A BABY, A CROSS, AND A CATHARSIS
Don’t we all love the prayer scene from Talladega Nights?
OK, maybe not all of us. But, I sure do. What strikes me is that today is the day when we all celebrate “sweet baby Jesus”. On Christmas Eve we watched a full slate of classic Christmas movies for kids and all of them dealt with skepticism regarding the existence of Santa. At the end of the day the point was always, “Christmas is about helping poor people” or some derivation.
In my head though this wasn’t ringing true. I am becoming more and more convinced that Advent and Christmas cannot be separated from the Cross. The Magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, all important for middle eastern burials. Jesus was most likely born near Passover (that’s a discussion for another time) and he died at Passover.
The Lamb of God born at Passover, the Bread of Life born in the City of Bread.
What is Christmas about? It’s simple, it’s about a Cross and a Resurrection.
It had to start somewhere and it started in Bethlehem in a common cave used for the keeping of animals. To close I want to leave you an extended quote from Jonathan Edwards (this quote was taken from here):
What an amazing act of grace was it when Christ took upon our human nature. In this act of great condescension, he who was God became man. The Word should be made flesh, and should take on him a nature infinitely below his original nature. We should appreciate the remarkably low circumstances of his incarnation: He was conceived in the womb of a poor young woman, whose poverty appeared in this, when she came to offer sacrifices for her purification, she brought what was allowed of in the Law only in the case of poverty, a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.
Christ’s infinite condescension marvelously appeared in the manner of his birth. He was brought forth in a stable, because there was no room for them in the inn. The inn was taken up by others, that were looked upon as persons of greater account. The blessed Virgin, being poor and despised, was turned or shut out. Though she was in such need, yet those that counted themselves her better would not give place to them. Therefore, in her time of giving birth, she was forced to give birth to her son in a stable, and laid him in a feed trough.
There Christ lay a little infant, and there he eminently appeared as a lamb. But yet this feeble infant, born this way in a stable, and laid in a feed trough, was born to conquer and triumph over Satan, that roaring lion (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). Jesus came to subdue the mighty powers of darkness, and make a show of them openly, and so to restore peace on earth, and to manifest God’s good-will towards men, and to bring glory to God in the highest!
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW…
…the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
It’s funny how clarity can change things. After the first big winter storm the schools were all closed and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader had just been released, so we packed into the car and headed to the show.
The roads weren’t too bad but there was a constant spattering of stuff on my windshield. I hit the mister and nothing happened except for the mud and grime to smear. The realization of traveling on an expressway with no visibility was a little nerve racking. This got worse as I had to slowly make way around the exit ramp cloverleaf without falling off the side.
I learned a timeless that day: Clarity IS important.
In the previous post we talked about the importance of language. Here’s the thing though: language without clarity is useless.
This hit home for me a few years ago as I was engaged in a conversation with some Mormon missionaries (it always strikes me as odd how many are named “Elder”). We were talking about Jesus, grace, faith, God, and Bible. It seemed as though things were moving along well but it turned out that we were going nowhere.
I thought we were discussing the same things because we were using the same language. I could not have been more wrong.
We did not have clarity.
Our definitions were totally different. We were not even close to understanding one another and as a result our conversation slipped into mundane futility and frustration.
In a conversation about anything, let alone Jesus, the conversants must have a clarified understanding of the words they are using or there will be constant confusion and frustration. For those of us who want other people to follow Jesus we must listen closely to hear where we can build a bridge and in so doing we bring clarity.
Paul Tarsus was speaking at the Areopagus in Athens when he said these words, “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23 ESV)”
He wanted to bring clarity and that he did by redefining “the unknown god” to that of the revealed God, Jesus.
May we take the time to clear the clouds and reveal the Son!
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE!
Sa a se bagay ki pi enpòtan ke ou te ka janm li. Ou ka li li l ’? Si ou pa kapab alò ou pa pral kapab konprann. Ou dwe konprann! Frape, frape! Ki moun ki la a? Ou. Ki ou? Oh pa kriye, li jis yon blag!
I think that I have heard the words, “Watch your language!” more than I could ever imagine. It turns out that when I was younger I did not have much of a filter. It also turns out that as an adult I do not have much of a filter. Every day my poor wife has to remind what not to say.
Don’t you feel bad for her? I do.
My issues are not the point of this post, however. The issue is language. Could you read the opening few sentences? Unless you are some sort of awesome linguist, then probably not.
If you are a follower of Jesus you speak a secret language, a language that not everyone speaks. To he honest, most people don’t speak our language. It is comprised of big words, special words, insider words and most of them end in “-tion”.
When I have conversations with people I am reminded that sometimes my Christian language is different from their language. I want them to understand what I am saying because when we are talking about Jesus, we are talking about the most important thing.
What is the language of your neighbors? I am not taling about English. What are the metaphors and narratives that give their world meaning?
I will almost guarantee it’s not the biblical narrative.
Television, films, music, celebrities, and to a lesser extent books provide the narrative arc for the world around us.
Can you speak their language?
If we want to be able to invite them to know Jesus we must be able to speak the language.
Oh, if you want to know what the opening paragraph says leave a comment!
DESTRUCTION OR CONSTRUCTION?
I was 18 or 19, the room was jammed with more than 1,000 college students and we were enthralled by the man on the stage. He was thick necked and spoke with power and authority. When he got passionate the veins in his neck bulged. As a young man, I found in him the embodiment of all that I wanted to be: strong, intelligent, quick witted, and a command of philosophy and logic that left your head spinning.
He shared story after story of destructing the worldviews of other people thereby creating a vacuum for the message of Jesus to fill.
He didn’t share many stories of people becoming followers of Jesus.
Fast forward nearly ten years.
I am alone in my basement listening to a man with an English accent, whom I have never seen. He is sharing story after story of people responding to the story of Jesus.
One man built bridges and the other created vacuums.
One man started with humanity being created in the image of God and the other with human sinfulness.
One man started with the mindset of a builder and the other with the mindset of destruction.
If we respect people and understand what they believe we will necessarily find points from which to build bridges from their world to the glorious grace of God in the face of Jesus.
Building is harder than demolition, but it is worth it. It’s worth it because regardless of response the conversation stays open.
CAN YOU UNDERSTAND ME?
One of the most powerful feelings I have ever had was the time that I landed in Germany and realized that I had no idea what the signs said. It was remarkably uncomfortable. I had no idea what he ads were saying, I had no idea what the people around me were saying, I could not understand a thing. I felt very lost and very confused and very much alone (which is weird because I was traveling with a group of six others).
I felt these things because I knew I had no hope of being understood.
I have found that as a Christ follower who intentionally seeks to introduce others to Jesus I unwittingly speak German to them.
In my previous post I talked about respect. Well, if I respect someone then I can not caricature them. I need to honestly and authentically understand what they believe. This means that I must listen. Not only that it means that I must hear them.
This is hard.
It’s hard because the universe revolves around me and to really listen means that I need to set myself aside.
When you engage in conversation with someone about belief systems it is incumbent on you to be able to communicate back to this person their belief system in such a way they say, “Yes, that’s what I believe”.
Have you seen the movie White Men Can’t Jump? There’s a great scene where Woody and Wesley are listening to Jimi Hendrix and Wesley challenges him and says, “You can’t hear Jimi”. This is the point.
Can you “hear” another? If not then you are not really listening and you don’t really respect them and you will never understand what they believe.
I love the fact that Jesus took time to hear people and listen. John 8 is an incredible story where Jesus hears and understands and then responds in a way that changes lives.
Aretha sang, “Find out what respect means to me”. Respect is a simple word. It is one which causes people to get into fights, feel good, or get loud. Respect is something that is intangible and yet is required.
Today I interacted on a blog where some people were critiquing a friend’s book.
They had not read the book.
Yet, they trashed the book. They trashed him. They challenged his character. It was a personal attack.
They claim to be Christians.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been teaching a group of people about how to engage with those who don’t follow Jesus. We began with “respect.” Why? Because this is the place that Jesus starts. This is the place that Paul starts. They were respecters of people.
Consider Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4.
He respected her. He did not pull any punches but he dealt with her in love and did not demean her.
Respect is a powerful form of love and it opens many doors that might not otherwise open. It is foundational for relationship.
If the Church is going to be what it’s called to be it has to respect those who are far from God. This means that to caricature those who disagree with you is out. This means that you must take time to learn and actually hear what these people are saying.
Back to my friend, he has a dynamic to atheists at a large state university. He has written a fiction novel that uses a genre that is attractive to those whom God has placed on his heart. I am probably not going to read the book, because it’s simply not a genre that I enjoy. But, I am quite certain that many people who are far from God will and as they do they will come face to face with the story and message of Jesus.
Will that message look like the Four Spiritual Laws? Nope. But it will challenge the mind and will of those who read it.
Interestingly, the Christians who have displayed such disrespect are probably never going to have the hearing that a man who has written something they detest will.
COMMUNITY AND CHRISTMAS
What is the meaning of Christmas? That was the question that NBC’s Community asked last week in an incredibly creative stop motion animation episode that left me laughing. The episode was full of hat tips to great Christmas specials of the past and a few nice shots at the Christian faith.
Shots at Christianity in a Christmas special? Yes.
Are you offended?
The shots that they took weren’t the kinds that you might expect. The most crushing one came from Shirley, whose character is an outspoken Christian. She said, “I am a modern day Christian, I have learned sensitivity and so I say Happy Holidays not wanting anyone else’s religion to feel inferior to mine.”
I laughed. Then, I cried.
Not really. But, I have been thinking about this for the last few days.
Christmas has lost something in the post-modern malaise of mutual worldview affirmations.
Then I remembered last Friday, my son sang in a “Holiday Concert” at his school. They sang Happy Hannukah, Mud Slide, and Up on the Housetop.
Silent Night was played on the piano, no singing.
Something manifestly changed.
A hush came over the crowded cafeteria. You could have heard a pin drop.
Christmas, the moment when God split time one passover many years ago and entered into history. Even today with all of our sensitivity and complacency humanity still becomes silent before the reality that took place when God moved into the neighborhood.
Everyone in that cafeteria experienced something different in that moment than all that had come before. That moment was thick with the holy.
I wish I could sit down with Abed and over a peppermint mocha just talk about the meaning of Christmas.
Maybe I can, maybe there are people all around me looking for the real meaning if I would just open my eyes to see and have ears to hear.
WHAT ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR?
What are you thankful for? This is the question that was posed by the boys at Professional One a “boutique of awesome” or also known as one of the best real estate firms in the country run by Mike and Todd.
Ever since the question was asked I have been thinking about it.
This is a question we ask around our kitchen table as opposed to the generic “God is good, God is great…”
How can you answer such a question with any kind of authenticity and keep the post relatively brief?
When I think about what I am thankful for I am amazed at all that I really ought to be thankful for, but I’m not. I am not thankful, at least not usually. I want to be one of those people that are constantly overwhelmed by gratitude.
I really do. But, I’m not.
Life is more complicated, it seems.
What am I thankful for?
I am thankful that there are people who are asking the question and forcing people like me to actually consider the question. I hear that question and the normal sorts of things that I ought to be thankful for pop into my head: friends, family, God, faith, love, relationships, provision, daily bread, grace, mercy, and the like.
My head tells me I am thankful for these things. My life tells me otherwise.
I don’t think I’m alone.
To answer the question, I ask another: If our lives don’t reflect gratitude are we really thankful?
When you find out that most if not all of your preconceptions are misconceptions it leaves you reeling. The first time I woke up in Israel I struggled to believe all that I was seeing. I felt as though I had stepped foot out of the Matrix and into “The Real”. There was nothing that was what I expected. Not a single thing.
We boarded our bus and met Yaniv, our guide and soon to be our good friend. He took us to Caesarea by the Sea. It was a confusing time as we left Tel Aviv and arrived at a place that was over 2,000 years old. This is the kind of confusion that leaves you scratching your head and unsure of what you are seeing.
It turns out that Israel is a place of paradox. You never can quite get your mind around it. It is a living and breathing postmodern experience. What is new is old and what is oldest is often times new.
The ruins of Caesarea were like nothing that I had ever experienced. They were almost unreal. I felt like I had stepped into one of those coffee table books that you find at your great aunt’s house and you start looking at because you can’t touch anything else.
Only here you could touch.
It was a round the winter of 1996 that I began to truly study the Scriptures with tenacity. I was particularly drawn to the person and writings of Paul. He was almost a mystical figure to me.
I stood in the very place Paul did when he left for his journey to Rome. I saw the place where he was held prisoner prior to leaving.
Paul has now become a very real person for me. He became very real in a place that is a living paradox of new and old.
PRECONCEPTIONS, LAND MINES, AND EXPLOSIONS
Any time you visit a new country there are always preconceived ideas that you have coming in. When I left for Israel I had a picture in mind of sand, mountains, and camels. Of course I also had the thought of one or two surface to air missiles and maybe a suicide bomber. I could tell that these were the same thoughts that some of my family had in mind too. I think that is part of the reason why I didn’t really get too excited about the trip, why it “slipped” my mind and why I did not talk about it much with those closest to me. My preconceived ideas had laid a foundation of fear.
Then I arrived in Israel.
I saw it.
There was no filter, there were no reporters or editors choosing what to show me.
I saw it with my own eyes.
What did I see, you ask?
I saw Tel Aviv and modern bustling city filled with people. There were kids on the beach singing and barbecuing. There were clubs thumping the bass so that you could feel it in your chest. There was graffiti. There were coffee shops and pubs. There were people jogging and riding bikes along the Mediterranean Sea. I saw a five star hotel that was had everything you could imagine.
I didn’t see a single camel. The only sand I saw was on the beach of the Med. I didn’t see a gun or a missile or suicide bomber. There were some explosions later in the weekend, but it turns out that people like to shoot off fireworks after Shabbat is over!
It’s a time to celebrate and party.
That first night in Israel I saw my preconceptions explode like an old land mine in the Golan Heights…
FIGURING IT OUT…
[caption id=“attachment_1246” align=“alignleft” width=“300” caption=“It’s not good if the baby goes with…”]
For the last few years I have been on a journey. It’s a journey that has cost me friendships. It’s a journey that has caused me to look pretty deep and it has caused me to evaluate my understanding of “church”. This week I had an epiphany. It’s both/and and not either/or.
You’re thinking ,“That’s pretty cryptic.”
You’re right. Let me clarify.
The journey that I have been on has been the journey from thinking of church as primarily a “come and see” to that of “go and tell.” As per usual I have taken the pendulum of my life and swung it from one end of the spectrum to the other.
I didn’t even notice.
Passion does that.
This week I met with a group of pastors from the area for a planning time. We were meeting to plan what our churches would do together as we participate in “E.A.C.H.”, a city-wide movement of churches that are seeking to give “everyone a chance to hear” during the first forty days after Easter. We prayed and it was amazing.
Then we started talking.
Fairly quickly the debate began: proclamation OR service. The battle lines were drawn. The combatants were unwilling to budge. Then an image I used for many years with Campus Crusade for Christ (and I had used in a recent worship service) popped into my mind:
Now, what struck me was that I had forgotten something that had been drilled into me for ten years on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. A simple truth that brought clarity to my journey:
There are three relational modes: Ministry, Body, Natural.
I want to quote Keith Davy at length here:
As God works through believers in seeking to save the lost, there are three different types of relationships, or relational modes. These modes of witness are delineated by the nature of the relationship between the believer(s) and the unbelievers. God always seeks to work through our witness as a body, through our natural relationships, and through the relationships that result from intentional ministry outreach. A ministry’s evangelistic impact is increased as it expands the influence of each relational mode. Evangelistic momentum is achieved as synergy is generated between all three modes. Understanding these modes will enable us to align our methods with God’s work more effectively and expand the impact of each mode more fully.
We must have all three. I am not suggesting that we go back to a model of church that is driven by programs and that everything is done within the four spiritual walls of the building. What I am saying is that there must be strategic placement of all three modes in the life of any congregation and in the life of the church as a whole.
It’s coming together. The journey is still long and I am sure there will be many twists and turns along the way, but this is a significant piece that has come together.
Maybe I should take another look at some of those other models that I used to make fun of? I suppose I should.
WHY WEREN’T THEY THERE?
“You keep saying you’ve got something for me.
something you call love, but confess.
You’ve been messin’ where you shouldn’t have been a messin’
and now someone else is gettin’ all your best.
These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do
one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”
In the 1920s the Christians walked away from education. In the 1930s and 40s we walked away from science and academia. In the 1960s we walked away from culture. In 2010 it appears we have, by and large, we are in danger walking away from our communities.
Today I spent the day at a local hospital which was hosting an international taste festival and a world impact expo. The organizer sought to provide opportunity for ten congregations or organizations from each of the world’s three dominant faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to highlight their mission efforts around the world. Only four Christian churches committed to participating. One backed out and one was a no show the day of the event.
The Jewish communities and Islamic communities had their full compliment and then some because the Christians were no shows.
The Christians were no shows.
Over the last few years I have read and heard a lot of rhetoric and polemic about Islam and its negative influence in the world. Christians have felt threatened. There has been a renewed zeal “evangelize” the “Muslim world”. There is great concern about Muslim extremists blowing things up.
But, in their own backyard the Christians were no shows.
We have to show up. When I worked with Campus Crusade for Christ we talked about how 90% of movement building was showing up.
Boots on the ground.
I love that I am part of a church community that showed up. A movement is building. God is at work. We got to see it because we showed up.
I hope that our boots are made for walking and that we won’t walk out but we will walk in and show up.
A MINUTE TO WIN IT, OR, HOW YOUTUBE CHANGED MEDIA
A little over a week ago a group of high school students gathered at Grace Chapel, EPC in Farmington Hills, MI. They were there to play “A Minute to Win It”. They played a ton of different games, laughing, and trying to win, and then laughing some more. One of the volunteers in the crowd were recording the mayhem and a few of the videos were uploaded to YouTube.
Then it happened. An email from an exec at NBC requesting the videos for use on an upcoming episode of A Minute to Win It! The media is now trolling the web to find media for itself to show to us as media.
In this new world of HD cameras and YouTube one thing is now certain:
The media creators have become the media consumers.
Think about it. NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, etc…need us. They need us to keep themselves relevant, hip, and in the know. They need us to create for them. They are consuming our self-made media as much as we are consuming theirs.
TO THINK OR NOT TO THINK
What does it mean for a Christian to think? I don’t mean the kind of thinking where one tries to figure out a problem. I am talking about the kind of thinking where one struggles with their core beliefs and tries to determine what is real and true.
We as Christians believe that the Bible is special revelation which shows us truth and points us to what is real. We believe that it is authoritative, that means we believe that we have a book that gives us real answers by which we ought to live.
I believe that this is true.
I repeat: I believe that this is true.
However we must not take our faith and use it as a replacement for critical thought. The Apostle Paul commended the Berean believers because they searched the Scriptures for truth. If we are going to be like them then we must take our cues from them.
I am coming to the thought that for the follower of Jesus to be a real and true thinker then he or she must truly believe that the Scriptures really do have authority. But that is not all. The belief must also extend to the necessity of a diligent study of the Scriptures. We must allow them to change our presuppositions and allow them to change what we believe about the core of our worldviews.
This is what happened with the Bereans. They were a community that believed one way about God until they took a fresh look at their authoritative text and allowed it to change them and change the core foundations of their entire worldview.
So, will we think? It takes work. It takes effort. It takes a willingness to hear the authoritative texts of our community, which are the very words of God, himself.
ACTIVITY OR EXPERIENCE?
Rick Devos asked a simple question during his presentation at TEDxDetroit: When you plan an event are you thinking about activity or experience? This is a profound question. One that I think those of who are in the church need to think deeply about. We must ask ourselves what we are calling one another too.
I think that often times we are asking and calling people to activities.
“Come and do…”
“Bring your friend to…”
What if this became…
“Hey I am a part of…”
“Do you want to join me in…”
One set of phrases represents activities, the other an experience. Jesus is not something we do. Church is not something we do. Recently I have found myself saying, “We do church…” or “How do you do church…” These kinds of statements are meaningless. We can’t “do” church any more than I can “do” human being.
It’s interesting this kind of language is typically reserved for those who are impersonators, like this:
Man, Hartman “does” a good Sinatra! But, he’ not the real thing. He’s an impersonator. He’s faking it. He’s doing his best but it’s not real.
I think that when we try to “do” church we are the same, simple impersonators who are doing best but not the real thing.
We need to think about the experience. How can we invite people into an experience where they come face to face with the body of Christ and its head, Jesus? This question is imperative for us to answer. Is it through fog machines and video? Is it done through a high church liturgy? Maybe on both. Maybe not on both.
It seems to me that it might be in the people. When we gather for worship are we looking at ourselves and our needs or are we looking to interact and engage with the God of the universe? Are we inviting people into his presence or to our building?
I would love to know what you think it means to think about experience versus activity in this context. Comment like crazy and let’s discuss…
DETROIT, MAY YOU BE A PHOENIX
The Phoenix is a mythical beast which lives and dies by burning itself into a heap of ashes. From the ashes rises the next generation Phoenix. I look around at the Detroit Metropolitan area and realize that we have become a heap of ashes.
The fire began to blaze in 1968 with the riots. From that moment on the death spiral had begun. The fire is out. We are but a pile of ash. The question now becomes what will happen with this pile of ash? Will we be blown away by the wind never again to breathe the breath of life? Or, just maybe, will we rise like a Phoenix from the ashes?
I have hope that we will rise.
In the last 24 hours I have been a part of two significant events in our city. On Wednesday, September 29 I participated in TEDxDetroit and on Thursday, September 30 I participated in EACH. These two gatherings were very different and very much the same. Both of them are seeking to transform a city which has become an icon of failure.
TEDxDetroit is a gathering of innovators, thinkers, doers, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and catalysts. EACH is a gathering of pastors. TED is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-everything; EACH crossed racial, economic, urban, and suburban. TED made a call to the people of this city to act and do and be creative to transform this place. EACH made a call to the people of this city to act and do and be creative to transform this place.
This may be a historic time that is coming to the city of Detroit.
From both I left with the same question: Will anyone really act?
I heard fine speeches and great visions and big dreams. I prayed. I worshipped. I thought. I reflected. I was challenged.
But will I act?
A Phoenix may rise but it will require us to act.
One of the greatest characters in film is Mini Me from the Austin Powers series. Now, granted for many of you reading this blog you are already offended just with the mere mention of that film series, sorry, but keep reading it might come full circle (maybe). Have you ever wondered how Mini Me relates to Jesus? No? Hmm…
This Sunday I was talking with a group of people about the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is a pretty cool thing. It was a fold up Temple that the people of God were able to take with them anywhere they went. It was a kind of holy Winnebago or something. Here’s a picture compliments of the ESV Study Bible:
It was a pretty remarkable thing. It was over this tent that a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night hovered declaring that God was present in their midst. That’s pretty remarkable! Of course, it didn’t take long before this became totally ho-hum to the people of God (don’t believe me? Check out Numbers 25). Anyway, the Tabernacle became the Temple and then something happened, Jesus of Nazareth showed up and said that he was going to replace the Temple (read John, all of it).
It gets better. Jesus, this God-man, right before he died told his followers that it would be better for them that he leaves and sends them the “Comforter”, popularly known as the Holy Spirit. Why was this better?
It’s better because now we can all be Mini Mes. That’s right. The Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation and the agent of sanctification. That’s a ten dollar sentence to say that the Holy Spirit brings you to God and changes you to be more like God. Anyone who claims to follow Jesus is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, he is at work in you. He is changing you. He is making you into a “Mini Me” of Jesus. Alan and Debra Hirsch talk about the reality that the Church is to be “Little Jesuses”.
If we are Little Jesuses then we must take seriously the call of Jesus and the inner working of the Holy Spirit. It means that we must go where Jesus goes and love what Jesus loves.
How do we know if we are taking these steps? How do we know if we are becoming like Jesus? Well Paul gives us some help in Galatians 5:
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard — things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (Galatians 5:22–23, The Message)
So what kind of Mini Me are you?
HEY, HEY HOCKEYTOWN!
The Lions are 0–3, the Tigers are out of the playoffs, U of M is undefeated but it looks like they probably won’t win a Big Ten game, that can only mean one thing: Hockey. That’s right we are ten days away from the start of the NHL and most importantly the Red Wings. Last season was frustrating. But, in the end it was great.
It was great because…
- We found out that Jimmy Howard is the real deal.
- We found out that guys like Eaves, Miller, and Abdelkader can play with the big boys.
- We found out that Mike Babcock is a ridiculously good coach.
- We found out that the Swedes have heart.
- We found out that the leadership on this team will take them a long way.
- Hudler found out that he needed the Red Wings.
- Mike Modano didn’t win a Cup and will go for one here in Detroit.
- The Blackhawks won their championship and a real original six rivalry was reborn.
- The Penguins didn’t win the championship.
- It made us as fans thankful for the nearly 20 years of amazing hockey we have seen in the D.
The boys from Grand Rapids grew into men last year. The Wings have FIVE NHL caliber offensive lines. They are deep. They are hungry. They are fast.
The big questions I have:
- Can Franzen stay healthy?
- Will Kronwall become the defenseman everyone else know he can become?
- Will Datsyuk and Zetterberg each score 30+ goals?
- Will Modano set up the Happy Hudler for 20+ goals?
If these things happen then there will be a parade in the D and it will be Mayor Bing’s turn to buy the Vernors and Coneys!
DO YOU HEAR WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR?
Pew Research posted a recent study looking at how people’s religion effects their understanding of various social issues. What I found interesting is that on many issues even though people hear their pastor speak on issues it does not effect the way they think about them.
I think this study highlights a significant shift within the religious community. This shift points to the reality that people are looking elsewhere for wisdom. This is especially highlighted in issues where television political pundits have the loudest voices. The leaders of religious communities cannot compete with the 24 hour news cycle and the reruns of hour long editorial commentary that is played off as “fact”.
Continually, pastor friends of mine, are finding that people hear what they want. They don’t take into account the full picture. The Bible or the pastor are minor voices in a large conversation. I think that in many ways we could say that our politics are shaping our theology.
When this happens the faith community necessarily finds itself on shaky ground. The kingdom of God is a subversive kingdom which requires a radical reorientation of one’s view of the world. If the faith community is being transformed primarily through outside forces then it ceases to be the subversive community of Jesus but something else.
WEDNESDAYS ARE WRIGHT (AND SOMETIMES THURSDAY): AUTHORITY
As I read this text, I am writing and responding. You are getting my fresh thoughts, ones which are rather raw. So, hopefully, this means that we will end up in conversation where we can interact over them and flesh it out a bit. Up to this point I have been wrestling with how Wright was going to answer the Authority question.
