of Martin Luther's day. If there is ever to be a new reformation, we will have to once again throw the profiteers out of the temple.


A Brisk Market in Christian Idols

Yesterday I quoted extensively from Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and I'm going to stay with it a little bit longer. Drawing his cues from the reactions of the various witnesses to the resurrection, he says that the attitude of wonder prompted by the sight of the risen Lord had five components:

1) Unpreparedness--no one was ready for a resurrection like this.
2) The uselessness of experts--no one can master awe. The "experts" were all wrong.
3) The prominence of marginal companions--this thing is not just for VIPs.
4) The quiet out-of-the-wayness--no spotlights, media alerts, showmanship
5) Fear--holy flabbergasted fearful wonder.

These five are typical characteristics of the human response to resurrection. Peterson sums it up in the common word, "wonder." He says that the reawakening of this kind of wonder is a part of our new life in Christ, but that life in this world--and especially in the workplace--tends to crush it out of us. In response, we learn to accept the wonderless drudgery of the workplace and seek spiritual highs in other settings. Here's how Peterson puts it:
A huge religious marketplace has been set up in North America to meet the needs of people just like us. There are conferences and gatherings custom-designed to give us the lift we need. Books and videos and seminars promise to let us in on the Christian "secret" of whatever we feel is lacking in our life: financial security, weight-loss, exotic sex, travel to holy sites, exciting worship, celebrity teachers. The people who promote these goods and services all smile a lot and are good looking. They are obviously not bored.

It isn't long before we are standing in line to buy whatever is being offered. And because none of the purchases does what we had hoped for, or at least not for long, we are soon back to buy another, and then another. The process is addictive. We have become consumers of packaged spiritualities.

This also is idolatry. We never think of using this term for it since everything we are buying or paying for is defined by the adjective "Christian." But idolatry it is nevertheless: God packaged as a product; God depersonalized and made available as a technique or program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative.


Sabbath Wonder

I've been sharing lately from Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Half the reason for this blog, after all, is to share from the books I'm reading. Peterson's discussion of the value of Sabbath-keeping has been helpful to me. I have not the time to cover this chapter in detail, but I wanted to share a few points anyway. Peterson associates Sabbath-keeping, for one thing, with the cultivation of wonder. In that regard he quotes the always quotable G. K. Chesterton:
What has really happened during the last seven days and nights? Sometimes we have been dissolved into darkness as we have been dissolved into dust; our very selves, so far as we know, have been wiped out of the world of living things; and seven times we have been raised alive like Lazarus, and found all our limbs and senses unaltered, with the coming of the day.
Peterson associates Sabbath-keeping with the cultivation of a sense of wonder; wonder before God and wonder before God's creation. And this wonder is born of resurrection. As the Chesterton quote indicates, it is resurrection wonder. Concerning the resurrection of Jesus, Peterson draws five conclusions about resurrection.

1. The resurrection of Jesus, however much it seems to have been predicted of old and however much it was mentioned by Jesus himself, took everyone by surprise. Peterson: "Nothing here is quite analogous to the usual categories by which we understand ourselves--psychological development, for instance, or moral metaphysics. We inhabit a mystery. We must not pretend to know too much."

2. No one involved in Christ's resurrection appearances did anything to prepare for the event. As Peterson says, "There is no 'working up' of a readiness for wonder." There are no experts at this. We are all beginners here. Was this part of what Jesus meant when he said we must enter the Kingdom "as little children"?

3. Marginal people play a prominent role. This seems an important point for the modern church to hear well. "The men and women who are going to be most valuable to us in cultivating fear-of-the-Lord wonder are most likely going to be on the edge of respectability: the poor, the minorities, the suffering and rejected, poets and children."

4. This point relates to Shane Claibrone's suggestion that the American church needs to de-spectacularize. Peterson speaks of our penchant for "surrounding important events with attention-getting publicity." He adds, "Bright lights and amplification are not accessories to the cultivation of wonder."

