Resurrection

iphigenia

We
are coddled.

She
watched her husband and several children
hacked to death with a machete.

She grieves.
Her remaining children are fatherless
missing limbs
also by machete
a living “lesson” from the perpetrators to never forget
that this could happen again.

Yet instead of nurturing vengeance
instead of nurturing bitterness
she looks the murderers and maimers in the eye
and says,
I forgive you.
You have shattered my life, but you will not shatter my spirit.”

She is able to say this, and believe this,
because she received a gift from the church.
The gift of truth and reconciliation.
A process that brings deep awareness of hurt and injustice,
yet extends the transformative power of forgiveness.
A real power that takes the tattered pieces of a fractured reality,
and makes hope rise again.

Yet here in America,
we are coddled.

We have conversations about hypothetical scenarios
of robbers who come to steal possessions, and maybe life.
We have constitutional amendments that justify our beliefs
about what we would do to those perpetrators.

We don’t believe in forgiveness.
We don’t believe in hope rising from the ashes of death.
We don’t believe in resurrection.

We do not receive the gift from the church
of truth and reconciliation.

We baptize our hatred,
we baptize our justifications
we marginalize the teachings of Jesus,
we call our beliefs and justifications
Christian.

Yet,
try as we might,
marginalize as we do,
stories like hers never go away.

They bubble up from seemingly hidden places,
searing stories of a Christianity
that is not defanged, declawed, spiritualized into oblivion;
unlike ours, her Christianity looks a lot like Jesus.

Giving
Loving
Judging
Forgiving
Weeping
Transforming.

We are coddled, lost.

We can be Christian again.

It is not hopeless.

God resurrected Jesus.

God can resurrect us.

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Another wise, courageous word from a primary mentor of mine…

In the video I’ve linked to below, Brian McLaren is interviewed by Scot McKnight.  Both are vital voices in the church today helping the church shake off all kinds of excess baggage we’ve carried for many many years.  Both come down at very different places theologically, depending on the issue.  The video itself is provocatively named (I would say sensationally named) “Conversations on Being a Heretic.”  I absolutely HATE that title, because the whole “heretic” thing has been used by religious border patrols and by ridiculous individuals who think they’ve found some “secret” about spirituality alike throughout history.  Brian McLaren is asking important, essential questions about the message and lifestyle of Christianity from within the constraints of a deep respect for Scriptural authority and for Jesus….and the reward he gets for such searching is vitriol from heresy-hunters and outsiders who think he’s like them.

Brian McLaren is the single most important voice short of Jesus who has opened up space for me to breathe when I’ve felt something was horrendously wrong, when faith felt like a giant weight squeezing the life out of me.  He has led me in my spiritual quest not away from the Scriptures, but deeper into the Scriptures. He has led me not into the arms of any religious guru “because they’re all saying essentially the same thing,” but into a deeper trust in the words, example, and authority of Jesus in a way that has given me conviction beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.  And yet Brian seems to be assailed from all sides in exploring his curiosity.  This video, in 19 short minutes, is Brian laying out in concise, straight-forward ways what he places his hope in, what structure he works within, and what he believes God’s agenda is all about.  And it. remains. beautiful.

Q | Conversations on Being a Heretic from Q Ideas on Vimeo.

Here’s some vital quotes from the video from Brian:

“I don’t think the primary question being asked by the Bible is the question, “Who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell?”  I think the primary question being asked is, “How can God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?”  I think the primary question is “How can this creation that has been damaged by human sin, injustice, evil, lust, greed, the whole shebang, how can this creation be healed and how can we participate with God in the healing of this creation?”

“You just used the word salvation.  And for so many people, as soon as they hear the word salvation, they have a whole set of definitions in their mind.  I was a preacher for 24 years.  I really read the Bible, I still do!  And what I was always troubled by, was when I read the word “salvation” in the Bible, I would import a set of assumptions about what that word meant, and they didn’t fit what I saw in the text.  So when I read the text, the word salvation starts in the Old Testament, and it means liberation.  Salvation is what God does for the Jewish people getting them out of slavery. It’s not about getting them out of hell in the Old Testament, it’s about getting them out of Egypt.  So I’m trying to be hon est about those things.”