He does so by arguing for the necessity of theology in understanding the New Testament (and really any historical work) due to theology’s central role in world view. This then leads him into the question of authority which he answers this way:
“I am proposing a notion of ‘authority’…vested…in the creator god himself, and this god’s story with the world, seen as focused on the story of Israel and thence on the story of Jesus, as told and retold in the Old and New Testaments, and as still requiring completion. (143)”
Now that is a statement. I am not sure if I am yet fully grasping the huge paradigmatic shift that Wright is arguing for here. Typically authority is based on the ontological reality that the bible contains the words of God and therefore is authoritative. However, because Wright is not starting with the assumption that the Christian ‘god’ is THE ‘god’ (it is this fact that Wright is seeking to prove) so he cannot begin with an ontological basis for authority. He must get there in another way. This he does by arguing that the story being told is authoritative because of the fact that it is indeed TOLD!
This seems to me to be a very interesting approach as it opens the door to conversation with those for whom the idea of a ‘god’ is ridiculous and certainly an authoritative text about this ‘god’ is even more silly. However, if we begin with the reality that worldviews actually connect to reality and that the story held within the confines of the Old and New Testaments actually seeks to relate reality then we can engage on issues of veracity, or as Wright puts it, validation.
To be sure this feels like a leap to me. However, I wonder is this really a semantic game? What I mean is this: Is there actually any difference in Wright’s formulation of authority versus that of, say, the Westminster Confession? What say you?
WEDNESDAYS ARE WRIGHT: NARRATIVE, STORY, HISTORY
As I continue to work through The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright, I was struck by this statement: “history…is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions.(82)” Wright is arguing that history is not simply the subjective interpretation of events and ideas. It is however, connected to a reality outside itself and is a process by which those events are placed within a grander meta-narrative. He argues against the postmodern emphasis and focus on the centrality of the reader that disconnects texts from their historical setting.
This I think is very helpful. Primarily because he draws out the fundamental flaw in our current cultural milieu. Which is this disconnect from the fact that things do actually happen apart from someone writing them down.
The other thing that I think is key in his definition is that it points to “intentions”. The intention of an author is something that many in our world today argue against being a possible end. However, it seems that Wright wants to argue that we have access to intent. If this is the case then we can begin to grapple with the statements of the text that seek to subvert us.
In my previous post I asked the question, “where do we find authority?” I think that if we can find intent then we can have grounds for building authority. Apart from this, it will be difficult to do so.
So, do you think we have access to intent? Or is all this a bunch of hot air?
LEAD, LEAD, LEAD…
Yesterday I committed myself to watching The NINES leadership conference. I set up the laptop with the projector and big screen and kicked back in our youth room. I was impressed with the variety of speakers and the depth of insight that was being presented. I was less than surprised by some of the poor exegesis. I was able to invest in about half the conference.
For those of you who don’t know how the The NINES works it’s a single day web conference where speakers discuss a single topic. This year they got 6 minutes. So, over the course of the nine hours there were over 100 videos. The pace is fast and a couple fo hours disappear before you know it. This year’s topic was “Game Changers”.
There were two highlights for me as a developing leader that I am going to continue chewing on. The first was from Mike Slaughter. He discussed the centrality of discipleship in his ministry. What really caught me was when he said, “Programs and services do not produce disciples, disciples do.” Now, this is not new information. But, it was one of those reminders that as a pastor/shepherd my calling is to disciple making. It is not to entertaining or building a social club. The ramifications of this are still swirling in my head.
The second talk that has stuck was from Eric Geiger. He discussed the role of the pastor. He argued that the typical church structure is:
[Pastor] — ->Minister — –>[People]
He then turned to Ephesians 4:11–12 and made the case that the biblical model is:
[Pastor] — –>Prepare — –[People] — –>Minister
This ties directly into the discipleship issue. While I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ I think I was a pretty effective discipler. The movements that I served developed high student ownership and our staff teams were diligent about preparing people to do ministry. There was a clear DNA that we sought to replicate within each student. I think that this has been the hardest part of the transition into the local church. Our DNA is not as clear, the folks who have been entrusted to us are not as available, the expectations on the role of pastor is very different because the people have expectations!
This morning as I process I am wondering how do we effectively disciple in the modern world?
WHERE DO WE GO?
My good friend Damon Reiss and I will be spending some time reading and writing together on the issues raised in N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God. This text is the first in a five part series that Wright is doing on “Christian Origins and the Question of God”. Wright is understood to be the leading spokesman for the “New Perspective on Paul” and is embraced by many in the “emerging church” as their key theologian (oddly enough he does not really fit there). He has recently stepped out of pastoral ministry to engage full-time in the academy.
I think my hope for these series of posts is to:
- Stimulate our own thinking about root theological issues.
- To encourage one another.
- To challenge you, the reader, to grab a text, follow along, and engage in the conversation.
The majority of the opening sections are filled with methodology. For some this is dense and feels somewhat pointless. However, let me suggest a couple of thoughts as to the inherent goodness of clearly stating one’s method:
- It provides a common language and framework to evaluate for intellectual integrity.
- It provides a look into the assumptions of the work and allows for dialogue at the root level of one’s argument.
The key to understanding Wright’s method is to understand the problem that he finds all of us bumping into in our post-modern world, he writes, “We must try to combine the pre-modern emphasis on the text as in some sense authoritative, the modern emphasis on the text (and Christianity itself) as irreducibly integrated into history, and irreducibly involved with theology, and the post-modern emphasis on the reading of the text. (27)”
This first volume, Wright insists, “argues for a particular way of doing history, theology, and literary study in relation to the questions of the first century; it argues for a particular way of understanding first-century Judaism and first-century Christianity; and it offers a preliminary discussion of the meaning of the word ‘god’ within the thought-forms of these groups, and the ways in which such historical and theological study might be of relevance to the modern world.(28)”
The approach that Wright argues for is what he terms “critical realism”. This approach is contrasted to the positivist and the phenomenalist.
Positivist: simply looks at the objective reality, tests it, if it doesn’t work its nonsense.
[caption id=“attachment_1067” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 35”]
Phenomenalist: I seem to have evidence of an external reality, but I am really only sure of my sense-data.
[caption id=“attachment_1068” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 36”]
Critical Realist: initial observation, challenged by critical reflection, but can survive the challenge and speak truly of reality.
[caption id=“attachment_1069” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 36”]
Wright’s “critical realism” seeks to survive challenges through what he terms as “verification”. This method has some similarity to the “scientific method” of hypothesis, test, evaluate, etc…However, the difference being that it is tested within the context of worldview. The assumption is that each person has a worldview and seeks to make information “fit” into that worldview. As Wright says, “…there is no such thing as the detached observer. (36)” Therefore, knowledge and understanding comes through the process of “question, hypothesis, test hypothesis” in the context of story-telling which is the fundamental means by which humanity shares information.
[caption id=“attachment_1070” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 44”]
I think that Wright’s approach is very helpful. There are two reasons I find this helpful:
- It provides for authorial intent because it forces us to take seriously the story/narrative of the original context.
- It provides for contemporary reading because we are forced to take our own context seriously.
The question that remains for me though is this: what determines the authority by which we modify our stories? What do you think? How and where do we give authority to change the stories? What is the basis of authority? Is it possible to find authority outside ourselves and if so on what basis do we argue for that?
WE LOVE DETROIT. AN OPEN LETTER TO DAN SHAUGNESSY
In a recent edition of the Boston Globe you had this to say about Detroit:
Think about it: For the next five weeks, you could live in downtown Boston and your wife could shop on Newbury Street. Or you could live in downtown Detroit, amid the boarded-up buildings and the proverbial skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. Is this really a tough call?
I would like to commend you on your lack of research. You seem to be looking at pictures from 1968 in the immediate after math of the riots. Do you still think there is a gunman on the campus of Kent State University? Or maybe you believe that the “British are Coming”?
Of course maybe you are upset that President John F. Kennedy had this to say about Detroit:
I don’t know what your issue is. I don’t really know why you feel like you have to chastise a proud city. I would invite you to come and see what Detroit is all about. Oddly enough I have not seen a burned out Chevrolet anywhere. From Midtown to Greektown to Downtown all I find are great restaurants, bars, world class hospitals, a world class university, and three great sports franchises.
When one determines to include the metropolitan area we find that on a weekend in the fall 110,000 people jam into U of M staduim, 70,000 at MSU, 20,000 for a Wings game, 20,000 for a Pistons game, 35,000 for a Tigers game, and 60,000 for Lions game.
Detroit is proud city with good people. We are a collection of urban and suburban working together for a great future. I suggest, sir, that you come visit before you write about our home again.
PS — Thanks to Dave Mieksztyn for the following links that you might find interesting:
http://500coolthings.com/ (from the boys at Professional One)
I AM PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN…
[caption id=“attachment_1048” align=“alignleft” width=“239” caption=“Hilarious!”]
…where atleast I know I can buy, whatever I want, when I want it, and nobody can stop me.
There are few lasting images in my mind like that of September 11, 2001 and the days that followed. I remember where I was when I found out the World Trade Center had been attacked. I remember sitting and praying with a team of missionaries in my home for the families, the world, and our country. I remember looking at my son who was a few months old thinking what was his life going to be like?
Then it happened, the President of the United States finally spoke. He told us that the terrorists would not win. He told us that we can stand up to these people and fight! He told us to do that we must…we must…GO SHOPPING! Fill the malls and buy stuff, show them that they can’t take away your lives!
In that moment, I thought, “Yes! That’s right we must go on.” Upon nearly a decade of reflection I am becoming more and more distressed by this statement. What distresses me is the fact that it is emblematic of the broken culture within which we live in the West. We are fundamentally consumers. To go shopping and buy whatever we want is our highest freedom. It is what drives us.
Missional discipleship necessarily conflicts with this. Consider this passage from Jesus’ teaching,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
(Matthew 5:3–11 ESV)
This is not the teaching of a consumerist. This is the teaching of a man who would end up being crucified in any era, any time, and any place. Missional discipleship requires us to take a hard look at the culture around us and begin to understand how WE are being manipulated by a broken world.
So many who call themselves “Christian” are more interested in the spiritual wares that a church is offering than serving in the church. “Churches” become a clearing house for a shallow spirituality that is designed to attract and lure as opposed to forming the followers of Jesus spiritually. They become analogous to the the fishing lure. It is pretty and attractive and the fish can’t help but take a bite in doing so it finds itself hooked without substance.
Eugene Peterson in “Tell it Slant” says that this approach is similar to narcotics. You can not live on narcotics yet it is all you want.
“If Christianity simply mirrors its culture, what is the point of its mission? (Untamed, 109)”
If we are serious about discipleship we must set aside the trappings of the consumerism that surrounds us and embrace the covenantal communitas of the living God.
Are you a consumer or a member of community?
Is it all about you or another?
Are you asking “what’s in it for me” or “what can I offer”?
I BELIEVE IN THE SPIRIT! WELL SORT OF.
In my experience the evangelical church has a bit of an integrity problem. No, I am not talking about the issues that just popped in your head. I am talking about the Holy Spirit. The last time I checked he was still part of the Godhead, you know the Triune God we Christians believe in? Yeah that guy. Our creeds give him second billing. In seminary our professors tack him on at the end of a course and seemingly never get to him. Yet, it is because of him that Jesus said it was better for us that he return to heaven and be with the Father.
It is to the person of the Holy Spirit that we now turn in our quest for missional discipleship as outlined for us in “Untamed” by Alan and Debra Hirsch.
The Hirsch’s spend much time discussing the abuses and problems surrounding our understanding of the Spirit and for that discussion I encourage you to read the book. I want us to focus on the heart of the issue in the chapter which is the carrying out of holiness with the Holy Spirit.
First, there is a comment made that I think is worth repeating. Holiness is not a list of “don’ts” but of “dos”. This is imperative for us in discipleship. The Holy Spirit is not a cosmic kill joy but one who spurs us to creativity, joy, passion, and mission. He also leads us into truth and reminds us of all that Jesus taught.
How does this translate into missional discipleship? Check it out…
Let there be creativity: The Holy Spirit is the Creator, and he lives in us. The on who created the platypus can surely stir our hearts and minds to creative action.
Let there be risky mission: The Hirsch’s remind us that God is a sending God. He sent the Son and the Spirit. He has also sent the church. The Spirit of God is leading us on the Mission of God. Will we boldly and faithfully follow?
Let there be communitas: Community without mission is a social gathering. Communitas is developed around a mission. Is your community on mission? If not, then you don’t have communitas and you might be missing out on what the Holy Spirit is doing in your midst.
Let there be lots of little Jesuses: The process of discipleship is to become like our rabbi, Jesus. If we are not looking more and more like him and there are not lots of “little Jesuses” running around then we are missing the work of the Spirit in our lives.
Let there be love: Romans 5:5, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” To love well means that we are in step with the Spirit.
Let there be learning community: The Spirit of God leads us into all truth. We can pursue a quest for knowledge and knowing and ought to because of our relationship with the Spirit.
Let there be some miracles: Embrace the miracles of God that happen and let it be OK to do so. We can set aside our enlightenment rationalism and rejoice in the working of God.
Let there be spiritual maturity: The Spirit is the means of spiritual growth, he brings us toward spiritual maturity, as we keep in step with him, we will see this growth.
Let there be a lot more discernment: To engage in the mission of God requires us to be in step with the Spirit so that we can discern between Spirit-led engagement and foolish absorption into the world.
Let there be unity around Jesus: I think this makes sense on its own.
Let there be ecstasy and intimacy: I have been reading some in the life of Abraham Lincoln and his counterparts. I am noticing that there is a great sweep of emotion and intimacy in their writings. This is largely lacking from our communities today. If we are in step with the Spirit then we will begin to experience this more and more.
Let there be liberation and transformation: As we engage more fully with the Spirit we will experience his transforming power in our lives and in the lives around us. This will be demonstrated through our being freed from the sin that entangles.
So, which of these do you question? Doubt? Struggle with?
YOUR IMAGE OR MINE?
“If God is not the defining center of our faith, life, and identity, then who or what is? (58)” Now there is a question. The Hirsch’s continue to challenge our thinking in relation to the center of our faith in chapter 2 of “Untamed”. There is nothing more central to who we are than what we worship.
Missional Discipleship, at its core, is about worship.
Worship at its core is about the person or object worshiped.
If we get this wrong then we get it all wrong. The Crusader, the jihadist, the cult leader all do evil because their worship is wrongly placed.
So, how do we know if we are worshiping rightly? The answer, Israel’s Shema:
““Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
(Deuteronomy 6:4–5 ESV)
This is the compass by which we set our heading in discipleship because it points us towards the reality and truth of who God is and what God has called us to do. Jesus said it this way,
“Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.””
(Mark 12:29–31 ESV)
Notice his expansion to love your neighbor. If you love God, then you will love your neighbor. It is a simple cause and effect relationship. If you do not love your neighbor, then you do not love God. I think that this modern re-telling of the “Good Samaritan” proves helpful here.
The Hirsch’s argue that this place of “biblical knowing” comes when right thinking, right acting, and right feeling intersect. The process of getting us to this point is the task of discipleship.
The issue at stake here remember is worship. The Hirsch’s define it this way, “offering our whole world back to God. (76)” If our lives are not becoming to a greater degree more and more unified under the living God then we are not worshiping.
My challenge for each of us is to take stock here. Where are you disunified under God in your life? In what ways are you creating God in your image? Where are you missing in the areas of right acting, right thinking, and right feeling?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments…
IS YOUR JEBUS ‘UNTAMED’?
Last week I spent some time reading Alan and Debra Hirsch’s newest offering, Untamed. It was so worthwhile that I thought I would take a few days to post a summary of each chapter. While there is nothing necessarily “new” in the book it is a really well done text that brings classic missional discipleship into an updated and fresh rendering.
We begin with our view of Jesus. The argument that is posited is simple, “Show us your Jesus and we will show you who you are (38).” This is key to our understanding who God is. This is why the Hirsches argue that the foundation of discipleship is Jesus. To know God is to know Jesus. In any way that our picture of Jesus fails so too does our image of God.
I think that Alan and Deb illustrate this well by asking this simple and yet profound question, “If we had a properly Jewish picture of Jesus would the holocaust have happened? (39)”
Let that question run around in your mind a moment. Is it possible that had the world rightly pictured Jesus as a Jew and not as a European could it be that the holocaust could have been avoided?
We must ask this question, do we believe in the Jesus of the Bible or do we believe in a created Jebus of our own imagination?
This is critical for the task of discipleship because it is Jesus who sets the entire spiritual agenda for his follower. Before continuing in your read, I would encourage to take a moment and consider, who is your Jesus?
Now we must determine what our agenda for discipleship is. Quite simply it is the pursuit of holiness. This pursuit of holiness is different from what we typically understand. Consider the fact that when Jesus was teaching there was a group of very holy people, the Pharisees. They had cornered the market on holiness, they had all the rules and all the ways to make sure you could stay close God. However, the people feared them and their religion.
Then this Jesus comes around and his brand of holiness is attracted people, and not just average people, but SINNERS. Yes, his holiness attracted SINNERS, the very people who the Pharisees, those hard hearted harbingers of holiness, despised and avoided. This holy Jesus was accused of being a drunk and a glutton. His brand of holiness is clearly stated in Matthew 5–7, that great sermon on the mount.
Do you hold to the radical and untamed holiness that Jesus espouses in the sermon?
What is astounding is that this holiness is based within the context of love, grace, and mercy and yet a radical standard that transcends anything that most of us would consider doable.
The first task of missional discipleship: right our view of Jesus.
The second task of mission discipleship: embrace the sermon on the mount as our agenda.
UNITY, LIBERTY, AND CHARITY
I am really enjoying the ideas that are being put forth as part of the Big Tent synchroblog. I think that one of the things I am noticing is that there continues to be one thing lacking in all of our posts, a center. It seems that each of us would say “Jesus” is the center. But, which Jesus? Alan and Deb Hirsch in their text Untamed do a great job of pointing out that our understanding of who Jesus is determines what we believe about God. It is here that I think we find either our center or the point at which the Big Tent falls.
For us to truly be a Big Tent we must find the good and the redemptive in each of the positions that are being voiced. There are too many voices that make it feel as though to enter the tent you must set aside your tradition and set aside your understanding of the faith. Yet, this not the way that the first Big Tent worked itself out. We must realize that we are blazing new ground. We are simply rehashing the same issues that have faced the church since the beginning: What do we make of the stranger? For the first century church this had everything to do with what to do with the Gentile convert.
The answer was: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 ESV)“ Paul was simply admonished to “remember the poor”, which was the very thing he sought to do. The table was opened. There was freedom to approach God as male and female, Jew and Gentile, and so forth. Today we are still free to approach our God as fundamentalist, neo-reformed, reformed, orthodox, liberal, neo-liberal, emergent, etc… The question is will we embrace a consistent picture of Jesus?
I would suggest that this is the pen-ultimate question. Who is Jesus? Can we agree on an answer? Is it possible to listen to one another’s perspectives and find the baby in the bath water in each?
I appreciate the motto of the tradition that I belong to, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
Of course this requires a definition of what is essential. The bigger the tent the larger the stakes required to secure that tent and keep it up. Here’s my minimal effort at a “Big Tent” list of essentials:
- Jesus is the real representation of God and in him alone we find the clearest expression of who God is.
- The atonement in all its facets is central to our understanding of identity and mission for the follower of Jesus.
- The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the essential grounds for our knowledge of Jesus and his way.
- The mission of the Church is to follow Jesus as king in his kingdom building movement in all of its ramifications.
Personally, I ascribe to the Westminster Confession with a couple of exceptions. I also prefer the slightly more robust essentials statement of the EPC. However, I think those four statements might allow for a symphony of harmonious voices to engage together.
What say you? What are the essentials for a Big Tent Christianity?
SCATTERED, GATHERED, AND BEAUTIFUL
This my third post for the Big Tent Synchroblog dealing with these questions: What are your hopes and dreams for the Church? More specifically, what does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? And what does it look like in your context?
I want to deal with the first question: What are your hopes and dreams for the Church? In my first post I dealt with a definition of the church ( group of people who communing together in the midst of being on mission with Jesus). So, here’s how I see that playing out in my hopes and dreams.
I dream about a church that is scattered all over a city, town, or suburb in small, intimate groups that are keenly aware of the needs, heart cry, and passion of their surroundings. These small gatherings would each have an embedded DNA of mission, compassion, and kingdom. These gatherings would be outward looking always seeking to broaden their definition of family by inviting the stranger into their midst. They would gather around a common table fellowshipping together and worshiping through prayer and the word.
These who are scattered would come together each week and celebrate all that God is doing in their midst. Stories would be shared and the DNA of mission and kingdom reinforced through the preaching of the authoritative Scriptures. The church would be diverse in as much as the communities which are represented in it are diverse.
I dream about there being a revolutionary effect because the mission grows the kingdom and the pursuit of the King is relentless. Care and concern for the local would drive a vision for the global. The creation would be cared for through a reconnection to local food sources that would require the local culture to be sustainable for its own sake.
The Church would grow in scope as it scatters further and further birthing new celebratory gatherings and so on and so on. The very nature of DNA requires multiplication and diversity. When it becomes static and loses its diversity then mutations and problems occur.
For the church to be the beautiful bride of Christ it necessarily must be scattered, gathered, and multiplying.
BIG TENT OR SINGLE ISSUE?
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am on a study leave this week and a big part of that is preparing for the year that is to come. I am enjoying the time to think and plan. The Big Tent Synchroblog has been stimulating some of my thinking and has been a welcome distraction to punctuate my work chunks.
My initial response to the blogs is that there seems to be a couple of main issues surfacing in the conversation. What are these issues you ask? It’s the issue of human sexuality. Chad Holtz, and Rachel Held Evans are good examples.The other issue is that of what do we do with those who disagree with us. David Adams, Greg Bolt, Julie Clawson are good representatives of this side of the coin.
As I think about these two sides of the same coin I begin to wonder if we are missing the key issues that are potentially at stake in this conversation. While we talk about enlarging our tent, I think we are missing the key issue, as Scott Frederickson helpfully points out, taking our tables out of the tent.
I am growing more and more convinced that as we authentically engage in the lives of people we will change our understanding of the way we understand “who” can belong. People with real relationships with the homeless easily include them in the community. People with real relationships with homosexuals easily include them in the community. People with real relationships with heterosexually broken people easily include them in the community. The list could go on…
The issue that continues to rise to the forefront of my mind is this: Who we know determines who we love. The unknown creates fear. To broaden the “tent” we must broaden our relationships. As we broaden our relationships we will constantly have to return to the question of grace and what it means to embrace those who “live in a broken world with broken relationships and bad records”.
Check out the blogs and let me know what you think…
I hope that as the week continues we will see conversations move from our personal “hot button issues” to grand visions of a unified body of Jesus.
BIG TENT CHRISTIANITY 1
So, I am a day late to the Big Tent Christiaity Synchroblog. Here is the theme that we will be discussing this week: What are your hopes and dreams for the Church? More specifically, what does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? And what does it look like in your context? Oddly enough I am in the midst of a study leave this week and one of the questions my counter part in ministry asked me to wrestle with was, “What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?” Brilliant!
What are your hopes and dreams for the church?
I think that before I can answer that question I need to ask a more fundamental question. What is the church? There are so many definitions running around that it’s hard to keep up. It used to be (back in the 50s in America) that the “church” was simply those folks who showed up and sat in their pew on a Sunday morning. Now we have “communities” and “networks” and “friends” and “who knows what else”. So, I don’t think I can express my dreams for the church until I can have some working definition of what the “church” really is.
I want to follow most of those before me and say that the church is broken up into two large parts, the church visible and the church invisible or universal. I hold to a robust sovereignty of God and so I leave the latter to mystery, I am more concerned with the former. The definition that I want to posit for the “church” is a group of people who communing together in the midst of being on mission with Jesus.
So, let’s break that down. “A group of people”: this is necessary because following Jesus does not call people to be alone on mission. He calls them to be a part of his body, family, and bride. I think you can get a good sense of this from this clip:
The body of Christ ought be a collection of people of who speak with one voice because they are centered on one man and pursuing the same mission.
“Communing together”. Alan Hirsch calls this “Communitas”. Whatever you want to call it, I think that the church must go beyond community to communing. This is the active lived life of a group of people together. They are engaged with one another sharing the mission, life, and life of Jesus. They are practicing the sacraments together (communion and baptism). This is a group of people who worship around a common table and as they commune with Jesus through the Spirit they find themselves drawn to one another.
“ In the midst of being on mission with Jesus”. A group of people doing “community” does not the church make. They must be on mission with Jesus. There is no other mission that they are to be on. They are to be on Jesus’ mission. This means that they are glocally concerned with living revolutionary lives calling those around them into this mission. It is interesting that Jesus’ invitation was always to follow him. This following was at its core an invitation to join him in his mission.
So, that’s my definition. What do you think? Later, I will post some comments on the other blogs in the discussion. Tomorrow, I will write about my dream for the church.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
[caption id=“attachment_983” align=“alignleft” width=“288” caption=“I love that saying!”]
I have been conspicuously absent in writing recently. This is partly due to a technical glitch when the most recent Wordpress version was installed (which broke me of the writing habit), this is partly due to a season of busyness, and this is partly due to a new season of learning. I want to finish my posts on youth theology and will hopefully soon. However, I am wrestling through some things in my relationship with the Maker and as a result, silence.
Something is coming but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s a weird season. Bear with me and hopefully when clarity comes you will be there with me.
TURN. TURN. TURN. NO, NOT THAT SONG.
In Matthew 18:3 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The word for turn is straphēte. The idea here is “to experience an inward change, turn, change (BDAG)”. Jesus is not calling them to “repent”, in Matthew that idea is expressed by the word, metanoeō. However, he is calling them to change. They must “turn”. The disciples must experience an inward change. From the inside out they must become something different.
Consider where we are in the life and ministry and Jesus. We are near the end. Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem, he is going to be sacrificed. These disciples were a group of men who were about have their lives changed dramatically. They are concerned who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom and Jesus calls them to change.
They are still proud, arrogant, and haughty. They refuse to ask for help. The disciples believe that they know it all. There is not an answer they don’t know other than “who is the greatest”. They sounds like typical adolescents. These teenagers had become so caught up in themselves that Jesus called them to change.
I think that the issue becomes more clear when we look at verse 4, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” There is a juxtaposition between the disciples question of “greatness” over and against the “humility” of the child. To get there one has to have an inward change.
Jesus simply calls them to turn. Turn to away from themselves to humility.
