Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Peace of Office Suppy Stores

Scripture: John 14
I love walking through office supply stores. The organization of the store and all the products designed to aid us in being more organized gets my blood pumping. The binders, fancy organizers, clips and even the people with the headsets on seem efficient. Perhaps my favorite part is sitting at the clean desks that have almost nothing on them and dreaming that one day my desk will emulate this.  When I walk out of the doors of the store, I feel inspired to organize.
Once, I was enthused enough to purchase the massive book How to Organize Everything by Peter Walsh. And for at least a day or two, I was motivated enough to tackle my half organized desk.
I'm not sure about you, but when my desk is cluttered I feel cluttered. When my desk is organized I feel more organized.    
Office supply stores are all in ordered with clearly marked aisles labeled to guide us to the proper place. Within the aisles there are more categories and segments. While a few pencils might be in the wrong place, they can be fairly easily identified.
The reality is life is more like my scattered desk than an office supply store. Life rarely meets us with problems that can be solved by going to a designated aisle or that people in headsets can give a quick word of guidance.
Thankfully, Jesus promises us His peace which goes deeper than the messiness of this world. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."  John 14:27. Jesus' peace won't suddenly help us become organized or fix all our problems, but is right there with us. Jesus gives and gives and gives. Only here, can we have an abiding peace that is deeper than an organized desk.
Where do you need Jesus to speak a word of peace for you? How is the peace Jesus offers different than the world gives?

Friday, October 7, 2011

We like deer hide...

Scripture: Psalm 27
I got to watch dear one evening at the monastery and I wondered if we are like dear towards God. I watched as the dear slowly came out of the forest. They came silently and with one eye on me and every other passer-by. Though I meant no harm to the dear, I am a strange and fearful creature from their perspective (and perhaps many people as well!). Though God means only good for us, He too is strange and often a fearful creature since He is so far beyond us in terms of holiness and sovereignty. Just as the dear hide in the forest, so too do we hide from God, thinking it for our own protection. So we flirt with God. The God who is always watching and waiting for us to leave the fears of our forest that He might catch a glimpse of us. And in so doing, if we dare move from our false security in our forest and risk moving across the open fields, we would bring Him joy and begin to taste of true joy and security.
Verse 14 of Psalm 27 implores us twice to "wait for the Lord." This verse also connects waiting to courage and strength. It takes true courage and strength to wait on God instead of reacting and emotional attacking that only serves to make us feel better in the moment. Though we might feel as though God is hiding from us, is often hard to see through forest we make or perhaps God is calling us to new pasture that we're unfamiliar with. Only through courage, strength, and waiting will we find that we are in fact being hidden with God in Christ and that only there is the firm foundation we need (v. 5).
How do you see waiting and strength going together? Have these seemed like opposites for you in the past?
What would it look like for you to wait on the Lord instead of reacting when you are frustrated or impatient?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Each Moment is Full of Possibility for...

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-8
Each moment is full of possibility. Possibility for… Well that part is largely up to us. If Contemplation is an awakening to God's reality in our world as we have explored, then each moments carries within it, as Merton observes the "germs of spiritual vitality" or the "seeds of contemplation." The question is, are we awake enough to comprehend it or prepared to notice it? While the possibilities are endless of what God could be up to in each moment, we are usually unaware of this reality. For these germs or seeds will pass us by unless they meet with the soil of love, and openness, and compassion, and those whose soil has been properly tilled. Silence, Solitude, Prayer, Reading Scripture, Worship, Acts of Generosity – these and other disciplines are just some of the ways we ready ourselves for what God is doing around us.
The reality is we will probably miss so many possibilities of potentiality today because our noisy world is too distracted to notice. It is not that proof for God isn't evident; it is too often that we are looking in the wrong places, with the wrong motivations, and without the eyes to comprehend it.
I have noticed that people love to use the world 'surreal' to describe almost every occasion. I wonder if that might be because we're so busy going from one event to another, we're never truly present in the present. When we're reminiscing it can be fun or shameful. When we're forecasting what is to come it can be exciting or fearful. What we have though, is this moment which, because of the God who is, was, and is to come, is so full of possibilities. What will we do with it?
Are you prone to reminisce about the nostalgic past or daydream about future possibilities at the experience of the present? What would help you be more present to others and to God?
What might be some other reasons we fail to be fully present?
What helps you to be present and awake?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is Contemplation for the weak?

Scripture: Genesis 32:22-32
When I used to think of the words "retreat," "monks," and "contemplation" I imagined people far removed from my world filled with the stress of daily living and the anxiety that is so pervasive in our world. My image included an escape from real life and challenging encounters. Especially with the word contemplation, I presumed it was for people with too much time and not enough to do. The monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and the book we read from challenged my assumptions.
So is Contemplation really a retreat from all that is anxiety producing and challenging? Merton contests such assumption us with a strong word of "no."   "On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many question in the depth of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding." I liken Merton's thoughts to C. S. Lewis' notion found in the Chronicles of Narnia book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Lucy asks about the mysterious figure of the Lion, Aslan (the Christ figure). "His he safe?" she asks fearful and innocently. "Well of course he isn't safe," responds Mr. Beaver.
If Contemplation is about encountering the God who is holy, then in contemplation God will reveal to us and break down the idols we incessantly create, challenge us from mere good thoughts and intentions toward right attitudes and actions, break us out of our self justifications toward self emptying and these conversions come at no little fight and struggle from us. Contemplation isn't for the weak, but for the brave!
How does the idea of contemplation change if it happens in the presence of a loving and holy God that desires we be transformed into the likeness of Christ?
The Life with God Bible asks “Could one reason [we are afraid of being alone] be an unhealthy reliance on other people instead of on God for our well-being and happiness?” Is this true for you? How can you become more comfortable with silence?
What wounds does God desire to heal within you? Might you end up with a limp like Jacob? In what ways would you be stronger because it?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Benedict’s Rule of Listening

Scripture: Psalm 81 “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of you heart.” That is how the Prologue to The Rule of Saint Benedict begins. “Listen.” What a needed virtue. Not just within our relationships with others, but also to God.
Last time we discussed Contemplation as a gift and awareness. Contemplation is much more than a technique for creative brainstorming that leads to new ideas and exciting connections. Though contemplation might lead to something like that, contemplation "is not the fruit of our own efforts" Merton advised. Beyond mere thoughts, contemplation is ultimately an experience with the one named, "I AM." As opposed to receiving some new insight about God or carried away in psychological fantasies, contemplation moves us toward the mystery and freedom of the God who cannot be contained by our attempts to control Him or use Him for our own feelings or benefits. The gift in this case is its own reward, the Triune God who exists eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit, communal and one, self-emptying and sacrificial love. Merton reminds us that God is not a "what" or a "thing" but a pure "Who." (13) Beyond our own agendas and uses, however noble they may be, may we take intentional time to listen with our inner ears that we might hear and be drawn to the One who is in constant search of us and desires to give of His very self.
Why are we so quick to speak and so slow to listen?
Try one of the following exercises: Spend one day soon trying only to speak when you have to, so that you might focus on listening to other’s needs. Spend a meal in silence focusing on gratitude for God’s provisions.
What do you think God is trying to say to us?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What contemplation is and is not

