Holy Week Blog 2015, Tuesday:

John 12:20-26, NRSV:

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.


This is another one of the tough teachings of Jesus in John. Brought to you by the same Gospel that quotes Jesus telling his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Now we’re supposed to “hate” our lives?

My mind asks this question… could it be, perhaps, that even our own life could be an idol if we love it more than we love the Lord? Could even our own life take God’s place as #1? The answer seems an obvious yes. Yes it can.

Here again, in the midst of Holy Week, especially in the midst of Holy Week, we are reminded that a death is involved in Christianity. And the death is mine… in Christ.

Blessings,

Mark

Holy Week Blog, Monday: Power that corrupts.

John 12:1-12 NRSV:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.


I think one of the important things happening in the Gospel of John is the power dynamic at play. Time and again the Jewish religious leaders try to assert their power over Jesus. It’s a power they’re used to wielding. If they decided to put someone out of the synagogue, they were out. If they wanted someone stoned to death, it usually happened. In this passage, they conspire to murder Lazarus because Lazarus as a living, breathing miracle of Jesus was eroding their power base.  If the Jews’ religious power disintegrated because of Jesus, they are left with nothing. They are the big kids on the block, and when their power is threatened, they seem unwilling to stop short of anything– even premeditated murder– to eliminate the threat.

I guess my response to this is something like a warning to leaders in the church to be aware and very careful how we use power. Power really does tend to corrupt, and religious power is pretty potent stuff among religious people. So be careful. Be careful not to hold too tightly to the little kingdoms we build. Be careful, lest we do the wrong thing when the Real Kingdom comes and threatens our power… because it will threaten our power. In those moments, remember it’s not about you. (Nor is it about me, either.) If the Kingdom of Jesus means I lose my position as the big cheese (and make no bones about it— that’s precisely what it means.) then so be it. Come, Lord Jesus

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 40: Towards Outsiders…

Colossians 4:2-6, NRSV:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.[a]Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.


We live in the great State of Indiana. I like Indiana. I grew up here, and being back in the state after 16+ years away is in some ways like putting on an old, well-fitting T-shirt. In some other ways, though, it’s also like a bad Twilight Zone trip.

This week, the Indiana governor signed a bill into law that supposedly promotes something like “religious freedom.” Lots of right-wing, politically conservative Christians are celebrating in the streets, touting a major victory. Lots of centrist and left-wing, politically liberal Christians are shouting just as loudly, claiming this new law is a license to discriminate.

I’m left shaking my head. My non-Christian friends are taking to their Facebook walls and Twitter accounts  pointing out that we all look like a bunch of idiots.

I haven’t read the whole law. I know I need to. We celebrated Sabbath today and did a sum-total of not much around the house.

But here’s the deal for me tonight: this passage from Colossians calls us to:

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.[a]Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders. Towards folks not yet in the faith. Towards folks who might not believe God even exists, let alone that Jesus is the savior. Towards folks who live as if they haven’t met Jesus, not forgetting that some folks in the church act as if they haven’t met Jesus.

Let your speech be gracious to them. Now repeat that. LET YOUR SPEECH BE GRACIOUS TO THEM.

Folks, in the midst of Facebook wars, boycott threats, and “religious freedom” acts, could we please… like, pretty please with sugar on top… stop trying to win some culture war and start seeing people with Kingdom eyes? PLEASE? 

It seems to me the role of the Kingdom in this world is not to defend my rights. It seems to me we’ve got far too much work to do living-out prevenient grace to spend too much time worrying about such things. Because here’s the thing: as Christians called to live out a Kingdom ethic, we will not agree with the lifestyle choices many people make. It happens. But our speech, our attitudes, our politics, and for Pete’s sake our Tweets and Facebook posts can and must be gracious. And if that means someone infringes my “rights” every so often, so be it. We’ve got bigger fish to fry and a much more redemptive calling.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 39

Colossians 3:12-17 NRSV:

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[f]has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[g] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[h] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


Honestly, y’all, its been a long, challenging day. This passage is speaking to me profoundly, but my responses are probably, at least for tonight, best left not splattered all over an internet blog.  I think I’ll leave it at that and bid you goodnight!

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 38: Truth-Telling As a Core Value.

Colossians 3:1-9, NRSV

 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your[a] life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.[b] These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.[c] But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive[d]language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal[e] there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!


“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self and all of its practices.”

Been thinking about this one a lot lately. Stefanie and I are planting a church in the Muncie, IN area. Part of working out what this new congregation might look like is developing a list of core values (or something). I’ve gotta say, we’ve come to the place in our lives of ministry that we are pretty solidly set on “truth telling” as core value #2. “Being Christian” (whatever that means) is core value #1. But #2 is “Being Honest.”

We intend to tell the truth:

  • to each other
  • about each other
  • about God
  • to God
  • to ourselves.

A good friend of mine said to me last week, “a good way to avoid answers you don’t want to hear is to avoid asking the question.” He’s right… and he wasn’t suggesting that as a healthy course of action… but such practices reek of dishonesty. It seems the way of discipleship is paved with honesty. Confession… grace… love… healthy relationships with God and people… healthy conflict resolution… all of those things can’t really happen the way they’re intended without honesty being in the picture in a big way.

I think a lot of good folks are living-out lies. I think maybe because the truth sometimes hurts. Sometimes acknowledging the truth will prompt changes we aren’t comfortable with or think we’re ready for. So it’s easier to avoid or bury the truth, give in to fear, and avoid the necessary, perhaps painful change.

