Saturday, December 18, 2010

Behind the shadow.

As a child, I was fascinated by shadows. I vividly remember Independence Day when I was four, and my parents took me to the park in our small mountain town where a 4th of July carnival was going on. As we walked down the street in the late afternoon, our shadows seemed to dance on the pavement, and my parents seemed tall as giants, their massive limbs swaying like the branches of an autumn tree, seemingly weightless with the absence of its leaves. But oddly, as my shadow grew along with me, my fascination with it did not. The mystical quality of them dwindled, and as shadows seem to blend into the night, irrecognizable from the surrounding darkness, so did my fascination with them. This was until my sophomore year of high school, when an encounter with Jesus in the Scriptures re-ignited a curiosity once lost with these dancers of the dark. As I read the Bible, and other theological works, I began to see what both Paul in Colossians and the author of Hebrews describe as “…a shadow of things to come” (Col.2:17, Heb. 10:1). I've been reading Exodus a lot lately, and this theme has literally been jumping out at me, so I thought I share a bit. The Book of Exodus is a story of redemption, and of the making of a redeemed people, by and for a personal God, who reveals himself simply as “It is I who will be with you”

This personal God makes Himself known and declares He will redeem those whom He has promised blessing and will secure them against all their enemies. He then works against these enemies with mighty acts of power to save them from endless slavery. But redemption is never free, and the cost is severe. Blood must be spilt to snatch people from the clutches of bondage and death. This sacrifice institutes a feast, where they celebrate the fact that God has looked over their sin because of the blood that was spilled. Then God makes them a people by sending help and offering Himself if they will have faith in Him. He makes order out of chaos, appointing people to carry out the charges He gives them, and gives them authority to lead and guide this Redeemed into the fullness of joy and blessing. As they live out this blessed life, in touch with their Creator and Rescuer, others, who are trapped in their own slavery, look to this Redeemer for transformation in their lives, and the pattern continues. The Redeemed become instruments of hope, bringing the story of redemption to everyone near them, in hops that they will “taste and see that the LORD is good’ and be saved from their bondage to false lords and false gods. So, I come back to my point at the beginning; we can see a shadow and have an idea what is casting it, but with out seeing the full form, we will always be in the dark. That is why we have to remember; behind the shadow, there’s a person.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Business as usual.

I saw this as I drove around, trying to acclimate myself somewhat to the City of Reno, and it immediately brought up some questions like, "What kind of church was this?", "What happened?", "Where did the people go?", and "How long did it take for the Gospel to lose it's power and for religious duty to set in?". As I pondered these things today, I came to realize that for many of the churches peppering the American landscape, the stark reality is that they don't look much different than this bank does. Many churches treat Christian faith like an exchange of goods and services. You come in, deposit something of value, get sound advice from a professional and hope that you earn a return on your investment. So the question is "Are you surprised by this church-bank conversion?" I'm saddened for sure, but surprised, I am not. Now obviously I didn't know this church personally, but I do know the Gospel, and I understand the cultural landscape of Reno pretty well. What inevitably happens in every church that stops proclaiming the Gospel is that first the mission goes, then the giving goes, then the community goes, and on and on until there is no longer a gospel people doing gospel things for gospel reasons, but a people who revert to "business as usual" by just coming, consuming and refusing to serve or give themselves to any task that is not about them. See, the Gospel is the opposite of "business as usual", and the church stands and falls on the Gospel. No person, idea, funding or persistence can keep it alive, and eventually everyone will just give up, because they no longer have anything to fight for. So pastors, do you live, lead and preach like your building a business, or are you receiving a kingdom and building into that? Christians, why do you come to church? do you come for an exchange of goods and services, hoping to increase your spiritual pay-off, or do you come to sacrificially love, serve and give for the sake of the Gospel?

May our churches never look like banks, but like hospitals for the sick, families for the orphans and refuge for the vagrants.