Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Gospel

My faith community has a habit of saying "you have to obey the Gospel." By that we mean that we must respond to the Gospel by 1) hearing it, 2) believing it, 3) repenting from sin, 4) confessing your belief in Jesus, and 5) being baptized. But is the Gospel something that can be obeyed? I think not. To suggest such a thing is to rob the Gospel of its power.

So, what is the Gospel? It is simply this (my apologies to Paul): God loves you and wants to bless you.

That's it. No great theological dissertation. No need to fully grasp a litany of facts. Simply that God loves you and wants to bless you.

That is good news and stands in sharp contrast to the message of many religious groups that "you're all going to Hell unless you come be with us." Somehow, "you're going to Hell," doesn't sound like good news to me. And it isn't.

So what about that list of things at the top of this post? Aren't they important? Yes they are and critically so. But they are responses to the Gospel, not the Gospel itself. And all but one are intuitive. Disciples of God will respond to the graciousness of God by aligning themselves with Him and so items 2 and 3 are covered automatically. Aligning ourselves ("I'm a Christian") with God is a response that disciples who are not ashamed or afraid to claim God would do, and so item 4 is covered almost as a matter of course. So that leaves items 1 and 5. The first is not a response, but rather a cause for the response. Its inclusion in the list is a result of Paul's rhetorical question "how can they hear without a preacher?" While seemingly necessary, it is neither the Gospel or a response to it. And so item 5. Baptism is a response to God of a repentant disciple. It is a public acknowledgement of our alignment with God and a process that, according to Peter washes away our sin and through which we receive the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel, the Good News, is a message of hope, healing, and reconciliation (John 3.16, 17; Luke 4.15). One's response to hearing that good news is a measure of one's belief in, and belief of God. If one is convinced that God is, and that Jesus appropriately modelled God for us, aligning ourselves with His teaching is a normal response. Not one to be debated, but rather a response we actively make.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Missional

On the Christian Educators list there is a current conversation about churches becoming "missional." It is interesting that we humans have a habit of creating new buzz words. Not that creating new buzz words is wrong, they can be used effectively to motivate, market, and encapsulate broad ideas. The problem is that we then take those new buzz words and throw them around as though they represent something new. In some cases they do; in most they do not.

And so "missional." Missional seems to mean living where people live, hurting with people as they hurt, and inviting them to meet our God. The God that seeks to relieve, to console, to heal. That's a good meaning. Unfortunately, since many of us are human, we try and build a "missional" pattern, a one-size-fits-all-you-gotta-do-it-this-way straight jacket. We have to become Purpose Driven (whatever that is), or leave our denomination and start a multitude of community churches (whatever they are). We become enamored with being missional the right way.

And when we do, we have stopped being missional. Being missional is not about Sunday services of 20,000 people. It isn't about knowing the intricacies of the community, crowd, and core. It isn't about not being labled with a traditional name. It isn't about how we choose to dress, the songs we sing, or the nature of our sermons.

All of those are side shows.

Being missional is about loving God because a) God loves us, and b) we are called to be (as in exist) like God. Being missional is about loving folks that aren't lovable, about extending help to someone who won't appreciate it, about giving away our "stuff" so others might have some. And it isn't about patting ourselves on the back for doing those things.

No, being missional is leading, exampling, and maturing ourselves and others to be God people on this Earth. We become missional when we can do these things because we know they are right - or rather when we do these things because we can't do anything else.

Being missional is caring as God cares, about the things God cares about, about acting like God acts, about being God as Jesus was God.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

And so

And so he is dead. I have mixed emotions about capital punishment as I suspect many of you do. I believe that human life is sacred and that the intrinsic value of a human being is the highest value we can know on this Earth. And yet something in me urges that we cannot allow each other to so mistreat ourselves; to reduce the value of our lives to thirty or so years in prison.

And so I have been pulled in two directions lately. I understand the need for exacting revenge, or payment, or delivering punishment for someone’s misdeeds, but I am also pulled by the conviction that anytime a human being is killed we do violence to our values and our existence. I find myself somehow satisfied by this punishment and yet feel guilty about feeling satisfied.

