Archive for July, 2006

“…nor will they train for war anymore.”

Isaiah 2

The Mountain of the LORD

1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days Peace Dove.bmp
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

5 Come, house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.

The discussion of Christian involvement in war has become a badly beaten horse in some blogging circles of late, and I fear that the political bent of many of these conversations tends to split believers into two camps (based on their stance on war and faith): liberal and conservative.

This polarizing argument largely misses the point, in my opinion.

I think Isaiah 2 may help people of faith get beyond a discussion that is too often over-simplified or over-complicated. Isaiah 2 is really more of a painting than a block of text on a page. It is a portrayal of what the world would look like if it acknowledged Yahweh as king. It is a portrayal of a world full of people had sin not entered the picture. It clearly illustrates that war and violence are not part of God’s plan for humanity, but a result of sin entering into the world.

As the people of God, we (hopefully) believe that flickers of Isaiah 2 — a.k.a God’s “kingdom” or “reign” — show up at various places throughout the world, even before Christ’s return. God’s kingdom is breaking in wherever He is at work in the world, and the people of God are called to model an allegiance to this in-breaking kingdom or “new world order.” Isaiah 2 will not be realized in full until we are in Heaven forever, but we can see glimmers of this image — on a far smaller scale — in faith communities working toward racial and religious reconciliation, droves of baby Christians migrating toward the cross all over the world, and Christ-followers attempting to “walk in the light of the Lord” instead of remaining Christians “by name only.”

I believe this interpretation of God’s in-breaking kingdom is sufficiently backed up by the scriptural narrative. This particular post will not go into an exegesis of kingdom. It is assumed.

With this knowledge, then, shouldn’t the Christian stance on war be fairly clear-cut? For followers of Christ, shouldn’t war fall into the same category as other products of the fall of man? Shouldn’t Christians not only abstain from participation in acts of war or violence, but vigorously oppose all acts of war and pray for peace? It seems to me that in the counter-cultural church of Jesus Christ, war is seen not as “just” in some cases or even preferred when the end justifies the means. It is always opposed. By every true follower of Christ.

I’m not sure if any of this helps the conversation along, but I have to believe that a renewed vision of God’s kingdom breaking in — and specifically the vision of Isaiah 2 — might lead more Christians away from the American Evangelical party line stance on war and to their knees to pray for Shalom to come to earth quickly.

In the Middle East. In the Congo. In Sudan. In America’s inner cities. In families.

That’s just what I’ve been pondering lately. Let me know what you think.

more east boston friends

UPDATE: Today, I, Steve, was hired by Vantage Global Travel to be their newest copy writer! Praise God! This position is perfect in so many ways, which could only mean our Creator is responsible. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift. So thanks to those who have been praying diligently for this…your prayers were felt — and answered!

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We ate dinner last night with a young couple that also recently moved to East Boston (in the last year) with the purpose of joining God’s work here. They moved from San Diego, where Matt (the husband) was involved in an organic, simple through-and-through, and completely incarnational ministry to the poor.

Here’s what it looked like: Christians living in six houses at the end of a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood known for its poverty, exemplifying Christ in word and deed. One day, they began handing out PB&J sandwiches to homeless people out of one of the homes, and after a few years, they were serving 250 families food every week. But that’s not all: They had huge “love feasts” every Saturday, where they would invite the poor, the homeless, the marginalized into their homes to sit at big tables and celebrate Jesus with them. They had an “open door policy” for the houses, where people could walk in and out. Now that’s extreme hospitality. Similar to the quote to which I referred a few months back. Very simple. Very relational. Very Jesus-centered.

Well, Matt met his lovely wife (Mary) in San Diego, was married last Fall, and soon after felt called to return to the Boston area (where he grew up). They have a vision for seeing God do in East Boston something similar to what He did in California. They are a Spirit-led couple who will become three next January with the addition of a new baby.

We have been praying with them and asking God what He wants to do in East Boston, and specifically what He wants to do through the four of us. Praise God for the ways in which He is leading us and confirming East Boston as the place we need to be right now.

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Thanks for your prayers about the job hunt. (or “job delivery,” as my friend Matt says…since God is going to “deliver” the perfect job…) The interview on Wednesday went OK — no big blunders, I was relaxed — but even better was the interview I had yesterday morning. It was to be a copy writer for a travel company, and I honestly couldn’t find any negative aspects about the job: easy commute, close to Chrissy’s school, flexible hours, fun team, great supervisor, deadline-driven, on-site fitness, travel benefits, good pay, opportunities to advance, yada yada yada… From what I could tell, I’m the leading candidate for the position. Don’t want to get the horse before the cart, but I’ll keep you all posted on any new developments. Keep up your prayers, though! They are certainly felt…

random musings (the most over-used phrase in the blogosphere)

I’d encourage you to follow the conversations going on over at Atheist Revolution, specifically on the post titled, “Few ‘christians’ Act like Christians.” Also, feel free to continue the conversation on the post below this one. But time is money, people — we here at HarvestBoston need to move on with some fresh (and refreshingly random) material.

