Engraved Sin—Radical Restoration

I have a desk in my office that was built in the early 1940s by my grandpa, when he was a sophomore in high school. It’s pretty impressive, to say the least. But over the years, the top surface of the desk has seen its fair share of cuts and bruises. My dad, when he was just a child wrote his name in crayon all over the crayon drawer.

But as I was getting ready to move the desk into the office at my new apartment, we decided to refinish the top.

So we got out the electric sander, and started to sand away the surface. So of the cuts and scratches were engraved so deeply, that we had to cut into the surface just as deep. It was no light cosmetic work.

In Jeremiah 17.1, it says that “the sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart. and on the horns of their altars…” (ESV)

In ancient times, scribes would use a pen of iron with a diamond tip in order to engrave a message or painted deeply into a rock, thus preserving it for ages. When we ignore the whispers from God in our lives, our hearts can become hardened as stone. And upon that stone, our sin is deeply engraved. There are times when our sin is so deeply engraved into our heart, that we need more than a docile prayer prayed from a pew while the Wednesday night invitation is being offered. Sometimes we need more than cosmetic surgery. When we find ourselves living the Romans 7 reality of constant struggle and inability to escape our sin, we need healing. We need to cry the prayer of Jeremiah

Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. —Jeremiah 17.14 ESV

Don’t content yourself to the feeble prayer: “Lord help me to stop doing what I’ve been doing” said from a church pew. Embrace the radical restoration that drips from Jeremiah’s prayer. It’s what we need.

A Question: Heaven, the Age to Come, and Missional Praxis

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of a paper on eschatology, missional theology, and the practicing of the Kingdom of God:

The picture, drawn by a child in a vacation bible school, is starkly white. There are fluffy white clouds, harps, ethereal souls in flowing white robes—all surrounding a white-haired old man on a throne. There are smiles crayoned on the souls’ faces, but one is left to wonder, what is so enchanting about this kind of existence? This image of disembodied, colorless bliss is the heavenly image that captivates the imaginations of many young children—but also a fair number mature Christians when thought is given to the future reality of God’s people. It is an image of other-worldly disengagement that is the primary way in which the age to come is conceptualized in the popular imagination. And while the theologians who hold to a similar view of the eternal life promised by Jesus certainly have a more nuanced understanding than what is represented in a six-year old’s drawing, this imagine is the controlling metaphor for a great deal of Christians today.

The question that begs to be asked, then, is how does this controlling image of the age to come affect our ecclesiology and communal praxis?


Know Your City

As a junior and senior in High School, I had to great privilege of dating the wonderfully talented Amanda. And that meant that I had the not-so-great privilege of going to the high school’s “variety show,” and because of my affection for Amanda, I went every single show. I’m not exaggerating to say that she was absolutely incredible. Problem was though, that she was one of only a few people that were good. They didn’t call it a talent show for a reason.

I was recently struck by a verse from Jeremiah that’s found in chapter 29: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

For a long time, when I thought of leadership in the church, I thought primarily of leading the people who were part of the church. It was about feeding them, stirring up passion in them. I certainly believed in evangelism, but the only way I saw that affecting my leadership was that it would increase the number of people I lead on a weekly basis. I should spend all my time with the congregation—keep long office hours so that I would always be available to the people in my congregation. I seldom had any interaction with the city.

I’m on a journey that is causing me to rethink the role of the church in God’s world that has subsequently caused me to rethink the shaped of leadership. While I certainly have very few answers (and my graduate work is only stirring the pot for me), I’ve been convicted of a few things—the most fundamental of which is the sentiment expressed in Jeremiah 29. The people of God have always been connected to the world around them. Though we’ve tried to live in cultural vacuum, God’s people have always existed in the world. As obvious as it may be, that recognition should cause us the reconsider what the role of the church is. Without getting into all the theological/historical reasoning behind it, God’s chosen people (Israel and now the church) have always existed for the sake of the world.

When we retreat into our buildings, and are unconcerned about the rampant injustice, immorality, and environmental degradation that exists around us, is it any wonder that we struggle. We need to seek the welfare of our cities.

