Grace Emerges

Monday, April 30, 2012

Gospel Question, Salvation=Freedom?

I'm asking this question out of curiosity and to gather some insight from readers out there...

Based on several teachings of Jesus, the goal (or a goal) of the Messiah was to save people, in the sense of rescuing them from something and bringing them to a state of spiritual freedom and release from captivity.

Does "salvation" bring "freedom" ?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What is the kingdom of heaven like? Which metaphor describes it?

Is it a tower reaching to God?  Is it built out of man-made bricks like:

  • Believing the right things to please God
  • Doing the right things to please God
  • Worship services, where believers look to the stage or vaulted domes to see God
  • Defending the cause of God's righteousness for him by criticizing sinners
  • Building a membership of those that behave a certain way to build God's kingdom
The Tower of Babel.  Are we repeating a classic mistake when we bring our offerings to God to build his kingdom?
Or is it a blossoming tree springing out from the source, the trunk, which is God himself, with branches like:

  • God's truth, revealed by the Holy Spirit
  • God's goodness, reflected in the lives of those that follow him
  • Communities of believers that look to each other to see how they can nourish each other, as extensions of the arms of God
  • Defending the cause of the powerless by fighting injustice
  • Inviting and welcoming a collection of people who bring differences, variety, talents and ideas into God's kingdom

The Inverted Tower: the branches springing out from the source.  Are we building the same kingdom that God is?
Are WE building God's kingdom for him, out of man-made stuff?  Or is God building the kingdom out of his own passion for humankind?  Who is this kingdom for anyway, for God?  Or, for us? Is it God's gift to man, or man's gift to God?  

Something to consider, because if we think the kingdom is the tower, made by man, for God, we are probably building it upside down.

by Brad Duncan

Friday, April 27, 2012

Did God Die For Himself?

No, he died for us -- the world.

To follow in his footsteps, should we die for God? Should we sacrifice ourselves on the altar to please or appease God?

Or should we sacrifice ourselves for the world? Should we give and give until the world is changed by our generosity?

Some theories of atonement say that God had to die because God required it.

But I say that God died for us, not for himself. It was a message. It was a world-changer. It was the ultimate in sacrificial creativity. It showed us the way. It showed us God's nature. Let's follow him on the road he paved, and care about our humanity the way that he does, enough to die for.
The Road to Freedom
What nailed Jesus on the cross? Injustice. Oppression. Prejudice. Judgment. Hate. Religion.

What did Jesus represent? Human Justice. Freedom. Acceptance. Grace. Compassion. Kindness.

So, Judgment tried to kill Acceptance, and Religion tried to kill Kindness. But Acceptance and Kindness won in the end!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Ubiquitous Other

by Brad Duncan

Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world. (James 1:27, God’s Word)

There is a group of people that have a background role in the gospels and epistles, a group of people we can call "the ubiquitous other."  They are everywhere.  They are the common man.  

They are the widows and orphans.  They are the brother or sister that is naked or hungry.  They are the least of these.  They are the world.  They are the context in which we live our lives.  

The ubiquitous other, according to the book of James, is the recipient of the kindness of believers showing the true colors of their faith, and showing pure unstained religion.

The ubiquitous other, in Matthew 25:31-46 (the parable of the sheep and goats), is the "least of these", the seemingly unimportant, the hungry, thirsty, homeless and naked. They are background to Jesus's parable about how having faith is pretty much meaningless if it doesn't cause us to care when we see someone in need.

The ubiquitous other also appears in the beatitudes. He/she is the poor, the hungry, the crying, the oppressed. The poetic imagery in the beatitudes describes both a physical and a spiritual need, describing those that need compassion from us and those that are aware of their spiritual poverty and need for God.

In the Lord’s prayer the ubiquitous other is behind the scenes.  The other should be forgiven.  He/she should receive daily bread.  As God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven, the other should see God's kingdom. He/she should experience compassion as believers help to fulfill God's desire to bring daily bread to the entire world.  God doesn't work solo!  Where's the daily bread going to come from?

