Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What a sheephony!

One of the great experiences of my time well spent in the Arrow Leadership Program was a day of preaching. If you think this sounds exceedingly dull and like being court-ordered to some religious management course, you’d be dead wrong. That day was like sitting in on the Kingdom Symphony Orchestra.

We Arrowheads are a diverse and beautiful mix—a variety of leaders from different countries, ethnicities, denomi-nations and vocations. Each is unique and on that day we were each given the monumentally minute task of delivering a three-minute sermon.

I have rarely been so nervous. The mix of trying to impress—that’s not very holy, but it is honest—and seeking to compress the gospel into 180 seconds was enough to drive one to Pepto-Bismol. But a day spent hearing the good news of God’s love declared and embodied through the dynamism of such diversity was divine. What a symphony!

This inspired our church’s elder retreat this fall, where we asked some of our leaders to deliver similar three-minute homilies. It was fun watching them sweat. But it was even better hearing the uniqueness of the gospel declared through their uniqueness and passions. What a symphony! It was, once more, a potent reminder that we need a preaching people, not just a preaching class or profession.

The gospel is not merely a concept or another in the great rivalry of moral ideals. It is the power of God (Romans 1:16)! It is yeast and salt. It is light in the pervading darkness, a whisper of hope amidst the moaning cacophony of the age. It is God’s Word stealthily gossipped in dark alleys and unashamedly shouted from rooftops. The Word becomes flesh. It moves into the neighbourhood and speaks our language. The gospel is a living declaration of good news, a clarion call of another world, of the gregariousness of grace, of a different kingdom that is at hand. And for those who have subscribed to its regular delivery, the gospel is a vocational call to declaration, proclamation and demonstration.

To believe God’s good news is to become a preacher. To “preach” is to proclaim glad tidings. Is this not the task of every believer? The communion of saints is a preaching community. We are sheep hailing our Shepherd. We bring good news of great joy that is for all people. Equipping this preaching community, this gospel band—this flock—is the task of those labelled “preachers.” Those asked to teach regularly are actually called to light, stoke and pour gas on the fire within the believing community and watch it spread. Sadly, we have trained the flock to be dumb sheep instead of roaring lambs.

This is far from the biblical vision. Moses longed for the whole of the Lord’s people to be prophets (Numbers 11:29). Paul yearned for the same beautiful reality (I Corinthians 14:24-25). Jesus, the logos of God and a simple carpenter’s son, declared that the Holy Spirit would release a diverse symphony of good news witnesses on the world (Acts 1:8). We are all to be ready to give a reason for the hope we are convinced of (I Peter 3:15). Preaching is for the people, by the people, through the people, and for the sake of people who need to hear from and see in loving action the sheephony of heaven. Who is waiting to hear you bleat?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Shop Till You Drop

Well, it would appear our insanity is confirmed. With Thanksgiving thankfully behind us in both the United States and Canada we can psychotically engage in mass consumerism for five glorious, unbridled weeks before starting all over again on Boxing Day. What sport.

The god of the age, however, is demanding sacrifices. On Friday, November 28, 2008 Jdimytai Damour, a temporary worker at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, New York was trampled to death as two thousand bargain hunters surged through the store’s doors at 5 a.m. Yes, that’s right, 5 a.m.! Economic turmoil, I suppose, demands we rise from our slumber early and rush madly after things we don’t really need no matter what the cost. We have lost the plot. We have lost any moral authority to call ourselves civilized. Jdimytai’s death is a pox on all of us.

As followers of Jesus we must take responsibility for our part in what our culture has become. Let us cease our hand wringing and holier-than-thou finger pointing. We are not as pure as our rhetoric declares. We live in the midst of an unclean people and we are they. We ought to bear some of the heart of Moses who pleads for his people. We ought to share the heart of Jeremiah who wept for his compatriots. Are we responding prayerfully, prophetically, honestly, truthfully with what we have become? Or, are we browsing the flyers for the next early morning sale?

The grip of mammon is secure on western society. So sure is the grasp of this false god on us that we are blind to it. In our congregation we recently hosted a whole weekend on faithful, God-honouring stewardship of life and resources. We barely drew fleas. “Don’t go there” seems to be our strident opinion. “Don’t challenge my wanton spending.” “Don’t confront my out-of-control debt.” “Don’t threaten to bring this area of my discipleship into the light of day.” No, we’d rather offer our sacrifices at 5 a.m. under the cover of darkness.

Come now, let us reason together. Let us come into the light. Let us confess, as Neil Postman has written, “we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.” Rather than the fast the Lord has chosen (Isaiah 58:6f.) we are gorging ourselves. Overfed, over-entertained, over-indulged, we are the fat cows of Bashan that Amos mocked (Amos 4:1-3). This will not go unchecked.

The solution, however, is not simply to be found in teaching handy stewardship principles – as important as that is. The solution will not be found in the markets. Even well intentioned prophetic responses risk being received only as a law to those prone to shop for our salvation (this is worth checking out). The solution is spiritual. The remedy must go straight to the heart. The consumer is first and foremost a worshipper. So, the call must be to the surrender and sacrifice and discipline of a life of worship to the only Living God. The call is to repentance. This is not a popular message to be sure, but it is the only solution for the ache in the postmodern soul that is convinced our only hope is to shop till we drop.