This is the beauty of Jesus’ call turn. It is never empty. It is always to something. To act in humility, to be humble is a state of heart and soul. Most children I know are humble. They ask for help. They ask “why”. They know that they don’t know. They are interested but rarely self-interested.
I think we must all face this call to “turn”. I know I do. How about you? In what ways do you need to turn?
KIDS ARE ANNOYING, SNIVELING, LITTLE…OR THEOLOGY OF YOUTH PT. 1
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
(Matthew 18:1–6 ESV)
In our churches today children and youth are the silent ones. They are dropped off in their wings of a church for two hours so Mom and Dad can “worship in peace”. The harried teachers are expected to form these young spiritually to make them into mature Christians. Why? I think it is because we do not have a comprehensive understanding of youth and children from a scriptural stand point.
Let’s consider this statement by Jesus (the “founder and perfecter of our faith”) from Matthew 18. This is one of those passages that should cause to stop and think about things for a moment. In the first century children were treated similarly to ours only without the cool cartoon characters and ping pong tables. They were largely considered an inconvenience until they could be productive adults in the synagogue and society.
Jesus says that one who has become like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What does this mean? I think that we have a hard time understanding this because we push our kids to the fringes of our communities of worship. I love the fact that the Presbyterian tradition includes infant baptism because it drives home the reality that children are participatory members of the community of faith. While this is what we ought to be embracing, we do not. We are going to have a hard time knowing and understanding what it means to be a child in the kingdom when we do not worship with them.
A child asks questions, incessantly. A child laughs when things are funny. A child laughs when things are inappropriate. A child can not sit still. A child finds mystery, wonder, and awe in the smallest of things (just watch one looking at the dust particles in a ray of sunlight sometime). A child believes their dad when he tells them something. A child loves the outsider. A child trusts. A child has fun. A child dances to the beat. A child loves to read. A child loves.
Unfortunately these things about children annoy us. We find them disruptive. “A child is to be seen not heard.“
It gets worse, they get pimples and hormones. They get attitudes and they question everything. They seek for identity and authenticity. They no longer take simple answers to complex questions. They grow and change and develop. They look weird. They have awkward stages.
Unfortunately these things about growing children annoy us. We find them disruptive.
Jesus is the great subversive. He graciously embraces the fringes and broken. Those without identity he shows them who they are. So, the question is will you embrace the child?
Our next post will focus on one word: “turn”.
THEOLOGY OF YOUTH
Whitney said, “I believe the children our future…” I think that song begins to run through the minds and hearts of people when they begin to hear people talk about children or youth in the church. They immediately think “future”. Oddly enough many of us ignore the second line, “Teach them well and let them lead the way.” What would happen if the children led the way?
I think that we might play more. I think that we might laugh more. I think that we might collapse at the end of each day in joyful exhaustion more often. I think that we might smile more.
It is interesting is it not that we as the Christian church have largely removed leadership from the hands of the young. Is it not also interesting that the great revivals in the history of the church have often been led by the young? Do we wonder why we have not seen a great revival in this generation? Could it be that our understanding of the role of children and youth has become anemic?
I am going to take a couple of posts to walk through the references in Matthew 18, 19 (and parallels) and Proverbs 22 to children with the goal of developing some type of “Theology of Youth”. What role do they play in the community of faith? What kind of leadership should we give to them? What does is it look like to embrace children and youth in the context of the church community?
REVIEW: JESUS MANIFESTO BY LEONARD SWEET AND FRANK VIOLA
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=danielmroseco-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&asins=0849946018 Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, published by Thomas Nelson. Jesus Manifesto brings Jesus to the front and center. Sweet and Viola seek to highlight Jesus’ sovereignty and supremacy. This is a great little text that is worth the read. I found it to be very devotional and it met its goal of bringing Jesus front and center. It is always good to be reminded of the centrality of Jesus to the life of the believer.
This not a book that wows you. There is nothing controversial or new. It is a book that you read and then you find yourself thinking about an illustration from it. It is a book you read and then find yourself mulling over some description of Jesus. It is a book you read and then find yourself quoting it to someone else in conversation.
The only thing that twinged me as a downside was from the introduction. The comment made there is, “So what is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. (xxii)” I agree that Jesus is central to the Christian. However, to say that Jesus is the full sum of the Christian faith is not exactly accurate. I would suggest that this be edited to highlighting his centrality. This statement by Sweet and Viola I think pushes down toward the problematic view of “me and Jesus” that is predominant in our post-modern world.
Overall: grab the book. It’s always worth the time remind ourselves how incredibly great Jesus is.
DUDE, THAT AIN’T COOL. OBJECTIONS ANSWERED.
It has been difficult to post recently as life and ministry have been very busy and margin continues to get swallowed up. However, writing is a necessary output for my own spiritual formation, so I am taking some steps to build this into my schedule. Thanks to all of you who have inquired as to the missing blog posts in your RSS feeds. It does my heart good to know that both of you are reading this blog.
Infant baptism has fallen by the wayside in much of evangelical Christianity. So, when you post about this topic you get some good conversation via tweets and different formats where some great questions are asked. I wanted to answer these objections and questions in a post.
- What about those kids who get baptized and don’t walk with God? That’s a very good question. I think that the first thing is to realize that God is on a different time frame than we are. Just because someone has not yet responded to the gospel does not mean they won’t. The sacrament is not a guarantee to faith. Infant baptism provides an opportunity for the people of God to walk along and trust him to save this child. This is about God not about us. Finally, the sacrament is also to show that the child of believing parents is a member of the covenantal community and that we can look forward in hope that they will publicly profess their faith. (This is edited, thanks to Laura who helped clarify some poor logic in the comments below.)
- I heard that infant baptism is believed to actually give salvation to the infant, is that true? This is true or false depending on your tradition. The two major divisions are catholic and protestant. The catholic understanding of the sacraments is very different than that of the protestant tradition. The catholic understanding of the sacraments is that they procure grace for you. The protestant understanding is that the sacraments are a means to experiencing grace. This means that in the protestant tradition salvation is not procured by infant baptism. It is an external promise that will some day become an internal reality. It is a marking that the children of believing parents are members of the covenant community of faith. In baptist traditions children are not part of the community of the church but are viewed as outsiders until they “make profession of faith”. This is in stark contrast to what we see in the Scriptures where children have always been included in the community of faith. So, infant baptism does not secure salvation but inclusion in the community of faith with the promise of future salvation.
- Should I get re-baptized now that I have trusted Christ and am no longer a part of a tradition that does infant baptism? I would say, “By no means!” Why? This is because the day you were baptized there was a promise made over you by God. He has made good on this promise. If you choose to re-baptize then you are saying that you do not care about the fact God has made good on his promise. I would argue that you should praise God for his faithfulness and rejoice with those around you about how God saved you and did so in covenantal faithfulness to you.
I am sure there are more objections. These are the one that seemed to come up the most. Please post others in the comments so that we can dialogue about them.
YOU DID WHAT TO YOUR BABY?
I remember the day well. It was a Friday night, November 2001, the night before Michigan was to play the evil Ohio State Buckeyes. Ethan, our firstborn, was reclining in the stroller and I was chatting it up with other college missionaries. Then it slipped (well it did not actually slip, I was waiting for just right the time), we had baptized Ethan, AS AN INFANT! It was pretty funny when almost everyone within about a 30 foot radius (maybe I said it a little louder than I anticipated) stopped talking and stared at me with a dumbfounded look. I think it might have been a world record for chins on the ground at one time.
In the world of parachurch ministries the idea of infant is relatively foreign. It is akin to saying that you are going to sew a third arm to your baby. Why? I think it’s because the dispensational and baptist movement has become quite pervasive in many parts of American Christendom. Presbyterianism, Methodism, Lutheranism, and other American denominations that practiced the historic sacrament of infant baptism moved toward liberalism and removed themselves from the public life of the church. Their conservative counterparts are small and as a result lost influence in the general Christian world.
This has resulted in a loss of covenantal theology and the biblical doctrine of infant baptism. This is one of the great tragedies that the church has faced. This loss is tragic is because it means that there is a loss of vision for the emerging generations. They have simply become a missionary object as opposed to valued members of the community who need to be discipled and cared for.
Why did we baptise our kids? We baptized them because they are members of the community of faith. We baptized them because we believe that God is going to draw them to himself. We baptized them because we believe that this promise is visionary for their life. We baptized them because we believe that the people of God are part of our family and that they have a responsibility to be a part of these kids lives.
LET’S GO SWIMMING, I PROMISE.
It’s been about two weeks since I last wrote. I have missed the discipline of writing and thinking but I simply have not had the margin to write. Tonight it is quiet and I have been thinking about baptism, covenant, and the blessing that God gives. To that I end I want to begin my series of posts on baptism with some discussion of covenant because I believe that it informs our understanding of baptism.
What is a covenant? This is a bad question. We are talking about covenant in a very specific sense and not in a general way. We are not talking about covenant between people and people or even god to god. No, we are talking about God covenanting with his people. So, what does this divine covenant look like? It is in its most basic understanding a suzerain treaty. You can read a fantastic description here.
What is unique about the divine covenant is that God’s covenant of grace is one way. He sets the requirements and meets the requirements in himself. In the covenant of works man was required to merit favor and ultimately failed. God was gracious and provided the Law to act as a guardian for his people (Galatians 3:24) until Christ came and fulfilled the conditions of the covenant of grace. He was the embodiment of the people of God and his faithfulness as our federal head is given to us.
So, there are two covenants. The covenant of grace and the covenant of works. Both are gracious in that they are implemented by God to provide a means for his people to have relationship with him. In Hebrews 7 and 8 we find that the people of God failed in their responsibility in the covenant of works but Christ was faithful in the covenant of grace.
Baptism then must be understood in light of this reality. A few of the questions that I want to explore in future posts are how does baptism function as a means of the covenant of grace? What are the effects of baptism? What is the role of baptism in the identity of formation fo the people of God?
COMMUNION AND FAITH
One day not very long ago my son and I were sitting in the gymnasanctatorium at our church readying for worship to begin. That particular morning was a communion sunday and the table was front and center and covered. For a 6 or 7 year old boy anything covered with a sheet is instantly mysterious and requires investigation.
“Dad, what’s under that sheet?”
“It’s when we celebrate Jesus dying on the cross and rising again.”
“Yeah, but what’s under the sheet?”
“Juice and crackers.”
“Really? Do I get some?”
“Because the juice and crackers are symbols for Jesus’ death and resurrection and the only people who get to eat them are those who believe in Jesus.”
“I believe in Jesus.”
“Well, you have to meet with Pastor Doug and talk to him about the fact that you believe in Jesus and what that means.”
“I can’t do that, I would be too scared.”
“Well, then you’re not ready for communion.”
And so began a conversation about Jesus that lasted a few months until Ethan was ready to proclaim his faith and take communion. It was a remarkable period of time. Communion is a means of grace. The very act of taking communion leads us to the place where we actually talk about what Jesus did. In our tradition we “fence” the table and encourage those who don’t know Christ to allow the elements to pass. This is purposeful. It opens the conversation.
Why use a tract alone when the table is set and ready?
WHEN’S A MEAL NOT A MEAL?
I am often times amazed at the fact that when the early followers of Christ came together they always gathered around a table. This table was where they would eat and enjoy the presence of one another and Jesus. It is remarkable when you think about the difference that most of us find ourselves in when we gather with other followers. Too often the discussion turns to an us versus them situation where we are worshiping our proper understanding of theology as opposed to the risen Christ.
What I love about the mystery of the Lord’s table is that it shapes us and reminds us of our in-Christness. When we fellowship at this table it is for the one who claims Jesus as Lord. When we gather the walls melt between us. We are caught up in the mystery and beauty of grace. We are found out to be sinners who need a savior and we are found to be a part of a community of forgiven saints.
The table reminds us of our identity, of who we actually are. Consider the words that St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26,
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
How does these brief words of institution shape us?
- They remind us that Jesus suffered (he was betrayed and his body was broken).
- They remind us that Jesus suffered for us (his was for us).
- They remind us that Jesus offered a new covenant (one of grace, mercy, and forgiveness).
- They remind us that Jesus calls to a proclamation of his death.
Consider communities of people in the way of following Christ who grabbed hold of these truths and lived them daily? What would that look like? How might that bring transformation to themselves (1–3) and those near them (4)?
The supper reminds us that we are a people who for whom one suffered, died, offers a new way, and sends us to invite others in. This is us. This is a piece of what it means to be in-Christ.
When is a meal not a meal? When it’s a transformer.
The first Sunday of every month is our community’s traditional time to celebrate the Lord’s Table. It probably looks like any other communion celebration, but it does not sound like any other I have been a part of. As a church leadership team we found that there were a growing number of people who could not participate in communion due to gluten allergies. One of our resourceful volunteers found gluten-free “communion wafers”.
I love these things. They crunch like it’s nobody’s business and it is BRILLIANT!
Why? Quite simply when we take the “bread” and eat you know you are doing it with everyone else. Our Gymnasanctatorium has painfully bad acoustics and so when 150 or so people go crunching into the gluten-free wafer it ignites a sound that you feel in your chest. You know that you are not alone. You know that you are with others and they are with you. It is an audible reminder that sharing the Lord’s Supper is something you do in community.
We live in a day where community is a buzzword as opposed to a reality. We have air conditioning, TV, and attached garages, all of which are designed to keep us apart from other people in the name of “comfort”. It is comfortable because when I, the chief of sinners, interact with other people I make mistakes and I say things that hurt them. Isolation protects me from this. It is comfortable.
The communion table is supposed to draw us out from isolation into communion with one another. It is a time for us to be caught up in the spiritual mystery and grace of the supper where we remember Jesus and what he has done for us. It is a time for us to celebrate together the beauty and magnitude of the grace we have in Jesus. It is to shape us and mold us and change our identity and help us remember anew the reality of our being in-Christ together.
A gluten-free wafer — The sound of community and communion.
CANNIBAL? YES, YES, I AM.
The early church was accused of being cannibalistic. They were thought to be such because they feasted on the body and blood of Jesus the Christ. This was an unthinkable ritual and act. It was seen as barbaric and it was a stumbling block to the world around them. The Eucharist split churches in the 1700s and was a cause in Jonathan Edwards being released from his position in Northampton.
Today communion is a mundane and humdrum ritual that nobody really notices. This is a tragedy.
The celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, Communion is one of the most beautiful acts that we as Christians get to participate in. When we do we experience the presence of Christ and join with the great of cloud of witnesses in a spiritual act that bonds us as the body of Christ. How can this astounding and beautiful means of grace become something that is largely ignored?
My senior year at Central Michigan University as new church was planted in Mt. Pleasant, MI. This church was unlike any I had ever seen. It met in an airplane hangar. Yes, that’s right an airplane hangar. The seats were couches and plastic chairs. The room was dimly lit and cold in the winter. There was nothing routine about this church. It was determined that the celebration of the Eucharist would occur whenever it seemed right to “us and the Holy Spirit.”
The first time that Amy and I celebrated communion there we were amazed. I was moved to the core of my being and changed that evening. The bread was homemade without yeast and the juice was in a 64 oz containers next to a stack of 12 oz cups. Barry, the pastor, stood and read 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. Then he said (atleast this is how I remember it), “This was supper. It was a meal that was shared. Jesus is not stingy in his grace or his mercy. Come, take, eat to your fill and drink till your thirst is quenched. Seconds, thirds, fourths, whatever you need Jesus will provide. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.” We partook and we were filled.
I was left in wonder and awe. This was a far cry from the thimble of juice and crumb of bread that I was used to. We celebrated together the beauty and wonder of the crucifixion and resurrection. We marveled in the grace of God. We were a community perfectly united in a feast of grace. The bread was warm and smelled wonderfully. The juice was cold and refreshing.
I was changed.
I was left in awe.
I got lost and found in the mystery and limitlessness of God’s goodness.
I feasted that night on the body and blood. That night I became a cannibal and was forever changed.
Are you a cannibal?
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS OR BIG BEN’S TRAVESTY
I am a sports guy. I love Sportscenter and follow the NFL, MLB, and NHL. I have always admired the way that the Pittsburgh Steelers have handled their business. I am becoming more and more impressed with the way that Roger Goodell the commissioner of the NFL is conducting his.
Unless you have been living under a rock you know that Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended by the NFL under its player conduct policy. Many of the sports talking heads are decrying this as “legislating morality”. I think that there is a different issue here though. This is the first time that the NFL has suspended someone who has not been brought up on criminal charges. The letter that Goodell sent was direct and clear. The behavior of this player falls outside the standards that the NFL desires to hold its players too.
I think that what we have in this instance is not a “legislation of morality”. It is simply a private company stating that it believes working for it is a privilege and that there is an expectation of a certain standard of behavior. Accountability is something that has been largely in our society at large. We are offended by the concept because it assumes that there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct oneself. This then requires that there is a standard or an authority by which we will be judged. To be judged is immoral.
The hypocrisy of the talking heads is amazing. When a religious leader is found to be immoral the culture screams for punishment. When an athlete is found to immoral the culture screams for forgiveness. It seems that what we need is integrity in our judgment of public figures.
Roger Goodell is doing things right. It is an honor to play a boys game for millions of dollars. Those who work for the NFL should be held to a higher standard and that standard is rightly determined by the league.
What about the church? Are we doing things right? What can we learn from Goodell and the NFL? I think that we can learn much if we would just open our eyes. Hit me up in the comments with thoughts about what the church can learn, if anything.
WATER AND WINE…
Over the next handful of days I want to tease out some thoughts on the sacraments. In the Protestant tradition we have two sacraments: baptism and the eucharist. I think that these two means of grace are essential for the church today and that they have been largely ignored or abused. The sacraments do not bring salvation. They are however means of grace.
This means quite simply that we experience something beautiful, authentic, and Christ-centered in their celebration. In an age where we talk about “multi-sensory” preaching and object lessons it is as if we have forgotten the beauty and raw power that is to be found in these ancient acts that tie us to “the great cloud of witnesses”.
A couple of years ago I wrote a few posts on these issues. One of them was an argument for paedobaptism and I would encourage you check it out. I also wrote a post on communion that lays out some initial thoughts and in the comments a friend suggested that I dig deeper. I hope these next days my metaphorical shovel will reach a new depth.
Before writing in earnest I want to say thanks to Eugene Peterson (not that he’ll ever read this). His text, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology has been really helpful in shaping some of my thoughts about both baptism and communion. When possible I will give him credit but so much of what he has written has become a part of my own views and sometimes I may not be sure where his thoughts begin and mine end.
To kick things off, I am curious do you remember your first communion? What was it like? Did it mean anything to you?
IT’S MY RIGHT!
“Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.” — Eugene Peterson
The refrain, “It’s my right!” rings our everywhere today in our culture. Whether it’s in demand of entitlements or freedom from regulation. Regardless, our “rights” are something that we constantly demand. The quote from Peterson is actually 1 Corinthians 6:12 from the Message. This verse will be the final one that we look in our conversation about freedom and the law. It is used almost always to support the freedom of a person and their use of freedom. Based on Peterson’s rendering we are left scratching our heads as to “why?”
Well, consider the traditional translation from the ESV, “”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.“
So, when we read this often we think, “Yes, I can do anything!” This leads us to a place of license. However, Peterson’s rendering provides us with the correct sense. There are things that we should not do because they harm us spiritually. 1 Corinthians 6–9 is a fascinating section of Scripture where Paul lays out many issues regarding freedom. To work through all of it would be too lengthy. So here are a couple of bullet points:
- Paul wants the Corinthians to realize that there is more to life than what they see. Their bodies are going to be resurrected and bought with a price. Freedom is limited by the statement, “So glorify God in you body. (6:20)”
- Freedom is determined by knowledge of God (8:1–2).
- Freedom is limited by concern for the brother’s conscience (8:12)
- The freedom which Paul is directly dealing with is in regards to food laws (6–8)
- Freedom in relation to personal association is doggedly protected (9:19–23)
- Freedom is determined by ones own understanding of the gospel (9:19)
In short, we have no “rights”. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our brothers. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our Savior. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by our desire to glorify God.
However, we are also free to love well. To enjoy the creation. To engage the culture in all its fullness. We are free to “become all things to all people” without fear of condemnation. We are free to speak the language of the common man and to enter into his world.
I think that as we close this conversation about freedom and law we must realize that in Christ we are free. The measure that we use this freedom is direct correlation to our understanding of grace. If we are free, really free, then we can also choose to protect the weaker brother. We are also to help one another grow in knowledge and experience of the gospel.
STRONG, WEAK, WHAT!?
Our journey through freedom and the law is coming to a close, for now. I think this is the second to last post on the issue before we turn our attention to Baptism and Communion. The passage that I am interested in today is Romans 14. This is where we find the famous, “Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:13).
This is a section that I think has been done great harm and violence in Christian circles because it is so often read through a grid of legalism. Where do we begin? First, the core issues that Paul raises here are those of food laws. It seems that what we had in Rome was a church comprised of a variety of different people as one would expect in a cosmopolitan city. This caused great tension within the community as they bumped into one another’s understandings of how they were to interact with God and what it meant to live all of life in a way that brings honor to God.
Paul finds that there were two camps, the weak and the strong. The weak only ate vegetables (as these were safe from being offered to idols) and the strong ate anything. Paul in verse 3 argues that neither are despise the other. Pauls says in verse 5 that “Each one should be fully convinced his own mind.” He drives the point home in verse 12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” It is with this context that we arrive at verse 13.
Many of the commentators argue that 13b (decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother) is pointed at the “strong”. The reasoning comes from the fact that verse 15:1 says, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak.” I think that this is accurate. The question then becomes what is the scope of the passage? Is Christian freedom to be held to the lowest common denominator across the board?
First, Paul argues on behalf of the strong. He desires for all to become strong and leave weakness behind. The reason for this is that these issues are faith issues. Paul’s desire is for the people of God to fully engage in all that God has made clean in faith. He says, “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he [God] approves (22).”
Second, Paul changes the issue. He says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (17–18).” Paul is telling them that their focus is off base. These issues of food and festivals are silly compared to the work of the kingdom.
Finally, Paul calls for the strong to “bear” the “failings” of the weak. This is language that drives one to realize that Paul’s desire is for change. The term “bear” is βαστάζω and is understood as “be able to bear up under especially trying or oppressive circumstances (BDAG).” This is insightful. Consider what Paul is saying. The weak are “especially trying” in their “failings”. Paul gets that those who would rob the strong of their freedom are “trying” and even “oppressive”. His desire is for them not to stay that way. He wants them to become strong. But, until that time the strong are love well and not judge.
What is the take home then? It means that those who see Christians exerting their freedom ought not pass judgment (14:3) and realize that they are weak (14:2) and ask the strong for help that they might not stay in that state. It also means that the strong must hang in there in the midst of the frustrations that come from the weak and love well. They must not flaunt their freedom or force the weak into living freely until they can do so in faith.
Paul says it well, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)”
BY NO MEANS!
I think that some of my favorite moments in the Bible are when the apostle Paul gets worked up. As you read you can almost feel the juices flowing inside Paul. I imagine his forehead sweating and his face turning red. I can see him pacing and flailing his arms as if he would be mute without them. Then the climactic moment comes and his hands go to the forehead, veins popping, eyes clenched, and BOOM, a statement and a torrent of questions exploding!
This is the image I get as I read Romans 5 and 6.
What concerns us today is Romans 6:15–23 (The Message):
15–18So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!19I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing — not caring about others, not caring about God — the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?
20–21As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.
22–23But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
I like the way that Peterson’s translation renders this passage because I think that it gets down to the heart of the matter. Verse 15 is rendered like this in the ESV, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no mans!” Paul is anticipating his detractors. He is assuming what they are going to say before they say it. Remember, Paul did not physically write this letter, he dictated it to Tertius. I imagine that Tertius played the proverbial devil’s advocate for Paul so that there could be a give and take. This was meant to be a conversation not a treatise.
Consider here what Pauls is doing. He is preempting the person who would say that the radical grace that he is describing thus far is will lead to license. Paul argues quite the opposite. He argues that as a result of the freeing from the curse of the law there will be new found freedom to truly live the way that a person was made to live.
I love how Peterson puts this, “But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” There is delight and joy in living the life of hearing from God.
I hate money. It’s annoying and it preoccupies too much of my time and other people’s time. I remember when I first heard about budgets and I thought, “Ugh, that seems restrictive and annoying.” But, then my bride and I created a budget. You know what we discovered? It gave us freedom. Prior to a budget we did not believe that we could go on dates because we did not have money. Once we created a budget we found the freedom to date again.
I think this is how grace works. When we are living lives separated from God we look at the “good two shoe” Christians and think “Ugh, that seems restrictive and annoying.” But, then our hearts are captured by the radical grace of God and we find that we have freedom to live life to its full. We find that we can do all things to the glory of God and in so doing experience great freedom. Yet, this freedom is contained within the confines of grace and glory.
This weekend Tiger Woods returned to the links. He played well, no, he played really well. Consider though the pain and agony that he suffered and his family suffered while he “did whatever he wanted” and as some sports hosts put it, “lived every man’s fantasy.” I guarantee you that Woods would trade every one of his sexual escapades for the freedom of a happy monogamous marriage with Elin.
Freedom comes from living out the reality that we were made for good and for God. This is the beauty of grace and living in light of righteousness.
ARE YOU GONNA EAT THAT?
We had been walking for a week straight. The pace was incredible. We did not even feel like they had homes any more because we were always on the move. This is the way it always was. There was a constant pressure to move on to the next town and to continue proclaiming the “good news”. Saturday was always the hardest day. Usually there was no way to prepare and have extra food on hand so Saturday was a hungry day. Today, was especially tough though. Our travels took us through a grain field! It was excruciating. But, to our astonishment the Teacher grabbed the head of a grain rubbed it in his hands and ate the kernel. We looked at one another, confused, it was the Sabbath wasn’t it? But, the Teacher picked and ate. We did too.
Then “they” showed up. The religious, the high and mighty Pharisees. They were always around. They said, “Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!”
The Teacher’s response was amazing, “Really? Didn’t you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn’t you ever read in God’s Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it’s not held against them? There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant — ‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’ — you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.”
Then we went into the Synagogue for worship. When we got there “they” thought they had the Teacher trapped because there was a crippled man there. “They” asked, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?”
The Teacher got them again, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out and it was healed. “They” walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus.
(Based on Matthew 12:1–14, with a little help from the Message)
This is an amazing story. It’s really a central text for our question about freedom and law. The law said, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work — not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days Godmade Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.”