And so, as I wrestle with these competing ideas and emotions, I come to this tension-filled conclusion. We highly value human life and that should give us pause before taking another one. However, it is precisely because we so highly value human life that we simultaneously reserve this punishment for the most callous of crimes, and require the life of the perpetrator in exchange for the lives that have been taken. It is fitting that one who would wantonly and malevolently take the life of another should have their life taken from them.

And so we collectively take the life of such a one not out of jubilation but out of an acknowledgement and acceptance of our responsibility to one another. A responsibility to protect the value and dignity of each of our lives. And to publicly and collectively reemphasize that value and dignity by punishing their violations with such a severe recompense.

And so I am resolved to live with this tension, this wishing for a better world and yet having to live in this one.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Purpose of Christmas

I don't know about you, but I often get lost in the details of living and lose sight of the big picture. Doing so results in spending a lot of energy in ensuring the details are correct, sometimes to the detriment of getting the job done. People, families, and churches can all fall into the trap of thinking that they must control every aspect of life, and life together. In so doing, they miss the grandeur of living and the blessings we have in God.

I have a chart that, in one page, illustrates Napolean's invasion of Russia in 1812. The uniqueness of the chart is that it includes a map, distances, geographic features, army strengths along the route, and climate information. In short, it portrays the entire campaign including the massive loss of life in one picture. With a little reflection, it is possible to grasp the enormity of that disaster for the French people. Viewing the chart provides the viewer with the "big picture," the complete story in one glimpse. I've used the chart in a couple classes to make the point that the Scripture writer is seeking to provide that big picture to his readers. In some cases my point has been that if Bible teachers are not providing their students with this kind of Gospel understanding, we need new teachers.

I find it helpful to create a similar illustration with students and clients outside my church. Using a Whiteboard, I trace two parallel concerns of God from Cain and Able through the letters of Paul. It becomes apparent that God's concerns have always been that we give Him our allegience and honor, and that we are gracious and compassionate in our dealings with others. In fact, if we are to "glorify God" and "imitate Christ," we must be steadfast in putting others first.

Christmas season is an appropriate time for this discussion. While the birth of our savior is itself a momentous in-breaking of God in this world, it is much more significant than the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.

Paul tells us that it had always been God's plan to send Jesus to reconcile mankind to God and to reconcile us to each other. In a real sense, we cannot be reconciled to God unless we are willing to be reconciled to each other. It becomes clear as we study Scripture that God is not so much interested in the details of our worship to Him as He is in our assuming a spiritual character that matches His. Jesus' birth is simply the beginning of His life, ministry, and death for us. His birth is a reminder not just of God's love for us, but of his love for the people sitting next to us, or those that live across the street, or those in our houses. His birth is a reminder that we too are to be other-centered, gracious givers rather than self promoters.

The season of His birth is not to be one of expectant getting, but of expectant giving. Expectant that our gifts to each other will bless one another; will let others see the grace of God in us so that they can join our worship of our God.

Perhaps that's the best reason to celebrate Christmas. Once the excitement has faded, to remind ourselves that we are called to enter others' worlds as accepting and nonjudgmental dispensers of grace.

Isn't that really the big picture of God's story?

Merry Christmas!

Eating in Albuquerque

Went to Papa Felipe's restaurant yesterday for lunch. I understand that Papa's is run by a family that used to work with the Garduno's family. Garduno's has grown and has multiple sites around the city and they enjoy a good reputation.

Papa's family apparently doesn't have the marketing desire and they're still in one location. However, the food at Papa's fits my palette better, if one meal can be used to determine that.

I had the three-carne adovada enchiladas plate and was impressed with the flavor and the quality of the food. The carne was tender, but not mushy, the red chile flavorful but not over-powering. The tortillas were tender and not too dry. In addition, there wasn't too much chile spread over the plate, so that I could see the food and taste it through the chile.

The food seemed to be more authentic as compared to Garduno's which has become a bit too commercial for me. Papa's was a treat and the service was great.

We'll go back on a regular basis. If you want to try it out, Papa's is on the south side of Menaul, just east of Eubank.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Christianity and Stuff

An on-going debate within Christianity has to do with what rich folk ought to do with the wealth they have. If you find yourself winning the lottery, would it be appropriate to buy a four thousand square foot house, or a BMW 700 series, or half of your town?