Steadfast…

My breath prayer for the day comes from Psalm 57 in today’s daily lectionary;

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

I do not embody the fullness of truth in my living,
I am still wandering in the wilderness of doubt and confusion.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

I so easily am tempted to self-righteousness
when I find the joy of obedience to you.
I can slide into a self-satisfaction,
believing that knowing the truth and practicing it more fully
somehow means that I possess the truth
and that I have become fundamentally different than others.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

It is SO HARD to hope,
because hope is not wishing for something to happen,
it is not passively anticipating an event to occur.
No,
Hope is worked toward,
requires energy, time, intellect, muscles.
Hope is fostered through contributing meaningfully to society and world.
Hope is fostered when the darkness seems to overcome our small efforts,
when others laugh at us, consider us absurd relics of another era, or hopelessly idealistic dreamers,
it is then that we confront them in our small way
with our relentless efforts to seek your hope.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

This day and every day,
may I be gripped by the hope of your kingdom.
Gripped
So captured by that hope that I work, and dream, and work,
so captured that I embrace the pain,
the pain of the deep darkness of our existence,
the darkness that threatens to overwhelm.
So captured that I reject using the tools of darkness as part of a desire to end the darkness;
tools like violence, self-righteousness, legalism, and cheap grace,
and instead embrace the supposed insanity of sacrificial love, of peaceableness,
of primarily embracing those on the margins rather than seeking the big solutions of the powerful.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

Ensnare me in your kingdom, Lord.
Hem me in in front and behind.
So capture my heart that nothing can shake me from the joy of your vision for your world,
to believe that heaven is not reserved for somewhere over there,
but that your dream is for heaven to come here,
for people that are so heavenly-minded that we can’t help but invest all of who we are in your creation.

My heart is steadfast, O God
my heart is steadfast.

On truth and Heschel

heschelAbraham Joshua Heschel (second from right) marching with MLK and others in Selma, AL

I think I can safely say I’ve come to a conclusion in my spiritual journey.  I’d like to make a statement of that conclusion.  Some may find it absurdly simple and self-evident, and I’m ok with that. I’m just processing out loud here.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I judge the truthfulness of a belief system/philosophy/religion by the impact it has on healing and restoring human relationships and human relationship with the rest of creation.  Today, not tomorrow, not a thousand years in the future when everything will be ok. Whatever I may hear of, I ask myself, “Does this approach offer hope for the world today?  Reconciliation? Radical love? Forgiveness?  Today?”

By this standard (though I’m coming from a specific biased place), with my semi-limited knowledge of world religions/belief systems/philosophies, I find historical, traditional Christianity to offer the greatest sense of hope and potential for healing and restoration of all that I’ve come to know.

While saying this, I should add that the religion most caustic, most opposed to radical healing and restoration of God’s creation that I’ve come into contact with is modern Christianity.

There are many reasons why I say this, but the primary one that struck me today is modern Christianity’s world-nial and primary focus on questions of heaven and hell at the exclusion of real, physical life today.  In this system of thought, the radical commitment to love of neighbor and enemy, humility, forgiveness, respect for and cherishing of all of God’s creation, the centrality of church to redeem the world; all of these are relativized, made less important, than questions of eternal reward and punishment.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard (and have myself said), “This world is fallen and cursed because of human sin, irrevocably broken beyond fixing.  God is not concerned with saving the world, but instead saving humans from the world.  And God will be blowing up the world and starting all over anyways, so we’d better be ready for his return.”

In fact, in a discussion with a person who’s been a self-confessed Christian for a long, long time recently, they told me, “You’re going to Cincinnati to address problems of poverty.  You probably won’t change much.”  It was almost as though I was confronting the Nathan of several years ago, the Nathan so concerned about “saving people” for heaven without a deep understanding of the call for justice today.  The Nathan more interested in living in a place that is comfortable, safe, where I can shake my head and talk about people “over there” (most often in the city), spend time with persons most like me (in ethnicity and common commitments and social class).  Meanwhile, I would be offending and ignoring God’s call to radical reconciliation in the world; the  Biblical mandate for Christians, out of all the people in the world, to be the most committed to breaking cycles of poverty, violence, abuse, and social neglect.  People of the resurrection, of a God more powerful than the fear of death, should be the most free to be people of reconciliation, yet more often we retreat into our cultural homogeneity.  And what’s worse, we justify it with our theology.

We have literally wrapped the gospel of the Bible around the American individualist dream.  Shoved the gospel into a hole that doesn’t fit, and therefore trimmed off the gospel to make it more palatable, less invasive, less life-altering.