But it’s better, especially as leaders, to face a painful truth head-on than avoid it and continue living a collective untruth.

Blessings all…

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 37: The Heart of the Matter

Colossians 2:16-23

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.


Short and to-the-point tonight, I think. I’m pretty tired and I’m fresh out of anything that resembles eloquence at this point.

It seems as though these regulations Paul is going after here are ways of sort-of imposing righteousness from the outside-in. It’s like if someone could be forced to comply with certain kinds of behaviors– observing the rules Paul mentions– they could somehow become Godly. Such things have the appearance of self-imposed piety, but in reality they aren’t of any value to check self-indulgence. Instead, the general motion of discipleship seems here to be living-out instead of imposing. One’s heart and mind are changed, and then one lives out, towards the Head. It seems from this passage Paul says we can be doing all sorts of holy-looking stuff, but not really be transformed. The transformation comes by grace through faith. Then faith becomes faith-in-action, lived out, instead of imposed from the outside.

At least that’s what crosses my mind reading this passage.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 36: The Fullness of God Dwells Bodily.

Colossians 2:6-15, NRSV

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives[b] in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe,[c] and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision,[d] by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God[e] made you[f] alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed[g] the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.


Our old “friend” Gnosticism is back, except it’s most decidedly not our friend. See, there was this idea that God is totally spirit. That flesh, and matter, and earthly stuff is evil. That the way to really get to God was to overcome all this lowly, earthly, fleshly stuff and get “in the spirit” or something, because that’s where God is, and that’s where God calls us.  On the surface, it doesn’t sound so bad, right? I mean, doesn’t God want us to get beyond this fallen earth with all its troubles? Isn’t heaven a place where our spirits can finally be free of these earthly bodies and become truly one with God?  Isn’t God going to destroy the earth anyway? Aren’t we to worship “in the Spirit,” meaning we’ve got to get our eyes off this stuff and lift them up? Isn’t “up” where God is?

The problem with all that kind of thinking is that in Christ, God most decidedly does not remain “up.” He does not remain totally “spirit.” In Christ, “the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Bodily. Like, bodily. God isn’t “up.” God, in Christ, is with us. God became one of us. And he did it so he can redeem, transform and reconcile all this earthly “stuff.” This is the heart of the incarnation and atonement in Jesus. Christ was fully God and fully human.

Remember that the next time some ignorant worship leader prompts you to set aside your context, your struggles, and the week you’ve had, and get “in the spirit,” so you can “truly” worship God.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 35: Abounding in Thanksgiving

Colossians 2:1-7

For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself,[a] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments.For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives[b] in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving


It’s the last phrase of this passage that caught me tonight: the life lived in Jesus, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, will be “abounding in thanksgiving.”

Makes me think again about how all the best stuff comes from the outside of us. See, if I wind up “abounding in thanksgiving,” that seems to assume that I have something to be thankful for… which in this context means grace. Thankfulness assumes someone has done something nice or good for me that I didn’t deserve. It’s grace. So I wonder what it would mean to abound in thanksgiving?  I think for starters it means one is abounding in grace. Right in the midst of the flow of God’s grace…

Worth thinking about.

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015, Day 34: Christ in Us.

Colossians 1:24-29, NRSV

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.


Kind of a back-to-basics message in this passage for me tonight. Paul waxes eloquent a little about his commission to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles… to share the big mystery that has been revealed after being hidden for so long. What’s profound to me is his statement in v.27  of what the mystery actually is: The Mystery is Christ in us. Paul talks a lot about people being “in Christ.” But here he speaks of Christ being “in” us.

The other main thing in that verse is this, methinks: The hope of glory is Christ, not us. Christ in us is the hope of glory. It’s not a human-made thing. It’s not us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, trying to better ourselves. The best stuff really does come from outside ourselves. If it is human-made, or somehow it becomes a thinly-veiled form of humanism or something, then it’s not the Gospel. The power of the Gospel comes from Jesus. Paul admits as much in v.29 when he says his stuggle is powered by the energy inspired by Christ.

That’s a good reminder of the fact this whole thing really does rest on his strength and not ours.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 33: Unless A Seed Dies…

John 12:23-25

23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.


I’m taking a break from Colossians tonight to reflect on part of the Lectionary Gospel reading for today. It made an impression on me last night in our Muncie Restoration Community worship gathering. Unless a grain of wheat dies and gets buried, all it will ever be is one grain of wheat. It takes a bunch of individual grains to really make anything.

But if it dies, and is buried… it will germinate and bear much fruit. When you think about it, when that seed germinates and starts growing, the growth breaks the original seed apart and it eventually becomes unrecognizable. The seed ends up being destroyed, in a way. But oh, the growth and multiplication that happens through the death of that one seed! Wheat-growing-in-field

See, I think in the church and in our lives, we like our little grain of wheat. It’s precious to us. It’s a miracle. Get enough of them together and you can really do something. So protect it. Shield it. Put it in a display case and admire it for the wonderful creation it is. See my wonderful piece of wheat?

It never seems to dawn on us that perhaps that grain of wheat could be an offering of trust to the Lord. If we would… if we would give it to the Lord to crucify it with him, I wonder what might happen. It might be multiplied a hundred times over. I think it’s time we let the seed… whatever it is… die. Let it fall to the ground so it can have a shot at fulfilling its intended purpose. Let it go. It’s not really yours or mine to begin with.

Blessings,

Mark