Lentblog 2015, Day 17: The Truth Is In Jesus.

Ephesians 4:17-24; NRSV

17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

So here Paul launches into the “complaint” part of his letter. It’s consistent with what he just told them: Look y’all, it’s time to grow up. What jumps out at me is verse 21:

” For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.” I’m reminded of some things we tend to believe in my tradition, at least when we’re true to our tradition and haven’t been theologically morphed into sort of baptistified Nazarenes (Apologies to any Calvinist-leaning friends reading this… however the truth is we really do believe some significantly different things).  We tend to believe that truth exists. And His name is Jesus. Now what that means is that truth is not something I can sort of objectively hold in my hand outside of what happens in Jesus. That also means truth doesn’t exist outside of God’s self-revelation in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of John reminds us that the Spirit will guide us into all truth. And the Spirit reveals Jesus, who reveals the Father.

Here’s an example: When Modernity (or the Age of Reason) says something like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” I guess I don’t really believe that anymore. Let me explain… it’s not that I don’t believe that “all [people] are created equal” isn’t true. It’s that I do not believe that bit of truth is self-evident. I believe wholeheartedly that for us to understand what it means to be created equal, that truth only happens in Jesus.  This little experiment called America states in the Declaration of Independence that it’s “self-evident” that all are equal. And then we’ve lived out the last 230-something years proving we don’t really understand what that truth means. I think it’s because we got the source wrong in the first place. I think it’s because we really do believe we can come to truth without Jesus. We can know something because it’s self-evident. But we’re wrong, and we’ve been wrong from the beginning. Truth is in Jesus, which makes our knowledge of any truth at all totally dependent on him. Truth is a Person, no a data set.

We make the same mistakes in the life of the church. We’ve turned theology… theology for Pete’s sake… into a set of propositions to be learned, memorized, and agreed with. It’s facts and data points to be assented-to. And again, we’re wrong. That might be the ‘Merican way, but it’s not he Way of Jesus Paul is speaking of here. Truth is in Jesus. Knowledge of the truth, let alone living it out, happens in relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Such a reality, I think, would really fry our bacon if we really thought about it.



LentBlog 2015, Day 16: It’s time to grow up.

Ephesians 4:14-16; NRSV

 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

I think it’s time to grow up. One of the things I’ve solidly learned in the last, say, 6 years of my life is that most of the people of God really are ready to go deeper in their knowledge of theology, scripture and doctrine. No, really- they really are. Now, a few brothers and sisters exist (in every tradition I suppose) who are content to stay theological children, seemingly comfortable in their theological puberty (though I doubt “comfortable” is the right word), and saying things like, “theological education has gotten us nowhere… it’s time to just chuck it and go back to Acts 2” or something. Such teaching sounds good and desirable… I mean, who wouldn’t want to get back to an Acts 2 kind of church, right?

The problem is, such teaching leaves people as theological children, immature in their faith regardless of how many ecstatic “experiences” they may have had. And though they may not realize it, the kind of emotionalism fostered in such teaching becomes addictive. It’s like a drug. People want the feeling of experiencing God’s presence in an emotionally charged gathering. Such an addiction must be fed, so folks look for more and different ways to generate that experience and the feelings it fosters. What winds up happening is such people, and their leaders, are “blown about by every wind of doctrine.” Emotionalism and anti-intellectualism are themselves doctrines. Bad ones. And it’s time for a lot of us to grow up.

How do we grow up? I think as pastors we have to be life-long learners, submitting our theology and doctrine to a mentor or two who have been around the block more than we have. Then we have to… HAVE. TO. Intentionally offer opportunities for our people to grow deeper. Don’t assume because someone is barely a high school graduate and not the “intellectual” type that they aren’t hungry to engage the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation of Jesus, and the reality of the atonement. I’ve seen proof of the exact opposite in the last few years of my ministry. Quit allowing our people to live under the false assumption that those words are just for seminary ivory-tower folks. They’re not. They’re for regular old folks in our churches. Farmers and teachers and plumbers and doctors. They’re for retired truck drivers and grandmas and college students and realtors.