Scripture: Psalms 62
I had many false assumptions about contemplation going into my retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. From Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation to the time spent in silence and in worship, I learned that contemplation is exciting and invigorating.  Contemplation is no isolated, introspective navel gazing selfish aloneness. Merton speaks a whole lot about what Contemplation is not. Appropriately so since it is much maligned in our culture of pseudo-community that really only desires to avoid loneliness and noisiness at all cost. Among the words Merton uses to describe Contemplation include: awake, active, aware, alive, awe, and gratitude. I believe Merton accurate to describe contemplation as "a kind of spiritual vision." He writes, "Contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real." (3)
Our vision is often too low and too narrow. We are usually busier than worker bees and more distracted than the most hyperactive feline. The result is we become like a ship in a storm without an anchor being tossed about here and there. Beginning with a place and time of silence, contemplation can anchor us to the God who is fully present in this world seen in the microsphere to beyond our atmosphere, from the internet to the cityscape. But in our distraction we not only miss the wonder and greatness of the world around us, we fail to hear from the God speaking within. We miss the awe of the God of the universe and compassion of the one who cares for and feeds the birds of the air. Contemplation, then, far from navel gazing, might go on to produce the compassion and aliveness for which we have been longing.
What are your assumptions about contemplation?
How might contemplation lead to awareness of the Real?
How often do you feel distracted? How might contemplation bring focus and attention to what is real among us?

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Why can't I buy a monk robe in the Abbey gift shop?"

Scripture: Psalm 62
"Why can't I buy a monk robe in the Abbey gift shop?" I confess I asked this question to myself just before the ringing of the bell to signify we stand for the beginning of the evening Vesper service at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. This is home to a Roman Catholic community of contemplative monks that belong to the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance. This question came into my mind despite being on a retreat at this Cistercian Monastery for 48 hours to this point. This question was the very antithesis of what I had been learning on my retreat. Living some of the contemplative way on our retreat included 4am Vigils (with a 30 minute silent mediation in the dark!), 7am Lauds & Mass Service, 12:15pm Midday Prayer service, 5:20 Vespers or Evening Prayer, and 7:30 Compline or Night service. That is not to mention the Great Silence from 8pm to 8am and that all our meals were to be in silence. In addition to this, the purpose of my retreat was to learn more about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk himself (the monastery he was apart of in Kentucky, helped found this one) through lectures on his book New Seeds of Contemplation.
A small bit of wisdom from this retreat noted how we often attempt to use God for our purpose or imagine Christ in our image. Yet here I was, 48 hours in my experience, and still like a pilgrim at Disney World, I was desiring to purchase or consume that which has taken monks at least two years just to begin and a life that will never be complete. The words of the lecturer I had for the week puts my crazy question in proper perspective: one doesn't become a saint overnight. In fact, after decades of living a consumerist, rat-race lifestyle, even a few days in a monastery and hours of contemplation wouldn't be enough to radically change me. However, I could tell the seeds of contemplation were beginning and felt like water to parched land.  
As Merton notes in the Preface of his book, the problem with the word contemplation is it "it sounds like 'something,'...a spiritual commodity that one can procure…[that if] possessed, liberates one from problems and from unhappiness." (xvi)
Rather than a possession or commodity or hobby, contemplation can provide a space for us to hear God and God to find us. "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation." Psalm 62:1, 5
How does silence make you feel?
How do you make a place for God to find you?
How might intentional times of silence be rewarding even if you hear nothing?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Church and Fundamentalism: Dialogue II (Mushy Liberalism or Better Story?)

Fundamentalism: My principles can show you just how far your morality is sinking. Don't you even remember the head coverings (I Corinthians 11:15) and the greeting of one another with a kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14)? Oh, if the people would just truly take the Bible seriously how the world would be better off and will return to normal!
Church: Don't you know Fundamentalism how young you really are? You are not as old as you suppose yourself to be. Perhaps you are the one who needs to do some revisiting of history. Read again of the Enlightenment fathers and see how your roots lie there. In fact, you might even have the eyes to see what a strong trust, perhaps even a dangerously wrong - idolatrous even, foundation you have in your own reason!
Fundamentalism: Oh what gushy liberalism! Your people have this stubborn tendency to keep speaking about a story or narrative.  God of the Story or God of the Truth! Which will bring greater security? Truth is what you need. Come home I say, come home again and we will reason together (Isaiah 1:18). You need me so much more than you realize. You are forsaking the Truth!
Church: Reason, reason, reason. Who's reason? Can't reason be swayed, twisted, and selfish? Why once again we see where your true faith lies, reason! Stories are no weak vessel. Whose actions haven't been shaped by the lessons learned from stories such as The Boy who Cried Wolf? Jesus did not come as reason in flesh, but a person. So when we speak of Truth, we speak of Truth revealed in the form of a person. To understand a person you must understand their story! My people have an incredible story of being loved by God. God did not set down to give them mere rules to apply across all generations and all cultures. Rather it is a story that helps shape beliefs, actions, groups, cultures. Fundamentalism, I think I'll keep searching for a better story. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Church and Fundamentalism: Dialogue I (Survival of the Church?)

Fundamentalism: Oh, you've forgotten your real self Church. You need to come back home. Don't listen to any of these other tempters; they are no good for you. In fact, they are all dangerous!
Church: Dangerous, huh? Right now it feels as though it is dangerous not to listen. There is so much happening and changing, if I’m not listening then the message will fall on deaf ears and I will be out of touch with those I have a passion to connect to God.
Fundamentalism: Church, you need to listen to me. They really are getting to you. Flee them with all your might. I heard you question yourself because of their lies and deception. Come back home to me now if you want to survive! I am your only hope for survival.
Church: Survival is a trust found only in God. In fact, my survival is always tenuous. Just as my groom risked His life in sacrificially giving it to the Father because of their love for the world so too do I follow the same pattern of sacrificially giving of myself such that my survival is staked in trust of God.
Fundamentalism: Come back to me and I will teach you again of those absolutely essential beliefs that make you what you are. The list that began with the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is but a start. By the time the Reformation came I was really beginning to show my abilities. In the Scopes Monkey Trial I was really at my height. Oh and how I've led so many to get close to predicting the last day. My people can see clearly the evils of not taking the Bible seriously. They read the Bible just as they would a science text book. My people can prove beyond a shadow of doubt how evil entertainment, technology, experience, and politics really are.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Church and Experience: Dialogue II (Defining Love)