This probably isn’t new for you (it’s not for me), but it has lead me to a new conviction: if we are going to seek the welfare of our cities, it means we must know our city. I’m not talking about knowing where to get a good burger. But I mean knowing the people. As someone just getting into ministry, I know how time consuming our congregations’ needs are. There are pastoral needs we must meet from our churches—it’s part of the leadership role. But we also need to take that same kind of observation and listening that’s been honed in our pastoring and put it to use in our cities.

Go the the coffee shop, and instead of diving into a book or journal or conversation, listen to the people around you. What are they doing? What are they talking about. Pay attention to the way people are sitting in relation to one another, to the décor and to the interactions between the workers and the customers. Go the the local dinners, not for a good meal, but to listen and learn from the people there. Walk your streets. Go to games and community events. We ought to spend just as much time getting to know our religious texts as our cultural texts.

You can’t learn your city from your office. Go get in the mix, and listen. Observe. Learn.

Tonight, I’m going to the “variety show” at the high school. Not because I think it’ll be good or particularly enjoying, but because I want to learn my city. I grew up here, but its truly surprising what one can learn with eyes to see and ears to hear.

And now—off to get a cup of coffee. Out of my office.

Prayer for Life

Is this familiar?:

It’s Monday. The alarm goes off. Too early…. after hitting the snooze a few times (at least that’s the way it happens for me), you eventually get out of bed and dive into your morning routine. Barely awake, you do what you do everyday. Not much new or exciting. Perhaps you’ve been doing the same thing every morning, for as long as you can remember. Now, if you have kids to get out the door, it’s probably chaotic, with different surprises each day, but more or less the same similar chaos. Maybe you’ve had a few moments to sit, pray, reflect on the Scriptures, but other than that, not much to bring life.

The day starts, you are off to work or school or whatever else it is you do during the day. The day drudges on until you are able to go home for the night—probably to be met by another to-do list.

Then Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.

Same old, same old? It may not be true for you, but it’s certainly true for plenty of people, that life is more like a grueling cycle of drudgery than it is an exciting cycle of joy.

For some, Sunday morning (or Sunday night or Wednesday night) is the only time the cycle of drudgery is broken, if only for a moment. For others, it’s just another thing to get done, adding to the already-too-long list of places to be.

Too often, we go through life from task to task, fitting God and our Christian family in somewhere in that mix, hoping for a shot in the arm to energize us through the week. But that’s not the life that we’ve been called to live. We’ve been given life in Jesus—the very one who said he “came that [we] may have life and have it it abundantly” (Jn. 10.10)

As Dallas Willard puts it:

“[Jesus] matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weaknesses he gives us strength and and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.”

May Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1.17-19 (from The Message) be true for us:

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”

Justice & Jesus

I have a very conflicted political history. For my whole life, my parents associated with a particular political party, and by extension, I assumed that was the political party I belonged to as well. But then, as a freshman in high school I committed to follow Jesus, and was influenced to believe that if Jesus were an American today, he would definitely belong to certain political party, and that I should therefore belong to that party as well. So through my high school years, I shifted my ideology to match my convictions. But when I went to college, I started really grappling with some issues about faith, following Jesus and the like, and that caused me to once again reconsider my political stance, such that I chose to be decidedly a-political. I decided to not vote because I came to conclude that politics were not the way to influence people to embrace kingdom ethics (though I wouldn’t have used that terminology). That’s been about four years ago, and my convictions have changed once again, though I am still holding onto my a-political stance—but barely.

The key issue for me is that of justice. Now, one can mean a thousand different things when using the word justice, but there’s not denying that justice plays a very important but often neglected role in Scripture. The fact of the matter is, as people who follow Christ, the way we treat people matters. And that includes both the people we interact with directly, and the people who are influenced by our economic, political, and theological choices. I haven’t landed anywhere yet in terms of my political stance in terms of justice, but I just heard David Fitch share something that I think is important for people on all sides of the conversation and political spectrum to remember:

Justice without Jesus isn’t justice…..and Jesus without justice isn’t Jesus.