Archive for September, 2012

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Following a Lamb in a World Addicted to Power

09/17/2012

I can’t think of two other verses that are more jolting than these two in chapter 5 of Revelation.

5) Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6)Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne…(Revelation 5:5, 6 NIV)

I think, in general, we buy into the claim made in verse 5. We believe that Jesus has triumphed and thus orient our lives around that good news. We do not shy away from proclaiming that Jesus, the Lion, has conquered the world and then seek to live accordingly.

I like these sentiments. I agree wholeheartedly. However, I am concerned that too often we stop reading after verse 5, thus not letting the ridiculousness of verse 6 capture our hearts and minds. Let me explain.

The uniqueness of the Christian faith is not that our God has conquered the world. There are lots of people, throughout history, who have believed that their particular god or ruler sits on the throne. The uniqueness, the radical claim, of the Christian faith is that the world has been saved, conquered and renewed by a slain Lamb. This is what is so startling about John’s vision. He, along with so many others, was waiting for the Lion of Judah to rise up and take the throne. And for a brief moment it appeared that a lion was the one who had indeed conquered. But, when John looked to see the conqueror sitting on the throne, he did not see a powerful lion. John saw a little Lamb, looking as if it had been slaughtered. An innocent Lamb ruled the cosmos. There was no lion around. This must have sent John reeling. It surely shocked his readers. And I hope it jolts us a bit as well.

I hope it jolts us because we need verse 6 to remind us that, while the Lion of Judah is our king, the lion is actually a slain Lamb. We need to be reminded because we are much more attracted to the power of a lion than the love of a Lamb. And when we forget verse 6, we begin to look a lot like every other group out there trying to conquer the world. When we forget verse 6, we start to think that we are to utilize any power we can get a hold of, whether political, social, financial, or physical to reach our ends. When we forget verse 6, the cross becomes something that we paint on our shields, not something that we take up and carry. May we not shy away from claiming that Jesus, the Lamb, has conquered the world and then seek to live accordingly.

I wonder what would happen to our churches if we let our imaginations run wild with verse 6. For our churches are most beautiful when they act less like lions and more like lambs.

This is what John is calling the seven churches to do. He recognizes how easy it is to be seduced by the political, economic, military and social power of the Roman Empire. This kind of power seemed to be winning the day. And, at times, it seems that it is still winning today. But, in reality, when you have eyes to see, it is a slain Lamb who has won. And the church is called to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ, the slain Lamb, in the midst of a world addicted to power. Or, as Michael Gorman puts it:

“Christian resistance to empire and idolatry conforms to the pattern of Jesus Christ and of his apostles, saints, prophets (like John), and martyrs: faithful, true courageous, just, and nonviolent. It is not passive but active, consisting of the formation of communities and individuals who pledge allegiance to God alone, who live in nonviolent love toward friends and enemies alike, who leave vengeance to God, and who, by God’s Spirit, create mini-cultures of life as alternatives to empire’s culture of death. This is a Lamb-shaped or cross-shaped (cruciform) understanding of discipleship and mission.”

I like that description of the church: mini-cultures of life. That is what, by the grace of God, we are trying to nurture in Phayao. The challenge before us, though, is daunting. For it is difficult to show someone there is a Creator God when none existed for them beforehand. And it is even more difficult to help others see that that God sent His Son to earth to save and renew creation. But, it is almost unbelievable to think that we can get people to surrender their lives to a God who was crucified, to a king who looks like a slain Lamb. But, we trust that there will be some, by the power of the Spirit, who catch a glimpse of the beauty that comes from following a God who lays down His life for the ones He loves. And when a few begin to follow the way of this slain Lamb, we will be witnesses to the kingdom of God bursting forth in Phayao. May it be so where you are as well.

The slain Lamb sits on the throne; may we live accordingly.

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Evangelism as Anti-Propaganda

09/14/2012

“The function of propaganda is to make evil look good, the demonic divine, violence like peacemaking, tyranny and oppression like liberation. It makes blind, unquestioning allegiance appear to be freely chosen, religiously appropriate devotion. The grand lie does not appear to start as deception, but only as rhetorical exaggeration. The exaggeration deepens, lengthens, and broadens in an almost organic act of self-distortion. Eventually the rhetoric becomes a blatant falsehood, but now people have not only come to believe the lie, they also live the lie; over time they have been narrated into it. At that point, the exaggeration-turned falsehood becomes uncontested and uncontestable truth, and its effects highly dangerous. Evil in the name of good and of God is now nearly inevitable, as the lie functions as an apocalypse, a religious revelation that only a true Apocalypse can unveil.”