The ubiquitous other is the ever-present object in I Corinthians 13, the treatise on love (charity, unconditional love) written by Paul.  To love requires an object of love. Who should believers love? Who does God love?  The recipient is once again the seemingly unimportant, the undeserving, the one needing love, the one of unknown faith. If the love in I Corinthians 13 is reserved for the lovely, its significance is reduced. When applied to the ubiquitous other, this type of love is unconditional and beautiful.  It defines the life of transformed believers.

In the most famous passage in scripture, John 3:16, the concept of the needy other is represented with the word “the world”. God loved “the world”, mankind, who is desperately in need of God’s love. God loved and loves those that love him back as well as those that do not. He shines his light equally on the good and evil.  He loves us actively and preemptively (loving us first, before we have any chance to deserve it).  Our faith, our understanding of God, is possible because of this love.  

In Luke 4, the quotation from Isaiah 61 reveals the ubiquitous other as a captive needing liberation, as a poor or blind person needing the Messiah to rescue him. The ministry of Jesus starting in Luke 4 was an active demonstration of this role of the Messiah, and he healed countless needy people, forgiving their sins, and proclaiming that he was there to bring them the good news from God.  The ubiquitous other was the context of his ministry, forming the crowds that gathered around him.

Did these poor and needy recipients of the favor of Jesus have a measure of faith that merited this favor? Did they do good works that deserved reward? Did Jesus always and only heal those that had sufficient faith? Actually, the faith of the crowds of people is not mentioned as a positive attribute. In Luke 7, Jesus says to the crowd that a Roman centurion has more faith than he has found “in all of Israel.” Certainly Jesus did not base his outpouring of love and acts of liberation on the faith of the needy in Israel.

Finally, who are the “others” that are the recipients of love in the Greatest Commandment to 
"love God, love others" (Matthew 22:36-40, Luke 10:25-37)? Jesus says to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  He demonstrates this concept in the parable of the good Samaritan.

And who are the recipients of the good news in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)?  The people who will be found throughout the world that will hear the good news, be baptized and become disciples?

The ubiquitous other. The one who needs God. The one who receives love from believers, the one who hears the good news. As the angels declared, in Luke 2:10, this good news is “wonderful, joyous news for all people.” All people, lovely and unlovely. Those with great needs.  Those with great potential.  In other words, all of us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Giveus Us Free

How do needy people, the people of all the world, receive the compassion of God?  Must they earn this compassion with either faith or works?  

What we see in the gospel is a God who IS by his very being, compassion itself.  

What we see is the example of Christ who demonstrated God’s compassion to the needy.  

"Giveus Us Free" -- Amistad
We see very little from Christ pointing toward requirements.  

Instead we see an image of a liberator, declared in the Old Testament prophets, who came with the keys of freedom.  

“Be Free” he says, and “Follow Me.”  

Receive the compassion of God.  

Imitate the compassion of God by loving him and by loving others.  

Take the keys of freedom to the entire world.

The Lord's Prayer of Freedom

by Brad Duncan

How does the Lord's prayer bring freedom?

  • Our Father in heaven, let your name be kept holy.  Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven:
    • The kingdom has come to Earth, so that God’s will can be done here and not just in heaven.  God’s will?  That we love others and love him, in a contagious way that spreads to all the world. 
    • This spreading of love will unleash kindness on the world.  Contagious love is the best way to liberate people from selfishness and from the pain caused by others
  • Give us our daily bread today.
    • God will be our provider, rescuing us from physical need and suffering.  Note that this is not absolute, in that praying this prayer does not end human hunger.  What does this mean?  God is working to provide for the needy, and he is building his kingdom of compassion that can spread his good work. We must complete the work to provide for the needy. And God is always working to provide for his children.
    • More broadly speaking, God meets our needs when we depend on him. Depending on God liberates us from the cycle of selfish greed, allowing us to make unselfish choices.
  • Forgive us as we forgive others.
    • God liberates us from the pain caused by the sin of others, especially the darkness in our hearts that comes from a lack of forgiveness.  
    • God liberates us from the pain caused by our own sins.  Forgiveness is spiritual liberation.  We are free to live, in spite of our sin and human tendency toward selfishness.
  • Don’t allow us to be tempted.
    • God liberates us from spiritual failure, helping us to avoid traps and hazards that would lead us to fall into selfishness again.
  • Instead, rescue us from the evil one.
    • God liberates us from the deceiver and all his evil intent!  Clearly in this line, God is named specifically as the rescuer.