Experience: If you would just have more Love how your people (and the world!) could be cured of its insensitivity and self-centeredness. Too often your people look like a Social Club rather than a hospital for the sick. Your people so easily forget the Lord's Greatest Commandment: Love God, Neighbor, Self, (Matthew 22:36-39). Love embraces instead of excluding. Love that will be for all no matter what they look like, what they believe, what they do. Doesn't God love all? Why can't your people be more tolerant?
Church: Love is certainly important. Love is a part of God’s essence and should be of mine. You have named some very important Scripture passages that are at the heart of what I am. But, Experience, for all your lofty talk about love can you define it for me?
Experience: Unconditional, tolerant. Love, love, love.
Church: Those are characteristics of love I've heard a lot lately. I recall the story of how the prophet Hosea was called by God to merry Gomer, the whore. This shows God is faithful in spite of the people's unfaithfulness. God is committed to them even when their own commitment is shaky and tentative and even non-existent. But also in this story God doesn't change who He is for them. God is, in fact, free from them. God can be free because God is so stable in His ability to give love without changing.
Experience: I'm not sure I follow you Church. Aren't you proving my point? God is love therefore the experience of love and giving of love is enduring and eternal. See, Church, you need me. Enter into a contractual agreement with me. 
Church: Experience, you too have made me think. Though, love is more than a concept. Love is tangible. More than simply a feeling or tolerance of ideas and behaviors, God's love was tangibly expressed in giving of His Son and how the Son lived and died for the world. God's love is compassionate. God's love is sacrificial. Certainly you are right that experience of God's love should lead toward (and even be measured by our) love for our neighbors. But love is also free from having to bow at the altar of tolerance, because it is rooted and has as its foundation in the Holy God of Scripture. That's why, my dear friend Experience, I must pass.   

Monday, August 1, 2011

Church and Experience: Dialogue I (Shouting Methodist!)

Experience: Church don't you realize how much you need me? Can't you hear the truth proclaimed by your own Pentecostals, Charismatics, and even the early Methodists? Experience is at the heart of it all. What good is mere belief? Even the devil believes! (James 2:19) I'm not advocating we do away with the Creeds, Doctrines, or anything, but isn't what really matter the religion of the heart! You need me to help teach your people that they need to get out of their pews, out of their fortress style churches and display the exuberance of the Lord! Don’t you remember your own hymns? “I do believe, without a doubt/The Christian has a right to shout…They pray, they sing, they preach the best,/And do the Devil most molest./ I'm bound to march in endless bliss,/And die a shouting Methodist.” (By Winthrop Hudson) Together we could use Technology to help people really experience love through high impact worship services and other virtual means as well.
Church: Experience, haven't you heard, It's not how high you jump, but how far you love?
Experience: Love! Why that's exactly what I'm saying. Now you are finally starting to listen, Church. Your people need more love! Your people can get all caught up in Truth and Doctrines and even Theology. Again, those aren't unimportant, but too often they get in the way of Love. Don't you remember, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13. Too often throughout your history your people exclude, even murder in the name of Truth.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Church and Entertainment: Dialogue II

Entertainment: It is one thing to introduce TV's and DVD's to Sunday School curriculum or projectors and screens in a worship service with drums and guitars that's a nice start, but that's merely a beginning. Why not add slides and bouncies to your children's ministry? What child (and really adult!) doesn't love a good bouncy? You want more kids, just hang around more with me and I'll make it happen. Oh how you are missing this generation. Especially your more established people. Just look at the statistics. Numbers don't lie!
Church: I can’t deny the decline. But too serious you say? Too serious about the Greatest News in the world? Can that be possible? Perhaps you have a point though, Entertainment. This Greatest News should be characterized by celebration, liberation, and joy!
Entertainment: Joy, yes joy and celebration. Now you're really starting to hear me. That's what I'm talking about uninhibited, unencumbered joy! That's what your people need, a little heaven on earth, here and now. You place too much emphasis on the sweet-bye-and-bye and forget the joy of heaven now. Let them eat cake! Let them slide! Let them bounce! Then they will want to listen to your message! Then they will have ears to truly hear!
Church: Umm.
Entertainment: Let us enter into a long term contractual agreement and together we can use Efficiency and Technology for our advantage. Together many more will come; many more will experience joy and fun like never before. That Good News you're selling, I've heard it said, it is should be anything but boring. I am just what you need.
Church: Entertainment, you too raise some important points about joy. But I am not an organization that values customer loyalty and pleasure at any costs. Rather I value deeper values like commitment and sacrifice. You too make me question though, "Why do we take ourselves so seriously and forget the joy we can experience?" "Yet, how might fun and entertainment lead people away from the Gospel such that all they experience is a surface level understanding of commitment and sacrifice that is called for in the Gospel? After all, so many left Jesus when He called for a discipleship that was solely committed to His way of life and love?" I think I'll skip along for something more everlasting!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Church and Entertainment: Dialgoue I

Entertainment: Church you are so archaic! Efficiency and Technology weren't forceful enough. You are in serious danger. In particular, you have been too slow to ask from me what you need. I have what you have been desperately seeking. Some churches still don't even allow piano's in their sanctuaries! Can you believe it? What is this the Dark Ages? Of course, for a long time you didn't even allow women to sing in the church because your archaic ways (1 Corinthians 14:34). That's how the boys’ choirs started. Most of your people have updated to the 19th or perhaps 20th century, but you are still so far behind what your people are seeking. You need me so much more than you realize. Why can't you just see your need for me and embrace me? There are some churches getting it much more than others. They have lights and sound as good as almost any secular concert you can pay money to attend. Don't look now Church, but these churches are on the increase and are growing. I know it makes you nervous and scared, but your dichotomy between sacred and secular is a foolish myth. I say, let your people eat cake! Give the people what they want and they will come!
Church: Entertainment, we are more different that you realize. Your audience is in the seats, in your consumers. I have multiple audiences, one of which is God! I cannot simply be about pleasing people's desires and wishes. For one, they always change. Desire is a funny thing that way.
Entertainment: Your people are too solemn. They take themselves too seriously. What they need is fun, fun, fun. You've heard a thousand time, "Build it and they will come!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Church and Technology: Dialogue II