-Michael Gorman in Reading Revelation Responsibly.

 

The powers and principalities of this world are very clever. They are able to propagate seemingly innocuous ideas and use them for their own benefit and to the detriment of those who swallow the bait. This happens in multiple arenas (i.e., corporations, nation-states, etc.) and in a variety of ways (i.e., marketing, patriotic creeds, etc.). Obvious examples would be the propaganda of the Roman Empire (which is the context of the quote above), Nazi Germany or present-day North Korea. We look at those situations and tell ourselves that we would never allow ourselves to be deceived like that. This is probably true. However, it is the less obvious types of propaganda that often penetrate our minds and seduce us into thinking and behaving in unhealthy ways. How else would we end up thinking that we are bonded to one person more than another based purely on the color of our passports? Or, how else could we get to the point of spending millions trying to emulate Justin Bieber and Jennifer Lopez when imitating heroes like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. is rather inexpensive? (I actually googled “top celebrities” in order to find out who is cool these days—such a missionary move.) Or, how else did we get to a point where a 3-bedroom house can be referred to as a “starter home” and the most materialistic day of the year immediately follows the day we are to be thankful for what we have already received?

The powers and principalities are clever, indeed.

But, this is where evangelism comes in. I believe that evangelism is critical to the life of the church. The sad thing is that the “e-word” is used less and less in our churches today when it is needed more than ever. This is due, in large part, to a deficient understanding of evangelism. The term has often been reduced to the idea of telling a person that belief in Jesus will save them. Or, put another way, it has referred to tactics that will get someone to convert to Christianity. I think evangelism is much richer and more robust than that.

Evangelism, simply put, is proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Lord and inviting people to live as such. While simple, the implications of this good news are far-reaching. Because, when Jesus is Lord, people will no longer treat people differently because of their nationality (or race, or gender, or socio-economic level). When Jesus is Lord, people will no longer seek power and fame but will choose the way of humility and service for the sake of others. When Jesus is Lord, people will live more simply and give more generously. Ultimately, when Jesus is Lord, people will love others to the point of laying down their lives for them.

And this is, in fact, what we see Jesus doing in his own life. For example, a large percentage of the people around him were seeking violent revolution against Roman occupation. The propaganda from the zealots was strong (though they were a minority group), and some people were drawn into their narrative. On the other hand, some, particularly local tax collectors, were tapping into the propaganda and power of Rome and abusing their own neighbors. Jesus arrived and undercut the narratives of both parties. He brought a Zealot and a tax collector together in his community of disciples. So, while propaganda creates dividing walls of hostility between people, Jesus breaks it down in order to bring peace. (Eph. 2)

This means the church is called to speak and embody a message, a narrative, which stands in stark opposition to the propaganda bombarding us from every side. Thus, an essential component of evangelism is seeing and exposing propaganda and the destructive behaviors it produces. We are called to be like John, the author of Revelation, by helping others see (be apocalyptic) that the “beast of the sea” (the propaganda machine) is pointing them to the way of destruction. We then can call them to follow the slain lamb. This is hard work, though, because the propaganda has become normative to us.

So, how are we to discern what is not healthy? The first step might be to see the fruit of the dominant ideas and myths that we often take for granted. If we are not becoming a more loving and peaceful person, then we might want to reexamine the formative narratives in our lives. For propaganda leads the world towards selfishness, discontentment, division and violence. Evangelism leads people to rest in the peace and love of God. So, though exposing the lies of the propaganda might be difficult and unpopular, it is one of the most loving things we can do. And when we evangelize like this, the church will become a place where loving others is not determined by your citizenship, where the poor and marginalized are treated as heroes, and where people more highly anticipate giving away their possessions than getting more of their own. I know I need to be evangelized like this. I need to hear good news like this.

*Our team has been studying Revelation together, so a lot of my reflection lately has dealt with related themes. This post grew out of my struggle to connect the gospel, particularly as it is presented in Revelation, to my current context. While my examples come more from the American context, in order for it to connect to the three of you reading this, I am actually more focused on my immediate context.