The Pharisees were somewhat right in their questioning of Jesus and the disciples. In their minds they really were breaking the sabbath commandment. But Jesus response flips their understanding of the commandment on its head, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath”. Brilliant! He even says that the disciples in this case are guiltless! He goes so far as to point out that they missed the point of the command when he quotes Hosea 6:6. In Hosea God has his people in the dock and calling them to account. The Pharisees would have felt the sting. Jesus was calling them out as heartless and completely disconnected from God himself.
In their quest to be faithful to God the Pharisees had missed God’s heart and his desire for them to worship. I think we are guilty of this. What are the rules that you have put in place to be faithful to God?
Maybe some of these ring true:
- No R rated movies.
- No secular music.
- No smoking.
- No drinking.
- No dating.
- No being a Democrat.
- No being a Republican.
- No being Pro-Choice.
- No being Pro-Life.
- No watching MSNBC.
- No rooting for Ohio State University (OK, this is mine, I admit it. I think God’s OK with it.)
Freedom is about worship. Freedom is about coming to the God of the universe and being with him and with his people. There are no longer divisions. The boundary markers of in and out are changed they are now spiritual and communal. They are no longer based on law.
What’s your list? How does it need to change? Are you building barriers on behalf of God? Are you OK with God’s dismantling of barriers through the crucifixion of Jesus?
A DEEPER REFLECTION: GLENN BECK REVISITED
Tonight I heard Dr. Mark Noll say, “I think we should largely ignore talking heads on TV unless they are discussing a college basketball tournament.” Wise words. However, twice now I have had conversations relating to a previous post that I wrote on Glenn Beck’s discussion of social justice. Here is a more nuanced response to the issues including a little perspective on Rev. Jim Wallis too. I hope you find it helpful. (Also, I was under the weather today and was unable to write the next post for our discussion of freedom and the law.)
To hopefully bring some clarity to my position I want give disclosure of my political presuppositions:
- I don’t adhere to a political party. Neither party is representative of the Christian worldview.
- My primary allegiance is not to the United States, it is to Jesus Christ and his church. I live in this country only by the grace of God and I am very thankful for being a citizen of the US but my king is Jesus and the solutions to the problems we face are found in the context of the gospel and not on Capitol Hill, a savior there will never be found.
- The Scriptures contained in the Older and Newer Testaments are the authority by which we are to live and ought to inform our understanding of any human document.
- Any government or government agency that claims divine authority or claims to speak for God is inherently unbiblical for God reveals himself through the Scriptures and he alone is to be king.
As to the Glenn Beck situation:
- I have watched only two episodes of Glenn Beck.
- I have read his comments regarding churches and social justice.
- My understanding is that his worldview is Mormon.
I understand the points that he has made regarding the use of the term “social justice” and “economic justice” by those in the liberal political wing. I agree with how he defines these terms from his perspective. Glenn Beck’s comments, however, were not in relation to the liberal political wing, they were in the context of the church. The church defines the term “social justice” and “economic justice” very differently.
First, “social justice” in the context of the church refers to the idea of bringing biblical justice at a societal level. The church has always participated in this kind of justice because it is the natural response of Christ followers to seek to transform the world around them with the gospel. The Older Testament speaks often of this kind of social justice, especially in context of the “jubilee”, this was the application of the Sabbath to all of society (Leviticus 25). These are commands, not suggestions. We also find in the Older Testament specific commands on how to deal with the widow, fatherless, and alien (Deuteronomy 27). Justice in the Older Testament appears 425 times in the Hebrew and close to 500 times in the Newer Testament. I believe it is safe to say that this is an important theme in the Bible and God’s people have always understood it as such.
Here are some historical examples of the church doing social justice:
- Ending infanticide in the first century. Babies that were unwanted in the Roman empire were simply left on the side of the road. The church would pick them up and care for them as their own. This was done on such a large scale that infanticide was all but ended in the Roman Empire.
- Abolition. It was the church that spear headed the abolition movement both in Europe and in the United States. This was accomplished through full force engagement in the political realm through electing abolitionist candidates along with preaching and writing.
- Prohibition. The church at large determined that the consumption of alcohol was an unnecessary evil and again brought full political pressure to bear and was able to get alcohol banned. Thankfully, it was repealed as this was a wrong headed movement in the church.
- Women’s suffrage. The church led the movement to bring about justice to women so that they could vote in the United States.
- Civil Rights. The church led the movement to bring an end to systemic racism toward ethnic minorities in the United States.
- Pro-life. The church has led the movement to bring an end to the destruction of millions of innocent lives through the practice of legalized abortion on demand.
- AIDS relief. The church has led the effort to bring AIDS relief to Africa where AIDS runs rampant.
- Urban and rural poverty. The church continues to be on the forefront of bringing relief to the urban and rural poor in the US.
These are but a handful of the historic social justice efforts of the church. So, when a church says that it is concerned with social justice they are moving out from the heart of God as commanded us by the Scriptures. This is because the Scriptures are concerned about bringing redemption to the whole of creation, not simply to individual lives as Mormonism teaches.
Two passages in particular speak to the necessity of the church to engage in bringing justice. First, from the Older Testament we have “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV). The prophecy of Micah is deeply concerned with issues of justice as the people of God had moved away from dealing justly with one another and had become greedy and self-centered. They had abandoned the principles of mercy and justice. Micah 6:8 is a turning point in the book. The question is asked, “What does God want from us?” And the answer is simple: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Justice is central to the minimum requirements that God asks of his people.
The second passage is from Matthew’s Gospel:
““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.””
(Matthew 25:31–46 ESV)
Here we see Jesus discussing the application of the gospel. If we know him then we will do certain things. We will respond to him by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the poor, visiting the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. Those who take no concern of these things prove not to truly know Jesus. This is social justice according to Jesus.
In light of this, what do we make of Glenn Beck’s comments?
- He does not understand that the Bible calls the church to engage with the world and bring justice.
- His call for people to leave their church is at worst a veiled attempt by Mormonism to draw more people into their cult, at best, is ignorance regarding the role of the church in the world.
- He is not a Christian and ought not to speak to Christians concerning what we believe since he does not hold the Bible as the authoritative word of God.
- His position comes from a place of politics where he believes his political theory is able to save the world and for the Christian only Jesus Christ can do this.
In light of the Biblical teaching on justice what do we make of Jim Wallis’s position?
- The government is not the means by which social justice is to come about but it is to brought through the local church.
- If the government is taking this responsibility it means that the church has abdicated its responsibility to care for the poor and dispossessed and as a pastor he needs to be calling the church to action not handing it over to the government.
- The church is to be socially active and politically active but is to find its hope in Christ alone and should not align itself with a political party.
I am fairly well connected within the church world. I have a pretty broad knowledge and in many cases specific knowledge of how churches engage in social justice. I know of none that are biblically sound who turn funds over to the federal, state, or local governments. This is against IRS non-profit law. They would lose their tax exempt status by doing so. I do know that under George W. Bush’s Faith Based Initiative that many churches received federal funding to carry out their social justice programs. This created great problems for many of these churches as they became tied into the federal government in such a way that was unbiblical and forced them to break their own principles regarding hiring of staff.
From a biblical perspective we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. I hope that tax deductible gifting will continue for non-profit organizations it is a blessing that our country has provided. However, churches will deal with what comes and the gospel will continue to go out meeting the spiritual and physical needs of people.
Finally, our responsibility as Christians is faithfully and purposefully engage in the political process. This means that we must do what is needed to bring about the election of men and women who will rule from a biblical worldview. This is why in the last presidential election I wrote in my vote as I did not believe the two parties provided me with a proper option. In my opinion this candidate was the only candidate that represented a Christian worldview. The other candidates espoused a secular humanist perspective.
In short, we deal with many of the problems we do because of the inactivity and idleness of the church. If we would engage as we ought many of these problems would disappear.
Here is push back to my position:
Here’s what Sojourners says “… social justice can only be achieved by the recognition that capitalism and the economic inequality it produces must be replaced by a “classless” society wherein all differences in wealth and property have been eliminated.“ Just a little bit different definition, huh? Their leader, Jim Wallis, called the USA ”… the great power, the great seducer, the great captor and destroyer of human life, the great master of humanity and history in its totalitarian claims and designs.“
Regarding Glenn Beck, yeah, he’s a Mormon. My dislike of that religion mirrors yours. But I think what he’s trying to accomplish is not some missionary event for the LDS, but rather warning all church members to be on the lookout for the use of the term “social justice” by their own church. If that church defines it the way you do, great, not a problem. But if the church’s definition more closely matches that of the Sojourners, then you ought to leave immediately. Basically, he’s telling people to do their homework. Churches are still ran by “men” which to me means there is always the possibility that they could go astray and that we should always be holding them accountable. Again, the Progressives have taken a term that sounds innocent enough and have perverted it into something completely different. Think about it this way, what if someone in your church was promoting a special collection to promote a project for “social justice”. Odds are, you wouldn’t have thought twice about it. After all, it sounds good enough. But now, I bet you would look into it a bit further, wouldn’t you? That’s really what Glenn Beck is saying, look deeper into what definition is being used. Mormon or not, I think it’s good advice.
Yes, the definition of Sojourners is off base and I would argue is not scripturally supported. So, it seems that this is one of those times where maybe Beck has been a bit “sloppy”. I run across this often as I interact with people in the church realm who are in the spotlight. They take important and nuanced issues and reduce them to the point where they are saying things that they maybe they ought not to say.
I am beginning to think that this situation with Beck is someone doing just this. He has taken a nuanced issue and become overly reductionistic. The reality is that most of his audience does not attend the kind of church where this happens (I am guessing he is drawing from african-american, urban, pentecostal, liberation types) and this is why the backlash was so strong. This is all combined with the overly individualistic theology of his Mormon worldview and it translates into people like me who normally would find much in common with his position experiencing big red flags!
I will definitely be listening/reading him with a different, more generous, eye in the future as a result of our conversation!
I hope that by putting this snapshot of a conversation out there I can show that there are two sides to the coin. Both are concerned with big issues but both are coming from two very different perspectives. As a result we can talk past one another. This was a fruitful and helpful conversation where we both actually listened to one another.
THAT DIRTY ROTTEN…OH, REALLY!?
We spent some time looking at Jesus’ discussion about fulfilling the law. Now, I want to look at another of the stories that bring to the forefront the issue of freedom and the law. This one is found in Matthew 8:5–13:
“When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.”
You might be asking “what does this have to do with freedom and the law?” I think that has everything to do with freedom and the law. A Roman Centurion, the very image of imperial power comes to Jesus, a backwoods, Jewish rabbi and asks him to heal his servant. The word “appealing” is παρακαλῶν and it really is pointing to an “urgent exhortation”. Eugene Peterson renders it, “came up in a panic”. I think that this is a great picture. How humiliating it would have been. Then this Centurion, this image of Rome’s great power and might did the unthinkable, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” Truly, a remarkable image for those standing around watching. Rome was yielding authority to a Jewish rabbi. Incredible!
Jesus’ comment is even more amazing! He uses this as an opportunity to teach that the Kingdom is open to people such as this: tools of the Emperor’s oppressive regime will be invited to table fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! This is remarkable! The violent, oppressive Gentiles are invited to the table? The sons of the kingdom are thrown into outer darkness? How can this be?
Luke’s account gives us a bit more insight into the matter:
“After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”
(Luke 7:1–10 ESV)
We learn now that the Centurion is a man who loved the Jews. He even built their synagogue. It appears that this Centurion was a “God-fearer”. Most likely he was a not a convert to Judaism or the Jewish Elders would have made that clear to Jesus. This was a man who believed in God. His faith was such that he could not bear to have Jesus enter his home. He was “poor in spirit” and he would come to inherit the kingdom!
Jesus was free to heal and forgive this man. He was free to invite him to table fellowship with the patriarchs. The law said otherwise (or one would assume so). Freedom is again found in the breaking down of barriers between people and God. This Roman Centurion had great faith and could happily receive the fellowship of the great cloud of witnesses without worry because, “for freedom Christ set us free.”
This Centurion was the very image of the world and all of its trappings. He had money, power, and authority. Yet, his humble faith found him a place at the table. Our freedom comes from humility and it is in this humility that we can sup with “the world”. It is with humility that we can be “in the world” and “not of the world.” We enter in with those around us freely because the table is open and any may come to it. Grace has bought a spot for any who would trust in the faithfulness of Jesus.
THE DAWN BREAKS: FREEDOM BREAKING THROUGH
We have evaluated the great verse on freedom, Galatians 5:1 and now I want to go back. I want to look a the first in-breaking of freedom in the gospel of Matthew. We find it in Matthew 5:17–20:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20 ESV)
This passage is insightful for us to begin getting a sense of Jesus’s thoughts on the law and of freedom. This passage from Matthew is unique, it is not found in the other synoptics or John (Luke 16:14–17 might be considered parallel but is so different that this is unlikely). However, there is a very clear allusion to this passage in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Paul’s epistle to the Romans came prior to Matthew’s writing of the gospel. Matthew was also very likely to be from Anitoch (which was Paul’s sending community). I think that we should be mindful of the influence of Paul and Matthew and Matthew on Paul. This reality will help us to determine in greater depth what is going on here in the narrative.
This passage is in the heart of the “Sermon on the Mount” and Jesus is speaking to the masses. Verse 17 is critical as it sets up the rest of the teaching, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” Why does Jesus say this? It is because he is setting the stage for what will follow where he says, “You have heard it said…But I tell you…” Jesus is making clear that he is in no way setting aside the Older Testament. He is taking it to the next level.
There are some disconcerting comments made in this passage. First, anyone who relaxes the law will be called least in the kingdom and to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to have greater righteousness than that of the Pharisees. This is an incredible statement! The Pharisees were amazingly righteous men. They had laws upon laws to make sure that they never broke a single law. The Pharisees fasted, prayed, and gave. They knew the Scriptures better than anyone (well except for Jesus, since he inspired them and all that! This is a hard teaching.
But, we have the rest of the story. Two key words that I want to point out: πληρῶσαι and γένηται these are the terms that we translate as “fulfill” and “accomplished”. These are key for us who have the rest of the story. πληρῶσαι is the Aorist Active Infintive. The aspect of the Aorist is a completed work. Jesus is saying that he will complete the fulfilling of the law and prophets. How can he do this? He can do this living a perfect life. He goes on to say that nothing will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished. All what? All the Law. Jesus did this. In himself he did all the law, he fulfilled it. In a singular moment he brought about the final and perfect fulfillment of the Law.
I hope the logic here is becoming clear. The righteousness that he talking about, the greater righteousness is his own. There is no hope of living the Law with perfection. One cannot do it apart from divine aid. The divine one, the God-man himself is the only one who can bring about this fulfillment. Therefore, as we trust in his faithful fulfillment we find our righteousness. Remember Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
The dawn is breaking. The Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Christ. We move from here to begin to see this reality played out on the stage of life. But, that’s for the next post.
YOU CAN’T DO THAT! YES I CAN! NO YOU CAN’T!!!
Yesterday we began exploring Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” We explored the historical and literary context a bit. Today, I want to draw some conclusions regarding freedom. The key word in the verse is “freedom”. It is ἐλευθερίᾳ in the Greek text in the dative. ἐλευθερία is a word that that at its heart means liberty in the context of becoming free from slavery. Why is it in the dative? What is the purpose of this case here? This is the dative of interest which is a subset of the indirect object (Wallace, 143). This means that Christ set the Galatians free “for the benefit” of freedom.
Think about this for a moment. Christ set them free. Why? He set them free so that they would experience freedom. This means that they were, at some point, not free. What were they not free from? To what were they enslaved? Remember Paul is discussing in Galatians what it means to be “in Christ”. How can someone know they are in the community as opposed to be outside of the community. The Galatian converts were confused and needed direction. They turned to the other community of “the Book” and were informed that they needed to follow certain rituals. These rituals concerned table fellowship, festivals, and circumcision. These boundary markers, that have been thoroughly discussed by Wright, Dunn, Schreiner, and others, are the very things that are causing Paul such consternation.
The Galatians were becoming enslaved to boundaries of in/out that were obliterated in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In chapters three and four Paul laid out the differentiation between the law and the promise. Now he brings them to the point of action where they must realize that these laws are not necessary for them to interact with God. They do not need to become Jewish to be in Christ. Christ has set loose the boundaries of who is in and who is out. There is now freedom to live as they are in Christ.
Freedom here, therefore, is a liberation from a law which mandated one identify oneself by doing certain activities. The community of the people is open and free, the boundary markers have been shifted (baptism and communion, another series of posts coming soon). The outworking of being “justified” is inclusion or exclusion from the community of God. One cannot be “in the camp” if they are not justified. Justification prior to Christ came through the law, the following of mandated requirements to show that one was in the community of faith. Christ’s coming freed humanity from this stricture because he himself fulfilled these requirements and provides a means by his crucifixion and resurrection to enter into the community by faith alone, trusting in his finished work.
Paul anticipates the critics, “Freedom leads to license!” Not so, says Paul. This freeing from the old boundaries frees us “through love to serve one another. (5:13b)” Why? The freedom from boundary markers that separate one people from another allows us to love all those that come across our paths. We no longer have to concern ourselves with the issues that drove Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan.
Summary idea: Freedom in Galatians 5:1 is the freedom for anyone to be in God’s community and for us to relate to God as who we are and to serve anyone regardless of who they are.
FRRRRREEEEDOM!!! (YES, READ THIS WITH A SCOTTISH BROGUE) PT. 1
Whenever I think about freedom, I think about William Wallace. Is it because I have Scottish blood running through my veins? Maybe. Is it because of Braveheart (one of the greatest ‘guy’ movies ever)? Maybe. I like to think it is because the story of Scottish liberation from the tyranny of the English is powerful, beautiful, and thrilling. I like to think it is because the imagery of a small revolutionary movement, spear-headed by a single passionate leader is what I long to see happen in the church. I hope it’s also because freedom is something that is full of beauty, hope, and trust.
Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This little sentence has been the cause of a great many problems even though it was meant to be the solution of a great many problems. You know the old saying, “Give them and inch and they take a mile”? This is how many feel about Galatians 5:1. Why did Paul give them an inch? Why did he not call the Galatians to follow the ten commandments? I think that this is a wonderful starting point in our journey about law and grace.
The problem with beginning at Galatians 5:1 is that it is near the end of the letter to the Galatians. To get a good sense of what is happening we must understand the context from which this verse comes, both historically and literarily.
Where do we begin? Let’s begin with the situation to which Paul was writing. There was a significant Jewish minority in the region of Galatia, stemming from the fact that approximately 2,000 Jewish families were forced to relocate to the region in the second century BC. As the Galatian converts, whether Jew or Gentile, were coming into contact with the large Jewish minority they were facing questions that needed answers. The key question being in reference to what it meant for a person to be included in the community of faith.
This historical setting is critical to coming to an understanding of what is happening in Galatians 5:1. The community of faith wanted answers. These answers were not coming from the reality of the crucified messiah but from a Jewish tradition that did not always line up with grace. The general answer that this little group of Galatian converts were receiving was that to be in the community of faith you are to do certain things and not do certains things. This was a law that brought guilt, shame, and dishonor to most that sought to uphold it.
The literary context of 5:1 is also important. In Galatians 4 Paul has illustrated the difference of being under the law and under grace by comparing Hagar and Sarah. Following his brief discussion on freedom he moves on to look at the practical outworking of being a Christ follower in the second half of chapter 5 and chapter 6.
This issue of freedom is important because Paul is juxtaposing it against living under the law and equates is to living under grace. Therefore, we must grapple with what Paul is saying in 5:1 and come to some conclusions. We will pick this up tomorrow, so that the posts don’t get too long.
James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era, (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1999), 213.
Paul Barnett, Behind the Scenes of the New Testament, (InterVarsity Press: DownersGrove, IL, 1990), 175–177.
WHERE WE ARE GOING NOW?
Now that we have finished our travels through Brian McLaren’s newest book I have been pondering what’s next. For a while now I have been chewing on the dual topic of freedom and law. What does Christian freedom mean? What is the role of the law this side of the cross? How does this affect our interaction with culture, religions, and one another? How do we know if we go beyond freedom and move into active disobedience? I am hoping that we can bring some clarity to some of these issues and also find some application for them over the next few days.
As we conclude the discussion on freedom and the law, we will then begin to explore the sacraments. I wrote a couple posts about this topic a couple of years ago but my thinking has developed a bit more. I am hopeful that we can engage in a dialogue surrounding baptism and communion that will help us to think about these two means of grace can help us engage with the world around us.
I am looking forward to the adventure. I hope that you will join me and that we can have some healthy conversations along the way. It’s much more fun when we do!
A FOLLOW UP TO “A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY”
I saw this today and that it would be great to link these four posts for you. Emergent Village did an interview with Brian McLaren. So, if you are not reading his book you can at least hear him talk in his own words. I thought it was a good interview and will help give you more insight into his positions. While many of my own issues are not dealt with, he gives you more to think about.
Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 1
Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 2
Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 3
Melvin Bray and Brian McLaren — Pt. 4
SO WHAT? OR THE WHAT-DO-WE-DO-NOW QUESTION
This is the tenth and final post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question: How can we translate our quest into action?
The final question that McLaren presents us with is really not a question that the Church is asking but is the question that the movement he is calling for needs to ask. This full out application, how do we move forward in light of the answers given to the previous nine questions? To answer this question McLaren turns to historians to help frame his answer. Specifically he calls on the macro-historian to help us understand where we are in the human quest. He labels each movement of humanity with a color of the rainbow.
- The Red Zone: The Quest for Survival: This is where all humanity begins. We have a need for food, water, shelter and look to the gods or God to provide this for us.
- The Orange Zone: The Quest for Security: We look to the gods of God to be our Warrior, Protector, Provider in relation to other clans. Current example: Current examples: Prosperity Gospel Churches and Pentecostals.
- The Yellow Zone: The Quest for Power: We developed city-states and needed God to ordain them as good to keep the people in line under the authority of kings and emperors. Current examples: Fundamentalists and Hyper Calvinists.
- The Green Zone: The Quest for Independence: We found the earthly kings to be oppressors and so we needed God to become a judge who mandated laws and punishment. Current examples: Those developing systematic theology.
- The Blue Zone: The Quest for Individuality: Thanks to law and judgment based on rationality we are now free to pursue God’s “blessing” on our plans and salvation became individualistic. Current example: Mega-churches.
- The Indigo Zone: The Quest for Honesty: We realize that through our rampant individualism we have done great harm to the creation and one another in the name of God and we call for an honest re-assessment. Current example: Emergent Church Movement.
- The Violet Zone: The Quest for Ubuntu: Once we have come to the place of honesty where we are humbled we begin the seventh quest for healing. This is the peace, shalom, or ubuntu: embracing one-anotherness, common-goodness, and interconnectedness.
In light of this, McLaren argues, that we need to have “indigo” Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and others come together to create a “violet” zone where healing and unity can take place. This zone,
“…challenges us, then, to learn to see in a completely new and unpracticed way, to forgo seeing previous stages in the old dualistic terms of good/evil or right/wrong. As we get acclimated to the violet zone, we learn to see all previous zones as appropriate and adequate for their context, just as we consider infancy, childhood, and adolescence as appropriate and adequate in their time, not bad, evil, or wrong. Similarly, the new stage into which we are growing isn’t right; it’s simply appropriate and adequate for the challenges we now face. (237)”
To support this religious evolutionary mindset McLaren argues from 1 Corinthians 13:11–14:1:
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
(1 Corinthians 13:11–14:1 ESV)
It is here that McLaren sees Paul calling for an evolution in our understanding. He argues that Paul is calling for a consistent move away from exclusive faith to an inclusive faith because in so doing we find greater wholeness and ubuntu.
I appreciate McLaren’s desire to bring some closure to the discussion. I am thankful that in this chapter he has laid his cards on the table and allowed us to fully understand his presuppositions. I also think that his use of other disciplines is warranted and appreciated. It is always helpful for us to think through our faith from the macro-historical level.
I read this chapter and my breaking heart finally broke. I found so much in this work that I appreciate but this heart broke me because in it I found that McLaren was not calling for a new kind of Christianity just an old kind of religious pluralism. I felt as though I was reading John Hick from nearly fifteen years ago. McLaren could have just pointed us to a Newsweek article on how we are all becoming Hindus and made it easier on himself.
The treatment of 1 Cor 13:11–14:1 does not do justice to the passage and ignores it’s immediate context. The problems that the Corinthians had was in-house. This passage is in connection to the worship service and is followed by chapter fifteen’s description of the resurrection and its centrality to the faith.
To close these posts I want to say that I recommend a reading of McLaren’s text. The reason is that it provides a good dialogue partner. McLaren raises many questions that need to be answered. In the near future I will seek to give my own perspectives on these ten questions. Some of the answers are better than others. Some of the pendulum swings are necessary and good. However, at the end all of this is left wanting because Jesus the crucified and resurrected God the Son is strangely absent. His uniqueness is set aside in the name of “peace”. Yet Paul in his letter to the Romans is quite clear, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
WHY DON’T YOU EAT COWS? OR THE PLURALISM QUESTION
This is the ninth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Pluralism Question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
McLaren begins his chapter on pluralism by setting the stage with this statement:
“If we want to get on the right side of the life-and-death divide, we need to start with some sober, serious, old-fashioned repentance, starting with this admission: Christianity has a nauseating, infuriating, depressing record when it comes to encountering people of other religions (and a not much better record when encountering people of other brands of Christianity either). (208)”
The question he determines to answer is, “how do we find a better approach to the religiously other in our quest for a new kind of Christianity?” This is in contrast the various genocides, abuses, and oppression that Christianity has perpetrated over the course of the centuries. The answer is straightforward:
When I’m asked about pluralism in my travels, I generally return to Jesus’s simple teachings of neighborliness such as the Golden Rule, “Our first responsibility as followers of Jesus is to treat people of other religions with the same respect we would want to receive from them. When you are kind and respectful to followers of other religions, you are not being unfaithful to Jesus; you are being faithful to him.” Then I ask them how they would want people of other religions to treat them. They typically say things like: “I would want them to respect my faith, show interest in it and learn about it, not constantly attack it, find points of agreement that they could affirm, respectfully disagree where necessary — but not let disagreement shatter the friendship, share about their faith without pressuring me to convert, invite me to share my with them, include me in their social life without making me feel odd,” and so on. After each reply, I generally say, “That sounds great. Go and do likewise.” (211–212)
McLaren goes on to discuss John 14:6, “And Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father but through me.” First, he argues that the context is talking about the Temple and not heaven. John 14:1–3 reads:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.And you know the way to where I am going.”