Technology: During the Dark Ages and even the Middle Ages you might have been a learning organization that taught many, but not today. If people have religious questions they don't have to come to you. I can provide all their answers. Haven't you heard how reliable Wikipedia is? There are websites and blogs run by your own people who have embraced my abilities that provide answers at any moment accessible from almost any location in the world. No longer do they have to wait for a sermon series, much less the lectionary that give answers so slowly. And the answers they give are so, “out there” they’re just not very relevant either. But with me, no longer do the people have to wait for one of your groups to mass produce the answers in a way that relates to them. Today I allow them to ask questions on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Message Boards and get answers not just from lay people but from the experts themselves who help ensure their accuracy. Can you hear my tone? It is similar to Efficiency's. I too fear for your future. I can help.
Church: Technology, you too, like Efficiency, seemed to have bowed at the altar of relevancy. What you call irrelevant, I call creating a larger perspective with which to see the world. While I might not always address the immediate, felt need of some, my aim is often to the larger perspective of deeper, real needs people have in helping them to see the world differently. Simply giving quick and packaged answers to felt desires isn’t always the best answers.
Technology: Call it what you will, Church. In sticking to your guns, you are being left behind. Meet the people’s needs! I can help you.  
Church: Just as Inefficiency raised some important points and questions so have you Technology. Can real community happen in a "virtual" world? Certainly the way people can get answers and create virtual community might be a means to real community or a means to service, but they are not the same are they?
Technology: Just as Efficiency stated, I fear you are not catching the depth of the issues. Please, stay longer, let us enter into a long-term, contractual agreement and I will show you the way. I have much more to teach you.
Church: Technology, I really appreciate the dialogue, but I must be going. Perhaps to look into how Facebook or Twitter might increase my public image.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Church and Technology: Dialogue Part I

Technology: Efficiency sure had some good points. I overhead the latter part of your conversation. Though, I will admit you had some great points too. But I'll leave that for y'all to figure out. My point is that simply to make a small step toward the culture you need me. Oh man do you need me Church! I know much of your people have dappled with me a little, but I have so much more to offer! Twitter, Facebook, Websites, Projectors, Screens, Microphones, Sound Systems are all but a start of what I can offer. Your people have personal computers and internet capabilities right in the palm of their hand. You need to catch up and catch up quickly.
Church: Yes, we have certainly met before, Technology. Like with Efficiency, I approach you with hesitancy. Technology is a gift, but so much can go so wrong and be such a distraction. It can be so disturbing. Honestly, for some I’ve seen you become an idol.
Technology: Idolatry, please. Don't believe all you hear, Church. Honestly, you’re not that naïve. Video Conferencing, Virtual Worship Services, and Virtual Online Bible Studies are the waves of the future. Let me just say, Church, I really don't think you're getting just how much I affect your people. In fact, I would argue that with my current level of influence (my influence will only continue to grow) people have little need for you. I don't mean that to be arrogant, just truthful. People don't need you any more, Church.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Church and Efficiency Dialogue Part II

Church: In your emphasis on the urgency of “now,” you overlook ancient truths. It takes only a committed few to change the world. It only took twelve empowered but far from perfect disciples who spread Christianity across a hostile world! And as for changing times, well I've been through that plenty of times before. Many have signaled for the flag declaring my death before. The Church has been through persecutions, crusades, inquisitions, scandals, political revolutions, scientific revolutions, ups, downs, and many other tribulations. I might move slowly for you but sometimes slow and reflective is exactly what is needed among the hustle and the bustle. There are far too many voices proclaiming the next, the newest, the greatest, the best, and the biggest without listening for the still small voice of God (1Kings 19:11-12). I'm afraid I’m just not as concerned as you are.
Efficiency: Oh, your focus on the past proves my point! Oh, how I wish you would listen! Times are different today. Without adapting to make yourself efficient, up-to-date, relevant, for heaven's sake, you'll continue to die out. Check your own statistics! Get your head out of the sand and be realistic. You are being too naïve!
Church: Naïve! Adapting to the culture? Like when some of the Lutherans and others adapted to the Nazi regime? Like with theology adapts so much to cultural truths there is very little Good News left to proclaim? Like the inquisition? Like indulgences?
Silence captures them both.
Church: You do raise several questions though, Efficiency. The sorts of questions I am seeking answers for. How should I relate to the surrounding culture today? Where is the boundary between adjusting to cultural context and cultural values dictating beliefs? Or the line between maintaining a holy distinction as God's called out people and irrelevance to the needs of the time? Between incarnational ministry and pandering?
Efficiency: Those questions are not going far enough, Church. You need me to help you adapt to regain your once dominant influence over the culture. Let us enter a contractual agreement and I can help you make the adaptions you desperately and quickly need to make.
Church: Thank you Efficiency for a helpful dialogue. I really must be going. Perhaps I can work on my efficiency by leaving this conversation!?   
Efficiency: Nor do I have time for such a worthless conversation. What a waste of my time!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Church takes stroll...(Beginning of conversation 1)

The Church, like much of the world, is struggling with the anxieties and stresses of a rapidly changing world. Imagine if the Church went shopping for some remedies. Taking an introspective stroll at the Mall of Current Ideas, venders attempt to lure the Church into a long-term, contractual agreement. What should the Church decide in order to ensure its survival and perhaps even a brighter future?  
The Church first encounters, none other than Efficiency.
Efficiency: (Of course he speaks first) Church you are a slow organization. You move so slowly. You adapt too slow. Today's successful companies and organizations run as models of efficiency. Due to the pace of the market place they have to make quick decisions in order to compete. Church you are a slow organization using the committee structure and Robert's Rules of order. You need to adapt to the fast-paced times. You are falling so far behind you are becoming irrelevant. You are like a large ship that turns slowly in the water and so cautiously that you couldn't catch the weakest Jet Ski. I'm like a speed boat that can turn on a dime and yet large enough to maneuver in the roughest seas. I can do a world of good to help you adapt to today’s realities. You need my expertise! 
Church: Making quick decisions sure are essential for competing in the rapid pace of today’s marketplace. You are right about that. I desire a voice in the marketplace of ideas. But speed, I believe, can also be detriment. Novelty can mislead. Remember New Coke? Sometimes older is better. When something has been around for thousands of years it has been thoroughly tested. Remember though, the turtle, not the rabbit, wins the race. You forget the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company is around 40 years. I have been around for at least 2,000 (and some would argue for longer than that). I'm not so sure I need you, Efficiency. In fact, you could learn a thing or two from me.  
Efficiency: True you have been around, and perhaps we might learn a little something from you, but don't you keep up with the news? Times are changing and changing faster than ever before. That companies only last a few decades is exactly my point. Don't you see your fate there as well? Just look at your attendance numbers and aging congregations. Look to Europe to see your fate! Massive and beautiful cathedrals with barely a person inside worshiping the god of the middle ages! Come, let us speak about organic groups and dynamic groups, downsizing and bottom up empowerment, downscaling, doing away with middle management, putting more cost and responsibility on your customers, and all the latest trends. If you don't listen now and begin changing, I fear your irrelevance in our society will only continue to increase. Can you hear the peril in my tone of voice? I am really afraid for you. Adapt now or there will be only a small remnant left who will not have any influence or impact in the world. Trust me, heed the dire warning signs - change or be left behind yourself!
The conversation will continue next time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mosaic Movement

