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Faith

January 11, 2010 2 comments

Just a couple thoughts this morning.  I’ve let them stew for a while, so hopefully they don’t come out burnt and crispy.  Regardless of the final product, I feel like some things just ought to be addressed for the sake of avoiding stagnation and eventual spiritual decay.

Now, as I dig into the stew pot of thoughts, my wonderings this morning are as follows; what is faith?  And what does it mean to trust in God?

Here’s the premise by which I am asking these two questions.  I am convinced that as a follower of Christ, my life MUST be a life of action.  Thus, if I stand on that conviction, I find a disconnect within the language and behavior of the majority of the population that claims a Christian label.  Bear with me as I attempt to clean up the assertion a bit.

In addressing the first question, what is faith?  If this question was to be pointed anywhere near a child of the evangelical movement, most certainly, this verse would be quoted:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

Often, that’s how we define faith, yet we have great difficulty defining it in physical and active terms.  The following verses in Hebrews highlight the lives of a host of biblical personalities that “by faith” lived differently.  Here is the first disconnect: We don’t equate faith with action as did the saints in Hebrews.  Faith, in western Christianity is an irrefutable definition by which we believe the right things. Faith has no bearing on the way we live our lives from day to day.

I would also argue that the same is true when we throw around the etherial concept of “trusting in God.”  Quite often we assert that we are to trust God’s will.  Yet in our way of defining that trust, we load all responsibility for the condition of our lives on a God to whom we believe will intervene for poor me, taking away the duty I have as a follower of Christ, to ACT for good in this world.  Moreover, we often say things like, “we need to trust God and avoid distracting ourselves by trying to figure it out on our own.”  But, what does a statement like that really mean?  Are we to assume that making a conscious decision to believe differently is really going to smooth out all the wrinkles?

What if God is hidden within our struggle to figure things out?  Disengaging the critical thinking centers of our minds, whether trusting God or not, seems to be a step in the wrong direction.  Furthermore, if we step back and make an honest assessment of ourselves,  isn’t it true that we inevitably decide to heed certain things and avoid others, taking one path over another?  So, why is it that God isn’t allowed to work in our struggle?  There are so many instances in which our fixation on an intervening God freezes us in complacency.  The best we can do is sit and wait for him to do his stuff.  When, I would argue, there’s something sacred happening all the time and it’s a waste of time to sit and wait.

As I reflect on this post, it’s difficult for me to accept the fact that what is most likely happening is that as I work through all these difficulties, I am probably projecting my own insecurities onto people around me.  I’m upset with the way things are, and so I point the finger at someone else because it’s much easier to do that than to make the necessary change in my own life.

That being said, and unfortunately, as I’ve said many times before, I aim to live differently.  There’s a song that says something like, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin through.”  This world may not be my home, but I firmly believe that God, however we want to understand him/her/it, has a desire for us to join the sacred work that is already happening.  I believe I have been given the opportunity to make this world what it is intended to be.  No longer will I believe that is true, but I will LIVE like it’s true.

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Sinless?

December 4, 2009 1 comment

I’ll try to keep this post short and concise and if there needs to be a bit of clarification, I’ll do what I can.

As my wife and I were discussing some fascinating assertions in a book (The Last Week – John Dominic Crosson, Marcus Borg) this morning, some very interesting notions began to bubble to the surface.  One of those was essentially this:

We (Christians) traditionally understand sin in terms of things we ARE NOT supposed to do.  For example, the 10 Commandments found in the Old Testament.  There are also several other passages contained in the New Testament that outline several activities and lifestyle choices we should steer clear of, or avoid, based upon traditional interpretations.  (By traditional, I mean, “that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it,” not necessarily as the original writings were intended to be understood.)  So essentially, just as in the time of Jesus, the religious systems, or the religious laws of today, define sin.

Here’s what I understand about the person and purpose of Jesus.  In as short a description as I can muster, Jesus came to challenge his followers, his disciples, to transcend the current religious system as well as live subversively in regards to the ruling empire of the day, all for the sake of others (in direct contrast to the idea that everything we do is for covering my own hind end).

What I find absolutely fascinating is the fact that 1. Jesus was not bound by the religious system of his day, which in turn and by default, caused him to violate the Jewish laws and 2. he, repeatedly, spoke, lived and stood against the ruling empire and it’s oppressive, militant way of “establishing peace,” among other oppressive and unjust societal norms.

Thus, sin in Jesus’ day was defined by the marriage of religious and state (empirical) laws.  I would argue, the same is true today.  The obvious next question is then, can we assert that Jesus lived a sinless life?  And if we maintain that assumption, by what terms did he live a sinless life?