Me must, as an act of worship (and a lot can and must be said about that), teach our people what it means to speak truth in love. We must learn what it means for the church to be the body that embodies the Kingdom. What it means to grow up into Christ, and what it means for Christ to be the head. In short, we must make disciples, and at some point, our disciples have to progress from baby’s milk to solid food. It’s time to grow up.



LentBlog 2015, Day 12: Through the Church…

Ephesians 3:7-12

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see[c]what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[d] God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.[e] 13 I pray therefore that you[f] may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.


Gotta say it, even though there’s more happening here in this passage, it’s what is speaking to me tonight on this snowy first day of (meteorological) Spring.

Verse 10 jumped off the page and smacked me in the face tonight. It’s by far not the only place the scriptures mention this idea, but here it is again:

 so that through **the church** the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known …”

Did you catch that?  I don’t want to miss it, and I don’t want you to, either: the wisdom of God is made known  διὰ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, through the church.

::impending snarkiness alert:: But I could have sworn it said God is made known primarily by folks reading the Bible, or through apologetics, or through “Christian” bestselling books, or through overly repetitive not-so-creative Christian music, or though hip, trendy pastors preaching hip, trendy sermons, or special crusades, or name-it-claim-it, neo-charismatic emotionalism? Morpheus1

Nope. In this passage, and other places splattered throughout the New Testament, the world (and beyond) knows about Jesus being Lord through the church.  They will know Jesus is the Messiah, and this the wisdom of God in Christ, by watching how we live in the world. I’m reminded again of what one of my Seminary professors said: “Don’t forget: God has one plan for the redemption of the world… The Body Plan. And there is no Plan B.”

Man, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Through the grace of God in Christ by the presence of the Spirit, let’s get to it.



LentBlog 2015, Day 8: On the Means of Grace

Ephesians 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.


Second post for tonight because  had to catch up on missing last night’s post. I may blog about this passage again tomorrow, we’ll see. What’s speaking to me tonight, though, is Paul’s emphasis that salvation comes by grace. Now, this is an obvious theme of Paul and one of the 2 foundational doctrines of the Christian faith (the other is Trinity). Salvation by grace through faith is obvious to everyone within 10 feet of othodox Christian faith…

… and yet….

….we tend to de-emphasize the Means of Grace in the life of the church.

I’m 100% convinced, I think, that helping facilitate the connection between out people and the means of grace is the most important thing we pastors can do.

Think about it- If we’re saved by grace, and in our churches we aren’t paying attention to the ways in and though which grace moves in and out of the lives of our people, then we are missing out on the very ways the result of which our people are saved, made new, and formed into Christlikeness. If that’s true, then we are in danger of becoming the very thing the average atheist views the church as: just another human-made system designed to help people cope, feel better about themselves, control morality and ethics, and exert power, many times inappropriately.  IF we neglect the means of grace… IF our people never really connect with grace… then we are basically practical atheists. Such a church can do a lot of stuff, even in Jesus’ name, and never really see anyone truly changed.

I think that’s one of the things I like about Lent. Among other things, it offers us the chance to examine how the means of grace are working in our lives, and what patterns of living may we delete from or add to our lives in order to be better aligned toward the flow of God’s grace.



LentBlog Day 7: Too Small A Thing…

Stefanie and I went to the NEI District (That’s Northeastern Indiana District Church of the Nazarene for those of you playing at home) Discipleship Ministries Spirit Rally last night with Dr. Dan Boone preaching. We got back late, and I wanted to blog about it briefly but honestly, I fell asleep staring at an empty blog page.

Essentially, Dan preached on being the people of God in Exile from Isaiah 40-55. One of the main reminders from our time together was a quote from Isaiah 49:6. God says to those in exile,

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

He challenges those in exile to look beyond just the restoration of their “good ole days” fortunes in times gone by when things were good, comfortable, and “successful.”  It turns out God has bigger fish to fry than that. God is a creative God who is about to do something new, and the people have set their sights too low. It’s a small thing to merely restore the good ole days. God has an entire world to redeem and he intends to use these exiles to do just that.