(Matthew 6:9-13, God's Word)

When you hear or pray the Lord's prayer, I pray that you will receive freedom. Freedom from anything that binds you, that holds you back from your true potential. Freedom from the cycle of selfish greed, freedom from need and want. Freedom to live, freedom to enjoy, freedom to give, freedom to explore compassion and unselfishness. May God's will be done in an ever expanding way through your life and the lives of those you will touch. Amen.

Friday, April 20, 2012

a question for the current generation of Christians

Does salvation come through either faith or works, where God is passive and provides it to those that meet a standard of faith and/or works, but where God is active to condemn those that fail to do so?

Is it possible that instead, salvation comes from an active God who rescues us and gives us life, but where God is passive in that he allows us to condemn ourselves if we choose to do so. 

16God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.17God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. 18Those who believe in him won’t be condemned. But those who don’t believe are already condemned because they don’t believe in God’s only Son.
19This is why people are condemned: The light came into the world. Yet, people loved the dark rather than the light because their actions were evil. 20People who do what is wrong hate the light and don’t come to the light. They don’t want their actions to be exposed. 21But people who do what is true come to the light so that the things they do for God may be clearly seen. (John 3, God’s Word).
What do you think? Are we saved by faith and/or works?  Or are we saved by God's love?

What do you think? If we are condemned, is it that we have chosen a life where we don't want our actions to be exposed because they are selfish, maybe even evil?  Or is it that God actively condemns us for our lack of faith and/or works?

The going theory: God is active to condemn, passive to save. The proposed theory: God is active to save, passive to condemn.

Any thoughts from the blogosphere?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Believe, Behave or Be Free

I want to share with you a sermon that I wrote, my first ever! It is written in the form of an essay. The title: "Believe, Behave or Be Free". About 9 pages including the Bible passages, but I'm guessing I could cover it in about 30 min if I were speaking to a crowd. Not that I'm going to do that any time soon, but it would be a blast! Preaching does run in my family.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Forward Progress 5: The Fight for Freedom

Forward Progress: 
Lessons and Trends in Progressive Christian Faith
by Brad Duncan

A 6-part series on the church, faith and theology,
and how they can move forward into the next generation. 

The Fight for Freedom

There's something wrong with our view of love when it leads to control and doesn't stand up against injustice.
In the previous four articles, I started with the notion that good things come from the gospel, one of those good things being "Freedom".  I contrasted this view with traditional theology that grafts the bad news of judgment to the gospel.  This notion of judgment permeates how we view God, how we seek to worship him and serve him, and how we view ourselves as inherently fallen.  I also talked about grace and what that could look like in the church when judgment is eradicated.  In this article I return to a fundamental concept that to me is often overlooked by the traditional gospel message.  The word is Freedom.

In fact I can't find this word anywhere in the traditional Articles of Faith (see Figure 3 in Progress 1) .