5. This, says Peterson, is the most important point: "fear is the most frequently mentioned response to Jesus' resurrection." He continues:
We're afraid when we're suddenly taken off guard and don't know what to do. We're afraid when our presuppositions and assumptions no longer account for what we're up against and we don't know what will happen to us. We're afraid when reality without warning is shown to be either more or other than we thought it was. Fear-of-the-Lord is fear with the scary element deleted. And so it is often accompanied by the reassuring "fear not." The "fear not" doesn't result in the absence of fear, but rather its transformation into "fear-of-the-Lord." But we still don't know what is going on. We still are not in control. We still are deep in a mystery.


Peterson on Sabbath Keeping

God's creation rhythms, brought to completion in the Sabbath rest commands, are reproduced in our lives through acts of worship in a structure and place and time that enable our participation. When we walk out of the place of worship we walk with fresh, recognizing eyes and a re-created, obedient heart into the world in which we are God's image participating in God's creation work. Everythinig we see, touch, feel, and taste carries within it the rhythms of "And God said . . .and it was so . . . and it was good . . ." We become adept at discerning the Jesus-signs and picking up on the Jesus-words that reveal the presence and the glory. We are more deeply at home in the creation than ever.
From Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (p. 113)


The Wisdom of Spurgeon

I just love this Spurgeon quotation:
I often find myself like this:—I have been praying that the Holy Spirit might rest in my heart and cleanse out an evil passion, and presently I find myself full of doubts and fears, and when I ask the reason, I find it is this:—I have been looking to the Spirit's work until I put the Spirit's work where Christ's work ought to be. Now, it is a sin to put your own works where Christ's should be; but it is just as much a sin to put the Holy Spirit's work there. You must never make the Spirit of God an anti-Christ, and you virtually do that when you put the Spirit's work as the groundwork of your faith.
Thanks, Broken Messenger, for the timeless quote.



Charles Spurgeon:
It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.
Mark Dever:
[W]e would do well to accept our guilt and admire God's grace, to let the Holy Spirit encourage us by the Savior's self-denying love to follow his example, and to savor God's love to us in this almost incredible sacrifice.
Both quotes from Dever's article, Nothing but the Blood [HT: Stronger Church]


Eugene Peterson on Glory

In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, author Eugene Peterson comments at length on the use of the word "glory" in John's Gospel. He points our attention to chapter 12, when Philip and Andrew come to Jesus with the news that some Greeks have asked if they might meet with Jesus. This could be Jesus' opportunity to reach a wider audience. But Jesus, as so often in John's gospel, answers ambiguously. In fact, he speaks of his own death.
And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him." John 12:23-26
Now, here's an excerpt from Peterson's wonderful commentary on this passage:
Jesus begins and ends this passage with the word "glory." Glory, the brightness of God's presence right here on our home ground, clearly has something, maybe everything, to do with his approaching death and burial. This is going to take some relearning. The dictionaries and word studies in Hebrew and Greek, the etymologies and definitions that we are so fond of, at this moment are radically relativized. Jesus takes the brightest word in our vocabularies and plunges it into the darkest pit of experience, violent and excruciating death. Everything we have associated with glory has to be recast: we have entered a mystery. (p.101-2)



Someone gave me a copy of Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution, and I just finished reading it last night. Now I'm passing it on to my son, Tim, and I hope that after reading it he passes it on to someone else. Whatever one may think about Shane's utopian political agenda (he's sort of an Evangelical Socialist), I found much in this book to commend itself. One of the elements of modern-day American Christianity that Claiborne sets himself against is our love-affair with bigness. Shane calls on his reader's to "de-spectacularize." Jesus says the Kingdom comes quietly, invisibly, spreading its influence like yeast in dough, but the corporate model of growth--bigger and bigger buildings, more TV networks--seems distinctly counter to that.

De-spectacularize! Yes, I do think he has a good point here. I think we need to challenge ourselves to imagine an alternative. Our addiction to growth (and the real benefits that it brings) is the root cause of the flight of many churches from our urban centers to the more roomy (and wealthy) suburbs. Thus the urban poor, no longer our neighbors, become the distant objects of our charity. Claiborne's answer is to return to the city, establish communities there, houses of hospitality, simply being good neighbors. He accepts and revels in the 2-or-3 together approach to ministry, where "church-life" has become, well, just plain life. I highly recommend Irresistible Revolution. It challenged me. It just may challenge you too.



