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Posts Tagged ‘generosity’


Much has changed in America since I became a Christian during Reagan’s second term in office. The church has had a variety of reactions from assimilation to abdication.

What is a Christian to do? How are pastors to guide and direct people?

In 2016 I prepared my people for a new set of circumstances by preaching through Esther and then 1 Peter. While “evangelicals” seem to have won they battle of the election, they seem to have lost the war for the culture as numerous articles blame Trump’s victory on them. The disenfranchisement many felt has only deepened with new charges of x-phobia.

Image result for faith for this momentRick McKinley’s new book, Faith for this Moment: Navigating a Polarized World as the People of God, caught my eye. McKinley is the pastor of Imago Dei church in Portland, OR. He shows up in Blue Like Jazz as Donald Miller’s pastor for a time. Like Driscoll, he seemed to fall into the Emerging (not Emergent) Church movement that held to historic Christianity applied to new circumstances.

On the surface this book seems to be The Benedict Option for millennials. I haven’t read BO, though it has been recommended to me often. It seems a bit retreatist to me. It sounds a bit too much like abdication. I could obviously wrongly judging that book by its cover. This book, I read.

I appreciated the overall tone and message of the book. I had some issues with the details and some of his analysis. It is not a long book, so it doesn’t flesh everything out as much as some may like. He’s trying to move people in a direction more than giving them detailed instructions. So, what is that direction?

He begins with the Moment in which we live, how we got here, and then how we should move forward as God’s people. That last part sounds the most like BO as he seeks to reclaim some distinctive Christian practices to help us live faithfully in a world, a culture more precisely, that has become hostile to our existence.

The Moment for him was the aftermath of the Pulse shooting. Christians, in the eyes of an unbelieving culture, we known less for Jesus and His sacrificial love than our opposition to homosexuality and defense of firearms. Though a Muslim, many show Mateen as in line with the “God and guns” crowd that President Obama disparaged.

Lost in the moment was the compassion shown by many churches, locally and in other parts of the country. Lost was Chick-Fil-A providing food to responders on a Sunday. Somehow we were at least partially to blame.

And then came the results of the 2016 election. The backlash is still a popular narrative: evangelicals voted for Trump because they are racist, misogynist, anti-immigration and homo-phobic. This is a world without nuance painting all conservative Christians with the same (wrong) brush.

“We are a society that is messy and complicated, and it appears that Christians, whose voices have been drowned out by misrepresentation and misunderstanding, have little to say about the things that matter most to the world.”

Image result for adam and eveChristians have moved from a group with relative power to being marginalized as a minority group. This happened without moving in a foreign country. We’ve lost our sense of identity and place. We’ve also lost our sense of practice: how we live or act, what we do, because we follow Jesus. Most Christians are caught between “denial and despair”. McKinley is not going to lead us in a pity party, however. Nor is he going to encourage us to go with the flow. He reminds us that for significant periods of time God’s people have lived as the marginalized, the exiled, and have flourished despite that.

He begins with the original exile. Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden because of their sin. Life changed forever, so it seemed. There was no going back for them. The consequences would be disastrous as one son killed another as sin ran rampant. Abram and Sarai willingly went into exile in following the call of God. They had promises and a covenant but they were strangers and aliens in Canaan.

“This shows us that while exile is a place of loss, it is also a place of hope, because the God who is sovereign over the times in which we live is the one who sustains us in exile.”

He continues with Jacob, Moses (what about Joseph??) and the wilderness generation. He identifies Jesus as the True Exile who voluntarily (like Abram) left “home” to come to this far country to live among us, and suffer with and for us. He entered exile to bring us back to the Garden, but better.

McKinley then focuses on Babylon as a real exile and a picture of subsequent exiles. Babylon didn’t make all of Israel slaves. They were invited to partake of Babylon’s prosperity, similar to the materialism and consumerism of America. Prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were calling them to faithfulness in exile. They were not to abandon their faith and assimilate with Babylon. They were to seek the good of the city and put down roots there. Their welfare was wrapped up with the welfare of the city.

“Exile can be a place of deep spiritual transformation and kingdom advancement if we are willing to step into it with courage and faith.”

It is easy to miss that Israel was in exile due to her sin. She lost her place because she forfeited her faith. It was time to regain her faith in exile. The church in the west, in particular in America to whom McKinley writes, has lost its place because it largely lost its faith. It fell for the American Dream instead of the Kingdom of God. It is time to regain our faith in Christ and His kingdom.

