Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Enterprise

Over the past 2000 years, Christian communities have largely come to focus - almost exclusively - on doctrinal tenets and common activities that occur “in church.” This isn’t surprising overly much because the history of the early church at least was in many instances and locations - although certainly not all - characterized by rejection by established systems including Jewish and Roman social structures and authorities. It is understandable then that the communities would begin to focus on their times together, protected from outsiders and buttressing each other’s faith and commitment. They still lived their lives, but having defined communities likely allowed them an identity that was both concrete and safe.

Over time - and certainly after the faith was putatively “legal” - and for a number of social reasons no doubt, the local sign of the community became their meeting places and having been shaped in fear their practices became tradition and sources of comfort and normalcy. They were, after all humans and so these developments are not bad in themselves.

Here’s the rub though. This is exactly the same thing Israel had done during her history. Intended to be the chosen ark herself, Israel was to both carry the reality, the meaning, and the economy of her God in the world for the purpose of inviting the world to God as His own people. Israel though got lost in her purpose and became an exclusive people with exclusive practices that tended to isolate her rather than invite others into her world. Her scribes wrote and argued various interpretations and applications of her Law, defining what was righteous and allowable and what was not to be Jewish. What began as a call to be the People of God for the blessing of the world became over time an exclusive religious club with rites and tenets that were necessary for others to become part of the People of God.

Here’s the problem: Neither Israel’s development or the church’s development reflect the original intent of God. That intent is not an exclusive, separately identifiable people with special practices, but rather a planet of humans, all of whom lived their lives as God would have lived them if He were them. A planet of lovers, living lives of love with each other, as images of God. Worship in that context would have been simple praise or perhaps even simple gratitude.

Today, we have something much different. The world is replete with various religions and spiritualities with definable and therefore identifiable rituals and rites, and communities of spirit which are also therefore definable and identifiable as separate from all the others. In Christendom we have no better of a situation - thousands of different groups, all with definable boundaries so that we can identify ourselves and others. Much of our identifiable behavioral or ritual marks are no more than modifications of someone else’s and so we insist on tenets that we can require acceptance of and conformity to. We want to be able to objectively identify who’s in and who isn’t.

Arguments over ritual, authority for those rituals, and necessary beliefs are common place with some communities rigidly defining the requirements in writing and other just as rigidly holding them intellectually. This situation is so far from the original intent - can we imagine Adam insisting that an altar must be blessed by a priest, whether a piano can be used, or debating the Trinity? Unfortunately, many of us would like to imagine what Adam would have done and insisted on in that ancient Garden - or even the wilderness after his expulsion. The post-expulsion would be more interesting for us because we would explain that now something would have to be fixed and fixing it requires expectations and rules - and we like rules enough to impose them on Adam.

What would happen if we could pry ourselves away from our arguments over doctrine and simply respond to God as we are moved to respond to Him - individually and in community? What would happen if we could live our lives as disciples without having our faith lives focused on Sundays and 90-minute rituals? What would happen if we could live our lives as disciples without having to label ourselves as something distinct from the rest of humanity?

We humans like structure, predictability, and being around people of like mind and for these reasons it is likely not likely that we will jettison gatherings - and we should not. Gatherings speak to the human need for belonging, for comradeship, for shared purpose and these are all valuable and appropriate for believers. At their core though, they are not religious per se, nor do they need to be.

Can we imagine the possibility of not emphasizing ninety minutes on Sunday with defined ritual and instead simply gathering together encourage each other and thanking our God for His grace? What would that look like in your world?

Friday, August 03, 2018

Sin

So, sin. We have a variety of opinions on what sin is. Perhaps the most frequently offered is "missing the mark." That's OK I guess, as far as it goes. The problem is that it doesn't tell us what it is that we've missed - just that we've apparently missed it.

