Deep Economy, Part 1


I picked up A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy about six years ago and it made me tremble. I can’t remember a book having so much power in its pages. I think it may be the best book I’ve ever read.

To that short, short list of tremble-inducing tomes, I add Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. Why the quaking? Because McKibben captures in the short 232 pages of this book much of what I’ve spoken of here at Cerulean Sanctum. And he does it quite well.

When I blog about community, agrarianism, stewarding Creation, and living lives of deep meaning for the Kingdom of God, it’s an intricate dance of ideas that sails over some people’s heads. Bill McKibbenSomeone we know well referred to my wife and me as “hippies” for some of the ideals we espouse that touch on these topics, and while we take that lovingly, we also understand that people don’t fathom what we’re talking about.

Bill McKibben understands. His book lays it all out in a way that concentrates the profound message: We need to ask ourselves if the lives we live in 21st century America have real meaning beyond consuming more.

Jesus Christ occupies the center of purpose. No human life finds purpose apart from Him because He made us to be Kingdom people who embody His very image. Our message to the world not only reflects in the words of Truth we speak, but the lives of justice and mercy that we live—His life, His truth, His justice, His mercy. For this reason, the Christian lives a life that is different, a life dedicated to loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Anyone who desires to live that life will rudely encounter the pragmatism, utilitarianism, Social Darwinism, and consumerism that fight with bloody tooth and claw against the Kingdom of God. None of those four worldview are compatible with true Christianity, yet the American Church suffers from their deadly infections to the point of lying in some spiritual hospital in a fevered coma.

Those worldviews own us, no matter how hard we American Christians say otherwise. If you read here long enough, you know that I believe we’ve varnished those worldviews with a thin coat of Christianity and called them redeemed.

But they simply can’t be.

We are wasteful people who pillage the Creation the Creator told us to steward, and then we beg for more. We use spiritual language and manipulate the Gospel to our ends, calling on it to give imprimatur to our uncontrolled growth and need for more material wealth, no matter what the expense. As I noted a few weeks ago, a word exists for that mentality: profligacy.

Deep Economy is a book about profligacy and its deleterious effects. It explains why uncontrolled economic growth will not work on a global scale. It explores the psychological depression arising from desiring more and more stuff at the expense of our souls, our communities, and the world around us. It sounds the clarion call that our lives are out of whack and we’re taking the planet down with us. It proclaims our obsession with the individual must be reversed so genuine community prevails.

Next week, I’ll be exploring each major concept in Deep Economy. I’ll also show why McKibben’s analysis aligns with what we Christians know to be true from the Scriptures. Most of all, I hope I can sway a few doubters to see that another way to live exists, one that better reflects the heart of the Lord.

If you can find the book, pick it up and read it this weekend. And do so with an open mind and spirit. McKibben takes a middle of the road approach even when some of his talking points sound…dare I say it, liberal. If anything, though, those points may be the ultimate in conservatism.

Thanks for reading. Hold on tight…

Outpost on the Wild Frontier


On the frontierWe moved 45-60 minutes away from many of our long-time friends when we bought our house six years ago. Almost all of them have wondered why we moved “so far away.” An hour seems like a long drive to them, but we drive that almost every day, so we don’t understand how it becomes an issue impossible to overcome.

Our neighbors tell us their friends say the same thing.

We’re rural, but not so far away that we’re an outpost on the edge of civilization. A big Kroger grocery store hunkers seven minutes away from us. Besides a half-dozen homegrown eateries, we have about nine chain fast-food restaurants. Heck, we have a Chinese restaurant in town, so how rural can we be?

Last week, I posted an A.W. Tozer piece (in the post “Imagination and the Christian“) that talked about the Church on the frontier. I’ve been thinking about that post since then and have a few more thoughts.

When I think of the frontier, it’s hard for me not to envision Little House on the Prairie. The Laura Ingalls Wilder book series told of numerous challenges her family faced as they eked out an existence in the middle of nowhere. Adventurous stories for sure.

In the 1960s, the TV show “Green Acres” spoofed Little House on the Prairie by dropping a couple of cultured urbanites into a rural environment. Hijinks ensued, in particular those revolving around socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor’s failed attempts to adapt to the uncouth nature of the hick culture enveloping her. What worked in a New York penthouse apartment failed miserably in the country.

Our neighbor in front of us, an old farmer, maintains a perpetual grin around me because I think he sees me as the Eddie Albert character from that show. I have not one farming bone in my body, and I’m sure my failed attempts to do the most simple farm-related work must leave him in hysterics. Nearly six years ago, I brought home my Kubota tractor and he commented that “it wasn’t green.” Translation: You went and bought one of them Japanese tractors instead of a John Deere? How could you?

He forgives me, I think, since he’s always prepared to help us city slickers and never asks for anything himself. I’m not sure how we could help him anyway, at least with anything farm related.

The point of all this is that things are different out on the frontier.