I’m come to realize how how absurdly out of touch that belief is with the Bible, how it destroys the desire and the motivation in people to work for bettering this world.  If God’s just going to start all over again anyways, why invest in a world that’s just “a-passin” away?  When we believe this, our Christianity becomes irrelevant, insipid, evil, and empty.  And something always fills that void. In America, it is the second-most evil approach in life in my book; self-centered individualism.  It is an infection, a cancer in Americans that has metastasized into a disease unto death.  I have become so progressively disgusted with this individualism and its unholy blend with modern Christianity that I deeply struggle with self-righteousness when I come into contact with it.  Because the God of the Bible is much less focused on my individual life, and much more focused on recruiting people to join him in His project of setting things right in His world again.  Or, as I like to say these days, “Christianity is not about God finding his place in my story, it’s about finding my place in God’s bigger story.”  The truth of Christianity is thus much less dependent on my personal feelings of God’s “realness” or what have you and much more dependent on whether I see something transcendent, something deeply hopeful, in Jesus and in the God of the Bible.  And I do.  Much more deeply today that before, which makes my heart ache to see God’s justice and God’s agenda come to pass.

I don’t mind as much when American consumers worship at this altar as their primary belief system.  But modern Christianity has so deeply bought into this cultural message.  Our worship songs focused on “I” and “me” desiring emotional connection with the God who “fulfills the desires of our hearts” and “has plans for us, plans to give us hope and a future,” who “makes all things work for good” in our lives (all Scripture ripped out of context to focus on the individual, with God being judged on whether we sense His care for our individual lives on a daily basis).  Our churches with professional pastors working their butts off to teach well and worship leaders to sing and play and provide an interesting experience for others to consume.  Our budgets devoted to buildings for each individual church filled with the latest in modern technology to attract the crowds; flat-screen TVs, Max Lucado book studies full of sappy self-help reassurance that we matter, etc.  Sometimes I just want to prophetically vomit in the aisle of the church worship gathering and leave it as a testament to how I think God feels.

This feeling became more acute today as I  listened to Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith while scrubbing at brick with a wire brush for hours on end.  She interviewed Arnold Eisen, chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary, about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; his legacy, and his prophetic voice in the world.  This was the third time I listened to this interview because I became absolutely captivated by the words and leadership of Heschel the first time around, and want his words to sink deeply into my life.  One of his key phrases was this;

The opposite of good is not evil, it is indifference.

I see the truth, and find great meaning in that, though I would rephrase it to state, “The opposite of good is evil, which is most often expressed through indifference.”

Listen to the interview here.  I promise you, if you have a soul that even mildly cares about the world around you, you will be inspired by Heschel to be a more active, more honest, more hopeful presence in the world.

I welcome comments on my thoughts on other religions if anyone’s interested, but I didn’t want to write forever and ever.

“I would say about individuals: an individual dies when he ceases to be surprised. What keeps me alive — spiritually, emotionally, intellectually — is my ability to be surprised. I say, I take nothing for granted. I am surprised every morning that I see the sun shine again. When I see an act of evil, I am not accommodated — I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I’m still surprised. That’s why I’m against it; why I can fight against it. We must learn how to be surprised, not to adjust ourselves. I am the most maladjusted person in society.”

– Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rwanda’s National Mourning Day (Genocide Remembrance Day)

rwandan_genocide_murambi_skullsI was driving up to Eastern Mennonite Seminary yesterday morning to participate in chapel when I heard on National Public Radio that April 7 is a national day of remembrance in Rwanda. For those not familiar with world events, in the year 1994 ethnic and tribal tensions in the central African country of Rwanda spilled over into a horrendous systematic genocide perpetrated by the majority tribe (the Hutus) mainly against another tribe (Tutsi), though other minority tribes (like the Twa) and Hutu moderates were killed as well. Over the span of approximately 100 days, about 1,000,000 (yes, six zeroes) people were killed, largely by the Hutu militias hacking them apart with machetes.

This was a sad, horrendous time in Rwanda, but it was also a sad, horrendous time in the world. The U.S. called Rwanda a “local conflict” and refused to use the word “genocide” because it may invoke moral responsibility on their part. President Bill Clinton later publicly expressed contrition for standing idly by during this time. In addition to U.S. non-action, significant charges have been made that the French government supported the Hutu perpetrators by both encouraging the Hutu death squads and turning a “blind eye” to the systematic killings when their troops were the only foreign forces in the country in June 1994. A damning report was released in August 2008 by a Rwandan commission of inquiry. According to journalist Linda Malvern,

The report – the fruit of two years’ work that includes the testimony of 638 witnesses, including survivors and perpetrators of genocide – is damning. It says that certain French politicians, diplomats and military leaders – including President FranÁois Mitterrand – were complicit in genocide. The French authorities knowingly aided and abetted what happened by training Hutu militia and devising strategy for Rwanda’s armed forces. Training and funding was also given to Rwandan intelligence services on how to establish a database later used to draw up a ìkill listî of Tutsi.

