by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:20
‘Do not be afraid’ is the most repeated phrase in the Bible.
I while back I stated that we live in the most peaceful of times. I am not sure everyone agrees with me. I took my information from Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World 2.0 (2012). Zakaria writes, “It feels like a very dangerous world. But it isn’t. Your chances of dying as a consequence of organized violence of any kind are low and getting lower” (8). Zakaria cites the numbers that show major countries are not engaged in war. Big countries with big wars cause big loss of life. But it feels like we live in dangerous times because news is so immediate now. The internet with its cell phone cameras immediately bring all news to our big and small screens. The media companies have a large profit motive to get you to watch their feed. So they make everything outrageous.
Today The Economist presents what near past was like for terrorism. Here are the statistics. Deaths by terrorism in 2014 are up by 80% from 2013, to 32,685, “the biggest rise in 15 years” (The Economist Espresso, Dec. 28, 2015). Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria account for 78% of lives lost. Eleven additional countries experienced deaths of 500 of more, up from five countries in 2013. Islamic State and Boko Haram were responsible for 51% of all terrorist-related deaths according the The Economist’s sources. Pakistan and Nigeria are beginning to curb terrorism, and ISIS is losing ground.
If memory serves me, Al Qaeda was brought down by banking clerks locking up their funds, and by Muslim mothers who turned against the terrorists saying ‘you’re killing off all our children – I don’t believe in your cause.’ Terrorism self defeats. Also, terrorism only works if you are terrorized.
The Economist notes that rich countries in the West are afraid, but they should remember that between 2000 and 2014 only 2.6% of deaths from terrorism occurred in their countries. That includes 9/11. All of North America and most of Europe is relatively safe.
Even with the updated death-by-terrorism statistics we still live in the most peaceful time in human history, quoting Harvard professor Steven Pinker (Post… 9).
Crashing into all the hype-fear come the words of Paul: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1 Philippians 1:21). Paul’s big chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, transcends all fear of death, because death is defeated in Christ. “Oh death where is your sting?” (v55).
Fear is the opposite of Faith. To buy into the “prophets of fear” (read “profits of fear”), is a denial of Jesus’ victory over the grave. Christians shall not be afraid: He has risen! To countermand the hype-fear you must immerse yourself in the scriptures. There you will find people afraid (otherwise that phrase would not be necessary), but they either cave in to the fear and do not trust God, or they trust God and change the course of history for their people. Esther, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel… the list of Bible people who trusted God rather than hype-fear and even real fear of death.
Let us enter the new year with a biblical “meta-narrative” (big story of meaning), instead of the media’s hype. As Dallas Willard once wrote, summarizing Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter six, “…our universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be” (The Divine Conspiracy, 66). Consider the sparrows, they do not worry and yet the Father feeds them. How much more valuable are you to the Father than little birds?
If you are a Christian living in Nigeria you are not safe. If you are a Christian living in Syria you are not safe – no one is safe there. But American Christians: you are so very safe. Act like it. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are truly not safe. And here’s my real call to action: if you still feel unsafe then you need to go spend time alone with God. Quiet time, retreat time, solitude and silence produce compassionate action-oriented Christians. But Christians who listen to political pundits do not have the mind of Christ.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I suggested the church bake bread for the third week of Advent, the JOY week because food brings such joy.
But many failed to bake bread. If you wanted bread for Sunday dinner or even for 7:00pm for an Advent candlelighting, then you really need to get the bread going by halftime, noon Chiefs game. Personally, I fell asleep when I got home from church and when I woke up it was past halftime. I scrambled in between plays to make bread (luckily the Chiefs played poor and had lots of penalties – so more time). I got the first loaf of focaccia out of the oven at 5:53pm. Others were not so lucky. One person failed to get their bread to rise – ever. Another bailed out and just did PopnFresh crescent rolls. Another baked bread but it came out well after 7pm. Many others just said ‘no way.’ They must have baked bread before and knew better. Still others produced great loaves of bread and everyone ate them with delight.
