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Posts Tagged ‘opportunity’

Late in the New Testament book of Acts we find ourselves in a shipwreck, another potential barrier to stop the spread of the gospel. Shipwreck looks to be a real barrier. For nearly an entire chapter we are on our way down. The storm is severe. The temperatures are cold. Acts says they were literally trying to hold the boat together by tying ropes around it. They toss nearly everything overboard. They lose the lifeboat. Eventually the boat is destroyed by the pounding surf. Threats are made to kill some of the passengers. They are forced to either swim or float to shore.

Luke, the author of this account wants us to know that shipwreck presents a real chance of not surviving. He wants us to be aware of the stormy conditions and cold winter water. He wants us to think about the dangers of hypothermia and drowning. Luke is an adventure junkie. And he also wants us to know that surviving shipwreck does not remove them from danger.

The crew, all of them, survives only to find themselves on unknown shores. What dangers might lurk here? In Odyssey, Homer asks the question in a similar situation, “Alas, to the land of what mortals have I now come? Are they insolent, wild and unjust? Or are they hospitable to strangers and fear the gods in their thoughts?” (Does anyone else think Luke carried a copy of Homer’s Odyssey in his travel bag)?

Shore is a very real danger. When we meet the residents there, they are called “islanders” or “natives” or “barbarous people.” How will these barbarians treat the ship wrecked strangers? Has the gospel survived shipwreck only to be stopped by barbarians on shore? We know that Paul survived shipwreck only to be bitten by a poisonous viper. But Luke wants us to know he simply shook it off into the fire.

Luke wants us to know the barbarians not only spared them but provided a fire to warm them. They then offered generous hospitality and when they were ready to sail again, they furnished the shipwrecked strangers with all the supplies they needed. The kindness of the barbarian islanders is the highest kind. Shipwrecked strangers have no way to repay.

Luke wants us to know this is an adventure. But this is no mere exploratory voyage. What looked to be business of the state was instead the possibility of God. Even shipwreck, snakebite, and unknown strangers that at first look like barriers become opportunities for the gospel to spread. There is no doubt that when Luke thought gospel he thought about adventure.

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So John MacArthur is challenging N. T. Wright. He calls Wright’s writings “a mass confusing ambiguity, contradiction, and obfuscation.” (Extra credit to MacArthur for using the word obfuscation). He credits Wright with “academic sleight of hand.” In the end, MacArthur accuses Wright of propagating a false gospel. You can watch the video here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZJEZiLfYHk

Regardless of whether one takes sides in this situation, we ought to ask ourselves how disagreement should be handled in the church.

MacArthur may come across as funny or clever when he makes a statement like “N. T. Wrong.” Still, to vilify our sisters and brothers does not communicate that we are one body. Even in our differences we are to communicate unity not division. Anything else hinders our witness.

I wish we could see disagreement as an opportunity to demonstrate how we are different than the world. Can we not talk to one another rather than about one another? There will be disagreement. Of that we can be sure. But the way we disagree becomes very important.

I admit to be influenced by a book I’ve been reading this past month. Perhaps I should send MacArthur a copy. Maybe he has read it. The title is I Corinthians. This book has had it with division. Every page is seeking unity. Throughout I Corinthians we are reminded that in a context of disagreement we will learn much about who we are. I Corinthians may not be against the world, but it is against bringing the ways of the world into the church. I Corinthians wants us to know the church is a different way to live. Why would the world be interested in what we say or do in our disagreements if we disagree the same way as everyone else?

Even our disagreements should insist on unity. The way we disagree matters much to not only our unity, but also our public witness.

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“I cannot read Acts without getting the impression that conflict, persecution, and catastrophe are opportunities. This is counter intuitive. We would like to believe that peace, comfort, and worry free moments are the times when we can best organize effectively and therefore prosper. Acts may suggest that times of comfort and prosperity bring with them a lack of urgency and intensity and priority. Without apology, Acts continues to present challenging situations. Without exception, Acts reports that the good news continued to spread. Acts leaves us with the impression that our writings, stories, and growth are strengthened during less fortunate situations.”

from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 103

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In an effective marketing move Starbucks introduced a red cup with a statement that the company “wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.” Apparently this has caused a backlash on social media with some stating that Starbucks stole Christmas and others claiming Christians are petty. If this does not make things obvious, please listen carefully; do not go to social media for theology or pastoral counsel.

Christmas is a story about a virgin who came to be with child during the reign of Caesar Augustus. It is about a man who chose to marry her and travel with her to Bethlehem where the child was born and laid in a manger. It is about shepherds who watched their flocks by night and celebrated this birth with angels. It is about Gentile astrologers who traveled afar offering gifts to this child they acknowledged as king. It is about an angry Herod who had children slaughtered in an effort to eliminate this child.

Christmas is a story of scandal and shame and danger and violence and uninvited guests.  It is a story of humility and sacrifice and love for neighbors and enemies. It is a story about God’s invasion of this planet to usher in a new kingdom. It is extremely unfortunate that some have been led to believe this story includes protest of a red cup. Christmas is a story of much greater significance. Seriously, do we need Linus to come onstage with his blanket and remind us what this is about?

It is not the job of Starbucks to tell others about Christmas. I doubt they could tell it well. We minimize the story when we act as if it is the job of marketers or retailers to tell. We minimize the story when we make it about the design of a cup. Christmas may be war on the way things are. It is not war against retailers. Retailers are not called to proclaim good news of great joy. If this is our expectation – we have lost the war. If we wish others “Merry Christmas” as a weapon against them, – we are the problem. These are actions we expect from agents of Caesar and Herod but certainly not from agents of Jesus.

Seriously, what would possess us to berate a barista or boycott a retailer because their employer is not sharing our story? The methods of Caesar and Herod are not our methods. Our methods reflect the characteristics of the one born and laid in a manger. Our methods reflect a kingdom that is under different rule than the kingdoms of Caesar and Herod.

Each year we are given opportunity to share the Christmas story. This year we find an opportunity in a red cup. We have already seen that red cups can become tools to distract us from what is really at stake. We could complain about it because others do not automatically think like we do. Or we could find an opportunity to demonstrate what this is really about.

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