Sunday, May 10, 2015

Every Generation Needs a John

(From John 1:23)

Today's religious and cultural "wilderness" needs, and hopefully has, voices that understand the times (like the sons of Issachar) and offer the clarion call to "straighten" God's ways. Christendom, patriotism, and consumerism have, like in every generation from Moses to Christ to Constantine to today, allowed, yea, encouraged movement from straight to crooked. Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah (among others), Jesus, Luther, McLaren, Rollins all have a time when their voices were in their respective wildernesses calling for straightness when all that surrounded them was crooked. A voice in the wilderness is like a ray os Sun peeking through a very cloudy atmosphere. We get so used to clouds that we wonder at what the beam of brightness might mean. It might even be said that we grow to believe with certainty that what is truly crooked we now call straight. We can't tell the difference until a voice is heard declaring that the emperor is naked. The accepted geography of crookedness is a tough place to hear a seemingly new but very accurate voice. People had to leave the accepted crooked city limits to find the voice of straightness in the country. We have to follow our abrahamic instincts and venture from the comfortable to the unknown. Our uncertainty is a challenging and hopefully welcome part of a process traveling toward the zip code of straightness and simplicity.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Being Satan? Is Today's Church Worthy of Jesus' Rebuke?

In Mark 8:31-33, we find the challenging story of Jesus outlining his agenda only to be challenged by Peter- a good and loyal follower of his Master. Jesus, though, calls out Peter as "Satan" for not sharing Jesus' perspective.

I wonder if the criticism being offered for what may appear to many conventional believers as activity that couldn't represent the heart of God is worthy of the same rebuke that Peter receives from Jesus. When people defend the institutional church instead of listening to what the Spirit is saying to the church, are they representing Satan- to use Jesus' label for a well intended disciple named Peter? When Christians take the position of hawks over doves, would they hear Jesus say that their minds are set not on the things of God, but the things of man? When believers judge the sexual activities of other humans thinking they represent God, are they perhaps simply not able to accept a message from the Master that is uncomfortable and therefore unacceptable? Maybe being "Satan" in Jesus' view is more about a closed minded and uninformed representation of what we have grown accustomed to in our religious practice of what we call Christianity than an overtly stated allegiance to the Anti-God. I'm guessing Peter was shocked at Jesus' rebuke and apparent horrific label, feeling that it wasn't deserved and even harsh. Yet, there it is for us to read and see if there is application in the story to contemporary practice by well intended disciples.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What? No Celebrities?

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (‭Acts‬ ‭9‬:‭31‬ ESV)

This verse is couched obscurely within the more talked about narratives that preceded and follow it. The spectacular account of Paul's conversion not only effectively thrusts him into celebrity status- not unlike the conversion of modern day celebrities (I.e., Deion Sanders, Steven Baldwin, etc.), but also offers us a conversion story that has never been repeated by our Lord- and it's safe to say there have been plenty of others throughout history who could've used the same kind of encounter (Hitler? Hussein? Osteen?).  After a time of being the poster child of faith, Paul is shipped into a decade of obscurity. This verse is followed by another Christian celebrity (Peter) having another landmark experience that pushed the believers out of the box they had already created for their newly embraced religion. So what is this verse possibly saying about the functioning and growth of the "church"?

It grew without any recorded celebrity or personality. The only "personality" present was the Spirit. They were "built up" in the way Paul would later affirm by each member of the body supplying to others what may be helpful in that moment.

Today's American model of Christendom is based and dependent on "personalities" if not celebrities. Even local church staffs play into this role on a smaller scale then do, say, Joel Osteen, John Piper, Mark Discoll, Rob Bell- just to name a cross section of possibilities. And the pew sitter supports this because we live in a celebrity culture.

God's culture is sans celebrity. The true "rock star" is and always will be Jesus and it is his Spirit that is in us as we collect in any venue. The model that this verse implies is seen as too risky in our time and yet it would seem that the risk is worth the result.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why Did Jesus Read the Bible?

The Bible we read tells us that Jesus was familiar with the Scriptures of his day- what we call our Old Testament. For instance, we find our Master quoting from the Scriptures to ward off the temptations of the Devil in the wilderness. We also see him using it to counter the equally informed Pharisees use of the same set of Writings.

So did Jesus read the Scriptures as an act of devotion or as means of engagement with his culture?

As a boy growing up in the home of a King James toting Baptist minister, I was duly influenced regarding the inerrant and quasi-magical "word of God" (read: Bible). In time, I would recognize the bibliolotry I had been taught and of which I would later repent. But on the good side of such an upbringing, I learned to read the Bible- a lot! Every new calendar year marked the beginning of yet another reading of Genesis (perhaps the most widely read book in the Christian-literate world as a result!) which inevitably waned by mid-February when Leviticus reared its annual ugly head. In spite of failing more than succeeding in my yearly quest, I still became very familiar with the Bible's content and did a fair job at both "sword drills" and memorization.

Once I became a minister, I ravenously read the Bible. And while I would claim I was reading for personal devotions, I was guilty of the professional curse I was under in that as I read, I was looking for the next passage from which to preach a "biblical" sermon. For years I read the Old Testament every year, the New Testament and Psalms/Proverbs each month. I really knew the Bible and could weave passages into all conversations and contexts. And if I couldn't cite the exact passage reference, I could always get to the general area in the Bible where the passage was found.

And I felt spiritually mature. And my congregation and friends were impressed.

Did Jesus read his Bible for the same reasons? Was it a requirement for him as well in order to have a healthy relationship with God? After all, we all know the prescription for living as a Christian and the answer to all questions posed in Church: read your Bible and pray!

