Monday, February 20, 2017

thoughts on When the Church Was a Family

It seems that as our culture has become more and more self-focused and me-oriented, that the church has not been far behind. Books have been written on how we’re losing generations Y and Z, how inwardly -focused churches (make me comfortable, I pay your salary) are more and more the norm as opposed to externally focused (concerned with lost souls outside the congregation).
But perhaps this isn’t as new a phenomenon as we think. In a book first published several years ago, Joseph A. Hellerman addresses the issue of change in how the Church functions. When the Church Was a Family (B&H Academic, 2009) looks at the structure of the earliest churches described in the New Testament and compares it to the Church of today.  Do not read into this something that I don’t intend to say, Hellerman is not slamming the modern church, rather pointing out the shift and offering suggestions for how things can be done in a way that honors God.

One of the first things that he points out is that society as a whole has changed, and a Christian culture has also changed. About 2000 years ago, there was a strong sense of family first.  An example he gives is marriages.  Years ago marriages were often arranged, and the young couple may or may not agree with their parents’ choice, but it was understood that sacrifices might have to made for the good of the family as a whole. Try telling your teen aged son or daughter today that they will be getting married in a few weeks—to someone they have never met. Yes, times have changed.

 The local church served as that family. Conflicts were resolved within the church and when someone was in need, the church helped out. Today it seems like we turn to other places for the assistance we (members of a congregation) used to be able to get from the (local) church. We’ve given up family in favor of doing it on our own.

The culture was as it was, and then along came Jesus, followed by Paul, and they worked at setting an upside-down world right-side-up. Next Hellerman introduces us to the Church in the Roman world, places salvation in the context of community and offers suggestions for life together, decision making, and leadership in the family of God. And those things look a lot different in God's family than they do in  a secular setting.

Charts and diagrams throughout help the reader with some of Hellerman’s points. And the one on page 94 points out the subtle differences in where we place our allegiances.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Seven miles for seven words

For many of us, as Easter approaches we are compelled to consider the broader implications of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Many people who I know will start that process by fasting during Lent, a period of time that starts on Ash Wednesday (40 days—minus Sundays) before Easter. Lent is a time of repentance, and introspection, but alongside the somber moments, we also celebrate that Jesus was able to resist Satan’s tempting offers, and in doing so set the stage for His eventual defeat of sin and death.
And then comes Good Friday.  The humiliation, the torture, and eventually the death on the cross of Jesus. It was a horrible death, and just the evening before Jesus had spent time praying that the cup be taken from Him, but when the answer was ‘no’ he showed himself, again, to be the obedient Son, as he went to the cross.
Any of us would have reacted quite differently to the cross than did Jesus. And the 7 last ‘words’ – the statements that he made give us quite a bit to think about as we prepare for the joyous celebration of Resurrection Sunday. Stephen Furtick takes his title (Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God through the Last Words of Jesus (Multnomah, 2017) from the Emmaus walk—7 miles to Jerusalem—that two of the disciples made after the crucifixion and the mystery of the resurrection (they left town before Jesus made his appearance known) (see Luke 24:13)

One word or phrase for each mile on our journey to understanding what Jesus had to say to his followers on that first “Good Friday”.
The events of the day start at about 9:00 am, and by noon Jesus has made several statements. He asks that his tormentors be forgiven, he promises salvation, and he tells us about being adopted into the family of God.   Then at about noon, things start to heat up, and Jesus cries out to God, why am I feeling so alone? I’m thirsting for you. Then the cry of triumph: It is finished—I’ve done everything we set out to do, and finally that joyful reunion with God: into your hands I commit my spirit.
Each chapter consists of two parts: a basic discussion of the ‘word’ itself and some questions to help us think though that part of the crucifixion story, and then what could almost be called a sermon on the theme. 
Several years ago Multnomah published a DVD and participants guide to walk people through the seven last words.  It’s still available from on-line retailers
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my review.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dreaming of Justice

Let me get one thing out of the way: I typically don’t like autobiographical works. All too often the style in which they are written tends to be a little too stilted or choppy for my tastes. But at the same time, I find books with the theme of justice to be compelling. And so when the opportunity to review John M. Perkins book Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (Baker Books, 2017) I opted in. Both of my preconceived notions were correct, the style is, in my opinion, stilted and choppy; but the story itself is so compelling, that I was able, for the most part, to get past the style.

John Perkins has been around for a while, and he has been fighting for justice for a large part of that long while. Dream with Me is the story of that fight. Perkins’ dream is for racial justice, and he has certainly seen his share of injustice, and paid dearly for being a man of color in the segregated south. But today there are other types of injustice of which we are aware, and the people involved in those struggles also have their dreams.
                Much of this story contains a spiritual slant, but Perkins didn’t always have that going for him. He shares how it wasn’t until a grandson started coming home from Sunday school excited about stories of Jesus that he was willing to give church an honest try. And that’s understandable. John Perkins had seen his share of injustice, he had been beaten and jailed, his brother had been shot, and on a regular basis he had been cast into the role of ‘less than’.
                This is the story of how he learned to fight hate and fear with love. Not just love for those who loved him, but love for those who hated and feared him. It’s the story of living out the incarnation. IT’s a synopsis of the Christian Community Development Association, and living among those who need the light of the gospel to help them escape the darkness of the world. It’s about fighting, with love, for those who God loves. And it’s an incredible story of justice taking place before our very eyes.
                I received a copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for my review.