Baking bread takes a lot of time. That’s why it is a spiritual discipline. For centuries humans have baked bread. It is a constant human life-rhythm. Jesus said he is the bread of life (Jn 6:35). The Lord’s Table (communion) uses bread and drink as symbol and presence of Jesus’ presence in our lives. Jesus is as real and present as daily food, which we enjoy several times throughout the day.
To fail to bake bread may very well be your best symbol of your spiritual life: You just don’t have time to bake bread.
You just don’t have time to be Jesus; no time to pray, no time to listen for the Spirit’s voice. So in some respect failure to bake bread is a spiritual practice: is tells you something about your soul’s condition – not good. Those of us who are “soul doctors” call this the “via negativa,” the negative way. It is a discipline of absence, that is, the absence of us! We just fail to show up for God. We attempt to bake the bread of our soul quickly, or go to church or listen to a podcast and get some “store-bought bread.”
But the spiritual life does not work that way. It takes time. Prayer must rise. The Spirit’s yeast must be allowed to activate. This is why I switched out my model and method of discipleship to a retreat format. On retreat you are “forced” to spend time with God, whether you want to or not. The long hours, the long “divine waste of time” walking, sitting, doodling, journaling, reading, staring at tombstones and stained glass, trudging through snow or blazing fields gives time for your soul to rise up to the Father.
It is okay if you failed to bake bread for Advent. But pay attention to the via negativa: the big obvious lesson is staring you in the face: you don’t have time. You’re too busy to make humanity’s most basic meal: bread. And you don’t have time for your soul to rise up, bake under the fire of the Spirit, and be consumed and provide sustenance for others. Just what are you offering others if you are not close to Jesus? Are you offering to others Ho-Hos and Twinkles? Junk food? Is it food only fit for idols, the idols of “hurry” and “go-go-go?” Or is it food fit for God?
Here’s your via negativa spiritual lesson: what kind of food are you producing these days? And would anyone enjoy it?
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
One of my lesser stated goals for our church is for the church to be smart, educated, and intelligent.
Given the general attitude that evangelicals are stupid and dogmatic, the church today has an uphill battle affecting culture. This is the church’s failure, not the media. The media reports on a hateful church (“God hates homosexuals,” etc.) and the public generalizes. We can’t do much about evangelical’s unpopular image. I not sure public opinion should drive the church’s agenda, even with Jesus’ words, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
By “smart church” I mean a church that knows the Bible – its history, doctrine, tradition over time, and the Bible’s use for life and mission. Smart church knows the fuller breadth of the entire church’s history. We know something about the first church, the monastic age, the Orthodox era, the western Catholic time, the Reformation, and the American experience of the 19th and 20th centuries. Smart church means each full participant in the church reads at least one spiritual book a year (or listens to a book).
By smart church I mean a church that limits its viewing and listening of national news media, to keep from being driven by fear and entitlement rather than the words of Jesus.
By smart church I mean a church that knows its context: “What do we do well?” “What is the mind of Christ for our time?” I always like to find the right question to ask. And a perennial question must be “What time is it?”
What time is it in your life? Is it time to sit at the feet of Jesus or is it time to start a new rule of life? Is it time to be still and know God more deeply, or is it time to activate? Is it time to “re-pour” the Bible into your mind and heart? Or is it time to pour out?
What time is it? This question and my illustration of it must be qualified with what I call the trap of “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is the mentality that says, “When soccer season is over we will eat dinner together.” “I will revive my relationship with Jesus when I go on retreat next month.” “I will read a book after the summer ends.” Be careful of exceptionalism: “change happens only when it is the right conditions.” …And when are conditions right? Never!
I believe it is time for the church to be smart. This is not a small statement. It is a large statement about the condition of the church and our mission. Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer sought a smart church when Hitler was rising to power, (and we currently don’t have anything that dire) we too need to be striving after a smarter faith, a smarter spirituality, and a smarter church experience.
Why a smarter church? It isn’t for church growth. It isn’t for popularity. It is for faithfulness. Smart church is all about knowing Jesus. If we grow deeper roots we will know how to most effectively engage the culture around us.