Usually, at some point in this discussion, someone will say "it isn't a sin to be wealthy or to have stuff." OK, not by definition perhaps, but don't we have some Scriptural instruction along these lines?

What was the point of Micah's and Amos's condemnation of the Jews? Buried in denunciations of perjurous activities, of coniving methods of gaining advantage over each other, of using items of clothing unjustly taken from others in church, there is the denunciation of the Cows of Bashan.

These cows are wealthy Jewish women who apparently loll around the house doing not much more than indulging their drink and food urges "...get me another drink!" While we can understand the other behaviors being condemned, why this one? What's wrong with taking an afternoon off and having a couple bruskies?

If we were to stay with our normal response, there'd be nothing wrong with what these women are doing. But the text makes it clear there is something wrong with what they're doing. I suspect it is spending their wealth and their time on themselves with little to no regard for those who are less fortunate than they. They may be ignorant snobs or they may be malignant oppressors; we aren't told. What we do know is that they don't seem to be helping anyone.

So how does that affect us? First we must come to grips with the fact that we generally want nice stuff. Never mind that we don't need the stuff in the first place, but we want it to be nice if we're going to have it. Do we ever stop to ask whether we need this thing or that? Do we need the top of the line, or would a generic item do just as well? Do we consider what we could do with the money we don't spend on ourselves if we would learn to get along without the "stuff."

Is it sinful to be wealthy? No, God doesn't say that. The question is, what does God expect us to do with that wealth? Do we buy that 700 series, or do we buy something about half that price and donate the remainder? If my reading of the Prophets is correct, God would be more pleased with us if we would choose the latter.

I am not suggesting that I am perfect in making these decisions, but I do think that the usual refrain of "it isn't a sin to be wealthy" makes our decisions a bit too comfortable.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fall

Fall is great, isn't it?

Just came in from the front yard after spending about 30 minutes cleaning up a plant bed. Had to re-dig the borders and put on some mulch to keep the roots from freezing this winter.

One of the enjoyable things at this time of year is to gather seeds off the Purple Cone Flowers, Red Yucca, penstimens, and hollyhocks. Then I get to spread them around in other beds or to help fill in their current ones come next Spring.

Am reading this fall "The Practice of Spiritual Direction" by Barry and Connolly. Not a bad read, but it seems to bog down from time to time. Learning more about spiritual direction, and spiritual formation has been one of my goals this year. It really is interesting -- and enlightening to read and then to experience some of what so many people before have experienced. This has been a while coming; read Foster's books on prayer and disciplines a few years ago.

Fall and reading seem to go hand in hand. The reading sprinkles seeds from various places and eventually they will sprout and fourish.

Can't wait till Spring!