I would further suggest, since we cannot answer those two questions as we’ve traditionally done, what then, are the implications for the terms by which we define the notion of “being a reflection of Jesus?

Speech

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

So, here I am at my usual two week mark.  For some reason, the wheels aren’t turning as quickly as I’m used to.  Well, that’s not exactly true… The gears are grinding everywhere else but here.  I think there’s been so much going through my head the past several weeks that it’s a bit difficult to narrow specific thoughts down.  So, this could be your lucky day.  You don’t have to read the typical essay-length post.

A couple thoughts.  I’m really not one to get psyched up about political speeches and such but, how ’bout Obama’s speech yesterday?  It sure was loaded with the poison of socialism and indoctrination, huh?  I mean, who in their right mind would allow themselves to be blinded by the idea of challenging our kids to take responsibility, work hard and make a difference in the world.  When speaking about our children’s role in the greater community, Obama said:

We need every single one of you to develop your talents and your skills and your intellect so you can help us old folks solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that — if you quit on school — you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now, I’m having a little trouble putting my finger on it, but some of this stuff sounds awfully familiar… Oh, wait… it’s coming to me… This stuff sounds strangely reminiscent of, some ancient text.  It just sounds so familiar, almost like something JESUS would say.

Hopefully you can hear my sarcasm coming through.  I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that people are up in arms about a very powerful speech.  I mean, good grief!  If the sun is shining and the grass is green, the temperature is a perfect 75 degrees on the most perfect day you could ever imagine and someone is going to find something nasty about it.  What is it about us that make us want to do that?  Is it really that difficult for us to find and accept good in places we wouldn’t normally look?

Hopefully by now, you’ve gathered from my previous posts that we as fellow humans, and especially Christian people, ought to be working for the greater good, ushering in a new Kingdom, releasing prisoners, fighting injustice, working to eliminate poverty and homelessness.  We are to love wastefully, without restraint, without criteria.  Now, don’t you think we should embrace that message from whatever angle it comes at us from?  That too sounds strangely familiar to something Jesus countered when his disciples complained about “other people” using his name for good though they weren’t in the “in crowd” of Jesus’ inner circle.

So, my point.  I’ve said it before and I’ll probably keep saying it.  Let’s try using our energies in partnering with our fellow brothers and sisters of humanity to work for greater good rather than gripe and complain and get our panties in a wad about everything.  If we are looking for bad stuff, I’m pretty sure your gonna find it.  The same is true on the flip side of the coin.  I would argue, we will all be better people if we spend our time investing in good.

A Letter

June 9, 2009 2 comments

Unfortunately, for the first time in my life, that I can remember, I’ve taken an opportunity to educate myself, though not very thoroughly, about the “other side of the issue.”  For far too long, people claiming to be followers of Christ, myself included, have been, for lack of a better term, slinging mud on anyone who is not “in” with Jesus.  I have little experience with debating, but I’m pretty sure that it is foolish to enter a debate without sufficient information from both sides of the issue.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about in a very narrow sense, the idea is such that, anyone outside the Churches of Christ is hell-bound, and in a broader scope, those without any kind of Christian affiliation suffer the same plight.  And those of us who are the religious elite, somewhere along the line, decided that the way of Christ is one in which we are obliged to sling mud at those who deny God completely, while at the same time firing religious, doctrinally charged bombs at anyone who doesn’t do the right things.

There have been two books that I’ve read in the past few weeks that had a massive impact on the very foundations of “how I’ve always done things.”  The first, A New Kind of Christian has affirmed the questions I’ve had for several years in that those of us who are seriously committed to following Christ must do things differently.  The old, established saying, “It’s the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t fly in my book.  At some point we’ve got to get our heads out of the sand and realize we are the ones standing in the way of people knowing  who the true Christ is.  His love hasn’t been able to break through our dogmas and piety.  Sam Harris’ book, Letter to a Christian Nation was a sobering read in that arena.

The summary:  I’m done slinging mud.  I think it’s a waste of time to drag other people, groups, religions, whatever you’d like to call it, just so I look a little bit better or gain some sort of higher ground.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  One of his central teachings is that he came to serve and not be served.  What that means for me; I will not longer bash my religious (any and all religious affiliations) brothers and sisters for the ways in which they’re wrong and I’m right.  I will also no longer bash my non-religious (agnostics, atheists, etc.) brothers and sisters for their denial of a being of whom I have no way of factually proving his existence.