What if we, too, have set our sights too low? As we long for the good ole days where Christian values and ethics were (at least on the surface) the dominant shaping force in culture, we could very well ignore that God has WAY bigger fish to fry than Christians winning some culture war to bring back days gone by. He’s got a bigger vision for us than that…

…if we’ll embrace it.



LentBlog Day 40: On Grace- Conduits, not Cups.

2 Corinthians 1:1-7

Check this out:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. NRSV

Here’s the dynamic: Paul praises God, who consoles him in his sufferings. God helps Paul, and Paul in turn helps others. God’s help for Paul in his suffering results in Paul helping others in their sufferings.

I’m reminded of a thought my friend Oliver Phillips once said while preaching at the church I pastored. He said, “God’s grace is always on the move. It’s always going through you on its way to someone else.”

Dr. Charles Gailey, missions prof at Nazarene Seminary when I was there, used to talk about us becoming “conduits of God’s grace.” A conduit is a pipe… its pipepurpose is to facilitate the flow of water (or something) from one place to another. As the pipe fulfills it’s purpose as a conduit, it winds up being full itself… but it’s a different kind of  “full.” It’s a full that is being filled, not just a static, full vessel. The fullness experienced by the conduit is one of continual renewal and re-filling.

And I see that dynamic in this passage. See, we tend to thing God wants to help just us. As if answering my prayer or meeting my need is the point of this whole thing. That’s a bad tendency. If Paul really means what he says here, God’s consolation for Paul (grace) is working through him to help others. It’s not just for him… it’s always on its way to someone else. And it is impossible to a) acknowledge that fact and b) participate in it if we are so focused on ourselves and our needs that we ignore the other. We need to recognize our role as conduits, not cups.

It’s almost as if Paul is really serious about the faith being way more an “us” thing than a “me” thing.



LentBlog ’14; Day 37: On Clay Jars and the Source of Theology.

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

This passage is pretty special to me. Not just because Paul makes his argument so well… but that it reflects and informs a major theme my theological life.

See, I believe quite strongly as a pastor-type that one of our primary roles is that of theologian. (Lots to unpack there, but I’ll spare you.) I believe everything the church says and does is first of all theology: Words from/of/about God.

I also believe Barth is right in Evangelical Theology that all (ALL) theological words are preceded by the Word (that is, Jesus) who inspires them, provokes them, and makes them possible. All theology is in response to the Word which comes to us first. And for our theological words to be anywhere close to accurate visa-vis God, they must be inSpired in the moment.

And I think that’s what Paul is saying here.

He’s in the middle of this case where he says his words are not his own. He isn’t peddling the Gospel like a vacuum cleaner salesman. The authority comes from Christ himself.

And so we have 2 Corinthians 4:

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.  NRSVclay pot

We have this treasure… this Gospel… this Word from/of God… this theology… in a clay jar to prove it’s not from us. It’s not ours. It’s not even really on-loan to us. It’s given by the Father, through the Spirit and in Christ, to us in the moment. 

That’s why I’ve always said stuff like, “I think God might be saying….” Because I might be wrong. The power and authority are GOD’S, not mine.

And I think us theologians need to hear that every once in  a while.



LentBlog ’14, Day 23: Discipleship, Wrestling meets, and Intentionality.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27

There’s a lot happening here.. From the oft-misinterpreted “all things to all people” passage to the essence of Paul’s call. It’s hard to pick what to reflect upon because there’s so much there.

In light of all that, I think I’ll talk about my son Nick for a bit. Nick is 6, in kindergarten, and absolutely loves life. We’re trying to give him some opportunities to try new things, knowing he’ll find one or two things he really likes to do so he can do them well.

This winter/spring, Nick started wrestling in the local school’s wrestling club. They have kids anywhere from 4 to 14 or so, at all levels of experience. I wrestled 7 years between Jr Hi and High school, so I’m able to help the little guy as he gets started. One thing about novice wrestlers: they have no sense of technique or wrestling instincts. As a result, when the whistle blows, they tend to flail. They move around, sometimes with a great amount of energy, but there’s no purpose behind their movements. A wrestler with a year or two of experience under his/her belt knows better. They have a plan for what moves to hit and when. They have developed instincts that tell them what to do next, and they do it on purpose with no flailing.