Freedom is a very broad word, so I would like to define it more specifically in the context of the gospel and the church, with three (somewhat overlapping) views of freedom:
  • Freedom, definition 1: Liberation/release/salvation brought by the Messiah, especially described in Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah as one who would come and liberate the captives.  Salvation is a common word in the traditional gospel message, but is not often defined as freedom (even though I think these words mean the same thing).  Freedom = Salvation brought by Jesus.  The state of being saved.
  • Freedom, definition 2: Opposite of and release from control or systems of control.  Liberty.  The ability to make your own choices without being coerced by others or by your participation in a group culture that limits your choices.  Living so that you are responsible for your own choices rather than someone else.  Release from expectations and the ambitions of others.  Free will.  Free will supported by human relationships, free will as a spiritual condition.  Freedom to choose selfishness vs. unselfishness, good vs. evil, God authority vs. self authority.  Freedom = Human Liberty and Free Will.
  • Freedom, definition 3: Release from physical or emotional bondage inflicted by another person or institution, society or the government.  Release from prejudices, divisions and hatred inflicted by social norms, class systems, and pervasive attitudes.  Opposite of freedom:  modern-day slavery (human trafficking), exploitation, oppression, coercion, indentured servitude, abuse, elitism, sexism, racism, discrimination, etc.   Ask anyone who has suffered from prejudices and they will tell you that such treatment is the opposite of freedom. Discrimination is an attitude that enslaves others, so we can equate freedom with equality, respect for differences and justice for those that are wronged by others.  Freedom = Equality and Human Justice.
How does our good news, the message of the Messiah, lead to these types of freedom?  Does salvation lead to liberty?  Does the Great Commission lead us to fight for equality and justice?

Pointing Out the Flaws
Is God honored when we use spiritual principles and religious practices to criticize and control others?  Can love be expressed through pointing out sins?  Is our highest calling to be right and to pressure others to conform to our rightness?  When we do this, don't we contradict the purpose of the Messiah to liberate sinners, to save them, to redeem them, to provide new life to them?  And yet the traditional gospel, helped by centuries of church structure and history, de-emphasizes individual freedom.

But didn't Jesus teach us to value freedom more than control?   How are we measuring up on this concept?  Does our community of faith, do our family relationships, our ministry projects lead more to freedom or control?  Do we fight injustice and value the liberty of others? How concerned are we when people struggle under oppression , when people are exploited for the selfish gain? What about discrimination: prejudices, elitism, favoritism, sexism, racism, do we fight against those?  Do we release captives from our expectations and prejudices?  Do Christians take a loud and aggressive stand against modern-day slavery and exploitation in general, and fight for equality of minority groups? 

For many of us Christians these questions are surprising because freedom is not a big spiritual concern for us. We do consider how Jesus frees us from specific things that bind us, like addictions and sinful habits, or how he answers prayer when we are in need. But much like peace, joy and hope, freedom is a state of the spirit that we don't really approach with any depth. And we don't take it very seriously to liberate others, bringing them this type of spiritual blessing. In fact I could suggest we actually feel more comfortable with structures that provide control, stability and predictability, than ones that provide liberty, flexibility, and unpredictability.  We feel more comfortable teaching people to behave than to be free.

A simple question for each of us: Do we value freedom more than control?   If we take to heart the Messianic message of good news, we must take a stand on the side of freedom.

What We Can Learn
Figure 2 shows how the good news translates to freedom rather than control.

God's Heart for Freedom
The story of man's interaction with God is one of freedom and rescue. Man was created in God's image to be creative and able to make independent choices. Man was given complete free will about whether to believe in and follow God or not, in spite of the consequences (man would reject God and follow his own plan).

God promised freedom to Abraham and to the people of his descent. He promised to bless all mankind through Abraham.

Through Joseph, God rescued the house of Israel from drought and starvation.

The whole story of Moses is one of liberating the Israelites from Egypt, eventually leading them to the promised land (where they could live in freedom).

The prophet Isaiah again promised that mankind would be blessed through the seed of Abraham, and taught about the Messiah that would come and liberate the captives.

When Jesus came, his mission was clearly understood by those that were looking for the Messiah to be the liberation of Israel and all mankind. In Luke 4, Jesus confirmed that mission by quoting Isaiah, and then he proceeded to fulfill that description of the Messiah through his ministry of healing and the message that the kingdom of God had arrived.

In his teachings, Jesus led a revolution of kindness. A revolution of loving enemies and peaceful resistance. A revolution of equality of the poor and rich. A revolution against religious systems of control. His revolution was a war for freedom, but fought with kindness.