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Matt Friedeman of Agape Press correctly reminds us that bigger churches may not always be more influencial, while another author uncovers what he calls “The Mega-Church Myth”.

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Christianity Today, which (IMHO) is becoming one of the more thoughtful and progressive Jesus publications out there today, throws monasticism/neo-monasticism a bone as a “proven method” for spiritual formation.

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Still jobless and begging God to teach me how to trust Him more, I was comforted/shaken to the core by John 6:25-59 yesterday. Yikes, Lord — Increase my faith.

In a related story, I have a job interview on Wednesday. (of which I was notified not 30 minutes after submitting my life once again to God in trust and asking Him to teach me to trust…) Prayers at 1 p.m. EST on Wednesday would be much appreciated.

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Curious about where we live? Read this descriptive feature story about East Boston — aka “Eastie.” After reading this, you’ll understand why we’re excited about living where we live.

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Speaking of Eastie, allow me to introduce you to our new friends, Matt and Pam. They are the Christ-followers who live in East Boston and who approached us at the Italian Festival a few weeks ago, and with whom we have now eaten blondies (light colored brownies), played a rousing game of bball (in which they beat us by 1, behind the come-from-behind heroics of 5-3 [?] shooting guard, Pam), and eaten a wonderful, spontaneous pasta meal. Oh, and we prayed together also, and were surprised to find that we pray almost the same way (without levitation or high-pitched squeals). They are a blessing from God, and we are excited to see what God has in store for our relationship and for East Boston.

(Another coinki-dink: Matt’s little bro is in a band, too — just like mine. His music sounds awesome. You should check out some of their songs on their mySpace or look at their pretty Web site.)

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Was that random enough for ya?

christian-atheist dialogue

ichthus.jpgatheism6.pngFor a while now, I have known that while many people are down on Christians, they usually deeply admire and even, at times, attempt to follow Jesus Christ. I couldn’t have imagined how connected these two opposite emotions might be.

The other night, while cruising cyberspace on my Internet surfboard, I came across the blog of an intelligent and extremely thoughtful atheist. I thought he was intelligent and extremely thoughtful because he was dealing with issues of Christian faith more…well…intelligently than most Christians I know. I was also struck at what people on the “outside” of our Christian faith — specifically, someone who has explored our faith and rejected it — think about us.

Here is the post that first introduced me to Atheist Revolution. Minus the brief political commentary (IMHO), I think AR does us Christians a service by giving us an “outsiders’ eye view” of what “we” look like sometimes. Over on his site, he has also posted an “Open Letter to Christians,” which he actually agreed to write after he and I exchanged a brief e-mail dialogue. He told me that he agreed to write the letter (and to have me link to it on my blog) because he would like people to know that Christians and atheists can talk about issues of faith with some measure of civility. Please visit AR’s blog and join the conversation there, especially if you find yourself nodding in agreement at the following words:

Few “Christians” Appear to Be Christians

What does it mean to be a Christian? Is telling people you are a Christian sufficient? Is believing in church dogma regarding Jesus sufficient? Can one be a Christian without attempting to follow the spirit of what Jesus allegedly taught?

We atheists are fond of criticizing the Christian bible. We highlight the contradictions, the irrational superstitions, and the numerous examples of intolerance and cruelty. And yet many of us agree with much of what Jesus supposedly taught. One of the most often repeated messages throughout the bible was that a society can be judged based on how it treats its poor. I agree with this. The bible is filled with calls to look out for the least fortunate among us, and I agree with this.

However, when I look at those Americans who speak the loudest about their Christianity (i.e., the Christian right), I see little compassion for the poor. Unless I am severely mistaken about what it means to be Christian, this seems to be blatant hypocrisy. When George W. Bush, a self-proclaimed Christian, institutes tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting programs to aid the poor, can this be anything other than hypocrisy? When he chooses preemptive war and the steep cost that comes with it over domestic programs to improve education, health care, etc., can this be reconciled with Christianity?

