Sunday, June 26, 2011

Was Peter a "Better" Disciple Because He Walked on Water?

As I ponder the familiar story of Peter walking on the water, I wonder if we might be tempted to classify Peter as a "special" or even "super" disciple because he did something that not only wasn't done by any one else who was in his boat that night, but to my knowledge, hasn't been done since. By most measurements, that would put Peter in a category by himself.

And while that is true, I don't think it makes him a "better" disciple. It just gives him an experience with Jesus that was different than the others.

Peter challenged the "ghost" who claimed to be Jesus to prove He was who He said he was by inviting Peter to come to where He was: out of the "safety" of the boat and on to turbulent water. Jesus obliged and while any if not all of the occupants in the boat could've gotten out, only Peter did.

As it turned out, all of the disciples experienced Jesus that night and the cumulative result was worship. All of them received Jesus into the boat and all of them landed safely at their destination- with Jesus right by their side. Peter's experience was different but not better.

I wonder if my current experience could be compared to Peter's. I am drawn to an unconventional Jesus who to most is explained in the best terms they can muster when what they "see" doesn't fit their paradigm: "He's a ghost." I am willing to challenge the perceptions of my fellow boat occupants and request an experience with something (Someone) that doesn't make sense by earthly standards.

Jesus obliges our questions and interests. The waves are scary and the future is uncertain. Even with the weakness of my faith and the questions raised by the experience itself, Jesus is present.

I am no better than others who are comfortable in the boat and who still worship Jesus. I just am experiencing something different if not transcendent at Jesus' invitation. I hope my faith will allow me to courageously step out of the boat to be with a Jesus that other's are afraid to challenge.

Apparently, Jesus welcomes the challenge and invites followers to experience Him in ways that blow our minds.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Do We Honor God's Interests When We Pray for Rain?

I live in a dry area of the country and currently we are suffering from some extreme drought. Everyone is anxious and concerned as our municipalities are forced to place watering restrictions to preserve some of the water supply.

At this time (as in previous droughts), the only thing that appears to worry my neighbors is watering our yards. Yes, there is concern for farmers and their crops, but mostly I'd say we just don't want our lawns to die. But no one is missing their morning shower or dehydrating from lack of a drink.

Is this a concern in other drought-ridden countries? Or are there bigger fish to fry?

Two years ago we were going through the same thing. A local "celebrity" of sorts organized a prayer meeting in the center of town to pray for rain. Many people rallied for this event. And on the surface it appeared like a God-honoring thing for Christians to do.

Ironically (and comically), we had a 10 minute shower minutes before the prayer meeting. This was seen as a result of the prayer effort and the local paper highlighted this success on the front page of the next day's issue.  The community- and especially the Christians- lauded the power of prayer to bring rain.

This happened in June. No more rain came until October. Hmmmm.

At the time, I was leading a morning class at the church I served. I raised a few questions:
  • If the gathering of people to the city square to pray for rain succeeded (even if for only 10 minutes), why weren't there consistant prayer vigils following this? It seemed that the Christians lauded their unified effort but then once "success" was achieved, they didn't take what had happened seriously enough to be further inconvenienced by more gatherings. Really? If prayer on the square really did make it rain, then why weren't people there praying every day until the drought ended?
  • Since at the same time, other areas of the country were being drenched with rain, were our local prayer warriors muddying the waters (pardon the pun) by requesting God to give us rain while others elsewhere were probably asking for rain to end? It seems to me that weather patterns happen by God's creative design and we live in relationship with both nature and neighbors no matter what the weather brings. I'm guessing that if our concerns are to match those of God, they need to transcend weather forcasts.
  • What is really expected of the follower of Jesus when natural crises occur- in this case severe drought? A student in my class challenged my views by saying that she knew of a family who may lose their farm if it didn't rain soon. I challenged the class to consider that perhaps by praying for rain to save this family and their property, we are neglecting what would be a more biblical imperative which would be to care for them should they lose their farm. By praying for rain, are we not asking God to relieve us of what might be ours to do? The true response to a drought may not be to pray for rain, but to care for those who may be legitimately victimized by it- and I'm not talking about those of us whose lawns are less-than-lush.
  • If God was listening to a prayer meeting at the city square on behalf of unlimited watering and greener grass; and if he showed his favor by generating a 10 minute cloudburst; perhaps some prayer time should've been spent praying for something that really matters in God's design. Perhaps the power of a praying community should be directed toward poverty, injustice or human trafficking. If we've got God's ear, let's seize it for things that really matter worldwide!  When I asked the class if the similare (or any) excitement would be generated if the same "celebrity" called for a prayer meeting at the square for the purposes of eliminating human trafficking in the world, they had to admit that since the issues of slave trading and human trafficking wasn't front page material in our community, that people woudn't be as interested. AHEM! Isn't that the point??!!! Why aren't God's people more interested in the things that break God's heart than the things that narcissistic Americans think are important? Just a little thought (and prayer) would expose the motives of our self-interested prayer meetings.
I offer these thoughts today because once again, two years later, our local community is experiencing severe drought. Some concerned local believers have invited people on Facebook to a prayer meeting to ask God for rain.  I wonder if some folks in the flooded midwest would care to join us.