The most shocking allegations come from survivors who allege that French soldiers participated in the massacres of Tutsi. These soldiers were a part of Operation Turquoise, a French military intervention in June 1994, an ostensibly humanitarian mission that had the backing of the UN Security Council.

So from a world that uttered the phrase “never again” following the Holocaust in the 1940’s, passive ignoring and active assisting were the policy in the Rwandan “Holocaust.” This is one horrendous perspective of reflection on Genocide Remembrance Day. But I’d like to offer another that the typical journalist wouldn’t offer.

We Christians like to talk about “missions” a whole lot, and we like to talk about Matthew 28, Jesus’ “Great Commission,” where he said to “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Many Christians have left the comforts and relationships of home to go to foreign lands, spurred on by this call to proclaim the name and mission of Jesus to the world. And when they have done so, they’ve met mixed results. In Africa, specifically, Christians often lament the big obstacles that meet them there; extreme poverty, tribal religions that maintain holds on the people, and other religions (especially Islam).

But with all of the struggles of Western mission in Africa, Rwanda was considered one shining example of success. Of all the nations in Africa, Rwanda had the highest conversion rate, and eventually the country could claim about 80-90% of its citizens as confessing Christians. Yet in 1994, in the most “Christian” country of Africa, one tribe of Rwandans slaughtered one million of their own people. For persons who care about the gospel (which should be all Christians), that leads to a big question,

What in the world happened here? How can such a success story become such a tragic story of hatred and murder?

And what investigators have suggested is that the gospel that was preached to Rwandans by Western missions groups was one that focused salvation on life after death, essentially, “Jesus died for your sins so you could be forgiven and go to heaven and not go to hell when you die.” This gospel, because of its focus on the afterlife, didn’t address its hearers’ (and eventual converters) everyday existence. Specifically, it had very little to say about social class, tribal, ethnic, racial, and familial relationships other than sexual behavior and marital boundaries. As a result, when a powerful racial hatred story came along (Hutu power), there was no counter-story in the “Christian” people of Rwanda to nullify the Hutu power story. To make this message come a little closer to home, this Rwandan gospel is the gospel most American Christians proclaim, which makes this more than a Rwandan problem; it makes it a global-church-wide problem.

To state this situation differently, it raises another important question. Is what the Rwandans received “the gospel”? And if it is, does this gospel have anything substantial to say about distinctions between people that lead to bloodshed? And specifically for the readers of this post, Does what you believe is the gospel only focus on the death of Jesus and its forgiveness of sins for eternal life, which means only heaven and hell after natural death?

If that is your gospel (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, because most of the Western world believes it is), I contend, Biblically, you’re missing the point of the gospel proclaimed by Jesus. And when you proclaim such a gospel in the world, it has disastrous results on the people hearing such a message.

I’m literally saying here that the Western church bears significant responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda. I’m not saying this to say the church is completely twisted and never has done anything good. I’m simply saying that when we miss the point of the gospel, and preach our missing-the-point as “the gospel,” it has consequences. Sometimes disastrous ones.

I saw the most recent example of the “gospel” we believe in when watching a video of a panel ostensibly put on to make Tony Jones look like a heretic (judging from the other panelmates) that ended up with statements from Tony, his “more orthodox” friend Scot McKnight, and his “definitely orthodox” (by American evangelical standards) panel-member Kevin DeYoung making statements about the gospel. I quote their three statements in full. In light of Rwanda, tell me which “gospel” wouldn’t significantly challenge the way of life of the Rwandan people and which ones would present to them a transformative message.

Jones: “The gospel is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That none of us should be lost. He’s given us the ministry of reconciliation, therefore we are ambassadors for Christ. That’s the gospel. God is the protagonist. God does the work. We put our faith in God through Jesus Christ and that our job then is to take the message of reconciliation out to the world.”

DeYoung: “The most important thing is…to be absolutely solid on what the gospel is. The gospel is not first of all what we need to do for God, to go out and change the world or bring about shalom. The gospel is first of all about what God has done for us…The beginning point, the ending point, the thing that holds it all together is that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and rose again on the third day and without that we are lost in our sins and we are facing eternal punishment.”