To understand sin, it is necessary to understand why we have the word. We have it to identify and label our failure to live as the image of God.  "Life as God" is the mark we have missed when we sin.  Concretely, this can be understood as not acknowledging God, and living or acting in an unloving way. If God is Love and you are the image of God, your purpose, your reason for existing, your most complete you is Love. Love here isn't emotional or physical excitement but a higher kind of love. This love is defined as volitional self-giving for the nurturing of the other. A mature love acknowledges the being of the other, the value inherent in them, and rejoices with them in their own self-giving and their blessing of us and others.

This last is why Israel's God repeatedly reminds her of what He has done for her. This isn't for himself, but rather Israel's disrespecting of her God is evidence that she isn't living Love. God doesn't get upset because His own glory isn't acknowledged, but because those He has made and the nation He has crafted from nothing are not living as they have been made to live - they are missing the mark. Individuals are intended to live as love in the world and Israel was expected to live as the economy of God in the world. - and in doing so, to respond to her God with worship. Worship not because He is some generic God but because He has blessed Israel by creating her from nothing, bringing her out of captivity and exile, and protecting her from her enemies. Love can let go of self enough to acknowledge and celebrate the grace and kindness of others in whose debt we stand.

Sin then can be described as not-love, which tells us conversely, how to live righteously. The righteous person does what is right, what is loving, what the other needs in the moment. The righteous person loves in all they do.  It is probably too late for you or me to live a perfect life, but it is possible to live a righteous life, by intentionally loving in every moment. A popular statement is, "do the next right thing." We might modify that slightly to "do the next righteous thing," or "do what love demands in this moment." Do that, and you will be righteous as a disciple of God and you will not sin.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

These Soldiers

Today in the United States we remember the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, and the Marines - and the Coasties and merchant mariners who have died in almost every corner of our world. These soldiers didn’t intend to be killed or to die when they joined up and likely not even when they got up on that last day. Some experienced fear, some loneliness, some numbness, and for some it was just another day. Some thought they couldn’t be killed, and some in those last few minutes or seconds knew they would be.

These soldiers died because of us and they died for us. Whether as part of a great invasion or as a lonely sailor floating in shark infested waters, or perhaps trapped in the hull of a ship as it sank beneath the waves, they died so that we might be able to live in freedom, with liberty, and yes, pursuing our own versions of happiness.

These soldiers have been proclaimed heroes in victory, and decried as baby killers in a war we wanted to forget. They have been pawns in international maneuvering and critical martial weapons in stemming oppression and tyranny. They have been jeered by the people they have tried to relieve, and they have been begged for by those in untenable and inhuman situations.

These soldiers, regardless of their personal views of politicians and the necessity of their particular war fought beside their comrades often against odds that were overwhelming. Many of their exploits are enshrined in citations for bravery, for forgetting self and fighting - even while wounded - to save others. Many have come home because of the life blood given by those who did not.

These soldiers would not think themselves brave, or gallant, or heroic but to those whose lives were spared, to those who witnessed the repeated willing exposures to wounding and death, to those of us who remember and who live still free in the best country on the planet, they are our brave, gallant heroes. To us, they are life itself.

These soldiers have in their ranks some who did come home - for a time. Being physically present they could not be free of the demons and torments they had left - but hadn’t left - behind. They tried to come home, back to lovers, to children, to parents but it has been too hard, too unrelenting in its terror to live with what they have experienced, what they have seen, what they have done. To many, it seems that it would have been a mercy to not have had to come home at all.

These soldiers are remembered today by their partners, their children, their parents, their friends, their coworkers, and their comrades. We will remember voices, smiles, laughs, twinkles in their eyes, hugs, kisses, and their corny jokes. We will remember the grace they were in our lives and we will mourn. In our mourning they will for a time become present with us and we will remember. We will remember.

These soldiers will be remembered by presidents, governors, and a variety of lesser officials. There will be wreaths and flowers, suits and shiny uniforms, and flags, raised and half-lowered. There will be silent salutes and noisy vollies, there will be plaintive bugles and white stones, row after row. But there will also be half smiles and half glances as we almost meet each others’ eyes; there will be tears and deep breaths as we remember but avoid getting too close to those memories; there will be funny stories and clasping of hands between those who are left; there will be raised pints and toasts to their memories; there will be pictures caressed and final letters read one more time and then slowly refolded and placed back in their box.