"On our own we are little more than bits of stone and glass. Together we are the body of Christ." Mosaic Holy Bible. That quote very much sums up the Mosaic movement. This modern movemnt is very often urban and multi-cultural and also post-institutional, including one version who offers hip-hop services. Within this movement is a deep suspicion of modernity, authority, and pat answers (much like we saw with the emerging movement). The emphasis within the Mosaic movement is not on creating programs to meet needs of the current congregation but involving members in ministry within the local community. They have a strong desire for the upcoming generation and the focus of Mosaic communities usually are significantly involved in local and global missions. Their ways of doing community raise many questions (not so much answers) about what it means to be a follower of Christ and the nature of the Church.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:13-27
Where does this movement challenge your notion of church? Where might it fall short?
What is Paul getting at by using the metaphor of a single body to a church sharply divided? What does it say about diversity? What does it say about unity? What might it suggests about leadership?
If you were to put your gifts in terms of a body part, which one would you be?
How can you best grow your gifts for ministry? What would the church look like if all contributed their gifts selflessly?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Missional Church: Does church seem too institutional and prepackaged for your liking?

Does church seem too institutional and prepackaged for your liking? Perhaps the missional church movement might be more to your taste. The missional church movement was birthed from academia, especially the work of missionary Lesslie Newbigin. The major shift coming from this movement is less program and institution based to a more organic bottom up empowerment of members aimed at building relationships with and creating networks for the hurting outside the community. The focus is on the needs of those not currently "in" and are usually intentional about being multicultural. This movement sounds a caution to Christianity steeped in cultural values, especially individualism. Missional churches are overt in not trying to meet the needs of members but directed towards the needs of those who cannot help themselves.
Scripture: Matthew 10 (Jesus sends out the Twelve)
How does the Missional Church movement challenge your understanding of church? Where might they go too far?
What were Jesus' instructions to the twelve disciples?
What does it look like to be "worthy" of Christ (vv. 37-38)? What might that imply about taking up our cross and following Christ?
How would you explain to a friend what it means to "lose" you life only to "find" for Christ's sake (v. 39)?
What might a "welcoming" lifestyle look like (vv. 40-42)?
How might you have a "missional" outlook this week?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Central Theological Position

How would you state your 'central theological position' in one sentence? That was the task for a recent assignment in one of my classes. It was much more difficult to narrow down than I thought it would be. I thought first about specific passages of Scripture. Being United Methodist and with the UMC's mission "to make disciples for the transformation of the world" I quickly thought of the Great Commission the risen Christ gives to His disciples gathered to worship Him (even though some were still doubting), "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20. In some preliminary discussions in class, some brought up what is known as Jesus' Great Commandment:  "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-40. Others that I've heard periodically as a central verse is James 1:27, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." Other passages worth checking out include: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, 1 John 4:10-12, and 1 Peter 2:9-10). What passage would be yours?
Instead of a specific Scripture reading, come up with your best one sentence summary of what you believe to be true about God and the world. Thinking about what one or more Scripture passages would be used as a back drop. You might ask yourself this question: "If I were asked to give my theology using only one sentence to someone what would I say?" Would you mind sharing your statement either on the blog or on Facebook? I'd love to see it and we might all learn from it.
My central theological position as it sits today (I've only revised it like a hundred times in the last few days) reads this: To participate in the Triune God's mission to the world. How do you think mine could be improved? What do you see as missing that is imperative to the Gospel? Give it a whirl!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Emergent Conversation

Churches that are characterized by the emerging movement tend to be outwardly focused, place a high value on relationships, have little to no hierarchy, concerned with social issues, are experimental and willing to hold in tension the sacred and profane, and resist modern categories instead looking to engage the indigenous context around them. Many  in this stream prefer the term conversation over movement. They look to embody God's mission in a way that is post-denominational and post-congregational.
One of my favorite quotes about the relationship of the Kingdom of God and the Church at large asserts, "It is not that the Church has a mission as much as God's mission has a church." The emerging movement certainly presses that sort of thinking. While there is much to be learned from the emerging conversation, there are points of tension as well. How do we move forward seeking the Kingdom of God as the people of God while maintaining a connection with our unique heritage in a way that honors the great "Cloud of Witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) that has come before us? What would the church look if it were post-denominational and post-congregational?
Scripture: Hebrews 1:1-3
 John's Gospel is introduced with the words "In the Beginning" which brings us all the way back to God's acts in Genesis 1. Mark's Gospel opens, "The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ" and immediate quotes from the prophets of the Old Testament. Matthew's Gospel continually repeats from the Old Testament. "Many and various ways" God spoke to our ancestors begins Hebrews. God's Kingdom has advanced through the work of God and His people who have faithfully passed on the rule of faith to succeeding generations. What are some of the ways God has spoke to your ancestors? How has that been passed down to you? In light of father's day tomorrow, how have the "father's" in faith modeled Kingdom living for you?
Hebrews 1:2-3 points out what is the climax of history, the center of life in God. What does that say about history?
In what ways does the emerging church stretch your understanding of what it means to be the church?
How are you being part of the great "cloud of witnesses"?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ready to join the new monastic movement?

Recently I got to visit with a friend who is involved with what some call the neo-monastic movement. This movement, along with some others, are challenging the way church is doing ministry in the world today. For example, those in the neo-monastic movement have no interest in church planting. Reacting to the rationalized (emphasis on the use of intellect) way  church has been functioning, this movement recalls that God is revealed in the narrative of Scripture and not through doctrines. This movement tends to be significantly more multicultural and multinational than traditional churches. As well, they draw heavily on ancient liturgical practices from the likes of the Franciscans, Benedictines, and Celts. Especially those in the Franciscan way live among the poor and needed as my friend does. One particular person in the monastic moment challenges, "The world doesn't need more words, not even more 'right' words. The world needs more words made flesh. The world needs more people to live the good news incarnationally, in a way that can be seen heard and handled." For me one of the strengths of this movement is that it puts faith into practice in a way that a persons Christianity is a seven day a week, twenty four hour a days reality that offers redemption to the least of these among us. It is a reminder to the church that if we're not engaging in redemptive ministry with the poor (for you North Georgia United Methodists that is this year's theme for our Annual Conference), then we're not really doing church as we're called to be.
Scripture: John 1:1-18; 20:19-23
Why do you think Jesus repeats the word "Peace"?
How is our "sending" v. 21 like God's sending of Jesus into the world? How is it similar? How is different?
How does this "sending" have a similar empowerment and mission (vv. 22-23)?
What do you see as a place the church can learn from the neo-monastic movement?
How might the church do a better job with focusing on doing ministry such that people see the Good News of the One who sent us?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"In and For" Part I

