Friday, October 31, 2014

Five Timeless Heresies of the Church

For Reformation Day, when Martin Luther's 95 theses against the church mis-doctrine of indulgences are celebrated, I want to remind us of a few ways the church continues to misguide us all. 

1.       The church has the right to oppress heresies or immoralities
Heresies and immoralities come and go.  There will always be a sin that people call righteous and there will always be an evil doctrine that people call godly.  But the response of the true church to these is not to fight them or attack them.  The true church, in humility, realizes that neither our doctrine nor practice is perfect.  The true church will discuss, and point toward Jesus.  The true church realizes that Jesus alone is the true teacher and that Jesus is the only judge.  Thus, we do not judge for ourselves, nor teach our own doctrine or practice, but just point to Jesus.   And, like Jesus, we harm no one, nor let a hateful word pass our lips.

2.       The church is a place of safety from the world
We see our properties and buildings as holy places, a place of purity and quiet to worship the Lord.  To do that, we lock ourselves off from the chaos of the world, we separate ourselves from sinners and we create peace for those who live according to the tenants of our community.  But Jesus lived among the demon-possessed, the lepers and the chronically ill, in order to bring healing.  Jesus ate and fellowshipped with sinners, making them family.  Jesus offered peace to those who have no peace in themselves.  The church is not to create safety for itself, but safety for those who truly need it—the vulnerable of the world.

3.       Church leadership is a means of gain
Many become pastors because it is a decent profession and they want to help people.  Many become pastors because they want to discuss theology and the Bible and make a living at it.  Some become church leaders because they see it as a means of avoiding poverty and even a means of power for them and their family.  But Jesus said that church leadership is not a means of power or gain, but rather a means of slavery.  True leadership in the church is lowliness, poverty and the acceptance of persecution.  Jesus’ true leaders are those who give and give and give until there is nothing left to give, who drain themselves in love.

4.       Money and influence is power for the church
Churches and church leaders often complain that there is not enough money to run their programs, that they need more volunteers, that they need to wield more influence on the world.  They want to change the world and build community and they see wealth and people and politics as the means to create true change.  But according to Jesus, true change happens through resurrection, and resurrection only happens through the cross.  True change occurs when we completely trust the Power that enacts change.  The greatest power in the world for change is trust in God, and we enact that trust by living according the merciful will of God.

5.       Oppression of the church is to be avoided

We pray for our persecuted brothers throughout the world, and we might seek political change to ease their suffering.  We are willing to fight and even bomb those who threaten the lives of our fellow Christians.  We will enact cultural war so we need not change our traditions and practices for any outside influence.  But Jesus said that we are not to fight persecution, but rejoice in it.  We are not to fear tribulation, but to recognize that it is the key to open the door to the kingdom of heaven.  It is a means of opening up the heavens so that blessings would come down upon us.  For when we have the comforts and support of this world, we will not obtain the greater blessings of God.  The oppressed church is the normative church.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Way: Meditations on Frailty

Rejoice in the full moon!
For her light is not her own
But merely reflects what she is given.

Rejoice in the half moon!
For she is in the midst of change,
Embracing what light she is given.

Rejoice in the new moon!
For in her weakness she has the capacity
To become full of light
And her emptiness is her potential.

Do not fear your darkness
It is simply emptiness that must be filled
By light.
Demand not light
But simply embrace it when it comes.
As you walk on the way
Collect what light you find,
And so reduce your emptiness.

So many look at their emptiness
And call it light!
They cannot bear to have darkness,
Thus they call their darkness maturity.
Real light reflects Light above:
Full grace
Full mercy
Full purity
Full compassion.
Let not the light in you
Be found to be darkness.

The sun neglects no one
But warmly, gently embraces all.
Some feel burdened by this embrace,
Shaking their fist at the sky,
But even they could not live without the radiance.
Others regret that they do not
Receive more warmth, more grace,
But we only appreciate abundant mercy
After experiencing emptiness.

Once we have defined Truth
And understand it from high to low
Only then can we be certain
That we have never understood Truth at all
Truth is not an entity to be contained,
But a person, containing deep mystery.
Truth adjusts to context, as a person evolves.
To connect to Truth we must first
Embrace our ignorance.
Instead of imprisoning Truth
We must allow Truth in our souls
As He wills.

Truth can only be revealed by Truth
If someone says they have found Truth
And point at themselves,
Their ideas, their ambitions,
They do not know Truth at all.
The sincere speaker of Truth
Always points away from himself.
For Truth is complete only in itself.
The greatest Truth-teller is the empty one.

This is a mystery:
The Truth-seeker is the maiden
Gorgeous in her emptiness
She seeks what she knows not
When she is filled with love
Then she is transformed
Into the beauty of motherhood
Which is the beginning of her journey.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Eleven Radical Anawim Principles

Anawim is a Hebrew word which means, in context, “the poor who seek the Lord for deliverance.”  It is used frequently in the Psalms and book of Proverbs, including Psalm 37:11, “the anawim shall inherit the earth”, which is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 5:5.  The anawim are the focus of God’s acts of salvation, and the inheritors of God’s kingdom.

