Sunday, January 18, 2009

Revolution: Why it doesn't happen in your church.

Posted by Tim

Many youth groups and some church bodies discuss from time to time the idea of revolution or revival. It is a common idea when churches seem stale or exhausted. In youth groups, the pastor will discuss (usually very excitedly) about how every kid needs to bring their friends. he tells the kids they need to pray more. He says that it is time for the people to come back to Jesus. There is usually some sort of message about lust, deceit, pride, etc,. This makes the people involved feel guilty which in turn brings a lot of repentance even if they kids cannot think of why they are repenting. There can be tears involved, but that is not necessary for the event to take place. Lastly, there is a worship time where the worship is very upbeat and the members of the team have been switched around a bit in order to create a more fresh worship experience which furthers the emotional rollercoaster that is a revival message. So, these kids in the youth group now feel much better about life. They have determined to do their devotions more often, and they've even thought about some other kids at school that they might invite to Wednesday night youth group. Finally, everyone goes home and the whole thing pretty much dies in the next few hours, days or weeks.

I apologize if I've come off a bit irreverent or cynical, but that is an experience I am very familiar with, and I'm merely guessing you might have had contact with it as well. The problem with this whole event is that all that is really being accomplished is trying to get followers of Christ to get more excited about "doing the right thing by Jesus." Now, obviously, doing the right thing by Jesus is what it means to be a Christian. We are to follow after Christ because of the love we have for our Father. However, "doing the right thing by Jesus" gets a little muddy in its meaning. What exactly does it mean? We pray more? We sing more hymns? We invite our friends to church on Sunday? Those are all great things and can bring us closer to ABBA, but I don't think that's what revival is really all about.

In the Old Testament revival was preached by the prophets, and when they did their thing most people did one of the following: laughed, ignored or got violent. There were some who took the crazy prophets seriously, but we are told mainly of the majority of Israel (especially the king) who took the former three options. There were three major revivals throughout the Bible starting with the exiled nation of Israel in Egypt. The people suffer as slaves making bricks to build the pagan temples of the empire even higher, and all of a sudden they get word about this guy Moses. Finally, God has come to whip up on Egypt and set things right. Well, we all know the story... They end up running from the Egyptians who miraculously become swallowed by one foot of Red Sea water. That detail is up for debate I suppose, so you are welcome to believe it was an ocean of Red Sea. Anyway... back to the point. Yahweh leads his people out of exile and where does he take them? Sinai. Sinai is where God proposes to the people of Israel. The story is filled with ancient wedding language. God tells them that if they keep this marriage covenant that he will make them his treasured possession. He then tells them that they will be priests and a holy nation. Next God lays out the vows. He goes through a long list which would be quite troublesome to repeat after a pastor at a wedding ceremony. The list goes on and on about... what? Of course we get the "Big 10" if you will, but after that is a list of other laws that sort of fall under the first 10. What are they about? They are about not committing violence against anyone, keeping peace with everyone. More are about no oppressing refugees from other lands, or the poor, or widows and orphans. BUT, before the marriage really even reaches consummation, Israel is having an affair with an idol. They repent and are forgiven and move on through the desert. Fast-forward and we're in Israel. Solomon is king even though God declared that Israel would have no king like the other pagan nations. God declared he would be their king, but the people didn't listen. So, here is Solomon, apparently the wise ruler, but what is he doing? Breaking the marriage covenant God made with his people. He is obviously accumulating wealth. The amount of gold and silver he has obtained is unreal. He has how many wives... wait, and concubines? I'm guessing that's somewhat taboo. He has slaves. Wait a second... The people of Israel have just been rescued by their creator just a short while ago and he said no to oppression because that was against his nature. He declared Israel would not be in the business of making money off the poor and the weak. Israel declared they would not, but here we are with Solomon and he's having slaves build the Lord's temple in Israel. Ironic? Sadly. Well, the list goes on of marriage covenant rules being broken, and here comes Nathan. Nathan was Solomon's prophet. He comes on to the scene showing what is wrong with the nation. He uncovers sin from the throne to the streets, but the people don't listen. He is screaming for revival, but the people don't listen. So, what happens? EXILE.

Israel finds itself in Babylon for 432 years. God hears there cries because our God always hears the cries of the oppressed. During the marriage vows God tells Israel the following... He says if you oppress the poor and the weak, they will cry out to me, and I will hear their cries because I am a God of the poor and the weak and the oppressed. Whoa. I would think that would send the message. So, after 432 long years God rescues his people again. He tells them of a new revival to come. A new way of life. He tells them to come back and to follow the same marriage vows as before and he adds... "Remember the poor." He tells Israel that in order to live the life that he has laid out for them they need to remember the poor and not accumulate wealth. Interesting. God doesn't say "Come on folks! Get more excited about me! Tell all your friends! Talk to me more!" He says "Remember the oppressed and do not accumulate wealth like the pagan world tells you is only normal." Hmm... Well, time goes by and Israel is trying hard? Well, some are, but along the way Rome comes over and takes control. What time was that? Oh yes, I believe it was right around 432 B.C. which is a familiar number. It was 432 years that Israel was under Roman control or exile in their own land before Jesus arrives on the scene. Jesus comes to deliver God's people from exile again. He tells the world He is in to take care of the poor. He tells the world that the rich are going to have a pretty hard time getting into the kingdom of God. Interesting. He doesn't take over Israel and create the kingdom. He tells the world to take care of the poor and live in a state of Jubilee. Jubilee? That's the idea that every so often (7 years) people would take a year off of work. That's a foreign idea here in America. Jubilee had a lot more to it than that, but the idea is that people would cancel debts completely. A sort of redistribution of wealth if you will which is about whom? The poor. Jesus tells us that to eradicate poverty we need to redistribute our wealth to the poor. Now, that's a wild idea.

So, what does this have to do with Revolution in the church? Well, the first little bit about the youth group revival doesn't sound much like the revolution Jesus and God have been talking about since the beginning of sin. Youth group revivals don't mention the poor or the redistribution of wealth or the idea that we aren't even supposed to accumulate wealth... maybe that's the problem. See, we as believers have put ourselves in our own form of exile by buying into the American Dream, and just to make sure we're all on the same page... America is a modern day Egypt or Rome. An empire built on the backs of the poor and the weak. An empire built on the rich getting richer. The American Dream says "Go ahead. Be all you can be and make as much as you can while you're at it.!" This is completely opposite of what Jesus is telling us, and if we are called to bring to God's kingdom or heaven to earth by following Jesus' lead then America appears to be an Anti-kingdom.

Jack and I, by the wisdom of many modern prophets (Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, and more), through the guidance of our own spiritual heroes, and ultimately through God's grace have come to hear Jesus' calling a little more clearly in that way. Acting on all of that led us to moving in here in the heart of Springfield. I believe all of God's people are called to live without accumulating wealth, redistributing the wealth they have been given, and to care for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed.

It was God who said that in order to keep the marriage vow we need to "REMEMBER THE POOR!" That's the kind of revolution that will really bring change.

For a more in depth look and probably a more correct look (I'm not really a theologian) into these ideas check out:
"Jesus Wants To Save Christians" by Rob Bell
"The Irresistible Revolution" and "Jesus for President" by Shane Claiborne.

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