Here he argues that the phrase “Father’s house” is in reference to the Temple because the last time the phrase is used in John’s gospel is when Jesus “cleansed the Temple” in John 2. McLaren argues that unless it is explicitly stated otherwise we should assume continuity in the terms. However, Jesus has said that he is changing the rules from an earthly temple to his body. Therefore, he is calling them into a “new-people-of-God-as-temple”.
He goes on to state that the disciples concerns are not in reference to others but themselves. They want to know where he is going. They do not understand. Therefore, the words that Jesus states in verse 6 in response to Thomas’ question about what to do after he dies. McLaren argues that Jesus is saying, “Thomas, you know the way, the truth, and the life. It’s me. Just remember me and do what I did and you will find your way into my new temple, my peaceable kingdom here on this earth.” The “no one” then of verse 6 is the disciples, only. That if you look at Jesus you see the Father and all is well. This alternative understanding of John 14:6 should make us realize that the Christian faith is in no way calling for a soul-sort between other religions, but to serve, love, and respect them.
I appreciate that once again McLaren is able to bring to the surface again a huge issue that makes many Christians squeamish. I am also thankful that he calls the institutional Church to the dock and finds them guilty of great horrors in the name of Jesus. I think he is right that we as the corporate body of Christ needs to continue the process of repentance for our ancestors and own them as part of our history. I also agree that we are called to treat people of religions with respect, charity, and grace.
Unfortunately I think that he has done violence to the text of John. Let’s take a moment and look at this. First, the context of John 14 is Jesus’ preparation of the disciples for his death and what comes next. In chapter 13 Jesus washes their feet and tells them about his betrayal and Peter’s denial. But, he wants to raise their understanding from the immediate circumstances to the bigger picture.
We come to John 14:1 and Jesus’ comforting words that proclaim his preparation on their behalf in his father’s house. The most likely and simple understanding of this is that he is referring to heaven. Why? Because the context is his death. There would not be place for him to prepare for his disciples anywhere else. Then he refers to his return and his calling the disciples to himself.
Thomas asks the “what’s the way” question. Jesus responds with “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” How do they get to the Father’s house? They get there by embracing Jesus. There is no other way. It seems here that Jesus is making a point here by repeating the article three times (which would have been unnecessary in the Aramaic and is unnecessary in the Greek). To come to the Father there is but one way.
I agree with McLaren that the key to the passage is not John 14:6 but John 14:9b: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” This points to the divinity of Jesus and his uniqueness.
The argument that “Father’s house” relates to the earthly temple does not jive. Jewish understanding of the Temple was that it was a shadow of heaven. Therefore, it makes sense that Jesus is turning their understanding upside down. It is no longer through the sacrificial system that people get right with God but through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, God the Son. The earthly Temple is replaced by full entrance into the real Father’s house. No longer would his people be worshiping in shadows but in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24).
If we really love people then we must call them to faith in Christ. Again, McLaren leaves us wanting more. If a man is about to drink poison we can respectfully ask him to stop. But, at some point there is a necessity to stop him from killing himself if we really love him.
I think that Penn Gillette said it well, “How much do you have to hate someone to not proselytize them?”
WHERE’S THAT MAGIC EIGHT BALL? OR THE FUTURE QUESTION
This is the eighth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Future Question: Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
McLaren now sets to go to work on dispensational eschatology in his third question regarding the application of a new kind of Christianity. He paints a humorous and relatively accurate picture of the dispensational premillenial understanding of eschatology. McLaren sees in this understanding of the eschaton the inherent willingness to destruction and war because Jesus is coming back and will be setting the world right through massive bloodletting in the war of the apocalypse.
If this is the old way of understanding the future, then what is the right way? We are to understand the eschaton not from a perspective of a “fixed end point toward which we move, but rather a widening space opening into an infinitely expanding goodness. (195)” We are to reject the “soul/sort” universe where people are eternally sorted into eternal bins marked “redeemed” or “damned”.
No, the future is un-doomed (195). Jesus, by inaugurating his peaceable kingdom brings resurrection, liberation, reconciliation, and salvation. Judgment is the forgetting or destruction of things which are deemed unworthy and the good things of a person’s life will be saved, remembered, brought back for a new beginning.
McLaren argues for what he calls a “participatory eschatology” where we participate in God’s work and we anticipate it’s ultimate success (20o-201).
Anytime that the predominant dispensational premillenialist view of the eschaton is brought into question I am grateful. This understanding of Christ’s return is damaging and does violence to the text. It indeed brings about the concerns that McLaren highlights. Much of what is said in answering this question is to be commended.
I do find that there are two key problems that need to be highlighted (McLaren also does a poor job of handling the term, “parousia” but responding to that would make this post too long!). First, the issue of judgment from McLaren’s perspective is problematic in that it does not take into account the text. It is not that someone foisted the idea of “soul-sort” onto the text. Jesus describes the time when when he will sort the sheep from the goats. This is not simply a “forgetting” of the things that Jesus did not appreciate. This is a casting out from his presence. McLaren simply goes too far and is wrong.
The second problem is greater than the first. The second problem is that there is no sense of an actual end a “telos” if you will. The eschatology that McLaren proposes does not include an ending of time where we see a real redemption of all things. We do not see any understanding or description of the life to come. What we do have is a works based, faithless, evolutionary understanding of Christian religiosity.
I would encourage McLaren to spend some time reading and understanding fully amillenialism. This perspective handles his concerns and remains true to the biblical text.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SEX BABY! OR THE SEX QUESTION
This is the seventh post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Sex Question: Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
McLaren begins this second question of application in a way that plays to our prejudices (it’s a fantastic bit of writing!). He paints the picture of what many Christians would consider to be the “homosexual movement”. However, he is really painting a picture of what he calls “fundasexuality” which is centered on “heterophobia” or the fear of the different. He says that this is packaged in many forms, “Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or even atheist. (174–175)” McLaren goes on to argue that sociology tells us that “groups can exist without a god, but no group can exist without a devil (175).” Who is the devil for the fundasexualist? Gays, lesbians, bisexual, and trans-gendered people.
The argument against “fundasexualism” is built on the story of Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8. I think I rightly summarize the argument this way:
- The Ethiopian eunuch had visited Jerusalem to worship.
- The Ethiopian eunuch had not been allowed to worship because he was not Jewish and Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibited a eunuch from doing so.
- The Ethiopian eunuch hears the gospel of creation, liberation, and reconciliation “embodied in a man who was stripped naked and publicly humiliated, despised, rejected, and misunderstood, a man without physical descendants, a man who was cut and scarred forever.” This is a man to whom the Ehtiopian eunuch can relate.
- The Ethiopian eunuch who was condemned “by the Jewish scriptures” now has found entrance into the kingdom of God and requests baptism. Which he is by Philip.
- The Ethiopian eunuch a “non-heterosexual” becomes a missional leader taking the gospel to Ethiopia.
This argument is then extrapolated to be inclusive of homosexuals and undocumented aliens.
McLaren continues to paint the horrific picture of sexual brokenness that exists in the heterosexual world and within the church. The list of sexual sin is long, painful, and honest.
The solution? “We must pursue a practical, down-to-earth theology and an honest, fully embodied spirituality that speak truthfully and openly about our sexuality, in all its straight and gay complexity.(189)”
I continue to appreciate the fact that McLaren does not let us get away from the hard questions that face us today. Sex is the predominant topic everywhere. Ads, pop culture, the news, and even Sportscenter: sex overshadows it all. I agree with McLaren that the dialogue must be opened. We have to have the conversation, no, we need to have the conversation. I also agree that we must move beyond the binary, “I’m right, you’re wrong” bickering. I agree with McLaren’s conclusion.
There are parts of the discussion that I disagree with though. I think that he makes a leap with Ethiopian eunuch. There is nothing in the text which tells us of his gender identity. We simply know of his physical limitation to carry out the sex act. This has nothing to do with gender. To make the leap that he was “non-heterosexual” is too far and it is too far to assume that he was “heterosexual”. I think that his sexual identity is not the question at hand. I think that McLaren rightly identifies the issue of the Ethiopian eunuch not being allowed to worship, but is wrong when he asserts it has to do with gender identity.
I come back to the same issue as I have had so many times before. How? At this point in the text McLaren has removed all means by which to have any kind of authoritative ethic. Sexual conduct is of deep concern in the Scriptures and there is an expectation of honoring God with our bodies and there are limits. However, if the Scriptures are simply one voice in the discussion then we can regulate them to a more primitive idea and that we have evolved past their prescriptions for healthy lives. This is very dangerous and unwise.
The sexual brokenness that exists in our world is in desperate of not only a “man who was stripped naked and publicly humiliated, despised, rejected, and misunderstood, a man without physical descendants, a man who was cut and scarred forever” but a man who also died and rose again and in so doing made a way for reconciliation between God and people, people and creation, and people and people.
YOU GET UP ON SUNDAY AND DO WHAT!? OR THE CHURCH QUESTION
This is the sixth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Church Question: What do we do about the church?
This is the first of five questions on how McLaren sees his vision of A New Kind of Christianity working itself out practically in the real world. McLaren paints a sad and realistic picture of the church. He says that owe are “divided, immature, confused about our purpose and identity, in danger of fragmenting our way into nonexistence, all at once bending over backwards and straddling fences, stiff of neck and soft of spine, and otherwise twisted and contorted in compromise. We have financial problems, sexual controversies, pride problems, schism threats, excesses in some forms of spirituality and deficits in others, and all manner of authority issues (165–166).” It is not a rosy outlook. McLaren reminds us that these were the same issues that the Corinthians faced and so he sets out to show how Paul dealt with these issues in 1 Corinthians.
Paul’s perspective, according to McLaren, can be summarized this way, ”…the church most truly is: it is a space in which the Spirit works to form Christlike people, and it is the space in which human beings, formed in Christlike love, cooperate with the Spirit and one another to express that love in word and deed, art and action. (171)“
We are to become a people who take action by “listening, dialogue, appreciate inquiry, understanding, preemptive peacemaking, reconciliation, nonviolence, prophetic confrontation, advocacy, generosity, and personal and social transformation (171).” This is the mission of the church.
I think that the picture that is painted of the church here is beautiful, powerful, and engaging. I think that McLaren has hit on something that we need to embrace again. If the Church looked like this then we would see a renewed engagement with the world that is far from Christ. We would see movements that seek to transform culture and build bridges to the gospel.
Nevertheless, there is something missing. I found myself getting excited about the picture that he was painting as it is very similar to the dream and picture I have of the Church. It is challenging. It calls the Church to a higher standard. However, in his exposition of 1 Corinthians there was again the absence of the discussion of the cross and the resurrection. McLaren handled the issues of knowledge, love, and power with insight but again excluded the cross.
Again, I must beg for more. I am concerned that McLaren “The Pendulum Swinger” (as a friend calls him) has removed the pendulum.
EXTRA, EXTRA, GOOD NEWS!!! OR THE GOSPEL QUESTION
This is the fifth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Gospel Question: What is the Gospel
The question of the gospel is critical. It is critical because in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says it is. McLaren specifically sets out to refute the following line of reasoning:
I had always assumed that “kingdom of God” meant “kingdom of heaven, ” which meant “going to heaven after you die,” which required believing the message of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which I understood to teach a theory of atonement called “penal substitution,” which was the basis for a formula for forgiveness of original sin called “justification by grace through faith.” (138)
This description of the gospel now explicitly clarifies what McLaren believes the six-line diagram of Christianity to be teaching. He calls those that hold to the six-line diagram to “repent” as he has done (138).
So what is the gospel? McLaren calls us to read Paul through the Gospels because as we do so we will ultimately be reading Paul through Jesus. This means then that the gospel becomes very clear, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) So, what does this mean?
First, the free gift of God is being born again into a new life into a new participation in a new Genesis. Second, it means beginning a new Exodus by passing through the waters of baptism (as opposed the Red Sea). Finally, it means receiving the kingdom of God to become a “citizen of a new kingdom, the peaceable kingdom imagined by the prophets and inaugurated in Christ, learning its ways (as a disciple) and demonstrating in word and deed its presence and availability to all (as an apostle). (139). ”
McLaren argues this from an exposition of Romans where he argues for seven moves that Paul makes (Chapter 15):
- Reduce Jew and Gentile to the same level of need (Rom 1:18–3:20)
- Announce a new way forward for all, Jew and Gentile: the way of faith (Rom 3:21–4:25)
- Unite all in a common story, with four illustrations: Adam, baptism, slavery, and remarriage (Rom 5:1–7:6)
- Unite all in a common struggle and a common victory, illustrated by two stories: the Story of Me and the Story of We (Rom 7:7–8:39)
- Address Jewish and gentile problems, showing God as God of all (9:1–11:36)
- Engage all in a common life and mission (Rom 12:1–13:14)
- Call everyone to unity in the kingdom of God (Rom 14:1–16:27)
This chapter was tough for me. It was tough because for the first time I am having a hard time finding the connection. However, I think that there is something that we need to remember and be reminded of over and over. McLaren says, “Jesus’s gospel of the kingdom must welcome Jews in their Jewishness and Gentiles in their goyishness, and Paul whats to show how that can be. (144)” I say to that a hearty, “AMEN!” We too often ignore the issues related to social identity and that the fact that in Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are on in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)” This points to the fact that “converting” is not converting away from one aspect of your identity but becoming something new, something other.
I struggle though with the bulk of McLaren’s answer to this question. I think that here McLaren has made a move away from what the scriptures teach concerning the gospel. First, I think McLaren contradicts himself. He says that Romans is not a linear text, yet he treats it as such with seven linear moves. He says Paul is not moving from A to Z, yet this is exactly how he treats Romans in his exposition of it. Why? Because Paul actually did think through how he wanted to describe the core beliefs of the Christ following community.
Second, while I appreciate the idea of reading Paul through the gospels this seems to be poor exegesis. We should not reading anything through anything else. We ought to read texts alongside one another. Why do we always have a need to find a “controlling” text? Is it not possible to set these texts next to one another and allow them to inform us? This is especially important due to the reality that the epistles were written prior to the gospels. I understand that there was an oral tradition regarding the gospel narratives that informed Paul’s writing. However, it also seems that Paul had direct influence on Matthew (who most likely wrote from Antioch, Paul’s home church), Mark (who probably traveled with Paul), and Luke (who definitely traveled with Paul). So, it makes sense to all these text to inform one another and not to give primacy to any one of them. If we follow this method we will see that the gospel is not ONLY concerned with penal substitutionary atonement but it is also concerned with victory, liberation, and re-creation.
Finally, to set aside issues of propitiation and to never once deal with Christ’s death and resurrection is deeply problematic. Anyone genuine reading of the gospels points to the cruci-centric nature of the ministry of Jesus. The epistles all point to the crucifixion and the resurrection as the central tenets of the faith.
I think, sadly, McLaren has made a move that authentic followers of Christ cannot make. In his gospel paradigm there is no means by which people are reconciled to their creator and to his creation. He calls for peace, liberation, and re-creation but there is no means by which that is achieved. It is here that we must part ways.
WHO’S THE LONG HAIRED FREAK? OR THE JESUS QUESTION
This is the fourth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and why is he important?
In this the fourth question, the Jesus question, McLaren seeks to find an authentic representation of who Jesus is in the Scriptures. The issue is particularly stated:
Among those who become more self-aware about the danger of distortion, and understandable fear arises: if all of us (not just “all of them”) are tempted to make Jesus in our own image, then we should be extremely cautious about compromising, letting Jesus be reimaged according to contemporary tastes…By holding a presumptive hostitlity to new views of Jesus, which may indeed reflect contemporary biases, we may unwittingly preserve old views of Jesus, which also reflect dangerous and compromising biases — just biases of the past rather than the present (121–122, italics original).
The old way of understanding Jesus that McLaren spars with is once again founded in his Greco-Roman construct. The Jesus of the Gospels is replaced by the Jesus of Revelation: the angry, sword wielding, Caesar look-a-like Jesus. While Jesus failed the first time around, there is no fear, he will come back and bring the sword and lead a great militaristic victory. This is the Jesus imaged after Caesar in all his glory and splendor. Finally, Pax Christus will match up with Pax Romana.
If this is not Jesus then who is he? McLaren argues that Jesus is the bringer of a new Genesis, a new Exodus, and a new kingdom come. His arguments are derived by comparing the gospel texts to the narratives found in Genesis, Exodus, and Isaiah. In these places he finds parallels between Jesus and Moses and the peaceable kingdom. The difference is that in Jesus we have a greater depth of the realization of creation, liberation, and peace. This most clearly evidenced in the dream of the peaceable kingdom found in the prophets. In Jesus, we no longer have a dream, but a kingdom actually inaugurated.
McLaren summarizes what Jesus does in this way:
…Jesus…did not come merely to “save souls from hell.” No he came to launch a new Genesis, to lead a new Exodus, and to announce, embody, and inaugurate a new kingdom as the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). Seen in this light, Jesus and his message have everything to do with poverty, slavery, and a “social agenda.” (135)
This was one of the most challenging sections of McLaren’s book for me. I think it is because I find myself so often shrinking Jesus into a box that keeps him purely in the business of saving souls. I see him only as the sacrificial lamb whose blood I paint on my door frame so that I am passed over on the day of judgment. My life is so much easier that way. This approach protects me from “losing my life to save it.” This approach to Jesus makes it easy to “win” debates about spiritual things. This approach relegates Jesus to gymna-sanct-a-toriums and the first day of the week. If Jesus is more than a sacrifice for me, if he is the victor, the liberator, the one who brings about my re-creation, then a relationship with Jesus will be painful, real, passionate, beautiful, and transformative.
That being said I have a very real concern about the picture that McLaren paints. It is due to the fact that he does not include any discussion regarding the atonement. He says that he painting a picture of Jesus outside the lines of the six-line diagram and that he seeking to bring “Christ and him crucified” to the fore. However, he does not interact with the cross of Christ. What we have is a focus on the other aspects of Jesus’s work.
In a text that is painting a new vision of Christianity it is sloppy, at best, to ignore the crucifixion and it’s atoning work. Is it possible that McLaren simply accepts Steve Chalke’s representation of the atonement? Is he simply affirming liberation theology? I hope not. He says in the quote above that Jesus did not “merely” save souls. I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is “balancing the scales”, so to speak. However, this is very dangerous turf upon which to walk. I hope in future texts that he will clarify his position on Christ’s work on the cross.
WHO’S THE BIG GUY UPSTAIRS? OR THE GOD QUESTION
This is the third post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The God question: Is God violent?
God is a tribalistic, violent, cosmic child abuser. Do you believe that? This is the question that McLaren undertakes in the third part of A New Kind of Christianity. He says that as you read the Bible we bump into God doing or at least sanctioning genocide and violence. This seems to contradict the picture that we find in the life and person of Jesus. This leads to the natural question, “how can this be?”
Beginning with this question, McLaren, begins to apply to theological questions his understanding of the overarching storyline of the Bible and his understanding of authority (how the Bible should be read). In theological terms (and here’s your ten cent word for the day) we see his prolegomena being applied. This is where the rubber meets the road (add another cliche of your choice here). We do not have two perspectives fleshed out in this section of the text, what we have is an argument that is developed for an evolutionary perspective on the revelation of God.
McLaren uses a math text book as his analogy and it makes sense to quote it at length here.
“Consider the Bible a collection of math textbooks. There’s a first-grade text, a second-grade text, and so son, all the way up to high-school texts that deal with geometry, algebra, trigonometry, maybe even calculus. Imagine opening the second-grade text and reading this sentence about subtraction: “You cannot subtract a larger number from a smaller number.” Then you open a sixth-grade text and see a chapter entitled “Negative Numbers.” The first sentence reads: “This chapter will teach you how to subtract larger numbers from small numbers.” How do we reconcile the statements? Were the authors of the second-grade text lying? Or were the authors of the sixth-grade text relativists, doubting the absolute truth of an earlier text? (104)“
The point of the analogy is that educational experts have determined that a second-grader is not cognitively able to understand the concept of negative numbers yet. Therefore, the second-grade text is teaching them where they are and preparing them for further teaching in the future. McLaren argues that this is how God has theologically trained the human race.
He argues that in the Bible what we have are developing or maturing or evolving perspectives of who God is. God is then constantly taking us through a process of understanding more of who he is based on where we are in our understanding of him. Therefore we as people are constantly on a trajectory of change and growth and never coming to the place where we have arrived. He says, “what if, in order to understand the character of God that lies behind, beneath, above, and within the agency of God, we must similarly pass through some stages in which our understanding is imbalanced and incomplete? (105)”
How does this answer the question? Like this:
“In light of the unfolding understanding of biblical revelation, when we ask why God appears so violent in some passages of the Bible, we can suggest this hypothesis: if the human beings who produced those passages were violent in their own development, they would naturally see God through the lens of their experience. The fact that those disturbing descriptions are found in the Bible doesn’t mean that we are stuck with them, any more than we are stuck with ‘You cannot subtract a larger number from a smaller number’ just because that statement still exists in our second-grade textbook. Remember the Bible is not a constitution. It is like the library of math texts that shows the history of the development of mathematical reasoning among human beings.(106)”
McLaren goes on to argue that this causes us to necessarily evolve in our understanding of God. This means that we must constantly be “trading up” in our perspective of who God is. This brings clarity to the “absolute refusal of among the Jewish people to tolerate idols: idols freeze one’s understanding of God in stone, as it were. (111)” As better understandings of God develop around us we must “trade-up” and embrace the clearer and better understanding of God. Ultimately what we are going to find is that for Christians Jesus is the highest and best revelation of God.
There are some things that I find helpful in this section of McLaren’s quest. I am thankful that he is seeking to deal with head-on an issue that is often set aside. I think that his approach here is creative and provides us with some things to consider. I also appreciate how he points to Christ as the high point. Just yesterday, my bride and I, were talking about people who place the Bible as their object of worship. McLaren’s positioning of Christ as the highest form of revelation is a helpful guard against this. I also appreciate the nuances perspective that is taken here. He does not make the easy jump to “God is evolving” but argues for development in human understanding of God.
I do have a concern though. While there are small things that I could nit-pick the greater issue for me is one of authority. With the position that McLaren is positing here we must ask who determines the better or more evolved view of who God is? Where do we get this information? Clearly (from McLaren’s perspective) we cannot find this information in the Bible for it is merely a record of human thought and development. I think that he would say we find this through conversation with one another and the “other”. However, I think that this is problematic. Should we say that Islam has a better understanding of God because it came later? And then that should be replaced by Mormonsim because it came after that? Where does this end?
If we want to say that Jesus is the climax, the best revelation of God, then all we have is the Bible. The Bible cannot simply be a collection of human thought development. It has to be something more. This means that we cannot just discard the “violent God” passages and chalk it up to those less evolved people back then. This is arrogance of the highest order. What do we do with 1 Corinthians 10 if this is the case?
I do not agree that we have evolving perspectives of God in the Bible. I think that we have God revealing himself progressively and acting in ways that he chooses. I am not comfortable with the violence that God does in the Bible. I do know that God acts justly and purposefully. I also know that with the coming of Jesus and his death and resurrection there was a radical change. The rest of it requires me to live with mystery and tension.
That’s OK. I am good with mystery.
BASEBALL. REDEMPTION, AND A HOSPITAL ROOM (RE-POST FROM MAY 29,2009)
Today I have a little procedure to deal with some scar tissue in my esophagus. It is no big deal. Last summer though our family dealt with a big deal medically. I won’t be writing a new post today but I thought that this was a timely one to re-post (it just so happens that the first Tigers telecast of the season is today). This post is from May 29, 2009.
A week ago yesterday my bride received a phone call. It was one of those calls that you dread. Her dad, Dennis, was in the hospital due to a stroke. It was “minor” but for a man like Dennis and for a family like ours it is major. Dennis is an athlete (at times becoming a scratch golfer!). Dennis is the life of the party. Dennis is the picture of the entrepreneurial spirit. Dennis is the kind of man that other men want to be. This is seen in the respect that his four son-in-laws have for him and the tender love that he bestows on his four daughters.
Amy left Detroit early last Thursday morning and drove (I am sure more quickly than she cares to admit) directly to the hospital room in Evansville, IN where Dennis was beginning his recovery.
But wait, that’s not the whole backstory.
The beloved St. Louis Cardinals were about to finish their three game homestand against the hated Chicago Cubs. The Cards had won the first two games of the series and were in position to sweep and return to first place in the division. In business like fashion they dispatched the Cubs and welcomed to town their cross state rivals, the Royals for a weekend set.
Every single day there was baseball. Every single day there was time spent in a hospital room. Every single daay there was a conversation over lunch or dinner that took place between Amy and Dennis about the Cards.
You see baseball was the beginning of healing. It was normalcy brought into an abnormal situation. It was the pastoral balm that allowed father and daughter to sit and talk and be. Baseball. Not doctors. Not a golden tongued preacher. Not a good book. Baseball. It was the context. The rhythm of life that never stops. It’s six on, one off created rhythm that touches us deep.
Some say the season is too long. Some say the games are too long. Some say it’s boring. Some say it’s day in and day out grind take away from it.
I could not disagree more. It is redemptive. It is ongoing. It is always with you. It provides passion, joy, pain, sorrow, elation. Most of all, it provides time. Time for a father and daughter to be together. Time for them to get lost together and forget that they are in a hospital room. Time for them to be transported to that place they both love. That place where the buzz of the crowd, the warmth of the sun, and smell of the hot dog fill you.
A Hospital Room.
WHO’S THE BOSS? OR THE AUTHORITY QUESTION
[caption id=“attachment_771” align=“alignleft” width=“300” caption=“Well that’s not quite how it works…”]
This is the second post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Authority Question: How should the Bible be understood?
As with the narrative question, McLaren, sets up two opposing views of how to understand the Bible. The first is what he calls the “Constitutional View (78).” He sees this view as the cause for three critical problems he highlights regarding our use and understanding of the Bible:
- The scientific mess (68)
- The ethical mess (68)
- The peace mess (69)
We come out on the “wrong side” of these issues over and over again because we have missed the very nature of the Bible. McLaren argues his case by using the issue of slavery and comparing how Christians in the South used the Bible to defend slavery. As a result, “We must find new approaches to our sacred texts, approaches that sanely, critically, and fairly engage with honest scientific inquiry, approaches that help us derive constructive and relevant guidance in dealing with pressing personal and social problems, and approaches that lead us in the sweet pathway of peacemaking rather than the broad, deep rut of mutually assured destruction (70).”
McLaren goes on to argue that as a result of our understanding the Bible in a constitutional matter we read it like lawyers in a courtroom. In so doing we create a case for a particular and then look to find how to support our case by the precedents found in the text. This approach, it is argued, creates tensions in the text that have to be reconciled and in so doing damage is done to the Bible. The greatest problem is that unlike constitutions which can be amended, the Bible is the word of God and therefore cannot be.