Marriage and Community

Marriage is often used as metaphor in Scripture. From Hosea and Gomer, to the Ephesian letter, God uses marriage as a description of His relationship with us. Spouses are intended to so act as One that we are told a "man is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." God considered Adam incomplete and so made him a helpmeet - from his own rib. Marriage is a melding of two people into one entity.
Are we suggesting that the two people lose their identities and become the other? No. And yes. A marriage is not designed so one partner is totally subsumed by the other, but rather both partners maintain their own identities and form a third. They build on one another's strengths and support each other's weaknesses.
They are to create a safe place. A place where each can reveal their dreams, their fears, their failings, and expect their partner to accept, challenge, and love them. During the dating game, each partner wears a mask that makes them seem the perfect catch. They always smell good, dress well, pay attention to each other, make each other laugh, and spend as much time as possible with one another. All this is an act of sorts - one that can be kept up only for so long and usually stops within a few months of the wedding. Only now do they allow each other to see parts of their real selves, and they begin to ask "was this the right thing to do?" The problem is that both partners behave this way - some more than others, but all to some degree. In a few months we have two people, married, but wondering what in the world possessed them to do this.
But the game playing doesn't stop there. All people want to be valued and accepted by the important people in their lives. Humans throughout history have gained those emotional reinforcements by being successful, being the "best," being confident. None of us though, are always successful, or the best, and many times we aren't all that confident. And so we create new masks, beautiful masks, to make us appear all those things to the people we are with, including our partners.
How great it would be if we could find a place where, even though we may have failed, or come in second - or fifteenth, or somehow weren't completely sure of who we are, we would be loved and accepted just as we are, without pretense. Marriage is intended to be that place. A safe, welcoming, and warm place where people banged up by the world can be loved for who we are rather than for who we portray. In maintaining this safe space, couples recognize each other's faults but support each other as one entity. Be proud of your partner because of who they are...with all the warts, and protect them from barbs and attacks from outside. Face the world as one!
That safe place is probably why God uses marriage as metaphor for His people, for church. Communities of Christians are intended to be places where we can accept, nurture, and heal people who face the world day in and day out. The community of faith is intended by God to be such a place where we can fail and still be encouraged, where we can stumble and be picked up, where partners can take off their masks, admit they aren't as strong, capable, and sinless as they pretend to be and still be accepted, loved, and nurtured.
There is a saying that "God has made someone special just for you." That's not quite right. It is actually that God has made you special for someone else. You are intended to bless your partner. If you are blessed in return, so much the better!
Marriage is an intimate microcosm of the Kingdom of God where God accepts us and we have need of nothing. Treat your partner like you would want a church member to treat you, and vice versa - accepting, loving, and supportive. Doing so creates real community, strengthens marriages, and builds churches.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Theology 101

Alright, I'm not a theologian, but hey, neither am I sitting at a University. It seems to me though, that as I travel through this life, I find religious folk that don't really grasp what they're supposed to be doing, and non-religious folks who don't quite understand Christianity as well as they think they might. So, here's a layman's introduction to God. Well, what our response to God is to be.

It seems to me that the Commandments can be broken into two types. One of those types deal with God and the other deals with other people. So we see that we are to have no other Gods before God and we are to be considerate and kind to other people. The Commandments though are not arbitrary rules this God of ours dreamed up some Tuesday morning. No, they illustrate (granted, negatively) the very character of God. Why is this important? Because as we will see later, the Christian's job, the Christians mission on this planet is to let God mold them into His likeness. As such, God has provided for us in the Commandments views of His character. At it's base we can detect that God is concerned that we honor Him as God and be concerned about other people. The reason we are to be concerned about other people is simply because it is God's character to be concerned about other people. If we are to be like Him, we must be concerned about other people.

Why should we not murder? Because there is some cosmic rule that says we ought not? No, but because if our character is like God, if we are concerned about other people, we cannot murder them. It seems impossible that if we are putting other people's interests ahead of ours, we could wontonly murder them.

Why should we treat God and only God as the only god? Because He said so? Again, no. We worship God as God because of the kind of God He is: compassionate, giving, loving, and faithful. That kind of God deserves our following simply because of who or what He is.

Le's look at a couple other ideas. In the Prophets, we see the prophetic message containing two themes. The first is that the audience has not been honoring God as God and have either corrupted their worship services or have failed to conduct them at all. Secondly, especially in the Minor Prophets, the prophetic message includes charges that the people and their leaders had become themselves corrupt. They sat in church and conceived ways to cheat their brothers. They violated every social rule and became only concerned about what was in it for them.

In the Gospels Jesus tells us what His mission was. In a nutshell, it was composed of three interconnected themes. The first was to glorify God by directing all the attention and praise that Jesus received back to God. Secondly, Jesus came to reveal God in more detail than had been previously given. Jesus says on more than one occasion that "if you have seen me, you have seen the father." His life was spent showing us what kind of character God has, what God thinks is important, and the kind of people we are to be. Thirdly, Jesus came to set us free from our sin which is another way of saying from ourselves. If we can surrender ourselves to Him, we become free to become the people God intended for us to be - those that reflect Him to others. Lastly, Jesus came to relieve suffering in this life. Jesus, in Luke, reads a scroll and applies it to Himself. That scroll says He came to relieve the oppressed, heal the sick, and a few other things. So Jesus' mission was not just to save us (John 3.16), but to provide release now. We see then that in the Gospels, God's concern is for the same two issues. We must recognize God as God and in so doing, we must become like Him in character. Anything less is not what God wants.