Tony Campolo said:
If we were to set out to establish a religion in polar opposition to the Beatitudes Jesus taught, it would look strikingly similar to the pop Christianity that has taken over the airwaves of North America.
Found in Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution (p. 269)


More Notes on 1 Peter 1: Hopeful Exiles

The first chapter of Peter’s first epistle is in itself a concise little masterpiece. Not unlike Paul’s opening chapter to the Ephesians, this one paints the believer in the midst of a vast timescape, an interlocking pattern of past, present and future.

Like Paul, Peter presents a worldview that sweeps all the way back to the time "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4; 1Pet 1:20), and forward to "the fullness of time" (Eph. 1:10; 1Pet 1:5). But the intermediate stage, that which we call the present, is primarily described by both authors as a time of hope (Eph 1:12; 1Pet 1:4).

The condition of the believer, according to Peter, is that of a hopeful (though for a time beleaguered) exile. He is guarded by the power of God through "various trials" (v.6), which are assumed to be the inevitable lot of the exile (not, it should be noted, a brief aberration attributable to his lack of faith). The one thing that separates the believer from the unbeliever in the midst of trials, then, is that he has an undying hope (v.4). Hope is the red badge of courage of the believer. Hope is his identifier, the living emblem of his faith.

In what then is this hope placed? In the eventual full revealing of salvation, when suffering and trial will at last end (v.5). When, in fact, the believer’s status as exile will be finally annulled, and he will receive an inheritance that will never, like mortal things, suffer decay or corruption.

All this would seem a rather wispy hope, the ultimate pie-in-the-sky, except that it is founded on a past event which was attested to by many witnesses–the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Peter’s words: "[God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (v.3). This past event, which the NT writers never feel pressed to defend (as if it were something no one could be expected to believe), provides the foundation for the Christian’s future hope. Furthermore, it was prophesied long ago by prophets who knew even then that it was to be a far future event (v.12).

So here we have the current situation: the believer is an exile, far from home, and yet he remains hopeful of a day when the full measure of blessing, which is nothing more than his inheritance (through faith), will one day be revealed. Though in the meantime he is "grieved by various trials," these will not last forever. In fact, even the trials and suffering will result in praise and glory to God. How can this be? Because in the end, when his salvation is fully revealed, that faith he held onto through all the fiery trials will be proven justifiable and right.

It is fashionable to emphasize the now aspect of the now/not yet Kingdom dichotomy, such as the gifts of the Spirit, which serve as confirmatory down-payments of the "inheritance" to come. But here Peter reminds us of that coin’s other face. Trials and suffering, grieving, are inevitable. To this extent, the kingdom has not yet come. But the wonder is that even these trials will result in praise and glory to God (v.7). Since this is the case, our whole attitude toward suffering is (or should be) transformed. We are able to rejoice in the midst of it (v.6). Amazing! How much rejoicing in trials have you done lately? In my case, the answer is none!

But here’s what Peter has to say. Since you have this hope for a certainty, prepare yourself for action (that is, for the purpose of facing your inevitable trials), placing your hope fully “on the grace that will be brought to you” when Christ returns (v.13). In the meantime, let your behavior be holy (v.15), conduct yourself with fear (v.17), knowing that you were ransomed by the blood of Jesus from futility of the flesh (v.18). Love one another sincerely (v.22), for the living word of God abides in you (v.23), and is vividly represented by the manner in which you live.


A Contrast

I've met some interesting people lately. I talked to a man who was weary and broken. His life was truly in shambles and his prospects grim, but he faced his afflictions with a kind of wry humor. I spoke to him about God, and he told me gently that he wasn't sure that he could call himself a Christian, but then he thanked me warmly for my prayers.

I also talked to a man who was standing on a street corner with a flag that bore the image of a cross. Fine. Here was bold a Christian, right? But I found him to be as cold and hard a man as I have ever met, full of ugly indignation (but I'm sure he'd have called it "righteous").

Here's the thing. I liked the guy who wasn't sure he was a Christian much better than the one who boldly proclaimed it. Hmmm.