If you put a total novice up against one of those experienced wrestlers, the results are usually short, decisive, and predictable. The wrestler with a plan wins almost every time.

I think this is what Paul’s talking about in our lives of faith when he says,

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not NickWrestlingbe disqualified.  NRSV

Don’t run aimlessly… don’t flail the air if you’re boxing… you’ll lose. Instead, structure your workout and the match so that you have a plan, and then execute the plan. In short, willy-nilly, unintentional discipleship is going to get its butt kicked. 

Last Saturday was Nick’s first wrestling meet. His first match was brutally short, because he went out there and flailed against an experienced
opponent. The second match was different. Nick had a plan, and he went out there and beat the guy with his plan.  I wish we as individuals, families and churches could learn the same lesson with the wrestling match we’re in. If we’re flailing around, looking for the next flash in the pan thing that’ll make us feel good for a minute, we’re going to get rocked. Effective discipleship is intentional, purposeful, and long-lasting.





Ecclesiology, church hopping, and “we’re leaving.”

I’ve heard it dozens of times, and last week we heard it again. “We have made a decision. We’re leaving this church and looking for a new church.”  If you’re anywhere within 50 feet of a church in the West, you’ve heard it, too.

This particular family’s leaving came as a near total surprise to all of us. There’s no known conflict. No known hard feelings. No known weirdness. Just “We’ve made a decision we’ve been thinking about for a year now.”BreakUp

I’m experiencing a bunch  of emotions when I heard it this time.  At first I was a little angry at the family. I went through the possible real reasons they might be leaving. I did not and still don’t believe in a situation where “everything is fine” this family has no underlying reasons for breaking fellowship with their church.

I felt terrible for the Sr. Pastor of the church.  This is not the news he needs right now, and I’m growing weary of my friends and colleagues getting beat up by dysfunctional church dynamics.

I felt frustration… At what point do people think divorcing (and “divorce” is the right word here) themselves from the life of a church is entirely up to them?  Don’t they realize they have been given to this community of faith just as much as it has been given to them?

And with a sigh and a prayer for mercy, I remembered the lesson I’ve learned so many times the last few years:

The answer is “no.” No, they don’t understand. They don’t understand their family is a gift to the faith community and by leaving they are depriving the community of a gift from the Lord. They do not understand why “divorce” is the right word for what they are doing. They don’t understand why church shopping is contrary to God’s will for their lives and the life of the church.  They don’t understand a pastor’s pain in their leaving might have nothing at all to do with a lower statistical report.

The simple fact is this: This particular family is a product of the church growth movement that has decimated (and continues to decimate) our churches. They are living as they have been taught to live… by the church.

And my frustration at them melted away into a larger concern for the church.

As Tony Jones graphically represented in his blog last week, entire generations are leaving the church and not looking back. A lot of people who “feel led” to leave wind up hopping from place to place until they eventually hop on out of the church completely.

I am convinced one of the main reasons they’re leaving is because we’ve taught and embodied a bad ecclesiology for a long time. They’ve got a skewed, flawed, incorrect definition of what “church” is in the first place. And it’s not really their fault. It’s ours. It’s the pastors’ and church leaders’ fault. When we made numerical growth the #1 priority, we committed idolatry. Over time, that idolatry eventually changed our idea of what the church should be. And now we get to read posts in social media where a seemingly solid, committed family “breaks up” with their church like it’s a normal part of life.

Fixing this problem– particularly in the life of a local church that has swallowed the Church Growth movement hook, line, and sinker– is going to take a lot of time, patience, vision, and intentionality. It’s going to take serious theological/practical work. We’ve got a lot of change to experience to consistently embody a Church that Christ might actually recognize as His Bride. It’ll take a miracle. A bunch of miracles, in fact… because manipulating church systems to affect spiritual change is what got us into this mess in the first place. We mustn’t forget that.

So let’s get at it. Let’s quit reading about it, looking longingly at other ministries that are doing it, wishing we could do it, and start seeking something better.