These soldiers haunt us and yet are welcome. They are often out of mind and yet drawn back to us on days like today. They belong to our past but help frame our now. They form holes in our hearts and souls and yet as we remember, those holes are filled by memories, thoughts, emotions, and images of them. Somehow though, despite the memories, the hole remains and we weep.

These soldiers are remembered because we love them, because we miss them, because we carry in our hearts and souls parts of them and their love for us.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not As Orphans

I will not leave you as orphans. This, Jesus's assurance to His disciples that with His impending departure, they should not panic, become disoriented, or give up. There are people all around the world who grow up as orphans - without parents and in too many more cases than we often care to think, without any adult to care for, protect, nurture, or love. In the U.S. it can be bad enough, horrific enough. But in the first century it would literally be unbearable with abuse expected, starvation likely, and a shortened life guaranteed. That life would likely be anguish with death welcomed. To be destitute and without hope, that was and too often still today is what being orphaned is.

I will not leave you as orphans.

The disciples I suppose probably didn't think that deeply about what Jesus's departure would mean to their physical wellbeing. They were, at least the male members of his little tribe well, men. They could work and would not be deistitute. But Jesus doesn't mean that He was ensuring their livelihood would be secured, that they would have homes and meaningful work. No, Jesus knows rather that He is God and His departure, if not prepared for, would mean that they would not have God Himself in their midst as they have had for these past few years. That - having God leave you - would be far more devastating than being orphaned although neither the disciples or we, having seen the decimation of human life that can come as a result of being orphaned, would think so.

I will not leave you as orphans.

But that's Jesus's  point - He knows what not having the presence of God does to people. Human history and even the society in which Jesus lived was clear evidence of the darkness and reprobation that can take over humans and human society when they live without God. This Jesus wants them to know, need not happen. God is not leaving them, nor is He leaving the world. Jesus will ascend to the Father and the discples will not physically see Him again. This though is not abandonment of the disciples or the world. No, if Jesus leaves, He will send the Comfortor, the Paraclete, the Helper to them. He will be in them and with them, and remind them of what Jesus had said and did. In fact He will be the very presence and power of God in their lives - equipping them, leading them, upholding them in their lives.

I will not leave you as orphans.

Today marks the remembering of His not leaving us as orphans. The Spirit of God Himself comes to us, lives in us, and nurtures us so that we might become fully transformed into the likeness of Christ Himself; fully into the Image we already are - created to be - in fact who we are. Much of the New Testament, and much of the Old tells us that God wants to live with us, to nurture us, to love us. We don't believe it when our lives get in the way, and many of the people in the Bible also felt that same desolation and were tempted to give up. Peter's second epistle was written precisely because of that temptation. Peter reminds his beloved readers that in truth Jesus was tellling the truth when He said,

I will not leave you as orphans.

God is with and in the world, but most importantly with His disciples so that they are not orphaned, left destitute. Because God doesn't ever want to, nor does He ever leave us. His presence in the very beings of His disciples, marked today in remembering the clear demonstration of that truth 2000 years ago, is our assurance that we have believed correctly and we need not think we are left as orphans. God is with us and entices us to use the power of the Creator Himself to live His life right here and to be transformed into Him, the head of the body of God in the world.

I will not leave you as orphans.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

If You Knew

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." John 4:10 ESV

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and his disciples have gone off to get food. You’ve heard this story before and its several applications dealing with gender, with outcasts, with evangelism. This statement is early in this conversation. But look at these words, “If you knew...who it is that is saying to you….”

Who is this that is jousting with her? It is not just Messiah, not just a rabbi, not just a Jewish male who wanted to slack his thirst. No this is not just a human, regardless of how we label him. This is God, her God who wants nothing but for her to ask for relief. This is Israel’s God but not only Israel’s God, but the Creator God, the only God.

He is her God.