McKnight: “Here’s how I define the gospel… I think it’s the work of the Triune God (Father, Son, Spirit) through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit to restore cracked eikons (which is what I call human beings) to union with God, union with others, for the good of others and the world. And the same apostle Paul called the gospel “the gospel of peace.” Shalom is the word he would have used there.”

What do you think?  Regardless of the way you may respond to each statement, which one do you think most Western Christians would say is the gospel?  And how might the story of Rwanda change the way you think about the gospel?

When our “gospel” is primarily focused on life after death, something powerful will occupy that vacuum of how to find meaning in this life.  I saw another example of how that something powerful co-opts and changes Christian symbols on the back of a Ford Explorer today too.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the gospel that we preach must be Biblically-rooted, must never take away from God’s dream for the world, and must lead to transformed patterns of living in this world that extend out through eternity. the world must see a visibly distinct group of people in the world to have something either to hate or model their lives after.  A people pursuing God’s justice and God’s shalom.  Anything less than that and we are setting our sights far too low.  

Rwanda reminds us that lives hang in the balance.

Poor gospel communication…can we do better?

We’re studying the book “Just Walk Across the Room” in our church family right now, and I’m deeply conflicted about it.

The method of loving our neighbors is really really awesome in this book. Seriously, it’s similar to “friendship evangelism” but much much wiser because we’re not in friendships to look for opportunities to share the “plan of salvation”; we’re in relationships to love people, to honor and value their story and to simply care for them. When there are opportunities to share, we share wisely (and sometimes take risks), but we put a high premium on listening to others’ stories and looking how we can come alongside them in life. The primary question is “How can I love and serve this person?” rather than “How soon can I take this person down the Roman Road (which I think is a poor way of introducing Christianity anyways).”

This strikes me as a much healthier way of thinking about evangelism, but I’m conflicted because once you get past the method to the meat of the “good news” Christians have to offer their non-Christian friends, the book doesn’t offer much of substance.  I explained some of my misgivings in an email to the church folks a week ago that I’ll snip and paste in here;

“Where I experienced deep frustration with Hybels’ approach is the meat and potatoes of what we believe to be “God’s story” that we share with others when they ask us.  Hybels sets things up well, asking us to be prepared with a simple illustration or simple story to give people insight into the purposes of God. Now it was at this place in the book that I got extremely, extremely disappointed with Bill, and for two main reasons.

First, how people think about relationship with God, and

Second, how God has shown us his love and “salvation.”

Bill said, “Since the beginning of time, sensing vast distance between themselves and God, people have been consumed with the desire to somehow get over the chasm separating them from God…if they weren’t even living up to their own standards, and God was “other” than they were, then they figured God’s standards must be utterly impossible to reach…everyone seemed to agree that all people had to do to reach God was fly a little straighter, pray a little harder, become more religious, and perform more charitable deeds.”

Now I’m (Nathan) asking you to be honest, really honest right now, and look at your life and the people surrounding you, and ask one question: would you say the people surrounding you are consumed with a desire to be approved by God?  Think about this word consumed.  What does that convey to you? (willing to do anything to overcome the distance between, willing to go through any roadblock, elevating something to a place of highest importance).

I believe, instead, that many people I know really don’t care that much at all.  Where God’s commands are convenient, where his expectations are easy for them to follow, they follow. Where God demands something that will be harder, they disobey.  They don’t care. If you think that’s being consumed by a desire, striving to earn God’s good grace, I’m not sure you know what the word consumed really means. That sounds to me to be much more like laziness and spurts of caring, mostly defined by a selfish life.

So that’s how Bill sets up life, and here’s the answer he provides;

“The Bible says something remarkable about how to bridge the gap between God and man.  It says that God saw the chasm that separated immoral men and women like you and me from him.  He saw the infinite distance for what it really was…so, motivated by love, God took on the chasm-spanning responsibility himself.  He built a bridge that went the distance in order to reach sinful man.  He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for us- the cross that would serve as the ultimate bridge. So because of the bridge,..Christ found me with a hard hat on my head, trowel in my hand, and a heart fully prepared to work every day on my own construction project. I was 17 years old when I walked across that bridge, finally comprehending that I could take off my hard hat and let my trowel drop to the concrete floor.  God had built a bridge, and by faith, I could walk across that bridge.”

