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Every Church Has Its Thing

Why isn’t the thing love?

If I study my Bible every day and have private devotions, but have not love, I am nothing. If I tithe to the church, and support good charities, but have not love, I gain nothing. If I pray day and night, and join the choir, and worship every time the church opens her doors, but have not love, it is nothing. If I teach Sunday school, and serve as a church officer, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Thanks, Weekend Fisher, for asking such good questions

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Random Thought

Jesus’ enemies denounced him as a friend of sinners. He never denied the charge. In fact he augmented it: “I’ve come for people who are sick, not those who are healthy.”

It seems to me we do a disservice to Jesus and diminish the amazingness of grace when we take sin out of this equation. Yes, Jesus was a friend of folks who couldn’t keep up with all the religious rules, people who were mistreated and scorned by the hyper-scrupulous majority, people who were deemed “sick” because of factors beyond their control.

But Jesus was also a friend of adulterers, prostitutes, tax cheats, insurrectionists, and pagan idolators (like the centurion). At least once, after pouring out his unmerited, compassionate grace upon one such person, he said, “Go, and sin no more.”

It’s relatively easy to befriend misunderstood minorities or oppressed people, especially if you’ve been a victim of oppression, too. But to acknowledge that someone is destroying his or her soul through immoral behavior, to see the brokenness of their lives (whether we prefer to call it addiction, compulsive behavior, or simple depravity) and then turn around and love them unconditionally anyway? I’m not sure we have the courage or the creativity to do that. At least, I’m not entirely sure that I do.

Kyrie eleison.

Columbus Day Reading: The People and the Black Book

Whatever else you do this Columbus Day, please read this column by Mark Buchanan. Please.

“It must be hard for you,” I said to the First Nations people, “to believe that salvation has come to my house when I refuse to repent of behavior that’s harmed you deeply. It must be hard to believe the Bible and its Good News when white people have had it for so long but don’t seem any better for it.”

A Christian Pastor in Iran Is Facing a Death Sentence

Now that Amanda Knox is on her way to Seattle (and I wish her well), can the media share a little love with Youcef Nadarkhani? From Associated Baptist Press:

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) – An international Baptist leader called on Baptists around the world to call on their government leaders to advocate on behalf of an Iranian pastor sentenced to death after refusing to recant his faith.

Last week the White House condemned the reported impending execution of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, for leaving Islam as a teenager. Over the weekend Iran claimed his conviction was not for apostasy but violent crimes including rape.

Raimundu Barretto, director of freedom and justice for the Baptist World Alliance, said Oct. 3 he had lobbied Iran’s representatives in Washington, the United Nations and the United States ambassador-at-large for religious freedom to do all they can to “reverse this terrible verdict.”

“It is distressing and outrageous for someone to be sentenced to death for a crime of conscience,” Barreto said. “We firmly stand in solidarity with Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, are praying for his release, and are making all efforts possible to influence the outcome of this situation.”

Barreto, who is Brazilian, said he also contacted Brazil’s U.N. office because Brazil and Iran have a “somewhat good relationship.”

Barreto called on the world’s Baptists to make representation to their own governments on Nadarkhani’s behalf.

“We encourage Baptists in different countries to call on their government representatives to increase communication with the Iranian government on this situation,” he said.

Lord, watch over your servant Youcef and strengthen him in his time of need. Confessing that all things are possible with you, we pray for his quick release. But if this cup may not pass from him, may his bold and faithful witness serve to accomplish your will more perfectly in this world and fit him for a crown in the world that is to come. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thought for the Day (if not the Millennium)

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants  and—brace yourself—painfully amateur “special music” now and then.

Why?

Well, for one thing, when the Gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

But more importantly, I want to be part of an uncool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus. Like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool. They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people and crazy people.

Think on these things.

Religion’s Most Urgent Problem

This column by Shai Held ties in nicely with my Sunday school class’s ongoing discussion with Dr. Kirby Godsey of his book, Is God a Christian?

What Held writes of Judaism can and should be said of any world religion:

The world is not divided between those who read selectively and those who don’t. It is more accurate to say that the real division is between those who acknowledge that they read selectively, and those who do not – or who, given their assumptions, simply cannot. If contemporary Jews want to accentuate those voices in Torah that stand for the ontological superiority of Jews over Gentiles, voices that often end up demeaning the other, we can do so. If, on the other hand, we want to focus on those sources that insist upon the shared dignity of every human being created in the image of God, and upon God’s concern with the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, we can do that, too. If we want to be responsible heirs of Torah, we will have to decide – either explicitly or implicitly, either consciously or unconsciously – what to read in light of what.

He concludes:

“It is forbidden,” Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook writes, “for the fear of heaven [yirat shamayim] to push aside the human being’s natural morality, for then it would no longer be pure fear of heaven.” Kook argues that every human being has an internal – we might say, God-given – moral compass, and that religious passion must never override its teachings. Piety is pure when it deepens our concern for others, impure when it dilutes our sense of ethics, or even gives us license to behave in ways we would have found unconscionable had we not been religious. (Many of Rabbi Kook’s presumed spiritual heirs would no doubt benefit from an intensive review of his words. )

In light of Rabbi Kook’s words, I would remind religious leaders around the world: If your religious commitments render you less moral than you would otherwise have been, then your religion is impure and idolatrous. Each of us, all of us, must ask: How do we build religious lives in which our care for others is intensified rather than attenuated? There is no more urgent religious question.

Just in Case You Don’t Have Enough Controversy in your Life

Ben Witherington has posted a response by Robert Gagnon to Jennifer Knust on the Bible and Homosexuality:

The Bible’s Surprisingly Consistent Message on a Male-Female Requirement for Marriage

Be sure to read Knust’s original article, “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed message on sexuality.”

My former teacher, David Garland, once said that he had more respect for someone who boldly stated “I think the Bible is wrong on this one” than for someone who tried to shoehorn it to say something it clearly doesn’t say. With all respect, I think Dr. Knust is guilty of the latter.