Notes on 1 Peter 1: Joy in Suffering

Peter addresses his first epistle to the "elect exiles of the dispersion." Elect exiles, that's a nice label. In the following verses Peter will describe a time of glory to come, refer briefly to a time that has been, all so that he might place the present suffering of these exiles in an appropriate context.

That word, "exiles," is the key to understanding their present situation. God's children are exiles in this world. To be an exile is to be far from one's natural setting, to be among strangers. Perhaps the language of the natives is difficult for you, and the customs strange. To be and exile in the Mediterranean world of Peter's time was, we may suppose, to be required to endure suffering. Nevertheless, even this condition of exile is "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." And it has a purpose: it is "for the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood."

My daily Bible-reading plunked me down here this morning, in the first letter of Peter. Several commentaries describe the recipients of Peter's letters as exiles in the civil, not the spiritual or metaphorical sense. They were quite literally exiles from their homeland. But isn't it interesting that Peter says it is according to God's foreknowledge, which suggests that God allowed it to happen for his purpose--indeed, perhaps for the spreading of the Gospel to Asia Minor.

Notice this: as so often in the New Testament epistles, Christians are urged to endure suffering, and assured that it actually has a redemptive purpose in God's plan. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe the NT writers ever pray for an end to suffering, but instead they pray for patience, endurance, steadfastness under suffering. This is so very different from modern Christianity. We tend to confront every instance of suffering with earnest prayers for God to miraculously intervene and bring it all to an immediate end, so that the sufferer can then "walk in victory."

Hmmm. There seems to be a disconnect here somewhere. Doesn't Paul go so far as to say that we should even rejoice in our suffering, because it builds our character, and character leads to hope, and hope does not disappoint [Romans 5:3-5]? Elsewhere, we're told that patience under affliction (called longsuffering in the KJV) is a gift of the Spirit. What a beautiful old-fashioned word that is: longsuffering. How often do we pray for that now: may God give you the gift of longsuffering.

No, we pray instead that we should never need such a gift. Oh, but we shall, my friends. We shall. If we have not already, we shall. And if you endure it, if you persevere, it shall result in "praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" [1Peter 1:7]. Imagine that.


Something's Going On Around Here . . .

Something strange is happening around here. I mean, I keep running into posts like this from Today at the Mission:
We'd rather have a Christian lifestyle than to have Christ. We'd rather our faith be reduced to Sunday mornings with personally satisfying worship and a sermon that challenges us to a brief conversation in the car on the way home before having lunch and then getting some stuff done. We're enamored with being Christians yet we have little or no idea who Christ is, and we have no idea how to live as one who bears his name. [HT: Maced with Grace]
And then there's what Buzz said over at Gathering Wool:
Somehow, I had moved from the days of wondering how the church could build Jesus Cathedrals and family life centers when Jesus never said to do that, to helping to lobby for one in my home church.

Somehow, I moved from being critical of those who are "playing church," to actually playing church.

Somehow, I moved from being a Jesus freak to being a church freak.

When did that happen?

How did that happen?

More importantly, what am I going to do about it?
Hmmm. This is getting sticky. Like Buzz, I'm reading Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution. It's messing with my head. Although I don't necessarily buy into every aspect of the author's worldview, I can't help thinking his critique of the American church is fundamentally sound. You see, the chasm between being Christian (a cultural label) and being Christ-like (following in the Jesus way) seems to have grown distressingly wide even while we were busy doing church. With Buzz I keep asking,

How did this happen?


What can I do about it?


Can we talk?

In my experience, the church (by which I mean church people) has always been afraid of honest dialogue. By that I mean, we have been afraid of forthright give-and-take that may even include some degree of criticism. The two churches that I have been involved with in my time as a Christian, although very different, have had this in common. With regard to themselves, their practices and beliefs, they are insistently positive. The first was able to keep honest criticism (along with dishonest) at bay simply by condemning every speck of criticism as clear evidence of heresy. My present church, on the other hand, is simply awash in positivity and happy-talk. You know, every song is "anointed," every message the best ever, every thought that pops into our heads an "impression" from the Lord ("I'm getting a picture..."). A more measured response seems like faith grown cold. C’mon, fella, where’s your joy?

