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Monday, February 28, 2011

Rustler Article for 3.3.11

I’m occasionally intimidated by people who are really knowledgeable in art and artists. I’m no rube when it comes to things a little more “cultured,” but recently it seems that I’ve been running into several people who make me feel as unaware of fine art as a bird is of the life aquatic.
The good news is that I don’t have to be an art history degree-holder to appreciate good art when I see it. I can stare at a masterful painting or an impossibly detailed marble sculpture and appreciate it for what it is: a thing of beauty. We know good art when we see or hear it, much like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said when he tried to describe obscenity in 1964: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description… But I know it [obscenity] when I see it.”
I hope you take time to enjoy art in all its forms and mediums. For 2000 years Christians have had a near-monopoly on artistic expression, and most of that art is done in what I would call a worshipful posture. In Baptist life we’re surrounded and inundated with words both spoken and printed. I think it would be healthy and helpful for us to branch out and develop an appreciation for fine art even if we will never be the “artsy” people that intimidate us from time to time.

Rustler Article for 2.23.11

Part of the talk about fiscal responsibility swirling around Austin, Washington, and many dining room tables is the idea of making certain tax-deductions no longer deductible. For instance, one idea to increase tax revenue is to no longer allow people to claim their mortgage interest as a deduction when they itemize their tax returns. Included in this is language about disallowing such an exemption for charitable donations to organizations like churches.
To put this in common terms, it could come about that charitable donations to your local church could no longer be tax deductible.
Let me first say that such legislation is HIGHLY unlikely to be passed: there are too many institutions (besides churches) that depend on charitable donations to survive, whether they are educational institutions or simply tax shelters for the rich.
However, the possibility did get me thinking. If such legislation were to be passed, I wonder if people would be faithful in their giving if there was absolutely no financial benefit to them at all. Would we be givers if there were no tax shelters or giving records to be had?
We’re in need of motivated givers. Not those motivated by the benefits of giving, even if those benefits are ‘godly.’ No, we need men and women who see part of worship the sharing of their treasures with the rest of the Christian community. We need givers who would be faithful in their contributions to the Kingdom even if our own little American kingdom didn’t give them a bonus for it.
Let’s not fear legislation; let’s fear the human spirit within us that automatically hordes and acts in greed and selfishness in the name of prosperity and security. Let’s allow the Church to truly be the Church.

Rustler Article for 2.17.11

What is the church’s role in the community? Certainly it’s to be a house of worship where a group of like-believing members of a community can gather for song, prayer, and sacrament. Further, the church is a central participant in the activities for the community. The church has ministries that feed the hungry and clothe the poor. It has gatherings for worship, work, and fellowship. Above all, though, the church exists in a secular community to be a light to that community in the name of Jesus Christ.
The mission of God through the ages has been to proclaim His righteousness in the face of human sin and to announce his forgiveness and atonement first through the Law and then through Jesus’ blood shed on Calvary’s cross. The book of Acts opens with the statement that Luke “wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Luke 1:1-2, NIV). The church is the continuation of what Jesus began so long ago in his earthly ministry. Whatever we do as a church in the community or in the walls of our buildings we are to be about the business of announcing the present and yet-to-come Kingdom of God inaugurated in the life of Jesus Christ.
Yes, we do Zumba (Tuesdays and Thursdays; you should come!) and yes we do camps and fellowships and fundraisers But let not the church forget its reason for being: the Body of believers must announce the Kingdom of God and that such a Kingdom stands over and against the way of life of the world. If we lose sight of our witness of God’s work in the world then we have lost our identity as the church and might as well be any other social club.