With Annual Conference for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church coming next week, I remember the first Annual Conference I attended in 2001. It was held in an arena in Augusta, Ga. In this large arena that was evidently used for sporting events and the like, were back light message boards for beer bottling companies and sports bars that did not convey the most "holy" of images especially during times of worship. Yet the Bishop reminded us that it is in such a world the Church exists. In fact the Book of Discipline for the United Methodist Church reminds us, "The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world."
The Church of Christ is in the world as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). As the called out people of God and bride of Christ, the Church's values and virtues are shaped and empowered by the Triune God. God the Father sent the Son in to the world. Jesus was God in flesh. The incarnation of Jesus Christ shows that God is not "this world" denying, but exist within it. In other words, God isn't aloof from the pain,  alienation, disappointment and hurt that exist in the world. In fact, God through Jesus knows (has experienced) them intimately. So too the church is to exists not aloof from the pain and hurt of this world but right in the middle of it giving witness to God's reality in the world and active power for healing and holiness. Thus, the Church exists in the world in such a way that it serves the least, lowest, and the lost and those addicted to stuff and power. Paradoxically, it is in those acts of serving in the world the church finds it has been serving Christ (Matthew 25:35-40). 
Scripture: John 3:16-17
Why did God send His "one and only" or unique Son into the world? What is unique about Christ?
How does v. 17 expand v. 16?
What does this passage say about God's relationship with the world? Against it? For it? Transform it? How will this world's salvation come about?
What comfort can you take from knowing that God is not aloof from our pain and hurts, but the God we worship and serve knows the feelings of pain and alienation?
How have you seen the Church serve in the world such that it gives witness to God's healing presence that is active in this world?
How does being part of a church and serving Christ in the world free us from our tendency toward self-serving attitudes and narcissism?
How do you maintain the tension between being "in" the world but not "of" it? Why is that so hard? How is this also true for the church?

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Where is God?"

"Where is God?" If you've been around children or honest enough adults you've probably heard this question before. The great thing about children is that they don't realize they're questions we shouldn't be ashamed to inquire before others and before God. Being a Pastor, I've had several parents approach with a similar question their children have asked them and inevitably the question is posed to me. Not that mind these questions (in fact I love them!) but I can tell I am approached with these perplexing questions because in some way or another I am seen as a professional or at least practicing theologian (some say the best title for a pastor is a theologian in residence - I wouldn't totally disagree). But since theology is really the simple God-talk we all engage in we're all theologians. That's right, if you don't know it by now, congratulations I officially confer on you the title you already have - theologian. You might not be a degreed theologian or paid for your theological opinions, but nonetheless you area theologian if you've ever uttered or even thought a single thought about God.  In the book Attentive to God the authors imply this definition for such theologians as us, "[those] paying attention to God, and to everything else in its 'God-relatedness.'" Said differently, being a theologian is simply about how we think about God in our world.
At least two things should flow from this. One is that this is an affirmation that God's grace is pervasive in the world (prevenient grace - if you theologians don't know what that is...time to get crackin'!). Secondly, you have a responsibility. This gift is also a responsibility to speak intelligible of God.
There's a story of a Hasidic rabbi who asked rhetorically: Where is God?" He went on to reply: "Wherever we let him in." As responsible theologians allow God to enter your discussions and may they be fruitful (since God is in them, they will)!
Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13-18
What difference does it make to you to think of yourself as a theologian? How is that a gift and a responsibility?
V. 15 implores us to be ready for articulating our beliefs. How ready are you? What can you do to enhance your readiness?
What does v. 16 indicate about how we should speak about God?
What might v. 18 indicate about how we do theology is like Christ? (What was His purpose, what is ours?)
For extra credit: vv. 19-22
What is the importance of these passage? Where is this referenced to in church tradition?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Literal reading = serious reading?

One of the ideas I hear floating around is that in order to take the Bible seriously, it must be read literally. I don't usually hear stated just that way, but implied. Part of me really wants to laugh when I hear that way of thinking because I know it is not true and people really don't believe it (or at least they don't practice it!). Reading literally actually comes more from rational Enlightenment influences than from ancient Christian practice. In fact, from the early church onward those who really took the Bible seriously, read it looking for the spiritual meaning within. Later in Christian tradition there developed a four fold pattern for interpreting Scripture. It wasn't until Martin Luther and later Enlightenment thinking that really pushed some to believe only in the literally meaning of Scripture.
The real source of my laughter is that I can tell a literal reading of Scripture isn't followed by those I encounter who profess it. If it were true that people read the Bible literally and practiced is that people would greet me with a kiss (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14), would drink wine (1 Timothy 5:23 - people who usually advocate for literalism also advocate for abstinence with regard to alcohol), and would probably be blind (Matthew 5:29)!
Perhaps the biggest problem with the literalist reading of Scripture is that we become "information gatherers" instead of receivers of God's grace. We look for laws, rules, information, commands, specific individual promises to match our needs in the moment. Rather than Scripture being an object we figure out and control, our role should be receivers whose worldview is shaped by God's story in Scripture. That would take serious the Scripture's role in forming us and transforming us, not simply informing us.
Scripture: Jonah (It's only four chapters. You can do it!)
Some people question whether Jonah describes an actually historical (literal!) event. There is no evidence of a Nineveh conversion to worshiping the LORD as is described in this book. Yet there is nothing within the story of Jonah that suggest it be taken allegorically either. Jesus seems to have believed it actually happened (Matthew 12:41). Instead of looking for facts (was it a whale or a fish? How would someone survive in the belly of a fish?), how would the story of Jonah have challenged its readers originally? What does the book reveal (through Jonah) about Jewish attitudes of pagan, surrounding religions and people? What needed to happen to Jonah in order for him to recognize God's purpose? What might that say about the first reader's relationship with God and their world? How might they be challenged as was Jonah by this book's story that the people of Nineveh, even they, repented? How does Jonah's anger the plant reveal his lack of compassion and highlight God's compassion? How would you summarize Jonah's message? How might we live into that worldview? How is that different that the worldview of our culture?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Inspired? Inspiring?

Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:16
There are many interpretations of this Scripture passage and what the church means in its affirmation that Scripture is inspired. Some, of the more Conservative bent, focus on the inspiration of the original authors and original words of Scripture. Others, of the more Liberal bent, focus on the inspiration of the current readers guided by the Holy Spirit. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement commented on this particular passage, "All Scripture is inspired of God - The Spirit of God not only once inspired those who wrote it, but continually inspires, supernaturally assists, those that read it with earnest prayer." So from his Anglican roots Wesley took a middle way that acknowledges both the inspiration of Scripture as from God and the current inspiration of the reader in the process of reading aided through the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps you've heard of or believe in the doctrine of inerrancy. This doctrine states that the Bible is inerrant (without error) in its original manuscripts. The problem with this to me is it begs the question: which manuscripts? What scholars have in the original Greek especially is not one perfect manuscripts but many and each has slight variations (none of any theological consequence). Thus to say we don't posses original manuscripts. And bigger picture, it just misses the point in my opinion to over focus on Scripture at the expense of the transformational character of Scripture. Through our reading of God's inspired Word in Scripture we are transformed to be God's spoken word in the world. As it has been said before, you may be the only Bible somebody reads.
What are some difference between reading for information versus transformation? Certainly one difference would be the speed at which we read. Are we reading such to say we've finished the book or reading for depth even though it may take a lot longer to do so?
Try reading Psalm 100 (or another favorite Psalm or Scripture passage) several times through. Try reading with different emphasis and at different speeds. What questions surface? Read the passage again so that it speaks freshly not just to your head, but to your inner self. What affirmations are there from God? How would it look like to live out this passage today? everyday?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Good conversation partners

Scripture: Psalm 119:9-16
Yesterday I had the privilege of having a conversation with one of my favorite people. This particular man has lived an extraordinary life through amazing times and in unique locations across the globe. I say conversation, but really I simply asked a few purposeful questions and sat back and listened to his wisdom  and gentleness. He is one of my favorite people to converse with because his life experiences are so differently than mine (age and ethnicity among others) that he sees things in ways I don't and sheds light on them in ways that are challenging.
Scripture is a formative conversation partner for our life as we discover how God has interacted with His people throughout history. The word conversation comes from the Latin word which means "to live with." As our Scripture passage from Psalm 119 notes, God's Word should be our primary conversation partner in our Spiritual Formation. As Robert Mulholland observes, "The question is not whether to undertake spiritual formation; the question is what kind of spiritual formation are we engaged in." 
Who are your spiritual formation partners? Where does Scripture rank in that order?
How might we be in conversation with Scripture instead of simply reading it for study or pleasure? What might be the difference in reading for information, trivia, or as a conversational partner?
How might we ask better questions of Scripture such that Scripture challenges our preconceived notions about life? God? How we think of others?
Find a favorite parable (for example read the lost parables in Luke 10) and allow it to become a conversation partner. Ask and live with such questions as, What might the father be thinking? The older son? The younger son? What does this parable teach us about God? About ourselves? About others? About how we treat others? What new insights have you gained? How will you live them out? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Master of Scripture or Mastered by Scripture?

On my wall resides one of the most audaciously titled degrees. I was awarded a Master Divinity (M. Div.) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary. What you actually learn in seminary is how little we can master the Divine and in fact we are invited to be mastered by the Divine for His service. The same is true about Scripture. We are not called to master Scripture, but to allow it to master us. Thus the purpose of reading and studying Scripture isn't for information or even inspiration, but transformation. When we read Scripture in way where we read our opinions in to it or trying to figure it out like deciphering a code we are masters over it instead of allowing it t master us. We're in control when we read Scripture in such a way that it affirms our already held beliefs, gives us trivial information, supports our opinions. We allow Scripture to be in control when we position our self such that we seek Scripture to challenge our previously held beliefs and inform how we live.
In Robert Mulholland's book Shaped by the Word he suggest we ask as we read, "What is God seeking to say to me in all of this?"
Scripture: John 16:13. John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) stated that Scripture was doubly inspired. It was inspired when it was written and when it is read.
When is the last time reading Scripture challenged a previously held belief?
Would you say you usually come to Scripture seeking inspiration, information, or transformation?
What Scripture passages do you find most challenging?
Do you find reading Scripture to be difficult or intimidating? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So if the world ends Saturday should I buy my wife a birthday present?

So have you heard the world is ending this Saturday? No, not because my wife's birthday is Saturday, but because the Bible predicts it! Okay, so somebody has put out there that they believe May 21st, 2011 will be the day of the rapture and judgment day based on Scripture prophecy. However, the Bible is pretty clear that not even Jesus knew when that would occur making it arrogance upon arrogance for one person to think he or she can figure it out.
Chances are if you're reading this you've lived through others such predictions by others who have claimed to have figured out when Jesus is returning. Such audacious claims stem from a faulty perspective on reading Scripture. The guy who made the prediction said that the Bible is written in code. So rather than seeing Scripture as the story of God's interaction and incarnation among His people, empowering them for a new way of life, Scripture becomes a code to be deciphered as if it's true value lie hidden for only specialist to figure out. Predicting dates is nothing new and has failed each of the many times it has been tried. So my contention is that instead of putting all that effort into trying to figure out a code Scripture is inviting us to an eternal relationship living out the mission of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit both now and for all eternity. Imagine if Christians spent more time, effort, and energy on living God's mission daily what the world would look like and think about Christians and the God we serve! My guess is that living out Scripture on a daily basis is more difficult than trying to decode the Bible (were that possible!). 
However, I will say this about all the end of times doom and gloom bad prophecy predictions - it does remind us Jesus commanded us to be alert and that it would happen when we least expect. Are we living alert to what God is up to around us or so caught in our routine we forget to be on alert?
Scripture - Matthew 24:36
How do you categorize Scripture? Love letter to the church? Codes to be interpreted? A Story God is inviting us to? History? Science?
What does it look like to live a life empowered by God alert to His presence? How would the church's image change if what was reported was not bad, doom and gloom prophecy, but people who served God and neighbors with their hearts, minds, soul, and strength?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Organized Religion?

In an article about his book Naked Spirituality Brain McLaren was asked about his thoughts on "organized religion." McLaren asked, "What are people critiquing when they are critiquing organized religion? I like to say, 'Is disorganized religion better?'" He goes on to assert that people are really objecting to what they see organized religion doing, specifically around right-wing political causes. So then he ask, "Well, what would the right purposes [of organized religion] be?"
Today's Reading: John 13:1-17
What purposes does the church have?
For whose purpose is it when the community of the faithful gather? For whose purpose is the community of the faithful sent?
How would you relate to a friend the purpose of the church? Organized religion?