Anawim is also a community church in Portland, Oregon.  It is a church whose members are from a variety of denominations, most of whom are homeless, almost all of whom are desperately poor.  Within the United States, one of the most prosperous countries on the earth, is a huge population living in what some may deem third world conditions.  Without electricity, without easy access to toilet facilities, without showers, even if they have a job, this population struggles to survive.  And this same population is targeted by local governments to be assumed to be criminals and ne’er do wells, simply because they are forced to live their poverty out in public.   This is the population of Anawim: the homeless, the mentally ill, the desperately poor, the rejected, the outcast due to economic disadvantage.

As a community, we have a number of principles by which we live, which makes us a unique church, unlike most any others.  Here are some of the principles:

1.       We not only speak of our love of God and neighbor, we show it. 
It is not enough to talk a good talk if we do not live it out.  Theology and doctrine isn’t the primary indication of being a follower of Jesus, or a member of God’s kingdom.  Living it out is. “Faith, if it has no works, is dead”
Below each of the following principles, we will describe some of the ways in which we live these principles out.

2.       Our resources are for the poor
We are not building a “Christian” community, but a community of the poor and vulnerable.  Our buildings, our finances, our worship, our housing, our food are all primarily for those who lack these very things.  We seek those who need the most in our community. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Our facility is used to shelter those who need a secure place to be, both day and night.  Our kitchen is used primarily by the homeless who have no facility to cook in.  Our shower is used by those who have no shower.  Our bathrooms are open to those who have no place to use the bathroom. Our community house offers rest to those who do not have a place to live.

3.       We are multi-cultural
One of the gravest problems in any society is monoculturalism, the myopic viewing of the world through only one point of view.  We seek to build relationships with people of different languages, different social groups and different ethnicities so that we might learn to get out of our own narrow-mindedness, and understand the breadth of God’s variety.  “Before the throne and before the Lamb are those of every tribe and all nations, peoples and tongues.”
Our church facility is used by four different congregations: One African, one Hmong, one Hispanic and one homeless.  We invite middle class people to both serve and participate in our meals, especially to relate to our homeless and needy.

4.       We live by faith
We don’t know where tomorrow’s meal will come from.  We don’t know whether we will have tomorrow the shelter that we depended on today.  We seek God to provide for us, knowing that God often provides in the very last minute.  “Give us this day our daily bread”
Our prayer is our means of survival on a minute-by-minute basis.  As an organization, we only occasionally ask for funds, allowing the Spirit to move people to give as He sees fit.

5.       We share all that we have
We cannot live without each other, because none of us have enough to live well on our own.  When one person has an excess, then he or she shares with others, so that we may all live in plenty.  When one is lacking in basic needs, they can go to others in the community to try to meet their needs, whether food, shelter or clothing.  “There was not a needy person among them because… they would lay good at the apostle’s feet who would distribute to all who had need.”
Our facilities are set up to be places of giving and receiving, where churches and individuals can drop off their excess so that we can give it to the needy throughout Portland.

6.       We sell nothing we are given
If we receive a donation as a gift, we do not sell it to receive the money from it.  Rather, we find those who could use the donation and give it to them freely.  “Freely you have received, freely give.”
All the clothing, furniture, food and other items that Anawim receives is distributed freely to the poor in the Portland area.

7.       We disobey any law that is in disobedience to mercy
If we come against an ordinance or law that commands us not to love or show mercy to those in need, we will try to go around the law, but ultimately we must openly disobey if that is our only option.  We will always obey the higher command to love.  “We must obey God rather than men.”
We will allow people to sleep on our property in emergency situation, even when that is in opposition to local camping or housing ordinances.

8.       We make peace
We go to where there is violence and create a community of peace.  We use peacemaking principles in order to subdue violent ways and create a community that not only is at peace with itself but will create peace in the community at large.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
We hold biblical peacemaking trainings for the homeless and for other churches.  We constantly affirm the principles of peacemaking throughout our shelters, offering a constant training of the mind of peace.  We prevent and mediate conflict among those who come to our facility.

9.       We seek to convert the violent and immoral
We are not content to have a community of peace, but rather continue to seek the criminal and the mentally ill and the violent in order to give them an opportunity of a new life of peace in Jesus.  “Eating with the sinners and tax collectors.”
We invite anyone to eat of our food, to take showers and to get clothes, only asking that they refrain from violence on the property.  Those who attempt to bring drugs to the property or who attempt to do violence we offer alternatives.

10.   We accept suffering as our lot
We recognize that our calling is not an easy calling, and we face violence and difficulty daily.  This long term ministry (which we have been participating in for twenty years) wears on us, and we struggle to persevere.  Our neighbors, the local governments and even some of those we serve attack us and make our burden that much harder.  But we seek the Lord to give us strength and endurance.  “Without many tribulations, no one can enter the kingdom of God.”
When we are yelled at, we do not yell back.  When we are threatened, we do not threaten back. When we are hit, we do not hit back. Rather, we seek God’s mercy for all.