When I look at the Church in America, I see Zsa Zsa clad in a Vera Wang on her penthouse balcony sipping a Manhattan, her Bichon Frise in a diamond-studded dog collar at her side. What does she know of the frontier? Lack? What lack? She dials her iPhone and chats up a friend, planning to meet her at Nieman Marcus for a little shopping distraction.

But it’s not like that on the frontier. Wild animals! Savage weather! No AT&T, no iPhone! No electricity at all! Items and services considered essential in Beverly Hills become a lead-weighted albatross on the frontier. The frontier’s meaner and requires a heartier soul.

Imagine the socialite peering through some long-range telescope to observe the rubes on the frontier. How primitive they are. They get by with nothing! How can anyone live like that?

I think, though, that God dwells on the frontier. As the Kingdom continues to expand, its vistas constantly run along the frontier. And not just in primitive places, but frontiers in our own backyards.

How can Zsa Zsa understand this? She thinks she can transplant her urban world into that frontier. But how does she cope when she finds herself without electricity, since no powerline runs to her outpost?

She’s got to look to solar power or wind if she’s to have anything electrical, like a refrigerator. What a worldview test! And that fridge won’t be like the AC one back home, but DC. She’ll have to get it from some place other than Neiman Marcus, too, unfamiliar outfitters run by ex-hippies and survivalists. Not the optimum company for tea time.

Books may help her adapt, but in the end she’s got to find a deeper resource she can trust. Her solutions may not be pretty, but she’s learning to trust the wisdom of the frontier. What gets her through looks quite jury-rigged compared with the off-the-shelf solutions of the big city.

Decisions aren’t made by committee, but by tough-minded leaders who take charge, leaders forged in the the crucible of the wild frontier. She learns to trust them and make their wisdom her own. Eventually, the people she left behind in the city won’t recognize her, and may not even consider her one of their own anymore, simply because she’s been tried by a different kind of fire. Jeans and boots replace pearls and Prada. Compassion reigns in her heart because she now understands that people on the frontier need each other more than the self-directed individuals of the city.

And most of all, she understands that the frontier kicked out all her supports. Who was there to catch her? Jesus Christ. He understands the frontier because He created it. He says this about the city folk:

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
—Revelation 3:17

Most city-dwellers don’t understand that Jesus embodies the frontier. His Spirit blows over the plains in unpredicaable ways, but always according to His pleasure. To know the Spirit is to capture the essence of the frontier, of dependence on the goodness of God, and not on means of control. The city-dweller has money to fall back on, so he or she doesn’t need anyone else, especially not some free Spirit.

And so it is in our churches. We’re still in our penthouses, but the reality of Christ’s will perpetually dwells on the frontier. We may look down on the messy frontiersmen, may consider them rubes for living life by the frontier Spirit. We’ll judge those country folk by our city-slicker standards and find them all wanting.

Judgment Day will reveal the truth, though.

It’s time for us to ask the Lord to make us frontiersmen and frontierswomen, tough people who rely on the Spirit more than we now do. We need to put down luxury and take up gritty work. Our baby-soft hands need some toughening. Real life is difficult, and it’s time we got acquainted with it.

We’ll find it out on the frontier. And we’ll find Him there, too.

The Church God Uses


What is “the Church God uses,” and how do we become that Church?

Lately, I’ve had numerous encounters with fellow believers who espouse a Christianity that makes no sense to me. It makes no sense because it misses entirely the role of the Church in the world. How that’s possible, I can’t understand. The New Testament can’t be understood unless we grasp what God intended when He called the Church into being.

To become the Church God uses, we must rediscover the one distinction that sets the Church apart from all other groups and institutions on this planet. We can talk about what the Church does, its commission, its command of the things of God, but none of those define the Church.

What makes the Church The Church ? The Holy Spirit.

Have we forgotten the mind-blowing reality of Pentecost? The Eternal Creator God came and indwelt men and women! He sealed them for eternity as His people. He empowered them with charismata by His Holy Spirit. The charge Jesus Christ gave could now be fulfilled because He lived inside those who believed on His name!

The Muslims don’t have the Holy Spirit. The Hindus don’t have the Holy Spirit. The Rotary Club doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. The United Nations doesn’t have the Holy Spirit.

The Church of Jesus Christ alone has the Holy Spirit! That radical truth quakes the world and demolishes every misconception we hold about the task Christ charged those of us who have the Holy Spirit.

The Lord speaks:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
—Acts 1:8

The transcendent power of the Holy Spirit took a handful of human rabble and used them to turn the world on its head! God-filled people tore down the wisdom of the philosophers. God-filled people raised the dead. God-filled people touched the untouchable and loved the unlovable. Why? Because God put His Holy Spirit in them—and us today–to accomplish His will on earth.

Christ gave us a commission and provided Himself living in us to make it happen. All we must do is say yes to that commission.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

—2 Corinthians 5:18-20a

He gave us the ministry of reconciliation. He didn’t claim that ministry for Himself, but charged us to do it! And we can do it because He empowers us by His Holy Spirit.

Think of it—we are His ambassadors!