Friday, April 29, 2011


George Barna in his book Revolution predicts that by 2025 "the majority of US Christians will gravitate out of the local church entirely, and two-thirds will find their spiritual nurture equally in other options.." These will combine together to create "the personal church of the individual."
Our culture's value on human autonomy can be traced back to the Enlightenment which placed humanity as the standard for or the center of all things. Unfortunately, this focus on the individual can shape the way we read Scripture. Take for example the word "you" as it appears in Scripture. We usually read that word "you" as meaning us, ourselves, our person. Yet the word "you" is usually plural, so as to not mean a single individual, but the community of the faithful (even when it is singular). Take for example Jeremiah 29:11 that is often quoted. Try and read it again through the lens that the meaning is all of Israel and not simply an individual. 
Today's Reading: Acts 2:41-47. This time notice the repetition of the word "together."
How biblical is this notion of church that begins with our interest and needs?
How might the rise of autonomy work to undermined the authority of the church in our lives?
How might the sheer number of Protestant denominations show the effects of individualism? Is this a positive or negative for unity within the Kingdom of God?
If a friend asked you why they should join a church how would you answer?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Traditional religion seems more and more replaced by iReligion - a religion that begins with our individual experience, our reason, and our resources. Do you see this as a good thing or a bad thing? This tendency to rely on self and internet resources and other professional services has led some to predict the demise of the church in America. In the current book I am reading the author asks, "Does the future have a church?"
Today's reading: Acts 2:41-47
Some of the conclusions I draw from this passage is how important the community of believers were to the early church. They learned from those who passed down knowledge and experience (apostle's teaching and fellowship). They broke bread together which was not simply an act of remembrance but formed their identity together and helped them to be accountability to one another (see 1 Corinthians). As well they were extremely generous toward one another which helped them to do so for others not yet in the community (rest of Acts). Notice also in this passage the emphasis on togetherness.
How does the picture of the early church challenge how we do church and religion today?
How would you answer the question about the future of the church?
What are other observations you draw from this passage that speaks to today?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ecclesiology - Part I

Due to popular demand (or a few nice people's request) my blog with continue. While before it was mainly a daily devotional, now the blog will included devotional elements as well as random wonderings. No doubt my way of questioning will continue and I invite you to see these questions not as rhetorical, but as conversation starters. Feel free to post your opinions and maybe we'll grow and discover where God is moving together.
Today's question comes from what is a growing interest of mine: ecclesiology or what we think about the church. Because we live in such an individualistic and anti-authoritative culture and with the rise of resources on the internet the church's authority and reach is increasing marginalized. My question for you is where does the church rank for you? Is it vitally important to your relationship with God? Is it important only so far as it was established by Christ but has become corrupted by layers and layers of tradition? For many more today, the church is increasingly seen as one resources among many others (google, wikipedia, spirituality fairs, self-help books, etc.) or regulated to the place of archaic and antiquated.
Today's reading: Matthew 16:13-19
What is Christ's Church build on?
What is the connection for you between individual faith and the church?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lent Day 40 - Mark 16

Easter and fear? The women go to the tomb, not in hopes of resurrection, but to complete the burial process properly. Women were not allowed to be witnesses in court. Yet women are there at Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection. Instead of finding the tomb as expected they encounter an angel who proclaims: "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.   "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"
Scholars continue to debate where the original ending to Mark's Gospel should be. Did Mark really want his Gospel to end on the note of fear (and in the Greek it ends with a preposition)? Was there a longer ending that we're missing? Scholars are agreed that the longer and shorter ending to the book is not original to Mark. Later scribes who knew the resurrection accounts from other Gospels felt compelled to tell us the rest of the story.
However, there are some arguments for this being the original ending to Mark (and it is all we have to go on really). Fear may not be theme most preached on this Easter morning, but fear is a logical response to the events of Easter morning. As we've all heard, there are two certainties to life - death and taxes. The frightful events of Easter morning lead the women to fear because if Jesus has in fact been resurrected, what in the world might that mean? When we feel like we are certain of something, when we feel like it is solid rock beneath our feet and that certainty, that foundation is ripped from under us, isn't fear then the natural response? Perhaps we've become too accustomed to the Good News of Easter. Perhaps fear is one of a number of proper Easter response s- God has raised Jesus from the tomb! Jesus has conquered! With God, all things are possible!
What do you make of Mark's use of women?
What emotions do you feel this morning?
Why does the Easter story give us such hope for today and for the future?
How might fear lead to a deeper understanding of the resurrection?
How does the notion of discipleship change by following a risen Savior?
If you had to explain to a friend why you believed in the resurrection, how would you respond? How would you respond if you had to explain why the resurrection is the source of Christian hope, what would you say?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lent Day 39 - Mark 15 Good Friday (Special Edition)

King of the Jews? Pilate, a historically violent figure, is amazed by this silent King of the Jews. When Pilate tries to release Jesus, the crowds beg for Barabbas. In Aramaic Barabbas means - Son of the Father. In Matthew's Gospel, he is identified as Jesus Barabbas. Which Son of the Father does the crowd want? The violent, murderer, insurrectionist leading Jesus Barabbas or Jesus, King of the Jews who rides into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, who says He can tear down the glorious Temple but will build it up in three days, who heals and teaches forgiveness? Which of these figures is more likely to lead to peace? The religious leaders stir up the crowd against Jesus and Pilate identifies the reason, jealousy (v. 10).
Jesus is condemned to crucifixion, beaten, and mocked. He is mocked by all people, the soldiers, the crowds, and religious leaders all get in the act. All segments of the population both of high status and of none; both spheres of rule, political and religious are all guilty. Jesus quotes the opening line from Psalm 22 which describes the anguish of crucifixion prophetically. Yet it ends with the theme of hope and trust in God's vindication. Even in feeling abandonment, Jesus trust in God's victory.
When Jesus breathed His last, the Temple curtain was torn from top to bottom. Being 40 feet high, this was a sign God wasn't absent from the events of the day. God was working to defeat that which has separated people from God. It was not a political oppression that was the real enemy, but a spiritual oppressor - sin. Satan, also the enemy, no doubt was thinking he too had won. Satan had defeated God's perfect Son. (But as the poem goes - It's Friday but Sunday's Comin'!)
Mark observes a Roman centurion who saw in the way Jesus died, as evidence that He was God's Son. Ironic that religious leaders mock, the disciples were fleeing in fear, yet it is a Gentile soldier who doubtlessly had seen his share of crucifixions sees God at work through Jesus' death.
There are a few women followers of Jesus who watch from a distance (where are the men?). As well a noble man named Joseph of Arimathea secured Jesus' body and lied it in a tomb. No doubt time was of the essence as the Sabbath was beginning so proper burial procedures would have to wait. The stone was rolled in front of the tomb, but this isn't the end of the story because although it is Friday, Sunday's Comin'! 
What does Jesus Barabbas, Pilate, the death of Jesus on a Roman cross, and the charge of blasphemy from the religious leaders tell us about the scope of Jesus' death?
How was Jesus' death a ransom (10:45)? Who did Jesus ransom us from? What was the cost of the ransom? What does it mean to be ransomed? How does it feel that you have been ransomed?
What might it say that a Roman soldier can believe in the God of Israel?
How would you explain to a friend who asked what difference Jesus' death has made in your life?