11.   We seek to convert the church
The church is lost, focusing on doctrine, focusing on myopic communities, focusing on the wealthy, focusing on middle class values, focusing on comforts.  We seek to remind the church of the radical message of Jesus, calling us to radical lives not just scandalous words.  Ultimately, we seek to transform the church from an entity compromised with the values of the world to step out and be truly unique in the image of Jesus.  “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

We encourage and teach radical discipleship in our denomination, and on the internet.  We partner with local churches to join us in radical giving to the poor.

To see more about Anawim, please visit our website, Nowhere To Lay His Head

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Big Picture-- What is the purpose of humanity?

In the beginning, God created the ecosystem.

He made all things to fit together so that not a single aspect of creation loses out.  It’s described in Psalm 104:

He established the earth upon its foundations, So that it will not totter forever and ever….
He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains;
They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; They lift up their voices among the branches.
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine which makes man's heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man's heart.
The trees of the LORD drink their fill, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,
Where the birds build their nests, And the stork, whose home is the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats; The cliffs are a refuge for the wild goats.
He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting.
You appoint darkness and it becomes night, In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about.
The young lions roar after their prey And seek their food from God.
When the sun rises they withdraw And lie down in their dens.
Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening.
O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all!
 (Psalm 104:5, 10-24)

The earth is one large community, working together to meet each other’s needs.  And human beings play an essential role. Human beings are supposed to be the fail-safe, the fix-it-guys, and they were supposed to improve on creation, filling it with creations of their own.  Mind you, humans couldn’t do it on their own.  They needed God’s guidance and power to make it happen.  But it was a good plan.

A community which is self-sustaining and meets the needs of all parts within it, both survival needs and social and security needs is a community of peace, it is Shalom.  God’s initial plan was for the world to have perpetual Shalom, and human beings were essential for that plan.

Of course, we know that this plan wasn’t fulfilled.

Mind you, humanity didn’t mess everything up, just enough for the whole planet to become ill, and every creature within it, including humanity, to be in a perpetual state of crisis.  Because we don’t really know what peace is, or how to achieve it.  We need God’s wisdom and power.

Okay, let’s do a huge fast forward.  To the end. If creation is the initial act of God, let’s see what the final peacemaking act of God is, how he completes his creation and what that says about humanity.  

At the very end, there is judgment.

No, that’s not fun to talk about.  Sorry.  No matter how anyone thinks it pans out, it involves separating humanity one from another, some will be a part of the ongoing process of maintaining creation and others will… not.  Or maybe they’ll get fixed, that’s not my place to say right now.

What I’m more interested is how humanity will be divided from each other.  How does God choose the good group from the bad?  The answer in the Bible is strangely uniform.  With all the differences in Scripture and the different wording and the different ideas, how humanity is judged is determined by one phrase used quite frequently:

Psalm 28:4—Requite them according to their deeds

Proverbs 12:14—The deeds of a man hands will return to him.

Isaiah 59:18—According to their deeds, the Lord will repay.

Jeremiah 17:10—I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds. 

Jeremiah 32:18-19—The Lord of Hosts… gives everyone according to their ways; every man according to the fruit of his deeds.

Ezekiel 18:26-27—When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die.  Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life.

Hosea 12:2—He will repay them according to their deeds.

Jonah 3:10—When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. 

Matthew 16:27—The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay each according to his deeds.

John 5:28-29— An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

II Corinthians 5:10—We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 

Revelation 20:12-13—And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.

In the end, it isn’t how much a person believes, or how well they did on their doctrine, or what a great relationship they had with God… when the final test comes up, it all has to do with what we do.  The kind of actions matter as well.  For Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, it’s clear that if we are going to pass this final test, we have to do acts of kindness, helping the needy, supporting those who are in the greatest need.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you.  Luke 6:36-38

So I said all that to tell you this.

I know what the purpose of humanity is.  And it is revealed in God’s first and last acts in the human story.  First of all, we are to create peace on earth.  We aren’t to wait for God to do it for us, we have to do it ourselves.  And secondly, we are to create peace by means of doing great acts of support for those in need.  It could be we are helping birds in need or puppies or children or homeless people or sick people… but we are to be the kind of people that can’t say “no” to a fellow creature in need.  Peace through compassion.  That’s what God wants of us.

Yes, God wants us to love Him.  No question.  Because without God we don’t have the wisdom or the strength to obtain peace or to keep loving.  Without God, we get confused about what love really means, mixing it up with our own self-interest. 

God is interested in us in propping up the system of peace He originally created and doing this through acts of great love.  And He wants to help us do it, which means we need to connect to Him.  That’s it.  If we can remember this, it will all work out.

Sure, we’ll argue about what peace really looks like and about how to get there.  But if we remember the basics—peace means that everyone’s needs are met, whatever those needs are.  And the method to peace is through compassion and mercy.  If we remember those things, we’ll be okay.  We just need to stick to the basics.

And dream really big.