Oh, well. The last thing I want is to come across as God’s official church-corrector. But there’s something about all this happy-talk that seems decidedly un-Biblical, un-Christian. Last week in church we sang five or six celebratory worship songs, not one of which mentioned Jesus nor intimated the real reason why we should be happy at all? All of them were insistently, even perversely, I-centered. You know the type: I’m happy, I’m free, I’m dancing, I’m singing, I give you all my heart, all my soul, etc.

So you might think I’m suffering from a little happy-clappy overload, but that’s not really the problem. I can be as happy-clappy as anyone. But I have this nagging feeling that week after week we’re simply not hitting the mark, nor even aiming at the right target. Something is missing. A plain-spoken sense of our own inadequacy, and Christ’s all-sufficiency. The Gospel, straight up. My need, and God’s provision in the cross of Christ.

When we first came to my church, we were frankly church-shopping. We were looking for freedom, yes, and expressive joy, and sold-out faith. But at the bottom of all this, at the foundation, we knew, would have to be Jesus. I remember telling Laurie, “I just want to hear about Jesus.”

And now it seems to me that with all the fervor and enthusiasm and mission-trips for the youth, etc., Jesus is, while not entirely forgotten, not entirely central either. It amazes me that a people that made such a fuss about Mel Gibson’s Jesus-movie can in actual practice have so sidelined the Savior. Is there a cross in your church? Not in mine.


Christ and Creation

Eugene Petrson on Christ and creation:
The birth of Jesus provides the kerygmatic focus for receiving, entering into, and participating in creation, for living the creation and not just using it or taking it for granted. ... In the act of believing in creation, we accept and enter into and submit to what God does--what God made and makes. We are not spectators of creation but participants in it. We are particpants first of all by simply being born, but then we realize that our births all take place in the defining context of Jesus' birth. The Christian life is the practice of living in what God has done and is doing. We want to know the origins of things not to satisfy our curiosity about fossils and dinosaurs and the "big bang" but so that we can live out of our origins. We don't want our lives to be tacked onto something peripheral. We want to live origin-ally, not derivatively.
From Eugene Peterson Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places


I don't mean to be negative, but . . .

10 Things to Quit Worshipping:

1. Quit worshipping your country.
2. Quit worshipping your brand of Christianity.
3. Quit worshipping your political agenda.
4. Quit worshipping church programs.
5. Quit worshipping leaders.
6. Quit worshipping positive thinking.
7. Quit worshipping busyness.
8. Quit worshipping enthusiasm.
9. Quit worshipping love (or any other Spiritual gift).
10. Quit worshipping your heart.


Blogging Grace

David Wayne, the Jollyblogger, says:
In other words, rules can never produce virtue. Rules have a place, but a lesser place in terms of the time and attention we devote to them. Only grace and faith in Christ can produce virtue.

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

I've begun reading two very fine but very different books lately. One of them I've mentioned (and quoted) recently: Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth. The other, which I've just started, is Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.

I expect to be quoting frequently from both of these books (such is my confidence that their wisdom will be well worth sharing). So, without further ado, here is Peterson, on the opening page of his introduction, explaining the theme of his book, which he calls "spiritual theology":
The end of all Christian belief and obedience, witness and teaching, marriage and family, leisure and work life, preaching and pastoral work is the living of everything we know about God: life, life, and more life. If we don't know where we are going, any map will get us there. But if we have a destination--in this case a life lived to the glory of God--there is a well-marked way, the Jesus-revealed Way. Spiritual theology is the attention that we give to the details of living life on this way. It is a protest against theology depersonalized into information about God; it is a protest against theology functionalized into a program of strategic planning for God.


On Holding Fast and Drawing Near

Many people seem drawn to the strenuous action verbs of the Bible (strive, run the race, fight the fight, etc.), but in fact I think these often metaphorical passages suffer the violence of being wrenched from their contexts and made to serve purposes other than that for which they were intended. Men especially (and men's groups) are singularly noted for this. We don't seem to want to hear about resting, abiding, drawing near, so much as working, running, fighting, and winning prizes.