He focuses on that passage in Jeremiah in Baptize It, Burn It, or Bless It?. Here he discusses Christendom, both its rise in Rome and its fall here in America. Christendom is the blending of Christianity with the dominant culture such that you have a civil religion that largely reflects the culture. It is a largely assimilated faith. Racial pride, ethnic price, economic pride etc. are identified with Christianity.

While I agree with him, I also struggle with some of his points. For instance, on the issue of a border wall he sounds reductionistic to me. The threat is not the “other” so much as the lawless for many. He rejects just war theory as if it were the same as “manifest destiny”. For instance, he writes “When our hope becomes misplaced in these things, we begin to see other countries as a threat rather than a neighbor.” We live in a world of sinners so all our homes have doors, with locks. Every home in my neighborhood has a fence because there are boundary lines. I don’t hate my neighbor or fear my neighbor. Many politicians and celebrities who chastise us about a wall live behind walls and travel with armed security. That is wise in a world of sinners. Are nations to eschew wisdom for foolishness?

Another example, this time of overlooking details. In the context of same sex marriage he mentions that the church has done little to reduce its own divorce rate. I agree that some portions of the church have high divorce rates. But he seems to ignore the movement toward “covenant marriage” in many states in the Bush 43 years. These laws made getting a divorce more difficult for those who chose to enter that kind of marriage.

In response McKinley focuses on piety. He lays great weight on these practices to remain distinctive. He appears to lose the connection between being and doing. Theology informs our being. To be fair, he could have teased more of that (theology) out of his first practice. But he sees theological distinctives are part of the problem.

“The way forward will require us to move beyond doctrinal divides of conservative and liberal. We will need to find a set of practices, born from faith, that can make us distinct in our identity and our way of living in this moment in which we find ourselves.”

Image result for the borgHe is right that cultures make disciples. “You will be assimilated! Resistance is futile!” cries the Borg. Here he brings in some Lesslie Newbegin and contextualization. The gospel is a-cultural. It transcends cultures instead of being culture bound. The church is called to “navigate its relationship to the culture it finds itself in at this moment.” We embrace elements of culture in agreement with biblical norms and reject those in conflict with biblical norms. He breaks out what looks like a triperspectival triangle. The gospel is the norm, the church is the existential perspective (who we are) and we live in the circumstances of a particular culture. The gospel does not change. It is the norm that is intended to transform both church and culture- though in different ways. The church lives out the gospel in culture, and addresses that unchanging gospel to the particular culture it finds itself in a way that the culture can understand and applied to the culture’s problems.

McKinley expresses this in the terminology of “windows of redemption and opposition.” Each culture has ways we can address the culture “in its own space and through its own language and values.” But there are also “values, beliefs, and practices that are at odds with Jesus and the gospel.” If your gospel doesn’t present any offense it probably isn’t the biblical gospel. If it is only in opposition to culture, it probably isn’t either.

He then moves into the history of his congregation to show how this worked out. They needed to repent, often, of their lack of involvement with their community and culture. We often act like strongholds, at odds with those around us instead of seeking their holistic welfare.

“We must be willing to be honest with ourselves, to be broken over the state of our own hearts and the part we played in making the church the way it is.”

The book moves into the final section focusing on the spiritual practices he advocates. It seems strange to me, to compare us with Muslims (or the Amish or Hasidic Jews) as identifiable by dress and customs. I’m not sure about focusing on such externals. He does point us to practices that may standout, but not dress. The goal he notes is to turn us around (repentance) and “fully enter the story of God in our everyday lives.”

“Too many of us are exhausted from the pressure of the empire, and we find ourselves binging on its pleasures to short-circuit the anxiety we feel, even if those pleasures are only a temporary fix.”

He begins with that story in the practice of listening and obeying. Scripture is to be the story that shapes our worldview. The Story of redemption should shape how we live, eat, work etc.. He then moves into hospitality. He misses the point at times, focusing on how our government welcomes some immigrants and not others. I get that our hospitality is intended to be distinct from the governments, but the government has a different mission and goals than the church does. He doesn’t really develop the differences between the church and the state. This warps some of his statements.

In the chapter on generosity he seems to misunderstand some basic economic principles. Capitalism isn’t built on supply and demand. It certainly honors that reality in a way that other economic theories but it is built on the idea of using capital to create supply to meet demand. He also confused greed with capitalism on that same page.