This is in opposition to the nature of the Bible that McLaren proposes, that of a library of culture and community. This means that it is a “carefully selected group of ancient documents of paramount importance for people who want to understand and belong to the community of people who seek God and, in particular, the God of Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and Jesus (81).”
The Bible then should be expected to have tension and even contradictions. Why? Because it is a library with different works of literature that are coming from different perspectives. This is what we expect in any library and the biblical library is no different. Internal discrepancies within a constitution are great problems but they are signs of “vitality and vigor in the literature of a culture (82).”
How does then apply out to understanding the issue of authority? If the Bible is not full of propositional truth, then how does revelation work? It works, says McLaren, through conversation. The basis for his argument comes from the book of Job. He sees in Job proof that, “revelation occurs not inthe words and statements of individuals, but in the conversation among individuals and God, we might say (italics original, 89–90).” How does he get here? He does so by seeing that Job’s companions are chastised by God even though they were quoting from the Bible in their responses to Job. Job is not chastised and yet he was the one questioning God. The problem continues for McLaren because in Job we have Satan speaking and God speaking and these other characters. Are their words inspired by God? Certainly not, McLaren says. These words are used by God to draw us into conversation with the text to leave us in a place of wonder.
He contrasts his view with conservatives who seek to “put us ‘under’ Scripture (96).” He also contrasts his view with liberals who seek to “put us ‘over’ Scripture (96).” McLaren’s desire is to “put us ‘in’ Scripture (96).”
I really appreciate the call that McLaren makes in regard to how we understand the Bible. I have seen this constitutional view in action and it is disheartening. I also appreciate how he desires us to come to the Bible with awe and wonder. This is good, nay, very good. I really like how he closes this section out, “I hope this approach can help us enter and abide in the presence, love, and reverence of the living God all the days of our lives and in God’s mission as humble, wholehearted servants day by day and moment by moment (97).” Any approach to the Bible that short circuits this response is flawed and yet often times the lack of this response is not due to our approach but to our hearts.
I think that where I struggle with McLaren’s approach is that, in my opinion, he does not give the Scriptures their due. It seems that he has made them less than what they are. To relegate them as a mere conversation partner in our spirituality pushes them to the periphery, by definition. Looking at Job it seems that revelation comes through God’s self-disclosure, not as result of conversation. The Scriptures are a special revelation of the transcendant God to his creation and in so doing help us experience his immanence. It is here where our sense of awe is derived, the immanence of the transcendant God before us in the Bible.
When we read the Bible we interact with God. We must ask questions and seek him in the midst of this. We must engage fully. Dare I say even converse? Yes. In so doing though we must acknowledge that this interaction is more along the lines of a student conversing with a professor as opposed to a peer. The Bible is not an ongoing conversation. It is not changing. When the authors wrote they wrote with purpose. They had an intended meaning. We engage with the Bible and ask questions to understand this meaning, then we must understand how it applies to our world now. This process does not change the Bible. It changes us.
WHAT’S THE STORY JACK? OR THE NARRATIVE QUESTION
This is the first of ten posts on Brian McLaren’s, “A New Kind of Christianity”. As we begin this little quest of ours I want you to know that I am not commenting on the introductory chapters and just diving into the “red meat”, so to speak. Also, I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
Without further ado…
The Narrative Question: What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?
For us to make sense of any book we must come to some conclusion about what is its main idea. We do this so that we can make interpretive decisions regarding a text’s finer details. To answer this question McLaren contrasts two ways of understanding the overarching storyline. The first way is that of the “Six Line Diagram”:
[caption id=“attachment_762” align=“aligncenter” width=“410” caption=“Six Line Diagram (34)”]
This diagram, states McLaren, is the dominant understanding of the Bible from the “fifth or sixth century” (33). He argues that this storyline is brought about through isogesis by forcing upon the biblical texts “the Greco-Roman narrative” (37). What exactly does this mean? Succinctly, it is the application of Platonic thought to the Bible and specifically taking the cave illusion and adding biblical themes. He goes on to argue that the god that is represented by this story shall be called, “Theos” who “loves spirit, state, and being and hates matter, story, and becoming, since, once again, the latter involve change, and the only way to change or move from perfection is downward into decay. (42)” Theos is the christianized version of Zeus.
In this context McLaren argues against the concept of “the Fall”. This is because the term is never used in the Bible and is inherently “un-Jewish (en 15).” Theos stands at the ready to destroy because people are changing and becoming and imperfect. Salvation then is the return to perfection and to stasis. Those who are not saved are eternally punished because Theos will not destroy the Spirit.
To summarize, the good news in the six line diagram is, “Theos, plus perfected souls of the redeemed in heaven, plus everyone else suffering the absolute, ‘perfect’ torment of eternal, unquenchable, pure, and unchanging hate from Theos, getting what they deserve for being part of the detestable fallen universe. (44)”
McLaren provides a counter-story. He argues for developing the story by reading “forwards through Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets to Jesus. (46)” For the sake of his text he focused on Genesis, Exodus, and Isaiah to grasp the story arch of the Bible which can be understood in three dimensions. The first is found in Genesis. Genesis sets the table for the rest. This first dimension is “Creation and Restoration”. Here, McLaren argues that what we see in the Creation narrative is the Jewish concept of “goodness” as opposed to the Platonic “perfection” (47). Goodness, it is argued, is a relative term as opposed to the absolutism of perfection. It is from this platform that McLaren argues against the ontological fall (i.e. original sin).
To that end he states that what is seen in Genesis 3 is a “coming of age story” (49). In this story Elohim gives his daughter greater and greater freedom and she responds with greater and greater foolishness. His response is not judgment but a patient lovingkindness (this is seen in the fact that Adam and Eve do not actually die on the day they eat the fruit contra God’s own words earlier in Genesis 3).
The movement throughout the story of Genesis is from garden to city. This could be understood as “development” or ascending in progress. However, it is an ironic ascent “because with each gain, humans also descend into loss. They descend (or fall — there’s nothing wrong with the word itself, just the unrecognized baggage that may come with it) from the primal innocence of being naked without shame in one another’s presence.”
It is in the story of Abraham that we see this reversed. It is ultimately experienced through the life of Joseph and the reconciliation that he makes with his brothers.
The second narrative dimension is the Exodus’ liberation and formation. The people are liberated from their city-dwelling bondage and returned to the primal wilderness where they are formed. This narrative “situates us in humanity’s oppressive, resistant world in which God is active as liberator — freeing us from external and internal oppression forming us as the people of God. (58)” This narrative ends in progress.
The third narrative is exemplified in the prophet Isaiah. It is the narrative of “the sacred dream of the peaceable kingdom.(59)” The dream becomes ever more encompassing as time goes by and moves from a physical concept to that of the “Day of the Lord”. Here we experience the liberation and reconciliation and the return to the good. This narrative, McLaren argues, free us from a deterministic future and draw us into a realization that, “history is unscripted, unrehearsed reality, happening now — really happening. (63)”
So what do we do with all this? I am thankful for McLaren’s gracious and creative approach to the storyline of the Bible. I appreciate that he desires to moves us away from a purely propositional reading of the Bible. This approach is the product of modernist epistemology (whether we want to admit it or not, it’s true). He also does a nice job of helping to move us from a foundationalism that is unhelpful when one considers the depth and interconnectedness of the biblical narrative. I also think that McLaren has hit on significant themes: Creator, Reconciler, and Liberator. I am grateful for his deconstruction of the modern isogesis.
I do have some concerns. Firstly, I am concerned with the move away from an ontological fall. I agree with McLaren that the six line diagram is overly simplistic, however, I think that we can rightly understand Genesis 3 as an ontological fall if we choose to take a nuanced view. What I mean is this: while we as people on this side of Genesis 3 are indeed born into sin we are also born as image bearers of God. This means that while we are radically corrupted we also bear the marks of our creator. I think that McLaren falls prey to his own critique here in that while he seeks to move away from a Platonic reading he simply substitutes it with the Aristotelian. To argue away the ontological fall one must deal with Romans 1–6 and he does not.
Secondly, I think that he needs to do more with the issues of justice. While Theos is first-rate tool, McLaren’s Elohim is a spineless parent who chooses not to discipline his children. The pastor to the Hebrews in his sermon says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Heb 12:7–8). ” It is notable that McLaren chooses not to discuss the slaying of animals on behalf of Adam and Eve and that in so doing God made a way to atone for their sin.
Finally, I am concerned about the fact that McLaren seems to be using the fundamentalist Christian movement as his foil and lumps all of Christianity from the “5th or 6th century” on into that same category. I would argue that Edwards, Calvin, and the like had much more nuanced understandings of the story line of the Bible than what is presented in the six line diagram. I would also argue that what we find in the writings of those doing work in the field of social identity theory provide for us this nuanced vision that we need (for a great example see Dr. J. Brian Tucker’s work).
LEAVE YOUR CHURCH? YEAH, HE REALLY SAID IT.
OK, so before I get into A New Kind of Christianity, I had to write about this. Yesterday I ran across this story (this is a summary and includes some audio) about Glenn Beck thanks to Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed. In a nutshell he is arguing that churches which practice “social” or “economic” justice are covers for communism and nazism. I know, I could not believe it either. I am hoping that there is more to this. I have only the little clip on the link above. I want to believe the best in Mr. Beck, however, it is a bit disheartening when people like him choose to set aside the Bible for their political gains.
Jesus cared deeply for the poor, the dispossessed, and the broken. The scriptures are very clear about the role of justice and how it so closely connects to the heart of God. Let us look at but one verse, Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Simple question, “what does God require of us”? Answer: DO JUSTICE. Friends, the heart of God is just and he is seeking to bring about justice. This is why Jesus himself had to die on the cross, so that justice could be done. Read the Psalms and you will find that justice is a key theme. Read the gospels and you will find that justice is a key theme. Justice is a core principle in the economy of God.
We tack on terms like “social” or “economic” and then try to run away from our responsibility. No. Justice is required of us. Finally, I would recommend reading Leviticus 25 and then tell me that God does not care about justice. Justice is not a cover for communism or nazism. Justice is the response of a grateful people who have been transformed by a resurrected savior.
A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY
I have been reading Brian McLaren’s newest book, A New Kind of Christianity. It has totally engaged me. My mind is wrestling through the challenges that he has laid out. I am about half way through the text and I am very frustrated that he end-noted instead of foot-noted, I have a callous now from marking my place at the end-notes (OK not really, but you get my point). I am going to write ten more posts on the book and in each one I am going to interact with the question that McLaren proposes.
Here’s your chance to look into the future:
- What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
- How should the Bible be understood?
- Is God violent?
- Who is Jesus and why is he important?
- What is the gospel?
- What do we do about the church?
- Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
- Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
- How should the followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
- How can we translate our quest into action?
These will be my next ten posts. I hope that you will interact in the comments and that we can have a good and lively conversation about what McLaren is bringing to the table.
YOUR PREACHER IS DEAD.
Holograph (left), Tony Morgan (right)
Is the title a little extreme? Probably. But, that’s the point. Yesterday Tony Morgan sported some new technology on his website. It’s the same kind of technology that we saw on CNN during the presidential coverage, that’s right, holograms. Tony believes that this technology will be coming down in price such that it will become a regular in churches in the next year.
I think that this is a sad commentary on the state of discipleship in the church today. We already have pastors of “multi-site” churches preaching via video screen because they are unwilling or incapable of training others up. This takes it to the next level. I can see the sales pitch coming now, “Imagine having Rob Bell or John Piper preaching at your church EVERY Sunday for the low, low price of…”
I am an early adopter of technology. I am also a believer in the necessary availability of the preacher to connect with his people. One of my mentors said, “The most important part of the sermon is the slow walk after the service out of the sanctuary.” Why? It is because in those few moments you are able to engage with the people God has entrusted you with. You are able to field questions, talk more deeply, or just hear an encouraging word. Let’s see a holograph do that!
It seems to me with this technology, as with many others, the question is not “can we” but “should we.” What say you? Should you replace your preached with a holograph?
THE MOST DEMONIC MOVIE EVER! REALLY?
When I opened up my RSS reader yesterday and saw Out of Ur’s article on Pastor Mark Driscoll’s comments on Avatar, I was intrigued. I clicked. I watched. I was amazed. I was sitting with my wife and my jaw dropped and she began wondering if I had lock jaw on the off chance that I did not get my tetanus updates. The reality is that I was surprised by comments like this coming from a person who holds tightly to a Reformed perspective of doctrine (which I am coming to learn does not equate to a Reformed worldview, I am so naïve!)
First, let me say a few things to set the stage for my concerns.
- I enjoy Pastor Mark and am thankful for the role he plays in the Christian world.
- I agree with Pastor Mark’s assessment that Na’avi of Avatar practice pantheism.
- I agree with Pastor Mark’s assessment that pantheism is an incorrect worldview.
- I agree with Pastor Mark that the film is promoting a worldview that does not jive with the Biblical worldview.
- I agree with Pastor Mark that the film does not portray an exact representation of Jesus.
- My guess is that Pastor Mark went down a rabbit trail in his sermon on this one and did not think it through.
I want to make it clear: I agree with much of what Pastor Mark says in the clip.
However, I do struggle with some of Pastor Mark’s comments. I will briefly outline them here. First, I struggle with the way that Pastor Mark has chosen to set Christ against culture, the Reformed position is Christ transforms culture. I think that he has made an inappropriate good/bad split. Avatar in his mind is “all bad”. I am not sure that this is true. There are some helpful metaphors in the film. One example is the character of Grace Augustine. She promotes a gracious approach to the “fearsome” Na’avi as opposed to a law driven approach. This seems awfully familiar to the grace that Augustine espoused. Coincidence? Maybe. A second example is one of the things that Pastor Mark argues against as a “false incarnation”. I thought the film did a nice job representing the incarnation. Here we have an incarnated being learning and becoming part of a culture and community that is not his own after leaving the relative ease of his previous life. Is it perfect or ideal? No. It is not written from a Biblical worldview. Is it a bridge to the subversive and radical life of Jesus? Yes.
I also struggle with the way that Pastor Mark portrays Genesis 1:27–28. He says that the Biblical teaching is “progress” and that we are not to remain “primitive”. The problem is that this is not nuanced enough. The Biblical mandate requires us to steward, tend , and care for the creation of the Creator. This means that we are not to support strip mining, clear cutting, and the destruction of the creation. We are to care for it and tend it. Are we to create culture and progress? Yes. However, we are to do so in such a way that honors God’s creation which he deemed good as opposed to seeing the creation as a hindrance or an inconvenience to our way of life.
Jumping off this point, is another one. Pastor Mark says that humanity does not have the “divine spark”. That’s simply not true. We are created in the image of God. All of us are image bearers. We are radically and completely corrupted by sin from the start. None of us are innocent. None of us are able to save ourselves. We need our sovereign God to graciously redeem us according to his plan. Yet every person in Hell is still a human created in the image of God.
At the beginning of the clip Pastor Mark is talking about consumerism and the world system. The funny thing is that Avatar agrees with him. Consumerism is the driving force behind the humans destroying the Na’avi. The consumerism drives them to destroy the creation and the culture of these beings. I am concerned that Pastor Mark is burning bridges to the gospel as opposed to building them.
Another struggle I have with Pastor Mark’s assessment is that he seems to be communicating from his politics as opposed to the Bible. The charges that he levies against Avatar could be very easily levied against The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. But, we “know” that these author’s were Christians and so we are OK with their metaphors. I mean seriously, Jesus is represented by a lion who lives out a false resurrection and a false incarnation. Narnia has witches and talking beasts. But, we all know that these are metaphors, illustrations of something else. Can we not build a bridge from the metaphors present in Avatar? I think we can and I think we should.
Avatar is not the most demonic movie ever (I would say the Exorcist is). It is an opportunity for the Christian world to speak to a world that desperately needs Jesus with metaphors and images that will make sense to them.
THE LAW OF STICKINESS
Have you ever felt as though what you say does not matter? I have this experience often. Many nights I come home and flop on the couch and wonder why I ever speak. It is as if nobody is listening. Then I read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and the “Law of Stickiness”that he has identified. Gladwell shares the story of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues and how both shows were developed in such a way that their messages would stick. I think that this might be my problem. I do not often think about how to make my message sticky.
Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” says you need the right people. The “Law of Stickiness” says you need the right message. Gladwell reasonably states that if Paul Revere were telling people about a sale at his silver shop the Massachusetts countryside would not have been mobilized, there was something sticky about “THE REDCOATS ARE COMING!”
I think that this is critical for the church today. We lament that people are leaving the church. We lament the shrinking number of people trusting Christ. We decry the youth for checking out by the time they hit Middle School. Our researchers point to all kinds of reasons for these realities from the postmodern shift to divorce rates. It is not very often that we evaluate our message.
Somehow we have turned the stickiest message in history into a sheet of ice.
The gospel is sticky. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:22–24)” The message that has been entrusted to us is one that causes a reaction, a response. Unfortunately we have lost our communicative creativity and it has lost its stick.
The question we must ask ourselves as followers of Jesus is how do we get our “sticky” back? I think that we get our sticky back the same way that Jesus and Paul did. They spoke the language of the people. Jesus told short stories that got inside people’s heads. Paul understood the people he spoke to and bridged the gospel to their contexts. They used the right words.
What are the right words for us today? What is the language that the 21st century citizen of the United States speaks? I think that those around me speak in the language fo guilt ridden narcissism. The metaphors exist in film and popular music. This is the context we are speaking into.
In the midst of this how do we make our message stick? I think that the message will stick if we can become creative in our communication to create parables based in the metaphors of this generation’s context. We must not give over the metaphors and continue to speak a slippery message.
Jesus message is subversive. It cuts to the quick. It is by nature sticky. We have tamed it, we have set aside our imaginations, and as a result we have made it slick. I pray for a return to creativity, a return to cultural engagement, and a return to subversive preaching of the sticky gospel.
LAW OF THE FEW
I have recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. I was very impressed with the book and it has given me much to think about. Gladwell discusses epidemics and relates epidemiology to social movements. I am going to post a few of my reflections and I how think the ideas in the text relate to the local church because as we consider how to transform the world around us we need to be aware of these truths.
The first concept is “The Law of the Few” (30–88). The Law of the Few simply means that it does not take a large number of people to tip an epidemic. What you need to create a radical transformation is the right person. There are three kinds of people that can create a tipping point (in church language: the moment a ministry becomes a movement). The first kind of person is a “Connector”. A Connector is someone who moves in and out of many different social groups. Not only this they are able to connect the people in those groups to one another. There was a student at Illinois State University named Brad who was in my Bible study for a couple of years. Brad knew everyone. He did not just know names but he knew something about everybody. Almost every week Brad would talk about entering into a new realm of friends. It was incredible!
When a Connector catches a passion for something she is able to spread it fast into many different communities. We must identify the Connectors in our midst so that we can equip them to take the gospel message into their sphere of influence. When this happens a movement begins. People from many different backgrounds begin to interact and catch a similar passion and the movement grows.
The second kind of person is a “Maven”. Maven’s are the kind of people who know everything and they genuinely like to help you. A Maven is someone that people trust and turn to for advice. These are the people who correct Consumer Reports. When a Maven speaks you do what they say because you know they are right and that they have the done the research.
Imagine a Maven who comes to faith in Christ. When they go back to the people with whom they have relationships their testimony will have great power. It’s because those in their sphere of influence will respond to what they have to say. If Jesus works for the Maven, then Jesus will work for me. The power and influence would be incredible. However, they typically have smaller networks than a Connector.
The third person is the Salesman. A Salesman is the kind of person who gets results. They are larger than life personalities and they are able to win you over at “hello”. You know the kind of person that I am talking about. You are their best friend instantly. Salesmen have huge networks of shallow relationships. In spite of the shallow relationships they are highly effective at spreading an idea because people seemingly “can’t help but respond” to what they have to say.
A friend of mine named Darin is a Salesman. He said that everyone he ever met was his friend. People love to say yes Darin. It’s amazing to watch him have conversations with people. Within ten minutes they would trust Darin to care for their child (slight exaggeration, but you get my point)! People like Darin can tip a ministry into a movement. These are people who get tagged with “the gift of evangelism”.
In your community can you identify the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen? If your community is going to become a movement you need must be able to do this. To do this requires you as a leader to be have a great interest in every single person in your ministry.
Simply put movements explode because of the Law of the Few.
There are few things in life that frustrate me more than watching other parents do things that hinder their child’s spiritual growth. This may sound arrogant to you, it probably is. I am not a perfect parent, not even close. I get frustrated with my kids and I even yell at the little darlings every once in a while. I think over the last eight years (that’s how old our oldest is) I have asked for forgiveness more times than I can count (but that’s another issue for another post). This post is about pressure. Overbearing pressure does exactly this, it hinders spiritual growth.
I see parents all over the place putting undue and unrealistic pressure on children. This pressure broadens a relational rift between parents and children that naturally occurs at this age. This is many times seen in the context of education. Today more and more kids are pushed into AP classes. These classes are taught at a very high level and are preparatory classes to test for college credits. I took AP classes in High School but I had a Mom who understood that these classes were designed too teach me how to think and do research and that I would most likely not get an A. Her concern was that I simply worked hard and did my best.
I think that the disconnect has entered in because it seems that a B is not good enough anymore. That an A is required fare to prove that a kid is “working hard”. These grades have become the ultimate driving force in a parent’s life. They punish their child for a B in a college level course that they themselves would have no chance to pass. Students are then punished for doing well enough. Their punishment is often times limiting their involvement in social interactions. This limit is applied to the their faith community too. The youth group is seen as a “privilege” that can be taken away.
Please hear me, I am not saying that we should not push our children to excellence. I am not saying that we should not encourage them to take on academic or athletic challenges.
I am saying that we need to help them bring balance to their lives. If we push them to be all consumed with their academics or their athletics then we are clearly communicating something. We are communicating that these are the things around which life revolves. The center of life is your ability to “achieve”.
I have this sad image in my head of many parents standing before the God, whom they love, asking why their child is not spending eternity with them. Jesus’ face turns grim and says, “My brothers and sisters you taught them that a grade was better than me. You taught them that a grade was better than my people. You taught them to set me and my people aside to study and get a B+ instead of a B. You taught them that “the now” matters more than their eternity did. You taught them to love themselves over me. You taught them to love being apart from me and now what you have taught them has come to fruition.“
THE MILLENIAL MILIEU MOPS MORE MEANING
[caption id=“attachment_683” align=“alignleft” width=“300” caption=“A Case Study in Missing the Point!”]
That’s what I call alliteration! Gen Y, Millenials, whatever you want to call them are the example for future generations to follow. Pew Research has just published a very interesting study that looks at the lives of these teens and twenty somethings. The basic gist is that they are connected via technology, they are diverse, they are optimistic, and they becoming frustrated with the status quo.
Two things in particular stuck out at me. First, this generation cares about the same things that generations past cared about: marriage and family. This is something that I think is insightful. We must come to terms with the reality that at the core of their being the emerging generations are people who are created in the image of God and their longings are going to be similar to those of the past. This does not take away from the fact that they are going to express these longings differently. For example, this generation is waiting longer to marry and begin their families. Why? I think because men do not have a clearly defined entry into adulthood and because of “the economy stupid”.
The second thing that interests me is the fact that this generation is already getting frustrated with politicians. It was a generation that became highly motivated during the election and has not had their agenda delivered. They believe that the government should help but are coming to realize that it might not be the answer they are looking for.
These two issues highlight for me where we, as the church, can step in and speak directly to this generation if we are willing to speak their language. Will we show them the church of Jesus Christ that radically effects change or will we be another voice in the wilderness gonging away? Will we teach them the principles of healthy marriages and families? Will we demonstrate for them these principles? I hope so. If we are going to speak to this generation things will have to change in the church because we are not doing a very good job right now.
However, there is an example of this beginning to happen in my own little church. There is a woman, named Robin, who is a part of our small group. She is gathering young moms and empty nest moms together. This is a time for encouragement and love. This is a time for the young moms to realize that they are not alone and that others have walked their paths. This is a time when principles will be taught and demonstrated, not in some classroom, but in the context of life.
Friends, God is on the move and he cares about this generation and he wants them to hear his story and his message. He desires for them to respond. We are his ambassadors. Will we speak the language? Will show and demonstrate? I hope so.
I am currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. It’s a fascinating read. One of the things that has really stuck out to me is the chapter on Dunbar’s number, 150. This is the number of meaningful relationships that a person can have. Human beings tend to only be able to handle 150 or fewer meaningful relationships. Today, I ran across an article from MediaPost Publications that discusses the way that college students have their contacts broken down.
The study found that the average college student has, “Exactly 87 email contacts, 146 cell phone contacts, and 438 “friends” on social networks.“ What struck me was the cell phone contacts, 146. My guess is that the people in the cell phone are those who are considered “meaningful” relationships.
In this article they add these numbers up to come up with an influence circle of 671. However, I think that the real number is 146. These are the people who will actually respond to the student. These are the people who will trust what they hear from the person. My guess is that these 146 are duplicated in their social media and also in email.
146. That’s awful close to 150. More thoughts on this to come…
I GOTS IT…I GOTS IT…
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=danielmroseco-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&asins=0525951369 A number of weeks ago I reviewed Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods. Over the next few days I am going to work through this little book with some thoughts of my own. I hope that you will find it to be a beneficial conversation. I hope that you will join in via the comments section. I think that these posts will be timely during Lent which is a time of preparation and setting aside idols in our lives.
The opening chapter discusses the story of Abraham from the perspective of “what happens when you get all you ever wanted?” This is a great question! As we consider our lives most of what we do is so that we can get what we want. We train and prepare for certain jobs so that we can make money. We take this money and we use it to buy what we want. It might be a house, a car, some tech toy, or even the right clothes or the right look to get the right girl (or guy).
Some people never get what they want and this desire drives them throughout their lives. Many get what they want. When you do the question is, “now what?” As I look around this world I think people just begin the process to get the next bigger and better version of whatever our desire is.
As Keller points out, God often asks for this back. Why? It’s because when we get what we want it becomes the center of our lives. This “thing” displaces God. This, according to Keller, is the center of the Abraham story. Abraham got his son. God asked for his son back and when Abraham was willing to give him it proved that Isaac was not the center of his life. I think that this is a legitimate interpretation of the story.
