What does God desire?

God desires a world where creation cooperates as it did at the beginning, where violence is unknown, where shalom permeates all the world.

The prophet Isaiah saw through a window and described a time when natural enemies would live together in peace, the time of shalom:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
                       the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
                        and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
                        their young will lie down together,
                        and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
                        and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
                       for the earth will be full of the knowledge
                       0f the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
                                    [ Isaiah 11:6-9]

Some people see in these words only a description of what life will be like at the end of time, as perhaps a description of heaven itself or of the time some call the millennium. But this seems to me an open window for us to see into the dream of God. Is this not what God desires for the world? And if it is, is it possible for us to work together toward the time of shalom even in this present world? Is this not our call as Christians?

Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome are at least an echo of Isaiah’s vision: Love does no harm. [Romans 13:10] The key phrase “no harm” unlocks the window to this divine dream. And love unlocks the door to the place where “no harm” becomes our experience. God desires a world where creation cooperates as it did at the beginning, where violence is unknown, where shalom permeates all the world. God desires the world described by Isaiah and will bring it into perfect existence at the end of time.

At the end of the book of Isaiah, we see the same vision described by God’s word through the prophet:
Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
            The former things will not be remembered,
                        Nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
             in what I will create….
The wolf and the lamb will feed together
                        and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
                        but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all
                        my holy mountain, says the Lord.
                                    [Isaiah 65:17-18,25]


Why is Christianity Declining?

David Gushee has a new book out – and this article – which joins the conversation around the decline of the Christian religion in America:

“The number of Christians and cultural strength of Christianity are both declining in the United States. This decline is noticeable and is affecting church life, culture, and politics. It is also deeply disturbing to most Christians, including me….”

  1. Gushee states two opposing reasons given for the decline:
    For example, many conservative evangelicals have for a long time pinned Christian decline on the mainline liberals, stating that if they had held firmly to a more robust and orthodox Christianity, they would have done better.
  2. On the other hand, many mainliners, not to mention disaffected evangelicals and ex-evangelicals, have made quite the opposite claim. For them, Christian decline is due to the excesses and rigidities of conservative religion.

Then he gives eight more possible reasons. Read the full article here.



What does it mean to repent?

Some thoughts from Luke 15:1-10 – about what it means to be lost and to repent ….

Let’s start at the end of the story and work backward. – This has nothing to do with heaven and hell. It’s about this world, this life – and how we live here and now. To “repent” is to experience a change of mind, perhaps of heart, to gain a sense of new purpose and new direction in life. – If we are lost, we have lost our direction. If we feel “lost” in life, we are not sure why we are here and what we are to do. We need a new clarity of mind and a new deepening of purpose and meaning in our hearts. – That’s what it means to repent – it means to be found.

“Sinners” was a pejorative term used by the self-righteous to describe people they judged as unacceptable because of who they were or how they lived. “Those people” did not follow the rules and regulations set for them, and so they were not welcome in the community of “the righteous.” They did not belong. That community could not accept them or care for them. It was not a community of warmth, compassion, and love.

Jesus came to “find the lost,” to seek out people who needed a change of mind and heart, of purpose and direction – whether they knew it or not. And his love and warmth and acceptance and hospitable spirit – his welcome of “those people” – was resented by people who could not feel that way and could not understand why Jesus did.

Most people are not looking for a church with rules and regulations to follow in order to belong. Most people may not even know they are looking or searching for anything. But when they are “found” – when people encounter real love, welcome, acceptance, authenticity, hospitality, caring – they often have a change of mind and heart and find a new purpose and direction in life.

Perhaps our “searching for the lost” is simply to offer welcome, acceptance, caring, love no matter what – and celebrate when people gather to experience with us the warmth of God’s love.

Love in this political season

Brian McLaren recently published an excellent piece called “Why Love…Why Now?” where he challenges us all to engage in love as followers of Jesus during this political season. I recommend the full article …

“I’m a committed follower of Christ, and Christ taught that the greatest commandment was to love … to love God, self, and neighbor, yes, but to go farther: to love beyond those normal limits … to love the stranger, the alien, the outsider, the outcast, the misunderstood, the misjudged, and the disinherited, even the opponent and the enemy.

The apostle Paul built on what Jesus taught. Without love, we’re nothing, just a bunch of annoying noise, he said. You can have mountain-moving faith – and we might add, creed-affirming doctrines – but without love, he said, it has no meaning or value. Love fulfills the law, he said, and the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.

If Jesus and Paul were right, then love is always in season.

But here in America, every four years we have national elections. …”


Am I Evangelical?

I consider myself evangelical, in the best sense of that word. People define the term differently, of course. Some define it by a set of beliefs, especially concerning the authority of scripture and the nature of salvation. Some define it as having to do with a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Without disputing the importance of any of those criteria, I believe “evangelical” is about the good news, the evangel, the story of Jesus who revealed God to us and who defined by his life and teachings the nature of God’s love and God’s desire for the world.

“Evangelical,” however, has been used to divide the church, which is not good news at all. How can we be evangelical and divide the body of Christ into groups of Christians according to their beliefs and practices? If evangelical has any biblical roots at all, surely those roots grow deep into Jesus Christ, the head of the church which is his body, as the New Testament says. Its claim is that Jesus has made us one, creating a unity of the Spirit which is God’s work. If we do anything to harm the body, to divide the church, we are wounding Christ.

[From Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church – Read the book online.]

How the church can be a safe place

A Safe Place Covenant
(Short Version)

 Examine:       We will ask, “Does this contribute to love?” before we do anything.

Engage:          We will act with respect, compassion, and generosity toward every person.

Listen:            We will look for what is good in others, listening to their whole story.

Speak:            We will speak only for ourselves, except to speak up for someone who is hurt.

Act:                 We will make people feel safe when they are with us.

Used by permission. © 2006 by Jimmy Reader. Original © 2004 by Jimmy Reader from Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church.


Going back 100 years

In 1907 Walter Rauschenbusch published Christianity and the Social Crisis. 100 years later his grandson, Paul Raushenbush, republished it. What struck me as I read it in 2007 was that I seemed to be reading a description of the world in which I was living – a century after it was first written. Now in 2014 the inequalities of wealth and the growing poverty of our nation challenge us to respond faithfully to the call of 100 years ago. You can read the book online here ….