The fourth practice is Sabbath. The practice of ceasing from work and engaging in rest and worship is contrary to the consumerism of America. We regain our focus and become refreshed so we can be better and more principled workers as a side benefit. He doesn’t want us to complicate it, but some of his quick encouragements seem to miss the point. Like, light a candle.

The last practice is that of vocation, seeing God’s call in our lives in work. God calls us to work and gifts us to work. It is not about money, but the gospel calls us to work out of love for God and others. We flourish, generally speaking, when we work to help others flourish.

As I mentioned earlier, this is more a big picture book than detailed book. I think that the practices are good for us. I do have some concerns with his pietistic bent that in some ways de-values theology. This can be a helpful book as long as one spits out the bones. More conservative readers will find a fair number of bones in his political references and perspectives.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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I don’t think I’ve read anything by J.V. Fesko before. I thought I’d start with a book carrying a lighter price tag before I started investing lots of money. As a result, The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled and Applied has been sitting in my ‘to read” pile for some time. After reading a number of larger volumes I thought I’d go with a shorter book like this.

For those not familiar with Fesko, he is an OPC pastor and associate professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.

It is common for people who deny the on-going authority of the moral law to use terms like the rule of love to describe how God reveals His moral will to us. Fesko is not one of those people. This book is an exposition, however brief, on the Ten Commandments. He does treat them within their historical, covenantal and redemptive contexts. Too often people look at them in abstraction. We must remember they were given to the people of Israel, but YHWH who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after He delivered them from Egypt and slavery. We must understand this original historical and covenantal context to properly understand them. But as Christians we also view them through Christ’s redemptive work in which He fulfilled them for us, and by virtue of our union with Him works in us so we keep them in increasing measure. As a result, the Ten Commandments are not some religious artifact from some bygone era. Neither is our obedience to them the ground of our justification. Christ’s obedience is the ground of our justification. We also remember that while they provide the direction of our sanctification (the 3rd use of the law) they do not provide the power for it. That comes from the Spirit by virtue of our union with Christ (which he mentions quite often).

“The Law is not merely a legal bond; it is also a rule of love between God and His people.”

It would be easy to see the book are formulaic because he works through these three categories for each of the ten. But you should see this as good pedagogue. Being obvious is not a problem particularly when the lack of obviousness creates great misunderstanding.

The chapters are not very long, and he provides some study questions to help you think through and apply the material. Fesko begins with the prologue which stresses the covenantal and historical context for the rest. The Law was given to them, not to save them, but to know how to live together with God and one another. They were never to forget that He rescued them from slavery. As we read them we remember the greater redemption to which this great redemption pointed to. As Christians we hear them as people who have been justified, not those seeking justification. It is precisely when we ignore this, including when we put them up on courthouse lawns or walls, that we begin to turn it into a ladder.

“We cannot manufacture images of God because Jesus Christ has already taken that role. Only Christ can do what no man-made image can, namely, perfectly reflect the image of God. …. We do not make images of God, for He is making images of Himself in us!”

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Weakness is not something we tend to spend much time thinking about. We usually spend time avoiding it or trying to get out of experiencing weakness. Thankfully there are men like J.I. Packer who don’t (or can’t) run from it. Recent health problems have provided him with the opportunity to consider his own weakness. More importantly it gave him the opportunity to consider 2 Corinthians and how Paul, when faced with his own weakness, found strength in Christ.

The fact that weakness is not option is found in the title of the book that resulted: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. This is a short book with only 4 chapters. Size should not be confused with significance. This is no Knowing God, but it is a balm for the soul plagued by weakness, which will eventually find all of us.

“The memory of having fallen short in the past can hang like a black cloud over one’s present purposes and in effect program one to fail.”

Many of us live with such black clouds. It could be moral failure. It could be vocational failure. I was the pastor of a church that closed. That black cloud hung about me for years. It still shows up  at times seeking to distract & deceive me. For Packer, his childhood accident and its consequences have hovered over him his entire life: weakness, alienation, left out…

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Since my current sermon series from Genesis includes the idea of relationships, I decided it would be a good time to read Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. Of course, when you take a few months to read a book it is not as fresh in your mind when you come to review it.