I've been reading Hebrews lately, and I find there that the characteristic imperatives, repeated many times, are 1) to enter or draw near, and 2) to hold fast (to our faith). And in fact these two action verbs are closely related. We do not draw near except by faith. Drawing near (to the throne of grace, to God) is an action we are only able to take through faith. So, we must hold fast to our faith (or to our confession, or to our confidence, or to our hope), and thereby, trusting that Jesus has made a way for us to approach the throne of grace, we draw near.

This is the basis of our relationship with God. It seems to me that much of Hebrews is spent elucidating this fundamental framework. All talk of "running races," then, must be embedded in this foundational understanding that any good thing we can ever do comes as a grace-gift from the throne of grace to a people who never deserved such largesse, but have received it nonetheless, through the blood of Jesus.

Well, as you may have noticed by now, I've got a "thing" about sermonic exhortations to work hard, to win the prize, etc., which seem to skimp on Jesus and his cross. These kinds of sermons seem to be adrift in the language of self-help, with a Christian gloss painted on. They lead at best to flurries of church activity followed by periods of exhaustion, frustration, or drift. I am convinced that the only real foundation for any such exhortation is the blood of Jesus. Our walk of love and obedience, if we are to walk it consistently, is going to be a response to the great love with which the Father has loved us. Come what may, I'm going to hold fast to this confession.


On Christian To-Do Lists

My consideration of the subject of Biblical rest began with this passage from Hebrews 4:
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
"That rest" is called "the Sabbath rest" in the previous verse. It is yet to come. It has not yet been achieved. It remains to be entered into. And so, "therefore let us strive to enter that rest . . ."

This is the "not yet" aspect of Kingdom rest. Like peace, like lions laying down with lambs, like every form of perfection that God has "prepared" for His people, we have not yet taken hold of it. Although we have all sorts of reasons to be confident about one day receiving it, it remains not yet. As Paul wrote to the Philippians:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
So there is certainly a need to press, to pursue, to take hold of and not let go.

All well and good. But if the Christian life is all about race-running, then perhaps all we really need is a good coach with a stirring you-can-do-it pep-talk. Keep on, you can do it. Run hard, you can do it. Memorize Scripture, you can do it. Pray unceasingly, you can do it.

What? You're not doing it yet? What's wrong with you?

Is this a problem, or am I just making this up? To tell you the truth, as should be clear by now, I can't really relate to these pep-talk sermons. I want to tear up these Christian Can-Do lists. Somehow, I can't help thinking they miss the point.

Let's go back to the Philippians verse. Look at the prior verses, in which Paul says, Everything that I once counted as valuable, working hard for with all diligence, I now count as rubbish. I've let it all go so that I might "gain Christ and be found in Him." He then unpacks this phrase--"to gain Christ and be found in Him". What does he mean? To gain Christ, he will explain, is to be like Him. It is, I think, another way of saying "conformed to his image." In this passage he sums up that conformity with reference to His victory over death (the power of his resurrection) and to His complete self-submission ("the fellowship of his sufferings").

Now, all this sounds rather strenuous. Anything but "restful." I thought salvation was by faith alone. But of course it is. Paul never misses the opportunity to remind his readers of just this, and he doesn't miss it here. All that sharing in Christ, having his likeness, being found in Him, is equated simply to this:
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
At the end of the chapter, Paul will warn his readers about those teachers who offer a righteousness based on law-keeping, performance, doing-doing-doing. He calls such teachers "dogs." More to the point, he calls them "enemies of the cross." And he says, as a counterpoint:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
It all comes round to this. In all our working, it is Christ working in us. Paul always makes sure to adjust the focus so that it is Christ who comes clear in the center of the picture. Christ, and His cross.

We cannot transform ourselves. To try to do so is to find ourselves among "enemies of the cross." So it seems the message here is Christ-centered and cross-centered, not race-centered. In the final analysis, we cannot strain after perfection; it must be given us.


Kingdom Rest

Not long ago I heard a sermon that was almost entirely a recaptiulation of the story of Rudy, who always wanted to play football for Notre Dame and pursued this dream with dilligence and persistence. It was a struggle, and he kept at it, and though many people didn't think it was possible and told him so, he never lost hope, etc. etc.