An ambassador comes in the name of the king of his nation, for the king has empowered the ambassador as his full representative. The ambassador embodies the law of the king, the words of the king, the ministrations of the king, and the power of the king, for the king Himself has imbued the ambassador with his title. When others receive the ambassador in their homes and palaces, it’s as if they receive the king himself.

Do we understand this, Church? Do we understand our ambassadorship as the people who minister King Jesus in all His glory? Do we understand what He has given us and the price He paid for it so that we can establish His Kingdom?

Some would say the need for fully-empowered ambassadors passed away once the initial establishment of the Church came to fruition. But that’s a grievous error. For the Church of Jesus Christ is forever being established until the Great Day of the Lord when He comes again in glory. The Church is still being established in people groups and nations that have never before heard the Gospel. And the Church is still being established from generation to generation. Because the Church is perpetually being established on earth, we ambassadors of Christ continue to be imbued with all the gifts, truths, and power to meet the commission of Christ as those first Christians on the day of Pentecost. None of those tools and gifts used to establish the first church have passed because the Church continues to be established!

For as Peter quoted from the Prophet Joel on that Day:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'”
—Acts 2:17-21

The empowerment of the Church to do the work of Christ continues unbroken and in full until the perfect King and Kingdom come in full revelation on the Day of the Lord, just as it says in the Scriptures. We are His ambassadors in the complete charge and power that He gave us until the end of time.

And we are to do the work.

But some don’t believe this.

If you’re a parent, you know that sometimes kids don’t always do what you ask them. Take cleaning a room. You ask the child to do the work of cleaning the room, you provide garbage bags, dusters, shelves and closets, and even a vacuum. And yet how many times have we all heard that precious little child look us square in the eye and say, “No, you do it!”

I think I speak for every parent here when I say that insolence doesn’t make mom and dad happy.

But it’s worse than that. Far worse.

Imagine that you literally wrote the book on cleaning. All knowledge and power to clean resides in you. You then tell your child that you will make the cleaning a snap to do because you will come live inside him/her and make it possible to do the work, even if it seems impossible. You lay your hands upon your child and confer all your cleaning skills in a moment. Afterwards, your moppet looks you square in the eye, folds those little arms, and says, “No, you do it!”

Watching, waiting to see who will do the workFolks, sad to say, that’s today’s Church. God gave us His Holy Spirit to work through us, but we continue to resist doing the work. We keep going back to the Father and telling Him He needs to do the work Himself. Even though He empowered us to do it by His Spirit, we’re sitting this one out. Or we’re picking and choosing when He can work through us and when He can’t, asking Him to bypass us to do the work when it seems too tough.

I’ve said this more times on this blog than I care to think, but if the Church doesn’t do the work, why do we think God’s going to step in and bypass us to get it done? When the widows and orphans of the Book of Acts needed to be fed, did God do it by raining down manna from heaven? No! He used the Church to feed them because God tasked the Church with that job and empowered them to do it.

Take a look at one man the Lord chose to do that work:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

—Acts 6:1-5

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
—Acts 6:8-10

God chose a man full of the Holy Spirit, an ambassador of His Kingdom, to wait tables filled with the lowest of the low, the widows and orphans of Palestine. Why? Because He trusts that kind of man to do the work.

Folks, God equips us for a reason: to do the work. We can’t sit back and act as if He’ll bypass us to do it if we sit this one out. Nor can we tell Him we don’t want Him to use us in impossible or supernatural ways. If that’s the way we think, then we should pack up the Church and go home.

The Scriptures exist so we can do the work:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

Faith exists so we can do the work:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
—James 2:14-18

The Church God uses understands this. It understands it’s empowered by God to do the work. It knows that apart from God we can do nothing, but it also knows we do not stand apart from God! He lives in us by His Spirit, and He is perpetually rewarding those who do the work with a larger container to hold His poured-out Spirit. And from that growing container, greater works will be done so that even the mountain cannot remain if told to be cast into the sea.

The priest and Levite who passed by the robbery victim lying near death on the side of the road were of Israel, but they didn’t do the work of their God. Instead, they passed the work back to God and insisted that He do it. But the Samaritan, filled with the kind of love that only the Holy Spirit can instill, saw the need and did the work. He didn’t pray to know what to do. He saw the need, understood the love of God within him, and did the work. He didn’t need to ask if he should do the work, because the Lord had already said yes. And the Lord always says yes to doing the work.

Every day, God brings others in desperate straits into our lives. They might not know Christ. They might be destitute. They might be facing disease or discouragement. God gave us His Spirit to do the work. His Spirit does not change, nor does He flinch in the face of the work. He empowers to do the work today exactly as He did 2000 years ago because the work has not changed and neither has He. We have to trust the Spirit.

If we want to be the Church God uses, we have to do the work. If we want to be the Church God uses, we must see the need and meet the need. If we want to be the Church God uses, we must not toss the work back to Him to do apart from us, but understand that He will work through us because He lives in us. That’s our reason to exist. That’s our worship.

If we want to be the Church God uses, if we truly want to be with all our hearts, we will be.

Are we ready?