In my local paper, an article recently appeared about Mississippi’s “castle doctrine.” This is a new law which states that I am permitted to use lethal force to defend my home, automobile, or business. If I shoot someone who I perceive to be threatening my home, car, or business, this law says that I “shall be presumed to have reasonable feared imminent death or great bodily harm” and that I have “no duty to retreat” before using lethal force. In other words, this law allows deadly force as a first resort, even in public places such as a city street or parking lot. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma have similar laws.

The people who are the most vocal in their support for this law overwhelmingly identify themselves as Christian. And yet, if their bible was clear about anything, it was that we should not be overly attached to things. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to have said something about turning the other cheek?

I see at least two possibilities here. First, among those who call themselves Christians, most are hypocrites and only a tiny minority can rightly be called Christian. If this is the case, then I hold the minority of real Christians responsible for failing to define what it means to be a Christian and for holding the hypocrites accountable. The second possibility is that being a Christian has little to nothing to do with following the alleged teachings of Jesus. In this case, I’m not sure that the term has any valid meaning and is simply misleading, especially when applied to morality.

show and tell

walking through forest.jpg“What are you hearing from Jesus?”

Is there a more important question in the universe? I mean, if we claim to be following a Jesus that didn’t just say a bunch of stuff 2,000 years ago and then shut up — but still speaks today — then shouldn’t Christ-followers be asking each other this question on a daily basis?

OK, so what has Christ shown/told/revealed to you lately?

Even if you’ve lurked but never commented before, I’d love to hear from you.

Peace.

[NOTE: for some reason, it says “No Comments” above. This isn’t true — several people have commented. I’ll find out what’s up from my technical guru. So comment away…you’re not alone!]

speaking english and perfect love

“Do you speak English?”

— The words we were asked the other day in the T station by a young man trying to get directions to a location in East Boston, further reinforcing that we are definitely not in Abilene anymore. Oh, and we answered the guy, “Sí.”

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…Then the crowds spread out their coats on the road ahead of Jesus. As they reached the place where the road started down from the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven
and glory in highest heaven!”
But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” (Luke 19:36-40)

The heavens tell of the glory of God.
The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.

Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.

They speak without a sound or a word;
their voice is silent in the skies;

yet their message has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to all the world.
The sun lives in the heavens
where God placed it.

It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom
after his wedding.
It rejoices like a great athlete
eager to run the race.

The sun rises at one end of the heavens
and follows its course to the other end.
Nothing can hide from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about nature. Scripture tells us that nature glorifies God. In fact, scripture tells us that nature will glorify God even when we will not. I have wondered if there is any more perfect love for the Creator than that from the birds…the trees…the rocks. Then, I came to the following passage in my regular bathroom read, Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton:

Let this be my only consolation, that wherever I am You, my Lord, are loved and praised.

The trees indeed love You without knowing You. The tiger lilies and corn flowers are there, proclaiming that they love You, without being aware of Your presence. The beautiful dark clouds ride slowly across the sky musing on You like children who do not know what they are dreaming of, as they play.

But in the midst of them all, I know you, and I know of your presence. In them and in me I know of the love which they do not know, and, what is greater, I am abashed by the presence of Your love which they do not know, and, what is greater, I am abashed by the presence of Your love in me. O Kind and terrible love, which You have given me, and which could never be in my heart if You did not love me! For in the midst of these beings which have never offended You, I am loved by You, and it would seem most of all as one who has offended You. I am seen by You under the sky, and my offences have been forgotten by You — but I have not forgotten them…

Something to think about, for sure. How could we — humans — refuse to praise our Creator when all of nature praises Him unceasingly? How could we worry about where food…clothes…jobs will come from when the birds and flowers exist in perfect trust of their Father?

jesus: the main attraction

When we teach about organic church (OC), it is not the kind of church (organic, seeker sensitive, purpose-driven…whatever) that is attractive to lost people, it is Christ, and Christ alone. When we make it about church — what kind of church, what is done at church, how is it done, who is the preacher/singer — we miss the point. Unless we realize that it is Christ in us that makes church anything better than the Kiwanis Club we miss the plot. Lost people are not spending their hours trying to figure out how to get to church, or what kind of church they would like. The typical lost person sees only two things that church is good for: marrying and burying, and most are trying to avoid both. (Neil Cole, “Why Organic Church Has an Edge on Outreach,” May 2006)

I like that. I think it pretty much explains what we’re up to — what Christ’s up to — in Boston these days. We want our neighbors to be attracted to HIM (ideally, Christ in us), not to some flashy church service. As I’ve mentioned before, I think I’m pretty much finished with the “church planting” language. We’ve maintained all along that Jesus Christ is an infinitely better minister/missionary in Boston than we could ever hope to be; in fact, He’s the greatest minister in history.

If people come, let them come to Christ, and to Christ alone.