Now, I move to the steps I will take in an effort to be an agent of change here and now.  With every fiber of my being, I desire to stand against injustice.  I will engage in relationship with all who are willing.  My goal is not to proselytize, rather, befriend.  I think a language we all can speak is one of friendship.  We all need good, authentic friends and that translates across all racial, economic, religious and non-religious boundaries.  I vow to be totally different.  I will continue to follow Christ in as best as this mortal body allows and I will not allow my “religious convictions” to be a conductor of human suffering.

This, is a conversation that will continue and I would love to begin to open up those lines as an agent of change, a new way of living, bringing a new and better life for everyone, not in the distant future, but right here, right now.

A growing concern…

March 6, 2009 2 comments

These past few weeks as I’ve patiently waited for a signal or flare or something from God indicating some sort of direction, I’ve been thinking about a few things.  One of the possibilities I’ve been considering again is youth ministry.  I know that may come as a shock to those of you who know what we’ve been doing for the past two years, but my feeling is that youth ministry, unlike other “ministries” in the church carries with it many more freedoms than one might think.

With that being said, my initial feeling is that, just by it’s very nature, youth ministry is primed and ready for God to do some pretty amazing things.  And so, as my wife and I consider diving back into student ministry, I’ve got a few reflections from my time here.

1. Family Ministry vs. Youth Ministry

One of the oddities I’ve observed during my time here is the disturbingly obvious disconnect between parents and the lives of their kids.  This disconnection travels all the way down through middle school even into elementary, so it’s not just limited to high school aged kids.  Plug in a movie, video game or iPod and then mom and dad don’t get home until 6:30, TV and dinner til 8:30, then the kids are off to bed… something sounds a little off kilter (Please forgive my generalities).  So, my feeling is that it’s time for those in student ministry to start blazing a new trail.  Instead of a youth minister who, for lack of a better term, babysits and entertains “good church kids,” we need someone who is going to engage the entire family on a spiritual journey that (sorry for the cleche) moves beyond the walls (think prison walls) of our church buildings.  I get the sense that youth and students ministers, in order to be effective for the kingdom in the future, are going to have to find ways to walk along side parents, encouraging and leading them to do the very thing that God has called them to do; to be the spiritual guides for their children.  Ministers cannot carry the responsibility to be solely responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of our children.

2. Studying the actual Bible vs. Studying a book or curriculum that sometimes uses the Bible

This may seem a bit of a duh statement, but think about it for a moment.  I know that there are many, many good Christian books available to us.  In fact, I would argue that God very well could be speaking clearly and articulately through many of these writers.  However, we must consider the authority of scripture and the simple fact that it has stood the test of time as well as, as it is stated within it’s own pages, we discover that is is the living Word of God. So, if scripture cuts to the very core of the human experience, why in the world do we spend so much energy studying, albiet great, books like Purpose Driven Church, Transforming Discipleship or The Wrath of God, among many others?  Basically, what I’m getting at is that is is fine for us to know our stuff and to use the brains the God has given us, but what would it look like for us to use other books as perhaps a suppliment to Scripture?  And, this may sound crazy, but it worked for several thousand years before there was any sort of written text; what if we read large portions of Scripture out loud?  If scripture really is living and active, we should give it a chance to come alive and act in our lives!

These are just a few thoughts… I’m sure there will be more on the way.   But, seems to be a good start.

a new church or a new life?

January 25, 2009 4 comments

For nearly a year and a half now, there has been a kind of churning or knot-tying going on in my gut.  Down to my core, I feel like is something missing, a piece of the puzzle that has been lost, perhaps even a word missing from the definition.

Before I go much further, I need to thank Rob Bell, Don Golden, David Fitch, Shaine Claibourne as well as many others for their work as it has informed my thoughts a great deal over the past year and a half or so.

So, what’s missing?  What’s the square peg?  Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve even got the question fully laid out, but I’ve got a few thoughts.  On what?!  The church.  And not just a church or another church, but the church.

Let me expand a bit more.  David Fitch’s blog, back in February has began to give me a language to speak, to articulate some of the feelings, hopes and desires I’ve had and yet have.  In short, in this post-Christendom nation, we’ve got to begin to rethink what it means to church plant.  David would suggest that the ways of doing things in the past (ie- highering one main guy to set up a franchise, considering ministry as a priviledged full time position, sending out announcements and advertising for particular events), must be reconsidered.  He suggests that we must become more of a missional people who tend to resemble gardeners over entrepreneurs.  They must begin living lives that are more simple and sustainable in all parts of life; financially, relationally, spiritually and personally.  David continues to say that we must find ways to share the load of starting this new kind of church.  I’ll let you read is posts, he’s noticeably better at articulating himself.