When Jesus died on the cross he sacrificed himself for our ultimate freedom.

The theology is clear: God is passionate about freedom. He made us this way, with free will. Then he intervened with mankind in a way that revealed himself without reducing our freedom. By studying the teachings of Christ we can see what that freedom looks like, and follow him to true life.

The Enslavement of Mankind

What enslaves us? If we were made to be free, why do we need rescue, and how did we find ourselves enslaved?

First I should ask: who opposes freedom? If we look to the above outline of the story of God and man, we see the opposition. Freedom is in contrast to enslavement. Freedom to make good choices that honor God, means that some will choose instead to grab all the power for themselves. The "freedom system" we live in means that we continually need God and need to be rescued, because enslavement is running rampant in the world. Mankind is enslaved because there are people who choose to exploit others. We can blame the devil, but he is just the deceiver, offering power and selfish gain to people who follow his advice. It is well-known that our selfish desires and seeking of power over others, actually enslave us like an addiction. The promises of the deceiver lead to slavery. So, who opposes freedom? We do. Or rather, we tend to oppose the freedom in others, and we tend to enslave ourselves through selfishness. Thus the need for the revolutionary message of Jesus. Following his words, the example of his life, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit can literally set us free of this cycle of slavery.

Through our own need for power, we humans have historically corrupted the purpose of the gospel and the church to build a kingdom for ourselves, where some people are elevated and others controlled. Those that don't fit into this structure are ostracized, outcast, excluded.

The institutions and governments of the world suffer from corruption, and so systemize the enslavement of the masses by supporting dictators, unjust laws, and class systems.

Even our beloved capitalism, our "dollar votes" of economics, and the laws that ensure free competition, can easily promote exploitation. Capitalism favors the lower price, and offers great riches to the lowest bidder. This creates a system where exploitation of the poor or powerless somewhere in the supply chain will be favored (due to lower costs) over the competition that insists on fair business practices. The solution to this type of complex organic global cause and effect is to modify the demand. Make consumers aware of exploitation and change public demand so our dollar votes are put toward freedom instead of exploitation, even at the expense of higher prices. Further protect the powerless through trade laws, tariffs and sanctions.

Our human selfishness has always led to the worst types of human injustice, namely outright exploitation for human pleasure and greed. The modern-day slavery problem is becoming more evident and more clearly publicized. There are more human slaves in the world today than ever in history. These slaves predominantly support the sex trade, organized crime and illegal labor practices in developed countries. In developing countries it also allows entire industries to rest on the backs of slaves (like chocolate, coffee and sugar, some types of mining, manufacturing, farming). It is happening to the poor and powerless in every society, rich and poor. This problem must be fought on every level, from grassroots awareness, local organizations and safe houses, consumer outcry, trade policies, humanitarian organizations, governments, military and police. Who in this world is NOT affected by this problem? Clearly the church can have a role to rescue the downtrodden, in our neighborhood and across the globe. First we have to care about this issue -- do we care more about the spiritual condition of these slaves or do we care that they sit in literal chains? Will we bring the true gospel to them? The good news of literal freedom before spiritual freedom? Will we fight to get the lowest price for our goods, while taking advantage of slave labor that produces those goods? Will we sing and preach, praising God, while ignoring the cry of slaves?