God graciously allowed me to be free of attributing divine status to the Bible and like Hezekiah did to the brass serpent, put it in its proper perspective.

So if Jesus didn't need the Bible for his own spiritual health for what reason did he read it at all? It is not recorded anywhere in our Bible that he actually read it does report that he prayed. I have concluded that our ("evangelical" Americanized church goers) approach to the Bible is beyond the scope of it purpose and intent.

It appears to me that Jesus needed to read the Bible so he could use it to put proper emphasis on its use and to counteract misinterpretations of its content. I'm sure his familiarity with the Scriptures provided him a level of spiritual encouragement that we all can access. His ability to "rightly divide the word of truth" (a quotation from Paul to Timothy that believe it or not, may not be referencing the Bible as we so often assume) was based on the same source as ours should be: the filtering presence of the Spirit of God.

To conclude, then, I need to read my Bible so I can, like Jesus, understand it through the same Spirit he did and then to lovingly interact with my Christianized culture in hopes of coming to better and more accurate applications not only of the Bible itself, but more importantly, of life in Christ today.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Private Faith in Today's Church: Is the Egg Preceding the Chicken?

Having exited my mother's birth canal onto what very possibly might've been the pew of a Baptist church and being raised in a Bapto-charismatic environment, I grew up in the bubble of evangelical if not fundamental Christendom. I learned that church attendance was theoretically synonymous with Christian fellowship. As I entered into the professional world of church work, i.e.,pastoring, I promoted attendance at my church for the well intended reason that one could not live as a follower of Jesus without being in community with other believers, which of course, meant going to church in general and my church in particular.

What I'm afraid this cultivates in the attending believers is an unhealthy co-dependence on the leader and perhaps other believers for one's personal spiritual health. Instead of bringing a growing personal faith journey that can be examined, challenged and encouraged, I'm afraid that most people who make church attendance so important rarely have enough "closet time" with God to allow for deeply honest introspection- the kind that can be independent if necessary. Instead, and perhaps unwittingly, people depend on the faith of whoever they believe, or are led to believe, has a faith that in their opinion, is healthier than their own.

The model used in churches does not allow for anything other than co-dependent faith. Whoever is up front- pastor, worship leaders, etc.- are naturally assumed to be at a place in their faith journey that permits a pew sitter without a personal faith to lob on to whatever is oozing from the platform. The church goer leaves each service hoping that the faith they vicariously experienced at church will carry them through another week without much personal effort on their part.

I am at a point where I wonder if our emphasis on community, i.e., fellowship, has usurped it's appropriate role in the order of Christian citizenship. Being together with like minded people on a similar trajectory may find its most useful and appropriate place when experienced after personal faith is birthed and growing. Instead of a co-dependent and weak discipleship, one would experience the health of an inter-dependent gathering in which all participants understand that the need for community is a result of a personal faith and not necessarily dependent on it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Serving in the Church or Sitting at Jesus' Feet: Martha and Mary May Challenge Church Attendance and Ministry

The famous story of Martha and Mary may serve as a challenge to today's questions about the role of the church organization in knowing who Jesus is and what he wants from us.

I left both the church as an attendee and as a minister to arguably sit at the feet of the One I purported to serve. And yes, I have been misunderstood by those who serve in the kitchen (read: church) who are working their asses off trying to do what might make the most sense. 

But Jesus, as he was wont to do, turned conventional and apparently godly perspectives on their heads by lauding Mary's choice to lazily but eagerly sit at his feet and hear his words over diligently and anxiously working at having a good church service to honor him.

It doesn't seem too much of a stretch at all to make this application today. Jesus' teachings and their subsequent documentation may go further and deeper than what we have assumed to be a simple application of not being so busy to take time to be in prayer. Perhaps this text stretches our understanding of American church activity and what can and should be Christian living. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Spirit of Zebedee is not the Spirit of God

James and John may have left their father in the boat when they responded to Jesus' invitation to become fishers of men but they still carried his "spirit". We applaud their courage to leave their "world" and what they thought they knew to be a part of an inner circle with a man and a message that attracted them. But some things aren't exposed immediately and time and experience are required for some things to come to light.

I'm guessing that these boys were steeped in the tradition and writings of their religious community. They may have even thought that they were like their father Abraham when they left their father to follow Jesus into unchartered territory. They new of Elijah and the God he represented when hearing the story of fire being called down on those who reject Yahweh. They learned the spirit of their father that embedded its perspective so deeply that it took a particular incident for it to be exposed. And this spirit was not accurate, in spite of the prophet that demonstrated it and the Scripture that documented it.

We know this because of what we have recorded in Luke 9: 51-56. James and John probably thought they would be commended for not only paying attention in Sunday School, but also for finding a relevant and timely application for what they had learned. They were confident in their theology. Their eagerness to judge people and wipe them out was confronted and condemned by God in Jesus Christ. The spirit of Zebedee was trumped by the Spirit of God.

They were ready and willing to use the Scripture but they lacked the right spirit. This is like the Pharisees who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus quoting Scripture but failing to know the Spirit. Jesus redirected them too.

I come from the same background in which I learned the Bible and embraced judgementalism as part of the spirit of God. Yes, I had left "my father" in "the boat with the hired servants" feeling sure of my personal conversion. I even went into professional ministry for 25 years. But I see myself in James and John, quick to judge in self-perceived righteousness but slow to understand how that spirit is not the right Spirit.

By Gods grace and the Spirit and words of Jesus, I, like James and John, am being confronted at deeper levels of theological error. The Spirit of God filters our interpretations of Scripture to more accurately reflect the God of the universe.