All that said, I want to follow the tunnel a bit deeper than even David has gone.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I feel like, even still, as we begin to rethink what it means to be the church, there is something missing.  Now please understand these next few verses are just my thoughts, feelings and hunches, but I am convinced that they come from a heart that is in the middle of a pretty major overhaul by the Creator himself.  Now, the challenge that lies ahead of me; will I follow through, or bow out…

For as long as I can remember, church has been a place, an institution, a franchise.  It is some object, building or tangible entity that I can pretty easily grab hold of and define.  One would argue then, the next logical step in my journey would be church planting in some form or fashion.  This seems a noble task, one that I began to think was “it.”  As God has continued to mold and shape me in new and amazing ways, this is the branch I seem to poised to land on.

Please bear with me, this may take a while… even longer than it already has.  Shocking, I know!  I think that even in our current understanding of church planting, there is something missing.  I’ve been known to be wrong, but something deep in the center of my being says that church is not something to be planted.  That’s not to negate planting seeds of hope or the gospel.  I’m not so sure the early church suddenly realized there was standing room only and multiplication is what happens next.  My gut tells me was something, I don’t know what, about the early church, simply was.

Even now, I’m having trouble describing what I’m feeling. Here is where my programming finds a disconnect.  We desire to plant a church, we do some market research, we find a “nice” place to set up shop and we begin sharing God’s love in hopes that folks will “join us” and we will by virtue of the law of multiplication, keep on rolling.  Please know, there is not any part of me that feels any of these practices are wrong.  This may sound crazy, but what if we completely altered our current views of, and begin dismantling, westerinized/Americanized church?  Quick definition. 

Westernized/Americanized church: Sunday morning and/or evening, wednesday evening, 1 Bible study per week, 1 small group per week, 1 accountability group, 1 miscelaneous activity with another family from church and we’re good to go until next week.

Catch my drift?  I think I’ve been beating around the bush for a while.  Here’s the deal.  I think we’ve got the figure out a way to instead of plant a new institution, we have to plant a totally new way of life.  We say all the time that “church isn’t a place, it’s the people.”  Honestly, I don’t think we buy it.  Jesus himself said, “I have come to give you life, that you may have it more abundantly.”  How many people get stressed out from church activities?  How many ministers get burned out because it’s just too much?

You know, there’s an interesting story told in scripture near the end of Jesus’ life here on earth.  He has just risen from the dead, but not many people had seen him yet.  And so, what does Jesus do?  He goes on a walk.  As he makes his way back to town, he joins two other men who are obviously sulking and blue.  And Jesus, sparking some small talk asks, “what’s wrong?”  To which they reply, “where have you been?” (For more on this, check out Jesus wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden)  After a discourse on kingdom life and Jesus finally being revealed to the two men, we move on to the next story.  But, the interesting point Rob Bell and Don Golden make, is that many times, especially living in the lap of luxury that we do, Jesus is walking with us and we totally miss him.  Too often we read scripture and totally miss the point.

All that to say, I think there is more.  I don’t think extravegant or even modest buildings, ministers with triple digit salaries, surplus in church bank accounts, children’s ministries, small groups, accountability groups, or whatever else we can rattle off, is the point. I feel like we are to easily distracted.  I feel like we’ve been engrained with the thought that we need to be entertained.  We have to break the routine for a couple hours for it to be church.  NO!  Church is life!  Church is freedom in Christ!  Church is jubilee!  Church is deeply spiritual.  And as Rob Bell so cleanly states: “Everything is spiritual.”  We, the church, Christ’s body, live every single moment of our lives with an awareness of God’s control.  We live, we exist to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” Micah 6:8b

Please forgive me for the length as well as referring to the writings of man moreso than the words of God himself.  Upon that confession, I end with a familiar passage from a letter Paul wrote to the Philippians.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This Jesus lived.  He didn’t start an institution, he brought redemption, freedom, life and good news.  As does his Father, he hears the cries of the oppressed.  He searched for those on the fringes.  He warned us against complaceny.  He wants all of us, everything that we call life.  As Paul says, “the old has gone and the new has come.”  The old is gone!  We leave Jesus’ presence glad and released from our burdens because we are people who are willing to sell all our possessions and give them to the poor.  We are people who do whatever it takes to live with our God NOW, in his kingdom.  We walk with Him, inviting others to join us on our journey out of darkness and into Light.