Systems of Control and the Revolution of Kindness

When it comes to the church, what do we think we are doing? Are we pleasing God by forming close-knit groups and organizing for discipleship and worship? We have been deceived. What is the deception? We adamantly fight for building a kingdom that suits us, standing on our soap-boxes of proper worship, righteous behavior, and standards of belief. But this is not the kingdom of God. We think it is, because it seems that by organizing to please God, we can be a pure bride for Christ, holy and ready for his work. We think we can shine a brighter light into the world by focusing our individual lights into a bright center, inside brick walls with cathedral domes and a cross on the top. We think that by standing up for God and insisting on conformity while fighting sin, that we are making the body of Christ better, more suitable for its king. We think that by announcing our creeds to the world so that they can "hear the gospel", that we are doing God's work, and at the same time growing the numbers inside our walls. What about our traditions, our liturgies, our celebrations, our feasts, our baptisms and communions? Are these oriented toward celebrating the kingdom of the church, or celebrating the kingdom of God? Simple question: do we ever celebrate freedom or equality? Do we ever fight slavery more than sin? Do we offer literal salvation to people? Salvation, meaning rescue into a state of freedom? If our church system is not doing that, we need a new vision for the church.

This is not the type of purity that is demanded of Christ-followers. Jesus led a revolution of kindness. Of focus on other rather than self. He fought to liberate people from the kingdoms of control, and to teach that none of us is judge or master of another in the kingdom. Jesus is the king and authority. He rules, and by his decree all are to be free!

Certainly we can have traditions and practices - but these should celebrate kindness and compassion, not control and conformity. Can we explain to our church and the world that the practice of communion means the practice of compassion? Jesus cared about us and freed us from Earthly chains with his body that was broken for us, and from Spiritual chains with his blood that was poured out. Can we explain to the church and the world that baptism means transformation? Death of selfishness and corruption, so we can embrace love and kindness, participating with God in a kingdom of his design? Can we feast and sing and celebrate for the liberty that is brought to the downtrodden, rather that for our gratitude that the downtrodden is not us? Can we sing praises to God for his redeeming work instead of worshiping for seeking his favor? Certainly we can have traditions and practices, and some of them are already oriented toward the kingdom of God -- others can be re-oriented or exchanged. The practices of the church must be modified to actively avoid being controlling -- we must embrace the practice of actively liberating every person that comes into our walls.

The fight for freedom and the revolution of kindness has the biggest direct impact on one-on-one relationships. When people actively liberate others, they elevate the person to be more important than their behavior and beliefs. We care for the whole person, making a difference in their lives, living kindness and compassion. What kind of spouses, what kind of parents, what kind of Sunday-school teachers, what kind of pastors, will we be if we embrace the gospel of freedom in one-on-one relationships first, then apply it to social contexts.

The fight for freedom and the revolution of kindness should also transform the outreach vision of the church. We should engage with Christians everywhere to alleviate suffering. Change our church mission to reach out to the world making it a better place before making it conform to our faith. What does the vision, the mission, the statement of core values and article of faith look like for our churches if we join the revolution of kindness?


Justice for the Poor Participant's Guide: Love God. Serve People. Change the World. by Jim Wallis and Sojourners (Aug 17, 2010)

The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America by Jim Wallis (Jan 22, 2008)

Forward Progress: "I am the way, the truth and the life.  Come to the Father through me!  Find the good life at home in my kingdom, where God's will is done, where your needs matter, and where forgiveness reigns." -- Jesus

Other Articles in This Series:

Figure 1.  The gospel should be based on the authority of Christ rather than a mix of grace and judgment.

Figure 2.  The story of salvation is about freedom, in fact salvation literally means liberation.  The Messiah has brought freedom, we have received it, and offer it to others.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Forward Progress 4: The Good News of Grace

Forward Progress: 
Lessons and Trends in Progressive Christian Faith
by Brad Duncan

A 6-part series on the church, faith and theology,
and how they can move forward into the next generation. 

The Good News of Grace

There's something wrong with our view of the cross when it provides incomplete grace to us and teaches us to treat others with incomplete grace.

Are we saved by our faith, our adherence to a particular set of ideals and beliefs?  Or are we saved by right behavior that comes from our faith?  Are we saved by belonging to the right group, qualifying us as God's children?  Are we saved by correctness, by carrying a certain truth?

No, grace is the whole story.  Complete grace.

In the past three articles I have covered a lot of ground, and hopefully these next three articles may be much shorter since the long-winded points have already been covered.  In particular I discussed the notion that grace can be defined as unconditional love, which leads us to a new gospel, a new good news that eradicates judgment.