Sadly, in the last two years no one (Christian or otherwise) has invited others for a prayer meeting at the town square to seek God's passion for the matters that, according to the Bible, affect it the most.

I expect that "believers" will turn out for tonight's prayer meeting. Maybe I should post an invitation for a prayer meeting next week for less "glamourous" but more biblical issues like world hunger, pandemic disease and international peace. I wonder if the same "believers" would come.

I wonder if anyone would come.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bible Push Back: Matthew 15:1-9

In this passage we read of the Pharisees' criticism of Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands before eating bread and Jesus' forceful response. As a Bible-bred evangelical, I have read this over my lifetime with some self-righteous satisfaction that as a current follower of Jesus, I would never put "tradition" ahead of obedience. It has always been easy to criticize "traditionalism", especially as someone who spent 13 years developing and leading a "contemporary" service for a traditional, main line congregation.

As I would read this though, I would fail to expand its application to "traditions" that I might not have thought were "traditional" by the measure Jesus might have been using. Is it possible that if Jesus were addressing the issue today, the examples he may give might make some of us non-traditionalists uncomfortable?

The "tradition" that the disciples had failed to honor was not part of the law of Moses but had developed over time as a well-intended strategy to honor God. In fact, it might be argued that the habit of hand-washing was an "above and beyond" measure to show extreme allegiance to the God of Moses. It would make sense for the guardians of spiritual health in Jesus' time (the Pharisees) to call out the allegedly God-honoring followers of Jesus (his disciples) on this matter of a widely accepted spiritual discipline of that time.

Jesus response was to them yet another attack on what they had painstakingly developed over hundreds of years of honoring the religion of Abraham and Moses- a religion at least theoretically centered on the God who Jesus claimed to be his Father. Jesus wasn't confronting blatant sin or overt rebellion against the Torah; Jesus was calling out something that had become so ingrained in their religious activity, that it had usurped the simplicity of the kind of activity that would mark those who claimed to be God's people. Hand washing had become equal to if not greater than honoring human dignity.

Could we possibly make an application from this passage to the perspective Americanized Christians carry about attending church?

I wonder what Jesus would say to those today who have made attending an institutional church service equal to or more important than honoring others with dignity and love. "Jesus, your followers aren't members of or attending a church in town. Why?"

Perhaps we have made something- attendance at a consumer-driven church service- greater in importance than Jesus did. Perhaps the way we live our values as people who share God's spiritual DNA should be highlighted more than how many times we attend church or which church we currently attend. Wouldn't Jesus challenge those who "draw near with their mouth and honor with the lips but whose hearts are far from him" to a purer and simpler life- a life that he exemplified?

Yes, followers should congregate and learn from one another. But like the Pharisees in this story who were challenged to regain God's true perspective, we may need to rethink (repent?) how we are functioning in our "churches" and why we think that what we do in those churches is so critically important to how we live as Jesus' followers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Embracing Our Moment in History

In Matthew 13:17, we have Jesus saying that there have been many good people and religious leaders that lived with the hope of experiencing Messiah but their lives expired before it occurred. This could also be said of the Children of Israel that lived in Egypt for 450 years. Many people live and die over four-plus centuries. And yet, they hoped for something that must've been talked about regularly in meetings and around dinner tables: Being people of a God that had revealed Himself to their father Abraham and being entitled to a land they could call their own.

America has only been in existence for only half the amount of time that the Israelites were in Egypt and we have come to expect that all things should happen within our lifetime. The stream of God's activity flows through humanity and people are welcome to participate with God in the unfolding of history at the time in which they live. We can pray, hope, live and love to the fullest of our capacity- but we may not realize all that we might like to have.

TV preachers that claim God is sending revival, prophets that claim the rapture will be here soon, and pastors that expect their congregations to achieve Americanized goals are all the product of a culture that wants what it wants now. Fast food and drive through windows are reflections of our need to have things as quickly as possible. And being good Westerners, we expect something of a spectacular nature. We want a spiritual experience with bells and whistles.

Not even Elijah got that. He was taken to his knees by a still, small voice when he might've been impressed with the fire and earthquake.

Perhaps seeing the grand scope and eternal quality of our majestic God will allow us to embrace our moments of life in Jesus. Hope is a quality that should define us but entitlement is a value of a narcissistic culture. God's "culture" is defined by His will and glory, not ours.

Did I mention that patience is also part of the Spirit's DNA?