Here’s a visual representation of Bill’s drawing (that is ALL OVER the evangelical Christian culture from other sources too):

the_bridge

In this answer, I see a decent dose of truth, but I see two HUGE omissions:

1) Did anything happen before Jesus died on the cross, or is that where the story starts for us? and

2) Is it true that all we have to do is acknowledge what God has done, just walk across the bridge, and we’ll be with Him forever?

I’m suggesting to you right now that the Bible doesn’t give us a picture of people consumed with a desire to know God. The Bible gives us a picture of people consumed with a desire to do what they want, when they want, however they want.  I’m also suggesting that there’s no such “chasm” in the Bible.  Biblically, all human beings need to do is turn around, realize God’s been pursuing us all along, kneel before the one who made them, and rise to obey. God responds to this movement by grafting us into his holy people, a physical different nation in the world out of every tribe, tongue, and nation; a people obedient to him who will lead the way for the world out of darkness and into light.

So here is my illustration that I think captures the heart of the Bible’s “good news” for human life:

obedience-heart-of-bible1

It is my contention that human obedience to God is the heart of the Bible’s message of good news.  Period.  Not some assurance of afterlife or anything of this nature, but rather assurance of different goals, different lifestyle, and true joy that other goals and lifestyles can’t even sniff at.  And when we commit to this life, the God who made us gives us the opportunity to enjoy his fellowship and the fellowship of others for all time.

Why do I say this?  Well, this message of obedience holds true all the way through the Bible. Here’s some examples.

Genesis 2:15-17 “The LORD God took the Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die…(Adam and Eve disobey) by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 12:1-4 “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.

Exodus 19:3-8 The LORD speaking to Moses, “”This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Isaiah 1:13-20 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hid my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.

Matthew 7:24,26Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…but everyone who hears these words and do not put them into practice is like a foolish man.”

Matthew 16:24-27Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward everyone according to what they have done.

And maybe the most direct teaching on this in the New Testament;

Hebrews 10:26-31,36-39If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who have insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mind to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The LORD will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God…you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘in just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delat.’ And ‘ but my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Now, it’s important to note here that the author of Hebrews is not developing a picture of a God who is a cruel taskmaster; one who whips us when we fail and makes us feel like a pile of dirt all the time. What they’re saying is that if we know that something is sinful and we bluntly choose to do what we want, we have trampled the Son of God underfoot and insulted the Spirit of grace. Certainly God recognizes that we are imperfect people, that we struggle to know what is healthy and unhealthy, sinful and good, but that doesn’t negate that the commitment to obedience, courageous obedience, is at the heart of this passage AND at the heart of the Bible itself.

These verses, along with the rest of the Bible, show that God expects his people to seek transformation now, to strive with all they are to obey, and he expects them to do so if they want to be called his children. So if the answer we give to generally selfish, lazy people is one that only requires them to walk across a bridge that God made 2,000 years ago and doesn’t demand anything more from them, we’re simply not communicating God’s gospel to them. Period. This equally applies to Bill’s Do/Done illustration and the “Morality Ladder,” because they keep the same idea going.  My way of life does not matter according to these descriptions; the only thing that matters is what God has done.

We can do better.

How can I say this in a more positive way, now that I’ve offered my critique?  I’ll put it this way;  The Bible shows us a God who initiates everything by choosing to create and breathe life into what He has made. This good God gives human beings a simple way of life; obey what He, their Creator, commands and we will have joyful, purposeful life. So, if persons would suggest we should or can earn our favor with God through what we do, the answer is no. God simply told us how to live and we choose to obey or disobey that way of life. If we don’t want that way of life, then we confess we’re not God’s children; if we do, we are.

Now we have to be honest to say that obedience is a struggle because the world has been in rebellion for thousands upon thousands of years, but that doesn’t negate the deep Biblical truth that God commands and expects obedience.  When we commit to this, then God shows himself to be a graceful, merciful, and forgiving God.

Do you see the difference between this story and Bill’s?  In Bill’s, God did something two thousand years ago that just requires me saying “Yes” to, and my sins are forgiven and I can be in relationship with Him.  What I do is irrelevant.  In my story, God has been doing something for thousands of years; to convince his creation that obeying Him is the best thing we can do.  Jesus is the pinnacle of that story, the fullest expression of God’s love, and he showed us that love by his great teaching that we are to obey, his death to show his enemies the fullness of his love, and his resurrection that sets us free from the power of death. Our response to that great love, then, is to do what we’ve been created for; obey Him.  Why?  Because we were made for it. God’s in charge of the rest; forgiveness, mercy, grace, afterlife.  That’s in God’s hands.  We control what we can control by simply obeying Him.  Period.