I also talked about the human condition.  After all, what is grace if not in the context of human failure?  We wouldn't really call that grace.  Love, freedom, hope, faith, and grace only make sense in our context of weakness, failure, and incompleteness.

Where does this leave us?  How do we actually live with grace?  What do we say about the cross?  How did the cross provide and demonstrate grace?  What is grace in the context of human failure and unconditional love from God?  What kind of faith does that produce, what type of right behavior?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Forward Progress 3: Human Nature and Purpose

Forward Progress: 
Lessons and Trends in Progressive Christian Faith
by Brad Duncan

A 6-part series on the church, faith and theology,
and how they can move forward into the next generation. 

Human Nature and Purpose

There's something wrong with our view of humanity when we love the world less than God does.

In the previous two articles I've written about how Jesus was the Incarnation of God on Earth and brought good news to the world.  The best way to understand God's nature is to see how Jesus demonstrated it -- he renounced judgment, replacing the idea of appeasing an angry God through ritual and sacrifice with the establishment of his own authority to forgive sins and to liberate humankind from darkness.  Seeing God through Christ helps us better imitate God, so that we can bring good news to others and can be a source of goodness and compassion to them.  To receive this good news and participate in it does not require that we find a way to please God through faith or actions, but rather that we respond to God's call to relationship with him and love for others.  This view was contrasted to the traditional gospel of grace mixed with judgment.

Dear Pastor, Please Invite the Gay

by Brad Duncan
Dear Pastor,

Please invite the gay crowd to our church.  Please invite the LGBT people.  Please do it soon, and with no reservation. Please love the gay crowd and welcome them.  Don't make their sexuality an issue at all, or withhold acceptance from them, don't criticize or hold back your friendship.  Don't talk to them about sin instead of grace.  Just invite them.

Please don't delay or discuss it in committee.  Time is running out.

Dear Pastor, do it for us, before our hearts grow cold and hard.  Do it so that we can remember the dank stink that grows in our hearts from the seed of hate.  Do it before we can't love anymore.

Do it before we start to think that sitting in judgment makes us good, makes us better, makes us receive salvation.  Do it before we forget about grace altogether.

As long as we can love to hate a class of people for their lifestyle, we can believe that we are somehow saved by ours.  Maybe we think we are saved by our straightness, our lack of accepting the gay crowd?  Did we already forget about the blood of Christ and about grace?  Have we already turned stale?  Do we think we're actually ON God's side by not inviting them?  Or are we against him?

Dear Pastor, the gay crowd is not going to corrupt our children, or convince us to be promiscuous or unfaithful.  The gay crowd is not going to make us love sin or the devil.  The gay crowd is not going to make us love God less.  The gay crowd will not diminish our worship, or reduce our appreciation for the Bible.  The gay crowd is not contagious or repellent.

No, dear Pastor, the gay crowd will melt our hearts. For if we can open our hearts to those we have formerly hated with no cause at all and no harm or threat to us, because we don't like their non-straight lifestyle, if we can repent and actually love them, then maybe our dead hearts can live again, our cold hard hearts can melt and love again.

No the gay crowd has something we don't -- acceptance of differences.  Let's hope they can accept us now after all this time, and find room in their hearts for forgiveness of our sins.  Let's try to repair the damage.  Time is running out.

The gay crowd needs God exactly as we do, and the gay crowd can love God exactly as we do.  Are they believers, like us?  Isn't that up to them what they believe, and not up to us?  Do they believe that Christ died for them?  Who are we to object?