Her God who wants to give her “living water.” For her, healing, acceptance, reconciliation, and refreshment. This he says that she only has to ask - to see and to ask. Let’s not though get stuck on her expected response, but let’s focus on who it is that wants her to ask. You have heard and possibly seen the pictures of Jesus at a door, knocking and waiting for someone - for you - to answer the door. OK, but let’s focus not on us, but on who it is at the door. This is God who wants this woman to see and to ask. Right here in the midst of her daily, routine life is anticipating, hoping even that she would but ask and be given refreshment for her life right her, right now.

Jesus says the same thing about us - if you only knew who it was that asked, you would ask and he would give you living water.

Want that water?

Ask.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Assurance of Resurrection


Today marks the day of assurance that Jesus was who he said he was – and who we believe him to be. Paul looks to the resurrection and says that it is our hope. If Jesus wasn’t raised, Paul is prepared to say that we look pretty foolish. Paul doesn’t say that about the widow’s son – either of them, or Lazarus. People have been raised but Paul doesn’t point to them as our hope, or that in believing those resurrections we are shown to be foolish. But if Jesus didn’t rise to life, Paul says we have little hope. Granted, Paul writes these things for his rhetorical purpose; Paul himself has no doubt.

Paul uses the resurrection of Jesus to propel him to faithfulness, through hardship, and even “dying every day.” Paul continues despite his beatings, shipwrecks, fighting beasts, imprisonments, and even what seems to have been a severe crisis of faith or approached despair. He argues that if all there is, is this life, why does he – and why does he encourage his readers to – persist in their common faith and the hardships it brings? He says that if the resurrection isn’t true, we might as well “eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die.” His point is that if we have been “saved” only for this life, who cares? No, his argument goes the resurrection is real and it points us to something past this life, beyond our physical death. He isn’t sure exactly what sort of bodies we might have in our resurrection, but he is certain that we too will be raised – and the resurrection of Jesus is our proof; our down payment on that reality.
The resurrection highlights, emphasizes, ensures the reality that we are already living eternal life – it has already begun and we are participating in it now. Dallas Willard, perhaps one of the most insightful modern Christian thinkers said in The Divine Conspiracy,

“The agape love of I Corinthians 13 will increasingly become simply a matter of who we are. But the effects of our prayers, words, and deeds – and sometimes of our mere presence – will also increasingly be of a nature and extent that cannot be explained in human terms. Increasingly what we do and say is ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ and every part of our life becomes increasingly eternal…. We are now co-laborers with God.”
Paul agrees that we are co-laborers with God extending the kingdom of God not as a “thing,” but as a people throughout the world. As we become more and more like God, we more firmly secure at least a small part of the world more and more for God. That kingdom for Paul is not just a “this life kingdom,” but the rule of God throughout the universe forever. Paul’s assurance is that if we are now co-laborers with God, if we are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ just to eventually die, we are wasting our and everyone else’s time.

Paul considers this so important a truth that immediately after uttering the “eat, drink, and be merry…” comment, he says this,
“Do not be deceived; “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning, for some have no knowledge of God.”

Paul says, “No! Don’t eat, drink, and be merry! Yes, eventually you will die, but that isn’t the end – Jesus was raised and so will you be, into newness of life. That new life will be in a transformed body of some sort and is in continuity with the one you now have – and the life will be in continuity with this one.
Eternal life has already begun and because of that, there are obligations for those who would be the people of God. Before addressing the resurrection, Paul has penned the “love chapter” of the Corinthian letter. His discussion of love in the body of Christ isn’t about getting married or romantic love. It arises naturally from his discussion in the letter – it is love for and among disciples for each other and the body of Christ. Love Paul tells us but not in so many words, what Willard has said. We become transformed into love and it is these love-beings that will extend into the life to come, in new bodies. Physical death and entering Heaven isn’t a form of graduation but rather, a natural extension for those who are being transformed.

And so Paul says that we look forward to the resurrection because quite frankly, if we are love-being here only, we will lay down our lives for others without any hope that having done so serves any real purpose – and for Paul, the resurrection life is the real purpose. It isn’t a separate purpose from this life but it is the telos, the end-in-mind for this life. We are the image of God and we are to be most fully transformed into that likeness in which and for which we are made.
The good news of the resurrection for us is that the life we are trying to live here, right now. The life with its heartaches, its sudden and tragic losses, its insecurities, setbacks, and grief is not the end. We will be raised by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – the power that speaks life into being will speak life again into our physically dead bodies and raise us into the presence of our God. But not only us; that power will speak life into the bodies of those we miss, those who have been taken from us, or who have finished their race before us. They too will be raised just as we will be and that day will be a glorious day indeed.

The resurrection of Jesus isn’t just an event; it is assurance. It is hope and encouragement for us so that we know that this life, this becoming love, this following our Savior continues and is perfected in the presence of God and those we love, forever.
Easter. The hope of the Christian faith.

Live into it.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Lent 2018

This year Easter falls on April 1st. We invite you and your neighbors to join us in about a month and a half as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection isn't just about a guy who was dead, coming back to life. It is after all, not the first time someone was brought back to life; there are both Old Testament and New Testament examples of those who were dead and were raised. The resurrection of Jesus though is special, unique. Paul tells us that this resurrection was of God himself, without any other agent and because of this, Paul tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is the basis or evidence of our hope in the gospel. If Jesus has not been raised, we are the most pitiable of all men. The resurrection then is one of the critical moments, one of the critical truths of our faith. 

The resurrection though only comes – only can come after the death of Jesus. This death was both horrible and beautiful. Horrible in its method; beautiful in the love it reveals and the rejoicing it prepares. Jesus's death is the culmination of his faithful life to God. In the garden we find that Jesus would like to have avoided this death but at the same time he says, "not my will, but your will be done." This is the key to Jesus's life and the place of his death as part of that life. It is the capstone, the finishing of a life that was focused solely on the will of God.  

The will of God was to reconcile the world to himself, which he did through the final death of Jesus, following a life of perfect obedience and faithfulness. God loves us and while we "were yet sinners," Christ died for us because God wants us – wants you – with him because that life is the best life for you. God seeks to bless, to heal, to cleanse, to restore. 

Before Easter, before remembering the resurrection, we have an opportunity to stop, to reflect, to consider why it was that Jesus had to die. What was it that caused God to have Jesus lay down his life for us? In short, we were and are that cause. Our lives are not always lived in the same faithfulness toward God as Jesus's life was. We have separated ourselves from God by our own pride, our own meanness, our own selfishness. Having separated ourselves from God, we have no way to set ourselves right; to fix the breach between God and us. Our separateness from God causes or results in separateness from each other and so we find that we haven't caused only one breach, but multiple breaches and we struggle to repair these breaches and find that we cannot fully do this. Jesus died to repair all of those breaches, between God and us, and others and us. 

Reflection prior to Easter is not limited to moroseness, to silently beating ourselves up for being "bad," to feel the burden we have given ourselves. Reflection prior to Easter also includes how we might move forward from where we are. Are there relationships we can heal, emotions we might soothe, others we might lift up? Having admitted to ourselves our role in bringing about the death of Jesus, we can sneak a glance at the resurrection and grace those around us with a bit of resurrection right now. Fasting is something that is often associated with the time before Easter – and so some will "give up" something during this period. Giving up something, denying ourselves intentionally so that we might join Jesus in his giving up of himself – even just a little bit can be a very shaping exercise. This is most effective if in giving that thing up, we transfer the time, the money, and energy into helping others, giving of ourselves truly in the service of others. As Paul tells us, in dying to ourselves, we look forward to resurrection with Jesu. Another, slightly different idea during this period is to not give something up, but to begin something new or to redirect our lives toward greater imitation of Jesus's love and faithfulness. Have you wanted to pray more regularly, more intentionally? Want to get those extra coats out of the closet and to the shelter? This period is an excellent time to make these adjustments to become more like Jesus and in these small ways of dying to ourselves, we point toward the promised resurrection offered to all persons. 

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