In the Christian Epistles, we see the same progression. Paul's letters include observations as to who God is and then apply that to his readers' lives. The other writers follow similar themes. Paul writes letters for the same reasons that the Prophets spoke to Israel and Judah. The recipients had either forgotten who their God was and/or had become hard hearted, inconsiderate, or abusive of each other.

We see then that the Christian's purpose in this life is not to get to Heaven, but rather to become the kinds of people God would have them become. Those people are characterized by thankful worship of God and the desire to become other focused.

If we can grasp that lesson of Theology 101, most if not all of the world's problems would vanish.

Thielike and the Supreme Court

Having heard all the hullabaloo about the Supreme Court's decision concerning the death penalty and folks who are under 18 years old, it seems that Thielike's book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians might apply. In this book T addresses both fledgling and experienced theologians. For our purposes, we only need to look at his instructions for the experienced ones.

Thielike urges theologians to always remember that it is the church that provides the conscience and that theology, appropriately done, is done in and for the church. In fact he will make a distinction between diabolical and sacred theology by evaluating the faith and faithfulness of the theologian.

This is not said to put theologians in straight jackets, but to have them remember that they are members of a community of faith that holds various principles as core beliefs and understandings. A theologian who goes beyond the faith and becomes overly academic or theoretical loses contact with the church and is in danger of becoming no more than a gong in an ivory bell tower.

Thielike's arguments it seems to me can be applied to almost any social undertaking and this is where the Supreme Court's decision has erred. If it is true that the decision has been made based on what other countries hold to be "normal," punishments, the majority erred in various points.

a. simply because other countries do not practice capital punishment on people below 18 years of age does not make the punishment cruel or unusual. It might make it rare, but that word is not the same as unusual.

b. the age of accountability is an arbitrary one and does not convey any cognitive, moral, or maturity value in and of itself. Any age chosen within a legal system is simply that - an arbitrary selection of an age at which various rights are conveyed.

c. the jurists need to remember that they practice their art within the American society, not a global one. American society is a unique one that holds personal responsibility in high regard, perhaps more so than other countries. If a state has decided that a seventeen year old, judged guilty of such a heinous crime deserves to die for that crime, that is reasonable within our history, our culture, and our forms of government.

The Supreme Court decision, if based on global standards of justice, is misguided.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Thursday Afternoon 27 January 2005

Started a Couple's Class at church a couple weeks ago; my wife and I, with another couple. We're using a mixture of media with a video series by the Parrotts as the core. Started well and last night the group had grown to around 18. A nice sized group for discussion and group development. After this iteration is over, may want to morph it into a Saturday a.m. group/class and take a couple hours to get things done.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Monday Evening 24 January 2005

Am reading N.T. Wright's Paul for Everyone - the Prison Epistles. Not a bad read. Rather simple, but contains some heavy insights. A couple are that Christians have inside them the power that God used to raise Jesus. Kinda neat, but kinda humbling at the same time.

Another is that God's plan from the beginning has not been limited to a group of people, but has included every person and the cosmos. That's not a new concept; Scripture generally supports the idea, but comments on Ephesians don't normally point that out.

Easy reading and some good points. Recommended.


Monday Morning 24 January 2005

We are growing an Amarillus this year. Got it from a neighbor and it's been sending up long, green shoots, about four of them over the last couple months. Friday we noticed that what appears to be the bloom stalk has peered over the rough-cut top of the bulb. We wait in anticipation for a six or eight-inch bright red bloom sometime in the next month. Not in time for Christmas, but definitely before Easter. Good enough.

Sunday Evening, 23 January 2005

This is our first foray into BlogWorld, but we're up to it. You will find here writings about a rather eclectic blend of topics. We do not pretend to be experts in anything, but have never let that stop us from offering observations about life. So, here we go....

Between class and our second service this morning, talked with a member who was in Abilene last week and knows folks that were in the SUV accident. That discussion reminded me that when we first heard of the accident, the condition and emotional state of the driver came to mind. So during the second service I wrote a note to the driver. Will have to send it to the hospital since I think that's where she still is.

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