Please invite them, before it's too late.   Not too late for them -- too late for us.
 23"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember there that another believer has something against you, 24leave your gift at the altar. First go away and make peace with that person. Then come back and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23,24, God's Word)

Related Posts:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Easter Reflection

by Brad Duncan

As I reflect on what Jesus did in his ministry on Earth and with his death on the cross, I can't help but see human nature through God's eyes.  At the same time I see God's nature through Jesus.
God, who sent his Son to be human, so he could in turn show us what the Father is like.
God whose plan from the beginning of time was to establish something good on Earth, where his creation would participate in a kingdom of his design.
God made something good when he designed us.
Jesus came to us and showed us good.
The Holy Spirit continues to be the force of good in the world, working among us and bringing about God's good intentions.
Take a look at this table: it lists some of the things that Jesus did in Luke chapters 4-7.  It challenges us to consider what these choices and actions shows us about God's nature.  As Jesus reflected God's nature, why did he do these things. what do they show us about God's nature?  Then it challenges us to consider what we should do to follow Jesus as we continue what he started through the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Good News
of the Incarnation and God’s Kingdom

God the Father:

What does this show us about God’s nature and God’s view of human nature?

Jesus the Incarnation of God:

What Did Jesus Do?

The Holy Spirit:

What should we do with the help of the Holy Spirit as part of God’s kingdom?
Brought good news to the poor,
released the captives,
healed the blind,
liberated the oppressed, 
proclaimed God’s favor
(Luke 4:18,19, 6:20,21)
Forgave sins, healed the sick, was compassionate and taught us compassion
(Luke 5:17-26,6:36)
Accepted the rejected, called them to follow him, led people to change their hearts and lives
(Luke 5:27-31)
Valued doing good over following traditions and rules, resisted the religious establishment
(Luke 6:6-11,39-48)
Loved his enemies, always resisted peacefully, taught that God blesses both the good and evil with kindness, taught us to do the same
(Luke 6:27-35)
Withheld judgment of sinners, outcasts and outsiders, taught us not to judge others, taught us to be generous and gracious
(Luke 6:37-38, 7:36-50)

So why do I see human nature in the Incarnation?  Well we were created in God's image.  But we can't see God to know what he's like.  Instead we can see Jesus, who shows us God.  He's like a mirror of what human nature can be on its best day: forgiving, compassionate, accepting, able to resist favoritism and prejudices, kind to enemies, generous, gracious, and firmly standing for justice!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Forward Progress 2: God's Will and Purpose

Forward Progress: 
Lessons and Trends in Progressive Christian Faith
by Brad Duncan

A 6-part series on the church, faith and theology,
and how they can move forward into the next generation. 

God's Will and Purpose

There's something wrong with our religion when it leads us to try to please God instead of relate with him.

As Christians, we're all trying to do the right thing.  We're trying to believe the right thing, do God's will, give him the credit for all good gifts, honor him as holy, and sing his praises.  From a very early age I learned that the most important thing in life was to please God and do his will.  I can't knock us Christians for our good intentions :) in this regard.

So I want to challenge us on this from two directions, two ways to view the same thing.  From one side, I would ask if all of this trying to do the right thing, is really, ... the right thing?  Does God want our sacrifices, actions, songs, beliefs that are pointed in the direction of pleasing him?  Is there anything that God wants us to do? Any instructions, any right worship?  Any right individual purpose?  On the other hand, from the other side I would ask if we could describe what God really desires?  What is God really interested in, what are his passions, what are his intentions?  If we could find those, maybe we could do "his will" best by getting doing what he cares about the most.

Reflecting on the first point, is God pleased by our focus on serving him, whether through individual disciplines, worship or religious practices?  The Christian routine is to gather every week for worship in an effort to bring our collective focus on God through various acts like singing, praying, reading the Bible.  We practice and talk about traditions.  We practice our arts: orchestral, vocal, guitar riffs, PowerPoint slides, light shows, sermons, prayers.  We talk about how good it is to be in God's house and do something great that will shine our light brightly in the world by worshiping our God.  We talk about how each person can take that same "church moment" and live it all week long to be a light in the world.  The we invest a little time in shaking hands with some people, maybe having a cup of coffee.  We take an offering and use the money for good works, and to keep the lights on.

Of course I'm speaking broadly and your church may have a more people-focus than what I am describing, but can our churches answer "yes" to any of these questions: