Monday, March 25, 2019

The Hotdog Grill

Grilling season never ends in Fort Myers. It might be a little chilly, or a little wet, but you can fire up a grill here just about everyday. And if you are a hungry non-vegetarian, being handed a freshly grilled hotdog or hamburger at lunchtime at no cost feels pretty close to true love... maybe even the love of Jesus. And that is exactly why John and Darla Mezger fire up the grill in the park on weekends: to make the love of Jesus known to neighbors through a warm welcome and a warm meal!

Several years ago the Holy Spirit laid a desire on John and Darla's heart to love on their neighborhood by meeting practical needs and creating a space for neighbors to connect. Out of this desire a hotdog ministry was born (hamburgers have been added since). It's a simple deal: a sign, a grill, a few coolers, and some chairs for folks to sit in as they enjoy their meal. But out of this simple act of grilling many friendships have been born and lives touched. John and Darla have cooked out all over San Carlos Park and have blessed hundreds (if not thousands) of neighbors with a delicious lunch, a word of encouragement, and an opportunity to learn about Jesus.

A desire to share God's love with neighbors, a willingness to take the risk and go, and persistence in making Jesus known through kind deeds and both gracious and truthful words... these are Burning Bush traits. And as soon as I met John and Darla, saw them in action, and heard their story I felt they would be a good fit for our team. So I am thrilled to announce today that they have taken me up on the invitation and have joined the Burning Bush family!

So, a warm welcome to John and Darla, and we look forward to seeing how Jesus will continue to use your grill, your warmth, and your heart to serve in San Carlos Park and beyond!

It must be lunchtime!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Burning Book: Paul and the Gift

Most of us struggle to read anything that was written two or three thousand years ago. Even if the writing is well translated it's a challenge, because the cultural world it was written in is completely foreign to us. While we understand the meaning of the English words we read, we don't necessarily understand how those original words were used when the author first penned them.

Of course, when it comes to these issues of understanding ancient writings the bible is no different. In our last edition of Burning Book we saw this issue with the word "faith." This week, we're taking on the word "grace."

One of the most common ways that Christians describe God's grace is that it's a "free" gift. That is, it cannot be earned, merited or repaid. And it's given to undeserving people and there's nothing that they can or should do in return for it. It is non-circular.

The problem, according to John Barclay in Paul and the Gift, is that that is not what the Apostle Paul or his contemporaries meant when they used the word charis, which we translate as "grace!" In Paul's world "grace" could refer to many things, including:

1. A superabundance of something given ( a gracious gift could be a big gift)
2. The benevolence of the giver (a gracious attitude)
3. A gift that was earned but was still a gift (not an agreed upon payment, like an MVP award)
4. An undeserved gift (think of a judicial pardon as an act of grace)
5. A gift that was effective in obtaining its goal (usually a relational change)
6. The initiative of the giver in seeking to give the gift (grace belongs to the one who initiates)

However, you'll notice that what grace DID NOT mean in the ancient world was a gift that required no return. There was no such thing as a non-circular gift in the world of Jesus, Paul and the apostles. Every gift required a return, if not in material reciprocity, then in honoring the giver with recognition, elevated social status, and social and political loyalty. The ancient world, and certainly the Roman world, were built on this understanding of reciprocity in gift-giving and honoring.

Barclay says, "As depicted in this letter [Galatians], the grace of God is "unconditioned"(without prior conceptions of worth) but not non-circular or "unconditional," if that means without expectation of return. To the contrary, practice arising from and aligned to the truth of the good news is integral to what Paul means by "faith." (446)

God's gift to us (the undeserving) in the death and resurrection of Christ is the ultimate gift. This gift cannot be earned, but requires a return. We must renounce our own lordship over our lives and our own status, and give our loyalty to God (through Christ) in order to rightly receive the gift which is offered. The scandal of the cross is not that it's an unconditional gift with no strings attached, but that's it's offered to undeserving people (everyone!).

Obviously, this has some significant implications for how we think about evangelism, salvation and discipleship. If grace demands a return (hello repentance) then just getting someone to "accept" grace in one moment is not the goal. Rather, the goal is to help them take hold of the gift which is offered through a life of discipleship, meaning, a life of obedience to Jesus.

Barclay's book has some tough parts. But considering that we have more access to information and education than practically anyone who has ever lived, I challenge you to take on Paul and the Gift. It might take a while to work through, but is well worth the effort.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Foundation Ministry

My favorite blogs to write are blogs which introduce new local missionaries and new mission endeavors. Nothing gets us more fired up at Burning Bush than seeing ordinary disciples claim a calling, take a risk, and make the sacrifice to reveal the King and His Kingdom. So I am thrilled that I am getting to write on of those blogs today!

Today I have the pleasure of introducing Lori Ann Martell, a local missionary who is launching the "Foundation Ministry" in partnership with Burning Bush Communities. Foundation seeks to love, serve and empower single mothers who are working to get back on their feet and put addiction in the past. It is really a an amazing ministry, as Lori Ann is weaving together her clinical background in drug rehab, her Christian discipleship training, and substance abuse counseling resources to assist women who are ready to move towards the healing that Christ offers. Lori Ann is hardly a newcomer in serving and working with this demographic, but this is the first time she's had the opportunity to bring all these pieces of the healing puzzle together. She is currently working with several mothers, and already there are more women interested in the ministry as word is getting out.

Please keep Lori Ann your prayers! Pray that Christ would gather a team to serve with her and guide her in establishing a community in which women can work through this long-term healing process together.

Lori Ann loving on a new member of the Foundation family!
A family on the road of healing...

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Bad Christian Books and a Burning Book: Salvation by Allegiance Alone

There is no shortage of bad Christian books in the world. It seems these days that every megachurch pastor (real, aspiring or otherwise), child of a famous Christian, and Christian blogger (gulp!) believes that their words are deserving of at least a paperback edition.

If only this were the case! Frankly, I find most popular Christian books to be about as enjoyable as the flu. At first glance you break out in a cold sweat, then comes the headache, and by the end you are nauseated. The genre as a whole suffers from too many maladies to detail here, but some key issues are plagiarism, a failure to do any significant research on key claims, straw man arguments, excess sentimentality and a constant appeal to popular catchphrases.

Fortunately, we have some alternatives. Whatever you think about Amazon and online bookstores they do provide us with access to far more than what a Christian or popular bookstore carries. And there are some wonderful, and important, new Christian books out there.

All that being said, I am starting a bi-weekly tradition here of sharing recently published (within the last ten or so years) or largely unknown books that are deserving of your time and attention. Each of these books has deepened my discipleship, pushed me further into God's mission, and provided me with new understanding and excitement about God's story and God's work in the world. I will call these books "Burning Books," as they served to make God's word and calling clear to me.

I am not going to provide a book review for these books. Some I will write a fair bit about; others I will be very brief. The point is simply to pass on the blessing that these books provided me with, and I do hope you will task the risk of cracking open a few of them!

Burning Book of the Week: Salvation by Allegiance Alone, by Matthew Bates

Salvation by Allegiance Alone articulates what many Protestant scholars and pastors have uncomfortably hinted at for years: the word "faith" in the New Testament is closer to what we call allegiance or loyalty than "belief" as a mental category. Faith is not primarily an intellectual understanding or propositional belief about Jesus, but rather an adherence and faithfulness to Jesus as King.

Bates is able to succinctly demonstrate that the Greek word pistis (usually translated "faith") was often used to express one's allegiance to a ruler. In other words, if you were a Roman citizen you gave pistis to Caesar. Soldiers gave pistis to their commanders (as seen in Josephus). These citizens and soldiers were not merely saying they believed that their king and supervisor existed, or even that that trusted them, but rather that they supported them and would be faithful to them.

This argument is further strengthened by Bates' demonstration that the Gospel message itself was not a/the plan of salvation (as is often used in Reformed and Evangelical circles), but was rather the message that Jesus was God's anointed Messiah, and the resurrected King of the world. Of course as such He could offer salvation, but the point of having "faith" in the gospel message was the transfer of allegiance to Jesus the King.

Ultimately Bates points to three elements of faith that are at play in the New Testament when the word pistis is used:
1. Mental affirmation (yes, we still need this and at times is the meaning of "faith")
2. Professed fealty (publicly claiming Jesus as Lord)
3. Enacted loyalty (obedience)

In many ways Bates' argument resolves the questions surrounding faith and works in the New Testament, as someone who believes and trusts in the message of the Gospel will give their allegiance to Jesus and earnest seek to obey Him.

Bates' work serves as a helpful admonition for ministries dedicated to evangelism and discipleship, as he shows how evangelism fails without a call for obedience to King Jesus (hello discipleship). Bates helps us see how evangelism and discipleship are inseparable; they are in fact two sides of the same coin. And this understanding frees us from an evangelism built on convincing someone about theological truth claims up front and hoping for speedy success. Rather, if we conceive of our task  as revealing Jesus's kingship and helping people come under Jesus's rule (which still includes the necessary information, but goes beyond it), then we can begin the long-term work of disciple-making with patience, knowing that transformed lives require far more time than accepting minds.

While Salvation by Allegiance Alone is not a terribly challenging read (some of the later chapters are a little more difficult, but aren't central to the argument), it is a challenge to modern believers who have separated their "belief" from their "faithfulness." It is a call to reexamine our own faith, and to ask if it is a faith characterized by allegiance and loyalty. As a good "Burning Book" should do, it points us back to the journey of repentance- aligning our life with the King- and therefore it begins to direct us into His mission. After all, those who are loyal to the King are called to fight in His battles.

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...