As I consider my own life I think that there are a two things right now that need to be given back to God. First, entertainment. I love to be entertained. I enjoy an evening at home relaxing on the couch and taking in my latest DVR’ed goodness. This time could be used to talk with my bride. It could be spent reading. It could be spent praying. It could be spent…well you get the point. I do not think that relaxing with a good television show is all that bad. I will continue to do so. However, I think that it needs to be put in proper perspective and I need to make sure that it is not choice numero uno!
Second, the internet. I love surfing the web and being in the know. If you check out my strength finder profile you will see that input is one my strengths. However, it can quickly become ruinous. This is because I can spend hours gaining input, reading news, anything that will find my mind with new facts and details. Information gathering becomes central. Part of the reason for this blog is to help me slow down and communicate out some of what I am inputting through out my daily routine.
What about you? What is displacing God in your life?
COMING APART AT THE SEAMS: HEBREWS 1:5–2:4
A sermon on Hebrews 1:5–2:4
COMING APART AT THE SEAMS — HEBREWS 1:1–4
A sermon on Hebrews 1:1–4
One of the things that I have been struck with over the past few months is that many people are unwilling to think and even more unwilling to listen. We have been trained to process what we will say next and as a result we do not hear what is being said to us. It is this phenomenon that I think leads us to the place where we no longer actually think. Thinking requires listening and processing. One of the places that I have been finding this to be true is in the context of book reviews. Most recently has been the discussion that has been going on over Brian McLaren’s most recent book, “A New Kind of Christianity”. I do not have this book. I have not read this book. My point is not to enter into conversation about McLaren or his writing but to look at the way that the conversation has been going forward.
The men and women who have responded to McLaren’s latest title are brilliant people (at least the ones I have read) and have presented critiques that I am sure need to be made. What I found most interesting was the interaction between McLaren and Bill Kinnon. This is the first time I have read Kinnon’s blog and so I do not have a vast working knowledge of his writing.
The posts between the two men are long. So let me summarize:
- Kinnon: Brian, I have these questions.
- Brian: Bill, you don’t understand me.
Is this a bit of reductionistic, tongue-in-cheek, hyperbole? Sure. But, the point is that it seems that Kinnon and McLaren simply speak past one another. It is as if they both have a perspective and they are not willing to think the other person’s point. This is a microcosm of what we see on Capitol Hill everyday in the “bipartisan” conversation.
It seems to me that we would be much better served to slow down and listen. This listening will cause us to think. Thinking might lead us to realize that there is much middle ground upon which we can agree on. Will there be outliers that we will ALWAYS disagree about? Yes. But, what if, and I am just spit-balling here, what if we found common ground and moved forward?
Oh wait, that last idea does not sell books or drive site traffic. (Sorry that might be a bit too cynical or not.)
THE SPIRIT VS THE LETTER
I have had a few conversations over the last couple of days about rule following. What does it mean to follow the rules? What is the line between the letter and spirit of the law? How do we determine this? What is the impact on our spiritual lives? What if following the letter of the law causes injury? What if following the spirit of the law is just our way of undermining authority? These are the questions that have been batted around in my world. These conversations have been stimulating and interesting. I am not sure though if we have dealt with the issue well.
I think that the biggest question that needs to be dealt with is that of determination. How do we determine when to set aside the letter of the law in favor of its spirit? This line is gray. There is no ideal or final answer in my opinion. However, I think there are some principles that we can follow.
- In following the spirit of the law are we negating the law completely?
- In following the spirit of the law are we taking seriously the reasons for the law?
- In following the spirit of the law are we doing so for our own selfish gain?
- In following the spirit of the law are we simply not willing to accept the consequences for breaking the law?
These questions are the ones that I believe need to be answered as we try to determine when we are indeed following the spirit of the law as opposed to simply breaking the law. If we can answer these questions appropriately then we are indeed in line with an ethically acceptably response to the law.
What say you? How do you determine whether or not you are in step with the spirit of the law?
THE QUEST TO BE UNCONVENTIONAL
I like to think. I like to think new things and seek to develop original ideas. I also enjoy reading and interacting with those who think in fresh ways. One of the people who I enjoy reading is David Fitch. He is a missiologist who is calling the church to be local and missional. He understands that the gospel needs to be contextualized to particular local contexts without undermining its narrative truth.
That being said, I think that David does something in a recent post which is not authentic. He is discussing how to deal with conflict in the community of believers. He evaluates two approaches which are highlighted in the work of Al Mohler and Brian McLaren. He argues that neither of their approaches (autocratic or democratic) fit with the biblical model and he calls for a “new” approach, the incarnational.
I want to briefly summarize this approach:
- People in disagreement are encouraged to discuss one on one.
- If there is continued disagreement three or four are brought together.
- If there is continued disagreement the acknowledged leaders are brought into the conversation.
- If there is continued disagreement the issue is brought before the whole church.
If this sounds strangely familiar it is because it is. This is what we find in Matthew 18. It is also the methodology outlined in the Book of Order for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I appreciate that David is calling the church back to this reality. I agree with his conclusions. What I struggle with is that he encapsulates the call in language that makes it sound like a “new” thing.
I think we need to be careful about a quest for the unconventional that does not credit the past rightly. I also think that we need to look around and notice that many of the processes put in place by those who have come before us are good and helpful.
GIVE IT AWAY, GIVE IT AWAY, GIVE IT AWAY NOW!
I love the moment when an idea flashes in my mind and I grab hold of it and it turns into something worthwhile. This happened a number of weeks ago when I was hanging out with a friend of mine named Zak. I was asking him about his friends and what kind of context they would most likely come out to for a conversation about spiritual things. He said that a coffee house would be best. In that moment, what would come to be called Coffee/Doubt, was born.
An idea became a vision which became a mission.
Things started slow but momentum has been growing and continues to grow. The beautiful thing though is that it’s not really mine. It’s Zak’s. He own this things. Last Thursday there were sixteen adults and kids sitting at Starbucks for a conversation and Zak led it. Zak is a 16 year old guy who gets fat lips in mosh-pits and has two rings in his lower lip. He is not evangelical Christendom’s poster child which looks likes this:
I love the fact that this is not mine. I love that it’s Zak’s! For an idea to become mission it requires ownership. Who owns your ideas? Are you giving it away?
TO AGE OR NOT TO AGE
Time/CNN recently published an article about scientists who are trying to figure out the “peter pan” gene. They are trying to understand how to slow down and even cease the aging process. While this sounds like a very cool idea I have to wonder if this is a good idea. I think we must ask the simple question, “Should we?”
We come face to face with issues regarding global climate change which is in part due to world population growth. Sustainability is also a buzz word that we hear on an almost daily basis. We must find ways to use natural resources in such a way that we can sustain their use over the long term. We are told that by living longer we are making this more difficult. What if we are able to unnaturally extend the lives of people? What would this mean for our world?
I think that it is time for us to slow down and begin asking some questions about the effects of our endeavors. Wendell Berry in his collection of essays called Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community often says that as we seek to find solutions through science we will inevitably create even more problems. I think that this is often true. When it comes to any scientific and technological “breakthroughs” we must determine their value not only based on the immediate impact but also on the ramifications of the breakthrough.
What do you think? How do we answer the question of “should we?”
I AM GOOD ENOUGH, SMART ENOUGH, AND…OH, NEVER MIND!
Do you want to know what I really hate? I really hate coming to the realization that I do not know what to do. I can not stand that feeling of helplessness that comes over me when I am out of my depths.
I had that feeling this past weekend. I was driving home from a youth retreat and pulled off the highway to get a tank of gas. After filling the tank the car would not start. I had someone with me and I just wanted to be able to get this guy home. We were stuck. I could not fix it because I know nothing about cars. Then I had to enter into the process of asking people for help. It’s embarrassing because most of the times the issue that is causing my car problems is some “easy” fix. That feeling is horrible.
I had a conversation that Sunday with a man I deeply respect named Jim, he was taking me to buy a battery and to help me install it. He said, “Dan, you spend your whole life serving others, why do you have such a hard time letting other people serve you?” That has been the question that has stuck in my mind since. Why?
I don’t like letting people serve me because I believe I live an amazing life. I believe that God has so graciously given me all I need to provide for my family. I see the body of Christ constantly meeting any need my family has and it is an honor to serve them. It seems that it is not fair to keep asking.
Yet, this is what being in a community is all about. It is about people with differing gifts and skills serving one another. Helping one another. Caring for one another. Consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.15 If the foot should say, Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
God has, in his goodness and grace, given me gifts of leadership and teaching. I am not a mechanic. I can barely change a light bulb. According to Paul this is God’s intention for us. I think this is so that we will never be able to “know ourselves by ourselves” as Wendell Berry says. We are designed to be in a community and we can only be who we are in a community. It must be time to embrace this reality.
What holds you back from entering into community?
KICKING BUTT FOR JESUS OR “I SMACKED THE OTHER CHEEK” OR “I AM GOING TO BEAT THE HELL (LITERALLY) OUT OF YOU”
The New York Times published an article recently about the rise of Mixed Martial Arts being used as an outreach by evangelical churches for men. I know that guys like Mark Driscoll are all over this and that men are drawn to MMA and that God is using it. I am not going to lie to you, I enjoy a little Fight Club and some MMA myself. However, I am concerned by some of the statements that I read in the article. Here a few of them:
- “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”
- These pastors say the marriage of faith and fighting is intended to promote Christian values, quoting verses like “fight the good fight of faith” from Timothy 6:12. Several put the number of churches taking up mixed martial arts at roughly 700 of an estimated 115,000 white evangelical churches in America.
- “The man should be the overall leader of the household,” said Ryan Dobson, 39, a pastor and fan of mixed martial arts who is the son of James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical group. “We’ve raised a generation of little boys.”
First, I agree that the church has “wussified” men. We have cut men’s legs out from underneath them and have asked them to be “nice”. We want them to share their “feelings” and hold hands, yada, yada. Second, I agree that we must change the way we do things and bring masculinity back to the church and help men to embrace who they are as men: leaders, strong, and kind.
[caption id=“attachment_609” align=“alignleft” width=“134” caption=“Pretty Jesus”]
However, I grow concerned when we begin training men in the way of violence. This is in such contrast to the life of Jesus that we will be doing more harm than good. Jesus is not the feminine, blue eyed, long haired pretty boy but a rough necked, back woods Jewish carpenter. He was strong. He had convictions that he was willing to die for. He also displayed compassion, grace, restraint and kindness. We must realize that kindness is very different from being “nice”. Being “nice” means that you are a push over. You are a doormat that people walk all over. Being kind means that you are strong enough to tell people what they need to hear and how they need to act with honesty, compassion, and gentleness. It means that you can love well in spite of the potential of loss.
Jesus demonstrated ridiculous amounts of restraint. Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to be in possession of the full power of God? Jesus could have wiped out his enemies with one fell swoop. He did not. He held back. He taught the value of restraint and that in his restraint there was great power. It was in his restraint where he chose to bear the cross, “scorning it’s shame for the joy set before him.” Jesus did not need to beat the tar out of someone to prove he was a man.
[caption id=“attachment_610” align=“alignright” width=“121” caption=“Fighting Jesus”]
He did it by being strong in the face of adversity. He did it by standing up to the imperial and religious leaders at the cost of his life. He did it by choosing to live a life of obedience to his father. He did it by demanding respect through his words and deeds.
So, we raise a generation of Spartan-like boys into Spartan-like men for Jesus. What does this get us? It gets us men who subdue their wives through anger and rage. It gets us men who do not understand kindness but only power. It gets us men who are willing beat their opponents into submission through violence as opposed to loving well with powerful kindness, compassion, and mercy.
Finally, I would suggest that the MMA Church take some time to study and understand the ramifications of their actions in light of Matthew 5, I will quote it below (oh and this is Jesus speaking, just saying):
1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire.23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
31 It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.37 Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil.
38 You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
43 You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
STATE OF THE STATE
Over the last two weeks we have witnessed both the federal State of the Union, Michigan’s State of the State, and ESPN’s State of Sports. It has been interesting two weeks. Many conversations about politics and ideas about how to fix the country and the state. What has been most interesting is that people on both sides of the political aisle seem to believe that their position on every issue is what will make the world better.
When we consider how to respond to the issues and problems before us we must look at them from a different perspective. We can no longer expect a political party to represent “us”. Political parties simply represent those who pay to get them into office. There is little to no accountability. We must realize that the political corporation is the imperial power that we live in the face of right now. There is one simple concern that career politicians desire: power.
Power is something that those who claim to follow Christ need to look for in a different place. We do not find power in taking control of others. We find power in relationship with the crucified and resurrected Christ. This means that if we are going to make change in our community and culture we must look to the way of Christ and find solutions there. The reality is that the solutions are there. What might they be?
They are found in balancing justice and productivity. How do we do this? We do this by seeking local development in agriculture, business, and education. We do this by understanding the process by which various goods and services get to us and into our homes. We have to make choices in light of creation mandate that requires sustainability. We also must be creative and look beyond the technological for solutions. People and their relationships with one another are crucial to the fixing of this place.
There is nothing easy about any of this. We must rise above the din of political fury and realize that there is a subversive way to go about changing the economic reality of our local, state, and federal collectives. They are found in the way of self-sacrifice, community development, and seeking justice. You can call me naïve. That is fine. But if you do, would you at least be willing to dream with me about what could be if we applied the redemptive and subversive principles found in the joy of the redemption parade?
LEADERSHIP 2.0 — I NEED AN UPGRADE!
Michael Hyatt the CEO of Thomas Nelson recently published a blog on what he calls “Leadership 2.0” and it really fits into some of things that I have been wrestling with in light of my series on Leading With a Limp. Here are his bullet points on Leadership 2.0:
- Leadership 2.0 embraces change. Like Web 1.0, old-style leadership was fairly static. Leaders resisted change and were more focused on preserving the status quo. However, Leadership 2.0 embraces change. New-style leaders are on the cutting edge of experimentation. If something doesn’t work, they change course quickly. They are more concerned about driving the right outcomes than maintaining business-as-usual.
- Leadership 2.0 demonstrates transparency. Old-style leaders were opaque. They wouldn’t tell you anything they didn’t have to tell you. They kept themselves shrouded in mystery. (Think of “Oz.”) New-style leaders are open and transparent. They let you see them for who they are — warts and all. They risk self-disclosure, preferring to acknowledge the truth of who they are rather than pretend to be something they are not.
- Leadership 2.0 celebrates dialogue. Old-style leaders delivered a monologue. They did all the talking. The fact that they were the boss was proof enough that they were smarter than everyone else n the room. New-style leaders listen more than they talk. They ask questions. They lead powerful conversations. Why? Because they know that “all of us are smarter than some of us” to quote James Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds.
- Leadership 2.0 employs collaboration. Old-style leaders were competitive. They held all the cards close to their vest. They didn’t “play well with others.” They refused to help anyone they perceived as the competition, even if they were theoretically on the same team. New-style leaders are all about teamwork. They are inclusive in the way they lead, drawing you in and making you feel that you are doing something great — together. They enroll others as “colleagues” and “partners.”
- Leadership 2.0 practices sharing. Old-style leaders hoarded their resources — their contacts, their insights, their time, energy and money. They played a zero-sum game. They didn’t believe they could be generous without depleting their own pile of stuff. New-style leaders are just the opposite. They have an abundance-mentality. They freely share their resources, believing that “there is plenty more where that came from.” They know “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (see Acts 20:35)
- Leadership 2.0 welcomes engagement. Old-style leaders were aloof and detached. They didn’t expect to get their hands dirty by actually talking to customers and other constituents. They stood above the fray, dispassionately observing the masses. New-style leaders don’t think in terms of hierarchy, as if something is beneath them. They jump in with both feet, happily and passionately engaging with anyone and everyone.
- Leadership 2.0 builds community. Old-style leaders were rugged individualists. They pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. They didn’t need anyone else. They could do it all themselves, “thank you very much.” New-style leaders, on the other hand, enjoy working with others and building a sustainable community that will go on long after they are gone. They get great satisfaction from working together rather than working alone.
As I consider these seven points I realize that much of my intentional leadership development took place from 1995–1998. This is at the height of Leadership 1.0. I am struggling now to really engage in become a leader who leads from a Leadership 2.0 standpoint. This is necessary if we are going to faithfully engage with the emerging generations. They are being trained on the Leadership 2.0 model and expect those who lead them to do the same.
I think that I struggle deeply with numbers 4 and 6. I find it hard to really embrace engagement with people. I have a vision, mission, and dream. I am willing to do what it takes to get it done. However, it’s very difficult for me to bring others along for the ride. I also struggle with collaboration when it comes to my vision and dream. I do not necessarily want nor do I think that I need other people’s input. This is a shortcoming and I am finding that I am learning, ever be it slowly, that I am better with others than alone.
How about you? Are you a Leader 2.0 or do you struggle as I do?
There are few TV shows that capture the imagination. There are many that are entertaining. There are many that make you laugh. Occasionally one might make you think. However, I can’t think of many that actually capture the imagination. ABC’s Lost is just that. It captures your imagination. It’s the uncomfortable balance between what is, what could be, and what needs to be. It has characters that are real and unreal. It asks you to suspend reality and also invites into reality. But what about it catches the imagination? I think you can sum it up in one word: Redemption.
There are two articles floating around the internet that catch onto this reality. One was written recently by Jeff Jensen over at EW and the other was from Mikal Gilmore over at Rolling Stone. Both of these articles were sent to me by my friend Kristin. To me the greatest insight into this show comes from Carlton Cuse one of the producers:
“The focus on redemption,” says Cuse, “is something that is endlessly fascinating to both Damon and me — the fact that we are all sort of imperfect as people. Our characters are in extreme circumstances. They’ve confronted on the island various manifestations of the exact issues that they struggled with as people their whole lives. We feel there’s an incredible universality to that. It’s the human journey. Redemption is something that everyone seeks, and that’s something we try to hold out in the show. If we acknowledge our imperfection, and if we ask for forgiveness for our imperfection, are we able to actually reset the clock?”
This is what captures our imagination. Can we find redemption? Is it possible? I think that Jensen is on to something when we hits on the theme of the book of Luke: Lost. He points out that the number sequence in Lost, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 (the last chapter of Luke is 24 which is an inversion of 42) all correlate to passages in Luke’s narrative that hit on lostness. In particular I want to touch on Luke 15 which is the most popular of the Luke “lost” passages.
The lost theme in Luke 15 is counteracted by the searching theme. The woman, the shepherd, and father all are in search for what it is that they lost. These people that we meet in Lost, these stories that we encounter all point to the brokenness of individuals which leads to a collective brokenness. They are all lost. Not simply because they crashed on an island that nobody can find but they are lost because their lives are broken. The crash seems arbitrary but those that begin to see that it was not begin to find this elusive redemption. It is as if there is someone looking for them.
I think that we get the clearest hint of this in the story of Desmond and Penny. The Luke 15 connections here are endless. However, it is in the relationship that we have some closure. We have a sense that Desmond has found his Penny. He celebrates. He rejoices. He also realizes that he still has a role to play in helping others find their redemption. He does reluctantly but he helps even after his redemption is found.
Lost captures the imagination because it captures our longing for redemption. Redemption. Have you found what you’re looking for?
BUSY IS THE NEW LAZY!
What do you think of when you consider laziness? My guess is you almost immediately think about some college kid laying on a couch playing XBox or PS3 and skipping classes. I would tend to agree with you (although when I did this it was a PS, I was not lazy, I was saving my energy!). Dan Allender in Leading With a Limp argues that busy is the new lazy. He says, “Being busy seems to be the polar opposite of laziness, but a busy person is not so much active as lost. (128)” Wow! That is a paradigm shifter.
In the Matrix of Brokenness Allender argues that weariness is something that all leaders will face and they will respond with either fatalism or hope. Fatalism usually displays itself in the context busyness. Hope comes when we find disillusionment in these lesser things that keep us busy. As we become disillusioned we turn toward that greater love, the Christ who called us initially and become bold in our declaration that he is best and lesser things must find their proper place.
As I read this I could not help but think of Hebrews 4:
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
(Hebrews 4:1–12 ESV)
This is one of my favorite passages in the Scriptures because it subverts our conception of rest. We think of rest being a good nap. Rest is something that can only be found in the creation rhythm of our God as we embrace him in faith. When weariness hits we can become fatalistic and busy ourselves with lesser things. On the flip we can embrace this Creator God and his rhythm and find rest which provides hope.
I know this is a flaw in me. There have been times in the recent past (not so much since I joined my current ministry team) where I have been weary of a direction or a situation and I determine to busy myself with the building of my own kingdom. I get busy with minutiae and leave the greater good of vision casting, direction setting, and aligning because of the weariness that comes from dealing with those who struggle to “get it”.
I am learning that if I am overly “busy” then I am not pursuing the best. As I look over the last few weeks of my calendar I see that it has been very full. I know that I have experienced being tired. However, it has not been busyness. My tired feeling is an emptiness of serving and giving of the core of my being. It’s a good tired. It’s a hopeful tired.
I know that I am in process. I also am thankful for people like Doug who understands the rhythm of the Creator and calls me to account. God has also given me a subversive Bride, Beast, and Princess who draw me into his rest. How about you? Are you experiencing fatalistic busyness or are you disillusioned with the lesser things?
THE MANIPULATION POSTULATE
Loneliness, according to Dan Allender in Leading With a Limp, is one of the things that any leader will bump into. He can choose one of two responses: hiding or openness. Hiding is the act of manipulation. We feel alone and solitary. As a result we hide. In our hiding we manipulate the world around us to think that all is well. The next thing you know another pastor has flamed out of ministry or has killed himself. Leaders are alone. I have written previously on the “oneness” of ministry.
The opposite response is openness or as Allender puts it, “Honest Hunger (120ff).” This honest hunger requires us to open ourselves to people. This openness is an authentic listening to others and the willingness to invite others in.
I don’t know if I can explain how hard this is. But maybe using an unrelated illustration will help. I like a good beer. I enjoy evaluating the hoppiness or wheatiness or aroma or smoothness or flavor of a beer. I enjoy the experience of sitting with friends at a watering hole and taking in a pint of something dark and rich. When Amy and I worked with Campus Crusade for Christ at Illinois State University we were located in a small town. We were a part of a small community where people very different opinions about whether someone could drink a beer. Many of these people supported us financially. I was afraid that if they knew or saw me drink a beer they would stop supporting us. Therefore, we did not drink alcohol of any kind in Bloomington-Normal. We hid and manipulated the situation.
You see, this is the situation that leaders find themselves in every aspect of their lives. They evaluate every little thing. “If I say I saw THIS movie or that I watched THAT television show or I think THIS political thought or whatever, what will THEY think?” So we hide. We never really tell anybody what we think about anything. We deflect for the sake of keeping things easy and clean.
At some level that is OK. We are called to respect the weaker brother. This is someone who does not experience the same kind of freedom in Christ that we experience. However, there comes a point where if you never let anyone in, if you never communicate what you really think about something, you go crazy. You go crazy because nobody knows you.
I am struggling with this. I am struggling to learn who those people are that I can be completely open and honest with. I am really struggling with what Allender says though:
“Honest hunger after truth requires us to remain open to everyone, including those with whom we disagree and have conflict. It also requires that we remain open to the fact that we desperately need the very people who challenge and contradict our cherished notions of the truth. We may never agree, nor do we need to do so, but we need others–especially those who challenge us to dig deeper and become more human. The hunger, then, is not so much for agreement on factual accounts, but more for truth that leads to a greater delight in truth.”
Did you catch the “everyone”. That will be hard. That will be hard because peace is often my highest goal and not truth.
Well do you hide? I do and I have never really liked hide and seek. It’s time to call “olly olly oxen free” and end the game and come out of hiding.
CBS TO AIR TIM TEBOW SUPER BOWL AD
I really enjoy the Super Bowl. I really enjoy Sports Talk Radio. I really like it when two opposing worldviews collide. However, I do not like it when I turn on Sports Talk Radio and all I hear about is the “culture war”. Over the last few days there has been a tremendous amount of conversation, yelling, and pure craziness regarding Tim Tebow, former Heisman Trophy winner, appearing in a Super Bowl Ad for Focus on the Family. The problem lies in the fact that the commercial is Pro-Life.
There have been a large number of Abortion Rights groups speaking out against the commercial and CBS for airing it. What is interesting is that there is no flack coming from these groups regarding the commercials that put women on display as sexual objects. Which of these commercials is most hurtful to women? I would argue that one which objectifies women and uses them for nothing more than their physical attractiveness is more damning.
I am also saddened by the rhetoric that has come out of this. I have many of my fellow Metro-Detroiters saying that Tebow should not be allowed to “shove his beliefs” down their throats. To my knowledge Focus on the Family paid for the ad time. Planned Parenthood, to my knowledge did not purchase any airtime. If an advocacy group wants to advertise let them pay for it. Is it possible to have the intellectual integrity to see that both sides of a coin have the freedom to speech? You as a television viewer have the freedom and ability to mute the commercial or pause the DVR and then hit the “live” button.
We live in a country where the freedom of speech is part of our Bill of Rights. If you do not like that there is an ad about being Pro-Life and you desire “balance” then pony up the 2.5 million and broadcast your take. Until that time comes please, please, can you let sports talk go back to sports talk? Thanks.
via CBS to Air Tim Tebow Super Bowl Ad.
EQUIPPING PEOPLE IN THEIR FAITH JOURNEY
My latest sermon:
At the turn of the New Year we all make resolutions. When Ethan, my eight year old son went to school after the turn of the new year he and his classmates did a project where they made a wish. The teacher got the idea from the Japanese Daruma Doll. Here’s a quick second grade summary of the Daruma Doll:
“In Japan, one way to make a New Year’s wish is to buy a daruma doll. This doll has no arms, legs, or eyes. It does have a heavy bottom. If the doll tips over, it rights itself. The doll is a reminder to never give up! When a wish is made, one eye is drawn on the doll. When the wish comes true, the second eye is drawn. The doll is kept until the end of the year.”
So each student colored a doll and then responded to three questions:
- My wish for the year 2010 is…
- One way I can help make my wish come true is…
- Another way to help my wish come true is…
Ethan is eight. He is in second grade. When he was baptized, our pastor Bob Smart, prayed that Ethan would become an evangelist. He asked God to use him to lead many people to Jesus. We talk to both of our children (we also have a daughter Libby who is 6) about their “bapitisms” (as they say it) often. We show them how God is making good on his covenant promises that he made to them and to us on the day of their baptisms. They are embracing these promises too.
Back to the story. Ethan brought his daruma doll project home a week or so ago and here are his responses to the questions (his spellings, not mine!):
- My wish for the year 2010 is… to teach more people about Jesus’s ways!
- One way I can help make my wish come true is…to meet more people that dont belive in god!