I think the point of the sermon was that we should all be more like Rudy. It had the character of a pep-talk, intended as encouragement, but I couldn't find the Gospel anywhere in that message. It was all about confidence and hard work and persistence in order to reach your goal, with nothing about redemption, nothing about rest, no hint, in fact, of the Cross.

I think it's fairly easy to fall into this trap as an encourager. It's the you-can-do-it trap. As encouragers, we want to give hope, and in fact we've all grown up with this sort of encouragement. It's easy, it sounds good, and, well, perhaps it has its place. After all, we have all faced challenges before which we were tempted to give up, but words of encouragement have helped us carry on, push through, even conquer.

Nevertheless, the message of Jesus is, "Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 1:28-30). But how does this message jibe with Paul's frequent characterization of his own life of tireless struggle, race-running, goal-pursuing, etc.? Wasn't Paul a Biblical Rudy, striving to win his crown of glory?

I'm not going to answer these questions today, simply because I don't quite feel equipped to do so. But I will go this far: Biblical "rest" is the character of life in the Kingdom of God. It is life as God intended. Work--back-breaking, life-shortening labor, producing much sweat and little fruit--this is the predominant character of life in this world since Adam's fall. God said it would be so (Gen 3:17), and it is.

So Christ's promise of rest is closely associated with God's overall plan of restoration. And of course we have learned to think of these Kingdom things not merely as "yet to come," but also, for the redeemed of God, in some degree a verifiably present reality. That is, we who are in Christ can experience rest.

Well, although I haven't really answered my initial questions regarding rest and labor, I've made a start at thinking about these things. I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts as well. More on this in the coming days.


The Content of Redemption

Well, I never intended to miss nearly a whole week of blogging, but my mornings have been busy lately, and blogging has had to take a back seat (probably a good thing). Last time out I promised to talk about "rest" as it is used in the Bible, but as I have thought about it the subject just seems to broaden quickly in my mind, and soon I am thinking of the whole Creation / Fall / Redemption / Restoration saga that is the Bible story. So then the question becomes, where does Biblical rest--or more precisely, not only rest by its opposite, work--fit into that plan?

I hope to consider these things in the coming posts, but first I want to share with you a quote from Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth. A year or two ago it seemed that every Christian in the blogosphere was reading this book, but I'm just now getting around to it. In her opeing chapter, she's speaks of God's command to Adam and Eve--"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it"--as nothing less than a Cultural Mandate. A mandate to build a social world (a culture or civilization) and to harness the natural world. This, broadly speaking, is our calling. Pearcey writes, "The Fall did not destroy our original calling, but only made it more difficult. Our work is now marked my sorrow and hard labor."

But God's plan of redemption is a plan to reverse and ultimately nullify all the deleterious effects of sin. It is a plan of restoration. In the end, the universe will once again fully reflect the glory of its Creator. And we Christians, as the first fruits of that redemption plan, are expected to take part, by the power of the Spirit residing within us, in this mighty restoration project.
Because of Christ's redemption on the cross, our work takes on a new aspect as well--it becomes a means of sharing in His redemptive purposes. In cultivating creation, we not only receive our original purpose but also bring a redemptive force to reverse the evil and corruption introduced by the Fall. We offer our gifts to God to participate in making His Kingdom come, His will be done. With hearts and minds renewed, our work can now be inspired by love for God and delight in His service.

The lesson of the Cultural Mandate is that our sense of fulfillment depends on engaging in creative, constructive work. The ideal human existence is not eternal leisure or an endless vacation--or even a monastic retreat into prayer and meditation--but creative effort expended for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Our calling is not just to "get to heaven" but also to cultivate the earth, not just to "save souls" but also to serve God through our work....

This is the rich content that should come to mind when we hear the word redemption. The term does not refer only to a one-time conversion event. It means entering upon a lifelong quest to devote our skills and talents to building things that are beautiful and useful, while fighting the forces of evil and sin that oppress and distort creation.
from Total Truth, by Nancy Pearcey (p.48-49)