The book is not long (under 200 pages), but it does cover quite a bit of territory. The chapters include ones on sin, agendas, worship, obstacles, mercy, time and money and more. They cover that ground, as usual, with lots of Scripture and many examples compiled from years of experience in ministry as well as their personal lives. Thankfully, it does have a Scripture Index (one of my pet peeves is to not have one).

The first chapter talks about their relationship with one another. There have been times when they haven’t got along well. They have struggled through many of these things.  So, they speak from personal experience, not as merely teaching theory.

They begin with the reasons why to invest in relationships. The most important, in my opinion, is that since we are made in God’s image we are made to be in relationship. God Himself has eternally existed in relationship with Himself. The Trinity is a community of love. He made us to bring us into that loving community. But since we rejected the spring of living water, we make our relationships into broken cisterns from which we expect to receive life. Sin, including idolatry, have messed things up.

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Lately there has been no shortage of books about the “radical” Christian lifestyle.  Often those books try to make the gospel into law or focus on very subjective things.  Biblical sanity needed a booster shot.  The release of an updated version of Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving is just such a booster shot.

Randy’s book is radical.  He argues for radical generosity, and does so on (largely) biblical grounds (the tithe as a starting point).  He offers 7 treasure principles which are not like 7 steps.  But these are applications of the teaching of Scripture.  For instance: “God owns everything.  I’m His money manager.”

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I’ll freely admit it; I’m a little behind the times.  In this instance I’m only about 18 months behind the times.  The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield came out in 2009.  I picked it up with a gift card for my birthday in late 2010.  I’ve slowly been reading it in my spare time.  Finally, I am done.

In some ways it has the feel of a conversation at a pub over a pint or 2 of Guinness.  The conversation will shift periodically to seemingly unconnected things.  This book covers plenty of ground.  As a result, it is not as in-depth as some people might like.  The point is more the big picture than the details.  There were sections I really liked, and sections I found frustrating.

He starts before Guinness.  Since this is about God and beer, he develops the history of beer and how it was viewed “back in the day.”  Just today I heard a brief selection of a sermon by a local pastor who indicated that having a beer was worldly and should not be something Christians do for evangelism (I agree on that last part, it should be done for the glory of God!).  In a world without much clean water, beer was a safe beverage.  The monks and nuns often brewed beer.  Since beer has a lower alcohol content than wine and particularly hard liquor, it was viewed as a blessing by the church.  Faith did not reject beer, only drunkenness.  This is one of the better chapters in the book.  But the people who most need to read it, probably never will.

“John Wesley drank wine, was something of an ale-expert, and often made sure that his Methodist preachers were paid in one of the vital currencies of the day- rum.”

The second chapter focuses on Arthur Guinness and the birth of Guinness.  He was a methodical man who slowly perfected his art brewing beer for Reverend Price (as did his father).  But he also took calculated risks.  When he was ready, he started his independent brewery.  They had one brew- a stout.  To this day it remains a very good stout.  I’ve had better stouts, but it is consistently good.  It was also good for the people of Ireland and England.  The gin craze had hit and drunkenness was a growing problem.

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Radical by David Platt is one of the books that has been enjoying lots of word of mouth among American Calvinists (mainly neo-Calvinists) since its release.  When I had the opportunity to get a review copy, I took it.  I wanted to read it to see what the buzz was about, and the topic interests me.

“I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.”

Years ago, I preached my Advent series from Revelation.  One of those sermons was on the dual strategies of the Evil One to destroy the church.  The Beast represents governments that persecute the church.  The Prostitute represents seduction, as the world seduces the church such that she slowly becomes like the world.  In some countries the church experiences persecution, but here in America we face the Seductress.  It goes without saying that the message was not well received by some.  So, that being said, I get what David Platt is trying to say in his book.

This is not a new subject.  Michael Horton has written numerous books on the subject of how American Christianity has been warped by American values (instead of the influence going the other way).  People like Ron Sider, Francis Chan and a host of others have tackled this subject in the 25 years since Christ rescued me.  In fact, this book is part Horton (he stresses some theological ideas contrary to American thought- Calvinism), part Francis Chan (a ‘radical’ approach) and part Ron Sider (“pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip).  Which makes this a difficult book to review.

“A command for us to be gospel-living, gospel-speaking people at every moment and in every context where we find ourselves.”

Radical is not as good as the hype nor as bad as most (poorly informed) critics make it out to be.  But let me start with some good things, because there are things I appreciate about the book.  There are things the American Church needs to reckon with regarding how we’ve been seduced by our corner of the world.

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