- Another way to help my wish come true is…get my friend’s togeter that do belive and tell people that don’t belive!
Our kids go the neighborhood school. They meet kids who are Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Atheist, and anything else you can imagine. They both come home regularly and say, “We have to pray for so and so because they don’t believe in Jesus.” Ethan and Libby long for their friends to know Jesus. I have to tell you I am learning more about what it means to be on mission for God from my “Beast” and my “Princess” than I ever did in seminary or in any of my training as a missionary.
In the world of an 8 year old Christ follower there are people who believe, there are people who do not. If you do not believe then you are missing out on so much love, fun, and friends! He can not understand why anyone would not want to know Jesus.
How about you? Oh, in case you think I made this up, the picture on the left is Ethan’s daruma doll.
I’M A JERK.
Jerk: a contemptibly naive, fatuous, foolish, or inconsequential person. I am one. How do I know? I know because in my life I have struggled with the feeling of betrayal. I think I have authentically experienced it. I think that I sometimes read different situations and think that betrayal is happening when it is not. However, when I face the pain of betrayal or even the perceived pain of betrayal I become a jerk.
Dan Allender in Leading With a Limp provides what I call the “Matrix of Brokenness”. You can find it here. Regarding the issue of betrayal Allender argues that narcissism is the negative response. Where does this narcissistic response come from? It comes from envy (96). Envy grabs you and you respond with a narcissism that is ugly, in short, you become a jerk.
When I read that and thought about it I was not sure if I agreed with this idea or not. However, as I pondered a time over the last few years when I felt betrayed, my evaluation led me to the realization that my initial response was indeed narcissistic and was indeed narcissistic and fueled by envy.
I was being evaluated for a leadership position that was being vacated by another person. I had been in a similar leadership a few years before and in my estimation this would be a formality. However, it turned out to be one of the most painful experiences I have endured. I did not get the position. I did, however, receive a large list of things that I was failing at in ministry, relationships, and perceived in my walk with God. This list was delivered with the tact and grace of a sledge hammer. Nonetheless, the evaluation was accurate in many ways. My initial response was anger and a sense of betrayal. I wanted answers. I wanted to quit. I stopped relating to God and turned inward. I was so wrapped up in my own sense of self-confident awesomeness that I could not see how this was God’s hand calling me to a new level and season of development.
I would not have admitted it then but I was envious of whoever would take on the role that I was passed over for. In my mind this role was an amazing place to serve and lead. From this role a leader would have influence regionally and nationally within the organization. I was envious that it would not be me. There was not anyone in place to take the role and this envy turned to an ever deepening narcissism. Clearly God needed to teach me.
He has. He is. I am still learning this lesson. I am learning how to respond to all this. I am learning that often my perception of “betrayal” is nothing more than God using people to move me away from my self-centeredness. This is why the appropriate response to betrayal is gratitude. I need to be thankful that I have the opportunity to grow closer and to enter more deeply into reliance on God.
I am a jerk. But I am not as much of a jerk as I used to be.
BOOK REVIEW: COUNTERFEIT GODS
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=danielmroseco-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&asins=0525951369 Timothy Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. His recent book Counterfeit Gods continues to cement his place as one of this generation’s leading voices in calling the church back to where it belongs. Keller, however, has the unique ability to speak to the hearts of people who do not claim follow Jesus as well.
The driving question that Keller is seeking to answer comes from a description of Americans by Alexis de Tocqueville who said that Americans exhibited a, “strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants…in the midst of abundance. (x)” De Tocqueville analyzes this “strange melancholy” and comes to the conclusion that it is the result of taking an “incomplete joy of this world” and having that become the center of your life. Keller states, “That is the definition of idolatry. (xi)” He goes on to say that an idol is, “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. (xvii)” This is the central motif of Keller’s text. He then draws us back to the reality that it is in relationship with Christ, the idol breaker, that we can be set free from our idol worship.
Keller hits on topics like money, greed, power, politics, sex, and love. He grabs your attention with riveting personal stories from his life, his ministry, and from the headlines. The economic collapse of 2008–09 plays a heavy role. If you come to this text with an open mind then you will walk away from this text with a challenged heart. It is strong in biblical exegesis as Keller works through key texts and draws out their central teaching and their contemporary application. I would say that the weakness of this text is that the issues raised are difficult and that in such a brief text they can only be given a cursory examination. I would like to see Keller develop this text more fully at a scholarly level.
I was deeply challenged by the book. I was most especially brought to a place of deep consideration regarding the idolatry of religion. I think that as a pastor I am easily swayed by this idolatry. I can get caught up in my Reformed, Presbyterian dogma and lose sight of the sacrificial savior who called me to follow him. Following a self-sacrificing savior is painful, difficult, and yet fully satisfying and glorious! But, the comfort of a religious dogma that provides all the answers is seductive and so easy to embrace.
I encourage you to grab this little text and evaluate the idol factory in your heart.
I like to think of myself as a person who has great intellectual flexibility. Often times I am very creative when it comes to problem solving. I even like change. I thrive on change. Change is a good thing in my mind because on the one hand it makes a jingly sound in your pocket and on the other it keeps divine bovines to a minimum. I also like to think that I handle complexity well. Again, it’s something that I face with a certain level of confidence and joy. That is, until complexity meets me outside of my comfort zone. When this happens well, it is not pretty.
According to Allender, when a leader finds himself in a position of complexity they can have a negative response of dogmatism. Dogmatism is defined as an “arrogant, stubborn assertion of opinion or belief.” It is not what you believe but is an issue of how you believe. Dogmatism is a symptom of rigidity. When the world becomes too complex, Allender argues, people can tend to become rigid in an effort to control the world around them.
I read this chapter in Leading With a Limp and thought, thankfully I do not do this! Then, as I continued to process more I realized that I do not do it in areas where I feel I am gifted or strong. I do however move in this direction when I am faced with complexity in places where I am out of my comfort zone.
For example, last summer I led a team of High School students and volunteers to Appalachia, Kentucky. We were there to serve people by working on two building projects. We were bringing some physical relief and dignity to people who desperately needed it. I am not especially gifted or talented in using my hands. I really do not enjoy it and the thought of doing this for a week really scared me. It took everything I had to keep my emotions in check on the site because felt so stupid.
When we would return to the camp I felt that I was back in my domain where I knew what to do and how to do things. This junction of physical and emotional exhaustion left me in a place where I became rigid when complexity struck at the camp. The complexity took the form of High School not doing things exactly as I expected them to do (surprise, surprise right?). This led me to be more dogmatic and rigid in how I approached various situations.
So, how do I move forward? Well, I am learning that awareness and communication are key. If I know that I am going to be in a situation like this then I need to prepare myself and my team that this might be an issue. That way WHEN my sin rears its ugly head everyone will know what’s happening and we will be able to interact honestly and openly about it.
WHAT IS COMMUNITY?
Community. It’s a buzz-word. It’s a television sit-com. It’s a longing in our hearts. But what is it? What does community mean? There have been books, long books, written on the subject. There have been many sermons preached. There have been many university seminars given. I have to be honest with you, I have talked about community and thought about community and yet I do not think that I could define community. Community. Community. Community…
Then I read Wendell Berry’s essay, “Writer and Region” in What Are People For. His definition of community is astounding: “a common experience and common effort on a common ground to which one willingly belongs.(85)” Consider with me for a brief moment what the ramifications of this definition are for us. First, a common experience. People who seek to have or be a part of community must have a common experience. This means that they must actually do something. I think that often people think community will just develop or happen around them, it does not. What is a common experience? It is a common doing. It means that a person willingly does something with others. They engage. They enter in. They participate.
Second, a common effort. The term effort implies that there is a mission or a purpose for one to be in relationship with another. Community develops along the lines of mission. There must be a purpose or a mission before one can have community because there must be a common effort. This again requires a person and individual to choose to set aside herself to enter into a mission with others. Effort will then be exerted when the mission is grasped and understood and embodied by the group.
Third, a common ground. This can mean all sorts of things but I think Berry means it in the sense of proximity. Community happens in a place. There is a proximity to it. Boots on the ground together as a group on a mission in the same place. I think about a place like Ocean City, NJ where I spent a summer on mission. I can picture the people and the things done but they are all tied to a place: the boardwalk, the Ambassadors Inn, Philly, or Broadway. A place, a common ground.
Finally, there must be a willingness. This community will not happen unless a person willingly submits himself to the group. He must enter in of his own accord. Apart from this willingness he cannot know community because he cannot be with the others on the common ground; his heart is elsewhere.
Community: common experience and common effort on a common ground to which one willingly belongs.
Dedicated to Jay and Vince, both of whom are now Daddys.
When I would look at men who had little girls there was something different about them. They had this look about them that was different from those of us with only sons. There was a tenderness in their eyes as they would watch their daughters play or walk or sleep. There was a gentleness to how they handled their little girls. And, there was the look of incredible love when that little girl would look back over her shoulder at her daddy.
The day, the moment, that Libby was born, I understood. There is something unique about little girls. They are sweet and gentle. You look at their face and know that soon you will hear that little voice whisper, “Daddy.” Just knowing that your heart melts, just the thought of it. I love my son with all that I am. He is my buddy, my partner. But there is something different about my Libby. It’s hard to explain.
There is just something special about the love of a Daddy toward his little girl. A desire to protect her. A desire to keep her safe from the fallen world. The reality that another will come along one day and make her his own. Knowing that some day she will wear a white dress and take the hand of another man. She will not always be all mine.
I don’t know. There is something intangible about the love of a father to a daughter. I can not possibly do it justice. All I know is that I love her and get lost as I watch her. All I know is that I see her Mommy in her and know that she is an amazing gift that is to be cherished and loved only to be given away.
The scene is Haiti is horrific. The cries for help. The reality of people being buried alive. The dead littering the streets. The pain, chaos, and heartbreak enveloping a country that is already impoverished and broken. To this situation Pat Robertson on the 700 Club today spoke. He stated among other things that it was a “blessing in disguise”. Check out this video and then read my response:
This response is heartless, cruel, and un-pastoral. My good friend Scott Crocker has posted a wonderful response and I would encourage you to read it. Near the end of this clip Mr. Robertson speaks of a pact made with the devil. This is a rumor, an urban legend. It may have happened, it might not have happened.
We seek to find meaning out of tragedy, it is our natural response. To make this tragedy into something other than it is simply smacks of pretentious self-righteousness. The sad fact is that we live in a world that is broken. It is broken at every level. St. Paul tells us “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.(Romans 8:18–23 ESV)”
You see the creation is longing for its own redemption. What happened in Haiti is not the result of an act of a vengeful God. It is not the act of a God who was tired of waiting for the Haitians to build big buildings. No, this was the result of the tragedy that took place in the Garden. This is the outworking of the fall.
I am thankful that Mr. Robertson called for prayer and compassion at the end of this clip. However, his call is empty and meaningless due to his previous comments. I believe that Mr. Robertson believed that he was speaking truth. He spoke without love though and became a “resounding gong.”
The old saying goes, “It takes one to know one.” Sadly, I know a lack of gentleness, an absence of compassion, and graceless truth. It takes one to know one. I know one.
THE COST OF VISION
I am learning that you must be careful about what you ask for, you just might get it. That’s right, I think I am getting what I asked for. Heaven help me!
In my quieter moments, a number of years ago, I would have told you that I would like to start something from the ground up. I think at the time I looked at things like history and tradition and fel that they were rubbish. I still feel that way, most of the time. However, I am learning that history or backstory is important. It provides you with a road map for the reasons why people are the way they are. It gives you insight into ministry mindsets and culture. Backstory, history, tradition: they are important.
Important though they may be these things are the cost of vision. If you have a vision, a dream, a desire it comes to you in power only if you are unhappy with the status quo. There have been many times in my life when I have had vision. I think I am in one of those times. But vision comes at a cost, it costs the status quo. It costs the sacred cows. It costs comfort and ease. The one with the vision does not pay this price because they have already lost their comfort and ease as a result of their broken heart that leads them to vision. No, this cost is paid by those to whom the vision is cast. This makes setting a new course pretty difficult, if not impossible.
A few years ago I read, Visioneering by Andy Stanley. One of the key components in that book is that people need to hear the vision over and over and over (and then over again!). What was assumed in the book was that the one casting the vision had a pulpit, microphone, and captive audience. So how do you this without a captive audience, microphone, or pulpit?
Well, it turns out when you are fumbling your way through you don’t do it very well. It’s something that has to change in my ministry. I have to get the vision out to three audiences: volunteers, students, and parents. These three audiences are vastly different. It’s no wonder that “youth pastors” burn out so quickly. I am trusting that as I am coming to this conclusion it will help me communicate the vision, mission, and values of the movement I lead more effectively.
But, it will come at a cost. It will come at the cost of comfort, ease, and tradition. I understand the picture. I am the dog and the vision is the rocket. The question is: Is there a guidance system? I hope so. I need one.
POTENTIAL, PASSION, POWER
Youth Specialties just dropped a post over on their blog about Passion 2010. The heart of the post was that college students in any number have incredible potential to change the world. This is so true. It’s the whole reason movements like Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity, and Navigators exist. I love that conferences like Passion are springing up and highlighting the potential of the emerging generation.
I think that there is a larger conversation that needs to take place and that is a conversation about power. In the church (and in every other institution) there are multiple generations existing together under one tent. The question is how will the generations that are older begin the process of taking on new roles? The generation that populates the leadership of most churches is the generation of the Jesus Movement. It saw incredible mobilization toward causes that was bigger than itself. It was a generation of radicals that forcibly took power in politics and church. It is the generation that created the “mega-church”. It figured out how to reach a de-churched population with skill and wisdom. The emerging generations need to be grateful for what has been done.
But, now is the time for the established leaders of the church (50s+) to realize that they must enter into a new leadership role. The time is now for them unlock the potential of the emerging generations. They need to actively choose to not become like their parents/grandparents. The “Great Generation” would not yield power and become coaches so the “Boomer” struck out on their own and created it’s own institution. Now, will they choose to embrace the leadership of the emerging generations? Will they listen? Will they hear what the culture is like NOW? Will they determine to bring emerging leaders up and hand over precious power and set aside their preferences to reach the next generation?
Youth Specialties and Passion are right. There is incredible potential in the emerging generations. But will it be coached and brought to maturity or will it be required to makes it own course and not come to maturity until they reach their 50s?
CRISIS, COWARDICE, COURAGE
In Allender’s matrix the first challenge is that of crisis. What do you do when the world comes crashing down around you? Thankfully I have not faced any huge crises in my time as a leader. I have experienced personal ones within the context of my family but not so much in the context of ministry. This is God’s grace.
In these crises though I know that I experience the pull to cowardice. I want so badly for there to be someone else who can take on the problem and have the hard conversations and to make the decisions that nobody wants to make. I feel it. My hands sweat. My stomach gets upset. My breathing quickens and my heart pounds.
Thankfully I had a model of courage when I was a boy. My mother was and is one of the most courageous people that I know. It’s remarkable how courageous she is. With three young children she worked full-time, went to school full-time, and made sure we did not become screw-ups. She had hard conversations. She did hard things. She didn’t hide. She faced it, all of it.
When I think of the crises that we have faced as a family over the last five years and I think about how I responded I know it’s because of the model that she was. I think that in the face of crises I actually move into courage. I think I move there because I remember my mom’s story and I embrace it as my own.
Allender says that a limping leader understands, “I don’t know if I am right, not am I sure the path chosen is the best, but after reflection, feedback, debate, and prayer, I am choosing this path. In the process, I will seek life life like water and drink death like wine. A confident leader remembers her own story of redemption. She remembers that in the past God has been good to giver her favor and a way out of disaster; therefore, she borrows from the past to invest in the crisis du jour (74–75).”
That’s courage. Courage is embracing the narrative that God is writing in you and seeing the redemption that he has wrought. Then you grab hold of that fact and drink it like water.
THE KINGDOM PART 2
My latest sermon:
THE KINGDOM PART 1
My latest sermon:
JUST DO IT OR HOLINESS
The Backyard Missionary posted recently on some thoughts about holiness by Alan Hirsch. It was interesting to see these ideas in front of me, nearly 15 years after I first heard them. I had been dating Amy (now my bride) for a few months. At the time I was new to this whole follow Jesus thing in every aspect of your life and the guy who was teaching me to walk with Jesus (Matt) wanted to have a conversation about my dating relationship. That was weird.
So, Matt and I headed to the Bovee University Center on the campus of Central Michigan University and grabbed a table in the Down Under Club. It was awkward as he asked me some really personal questions. I told him what he wanted to hear (whether or not it was the truth is another story). Then Matt asked me what I thought the statement, “Be holy as I am holy” meant. Well, I listed off as many rules of good Christian moralism as I could muster and Matt took it in. This was not his first time around the block. He smiled and asked, “Is that it?” I squirmed (not smiling) and replied, “Yeah.”
At that point Matt flipped my entire grid of what it means to be holy. He changed the way I thought because he opened my eyes tot the reality that I was focusing on all the things that I couldn’t do and still honor God with my life. The key thing, Matt explained, was what we could do. We could be holy. We could choose to live our lives in such a way that shows the world around us that we are different.
I had never thought about it like that. I thought following Jesus meant that I needed to understand the rules. The reality is that the rules aren’t the point. The point was living like someone and as opposed to not like someone. It’s so much easier to watch someone model something and do it than figuring out how not to do it. You see Jesus lived life the way we ought to live life. He lived it full, he lived it fun, he lived it on the edge. Do I? Do you? Jesus was called a drunk and a glutton. Most of us would only be mistaken for Tom Sawyer’s good-goody cousin Sid.
Holiness pushes us out to the brink. Holiness challenges us in ways that makes us uncomfortable. Holiness subverts our ordinary lives and causes us to live life on the edge where only angels dare to walk.
ONE. MONO. UNO.
There is a saying, “One is the loneliest number.” For many years I thought one was not all that lonely but a nice change of pace. I think that’s because in my former life as a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ there was such a crushing emphasis on team that you almost couldn’t escape it. I am not an introvert by nature so for one to feel not lonely is saying something. I have been a “pastor” for one year now. I am coming to the conclusion that “pastor” equals “one”. I want there to be a team around me.
I desire for there to be a team around me. But, the nature of the office is that there is the pastor (full-time, on duty, Christian-type) and then there are those around the pastor (people who are working out their faith in REAL life, in the REAL world, here and now). It seems to me that those around the pastor are amazing, awe-inspiring actually. I mean they work, they work hard all day for some company somewhere and then they work, and work hard in the context of the church. Pastors become pastors because (and let’s be honest here) they can’t or are unwilling to do that (yes, I understand there is an aspect of being called by God to vocationally serve his church, please don’t think I am missing that or downplaying it, I am not; I feel very called and very led to vocational service. I also know that if I wasn’t in vocational service I wouldn’t serve to the level that I do).
Leadership requires one to plan, prepare, and set direction. This takes place as we dream, think through the possibilites of how to make this dream work, and then begin to put it into practice. This is very easy to do in the context of the parachurch (relatively speaking). You have a team of full-time professional staff who are committed to the mission of the organization. There is already a base of like-mindedness or they would not have spent the time they did to raise all that money. Now you come to the church context where everyone (and I mean everyone) has their own idea of mission, direction, and praxis. There is only a handful of professional staff (all of which are working in specialized areas) and there are volunteers. The volunteers care deeply for the people they are ministering to but generally don’t have a broader desire to lead, cast vision, or set direction.
As a result this means that for the pastor there is much that must be done alone. However, this is then compounded by the reality that he must bring his volunteers along and up to speed with his dreams and vision. This requires the pastor to be a coach. I stink as a coach. I am a terrible coach. I am pretty good at casting vision, setting direction, and bringing change, however, I am not good at bringing others along with me.
So, what does this mean? I think it means that I have to learn to hold certain things more loosely and do a significantly better job at bringing people into the conversation at the beginning of the process as opposed to the end. This means that I have to cast vision to them to help them see how important it is for them to set direction with me. I think I see why Dan Allender calls his book “Leading With a Limp”.
YOU TOOK ME SERIOUSLY?
It turns out that people are actually taking this stuff I write seriously! It also turns out that when I post something it is no longer for me but for the world to read. Oh right, I wrote about that.
Well, today I cam face to face with one of my weaknesses in our staff meeting. I realized today, in light of a great conversation around a big table, that my Achiever combined with Futuristic makes it hard for me to field questions regarding vision and direction (see my page on my personal strengths here). I take in so much information and I am constantly learning that my vision and direction are based on good strategic information. The details of the conversation aren’t important. What is important is that for the first time in a long time I was actually aware of how my brokenness was being displayed.
I realized today that I need divine intervention so that I might be more gentle, not some wishy-washy gentleness, but the kind of gentleness that meets people where they are. I am comfortable with being like this in relationships with people who are not in relationship with God, however, I struggle to live this way alongside those who are.
I don’t know, that’s why I am writing and processing and limping my way through all this. Thanks to those around the table who are willing to enter in with me in spite of how broken I am.
MATRIX OF BROKENNESS
As I said yesterday I am going to work through and begin to try and identify the weaknesses that I have. Before doing that though I need to show you the matrix that Allender developed in for the challenges that leaders face and their potential responses. It’s helpful and it’s a bit of a diagnostic tool. It also provides a good grid for framing the discussion.
There are five leadership challenges with which every leader comes face to face. I have re-created the grids that Allender developed on pages 8 and 9 of Leading With Limp.
The challenges are obvious. I don’t think that anyone would doubt them. If you do doubt them then, I would have to assume that you have never led for any length of time. Now consider these five ineffective responses. Which of them do you most struggle with? I want to pick and choose. Yet, as I honestly evaluate my own leadership I think that I have failed in every one of the categories.
The effective solutions are the places where we want to get to. I find that courage is easier for me. The reality that I have to grapple with is that the ineffective responses are easier to control. If I am going to legitimately move into these effective solutions the core of my being, of who I am, has to be open to change. If it is not then I simply will not get there.
One note of hope, I don’t want you to think (or me to think) that I am a constant failure in leadership. I think that in many ways I lead well. I think that there are times when I actually live out the effective solutions that are listed above. I simply am aware that I have a very long way to go.
YOU’RE IN THE BATTLE OF YOUR LIFE
Dan Allender says, “So here’s the hard truth: if you’re a leader, you’re in the battle of your life.” Welcome to a challenging text called Leading With a Limp. This is a book that was given to me by a man who mentored me for six years, on the day of my ordination he mailed it to me. I finally got around to reading it this Advent season and what I read has brought me to a place where I need to re-evaluate how I have been leading. I have not been leading with a limp.
The assumption of Allender’s book is this, “To the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive committed colleagues (2)”. He goes on to say, “To the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose — prompting the ultimate departure of your best people (3).” These are the presuppositions. They are truthful and if you have been in leadership for any length of time you have experienced these statements in an all to painful way.
In the swath of leadership literature that I have read this book is changing the way I think about leading. Allender is not calling for leaders to be “authentic” and “self-disclose”. He is calling for leaders to do more. He is calling us to embrace our weaknesses and then in the company of those we lead to take our weaknesses apart piece by piece. This is not a “work on your weaknesses” kind of effort. This is an embracing of our brokenness that will necessarily lead us to a place of humility and in search of grace.
As I consider my leadership in the past I realize that more often than not I ignore my weaknesses, I write them off. I ask for forgiveness when I offend. I have never considered the idea of inviting those on my team into my weakness. I am going to process some of my weaknesses out here and subvert myself. Other weaknesses will have to be embraced elsewhere. In all of them, I need to invite people in. To live out of my strengths (which I am going to post soon too) I need to dismantle the atomic bomb of my weakness.
RELIGION IS GOOD AT GUILT
On January 1 Charlie Rose had a montage of his best interviews. Well, we usually put Charlie on in the background and fall asleep to him. I suppose it’s gentle North Carolina accent or the intonation of his voice but he knocks us out pretty quickly. In one particular clip he was interviewing Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis. McCourt said, “Religion is good at guilt.” For some reason that idea stuck in my head and I have been thinking about it ever since.
Is religion good at guilt? I suppose so. Religion is a man made attempt at controlling other people and at the same time seeking to make people feel better about themselves. But, if you are going to control other people then you can’t possibly clear their shame ridden consciences with something like grace. No, you must make them work for it. They must work hard for it and they must comprehend that whenever they slip up they need to work even harder because the scorecard is now unbalanced. They can’t get ahead until after their dead, possibly, and the right people think they were especially good.
You see, religion is good at guilt. Religion is about control and power. It is about controlling those around us and exerting power over them so that we can continue to stay in control. I think this is what is so incredibly subversive about Jesus. He was unwilling to grab the power and control. He was willing to set aside controlling power and offer up grace. This grace changed the world. It’s interesting when you think about following after Jesus you aren’t required to do anything. But, when you come to terms with the reality that you aren’t required to do anything it compels you to do something.
I think this is what makes Jesus so compelling to me and also makes me sad when I look at this world with supposedly 1/3 or so of its residents claiming to follow him. It seems to me that maybe many of us might not understand this grace in a way that we ought and that has kept us from being compelled.
STOP THE SNARK
I have recently noticed that people who are supposed to be academics, people who are supposed to be representing an intellectual position, are becoming increasingly snarky towards those who disagree with them. I am especially noticing this in the intelligent design/evolution debate that seems to be gearing up again. It’s interesting to me that many on both sides of the debate start, continue, and end with name calling. They refer to one another in demeaning tones. I see this happening in the political debate too. Where ever an issue has two sides with strong feelings it seems that emotion takes precedence over reasoned intellect.
I think the reason for this is found in a comment by Wendell Berry in his essay, “A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey”. He is discussing Abbey’s tendency to tip sacred cows. Berry’s says, “Any human product or activity that humans defend as a category becomes, by the very fact, a sacred cow — in need, by the same fact, of an occasional goosing (Berry, 42).” In our current cultural milieu we struggle for meaning and for finger holds. Therefore, we tend to categorize everything and everyone. This categorizing leads to the development of multiple “consecrated bovines (Berry, 42).” As these cows begin to fill our world we are constantly bumping up against someone’s deeply personal category and they defend it with passion. When sacred cows are engaged the one protecting them flares the nostril and becomes a raging bull.
This kind of debate and conversation is wholly unhelpful. If we are to engage with meaning and purpose with those of other perspectives and worldviews there must be a willingness on both parties to discuss rationally and with grace. What is the purpose of just being snarky? What is the point of just making fun of someone you believe to be wrong on an important issue? Can you not bring to the table more than one liners designed to gain the smiling head nod of your supporters?
Berry, Wendell. What are People For? North Point Press: San Francisco, 1990.