LentBlog 2015, Day 30: It’s not “my” church. Not really.

Colossians 1:15-18 NRSV

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in[h] him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in[i] him all things hold together.18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.


Just a couple of quick reflections on this completely awesome passage… This last part of Colossians 1 is just packed with profound stuff.

The Greek word for image in v.15 is εἰκὼν, “icon.” A theology professor of ours first pointed that out to us about 17 years ago and I’ve been working ever since on what it might mean.

It strikes me again the importance of understanding that Jesus wasn’t God’s “plan B” or something. God is Trinity… Father, Son, and Spirit… and the Son was coming before creation was even a reality. That’s important on a bunch of different levels.

Then secondly, it’s important for us pastor types to remember v. 18 now and again… I’ve heard way too many pastors utter the term “my church.” I’m guilty, too. But when we use those words I think sometimes they really do reflect where our heart is. We’ve come to the place where we view our ministry as “ours.” Mine to manipulate, manage, create, control, and protect. Or something. Probably we need to be careful thinking that way, because Paul in this passage reminds us repeatedly that Christ is to have first place in everything. Anything else is idolatry. And sometimes I think even our own church (and worrying about her “success” or “failure” can become an idol. And that very real temptation to idolatry reveals itself when we refer to the charge we’ve been given as “my church.”

Blessings, folks.

Mark

LentBlog 2015 Day 4: On the salvation of all things…

Ephesians 1:8b-14

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c]having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

NRSV


 I’ll cut right to it tonight because it’s late and I’m bushed.

Verse 10 is hitting on something I’ve been thinking more about lately, especially since I am currently teaching a Theology course for the District Nazarene School of Ministry that deals with soteriology. God’s plan in Christ is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” 

Verses like this and others throughout scripture point to the idea that salvation is cosmic in nature. In Christ, the whole of creation is redeemed as he gathers everything to himself. We live in the country, far enough from a city that we can actually see stars at night. The other night arriving home from teaching, I looked up, saw the amazing view, and thought, “Lord, I sure hope you do redeem everything, because this is a pretty cool place you’ve made.”

What would it mean for all things to be included in what God is redeeming in Christ? For the “New Jerusalem” to descend from heaven to earth?

I think it might mean:

  • The universe is a good place, not a bad one (See Genesis 1).
  • The universe is headed in an overall good direction (as Christ will gather all things to himself) not a bad one.
  • Stewardship of the earth is important…
  • May the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven… the dynamic here again is heaven coming to earth, not the residents of earth escaping to disembodied heavenly blessedness.
  • Gnosticism is for the birds…. though not really for real birds, because they tend to smell and be dirty, which is much too fleshly for a Gnostic.
  • If the Kingdom comes in its fullness to earth, I’m moving to Florida. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015; Day 3: One very important, life-changing word.

Ephesians 1:3-10

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

NRSV


There’s a lot of classic Paul in this passage. Again it contains a bunch of classic Pauline theological buzzwords… including one of the most used and theologically important: the word “in.” This is the word that jumps out at me tonight, and that I’m pursuing. Look how many times Paul uses “in Christ” or “in him” in these few verses:

“In Christ”…

…we are blessed by the Father with every spiritual blessing.

…we are chosen to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world.

…we receive grace freely bestowed on us.

…we have redemption through his blood.

…the Father’s good pleasure is set forth.

…all things in heaven and on earth are gathered up.

And that’s just 7 verses.

That word… “ἐν” (in) all of a sudden becomes pretty important. What does it mean for all this to happen in Christ? What does it mean, as Paul talks about all over the place, for us to be “in” Christ or for Christ to be “in” us?

Probably we could all spend the rest of our lives pursuing being ἐν Χριστῷ. For now, I’m reminded that because all this happens in Christ, it’s not my creation. WE didn’t do any of this. Lest we think we are all that on a Popsicle stick, or that salvation is in any way us making the first or decisive move, we’re kidding ourselves.

My $.02 after a long, tiring, 18-hour day.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 2: Grace and Peace

Ephesians 1:1-2

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

NRSV

Okey… So I think I’ve decided to begin at least with Ephesians during this season of Lent… thought I reserve the right to change mid-stream or go somewhere unexpected when I finish Ephesians.

The opening 2 verses of Ephesians are easy to overlook. They’re the signature, address, and salutation of the letter. They look pretty much the same as every other opening paragraph from Paul. He identifies himself as the author, says to whom the letter is written, and gives a blessing. They’re almost all the same in Paul, and it’s easy to blast past them.

But not tonight.

It’s the “grace and peace” that give me pause tonight.

The first thing Paul does is bless his readers. And he blesses them by wishing them grace and peace.

Grace is a biggie in Ephesians… in chapter 2 Paul reminds us salvation comes only by grace through faith. Peace is one I haven’t done much New Testament word study on, though שלם (shalom, shalem, basically meaning “peace”) is important in the O.T. Philippians talks about the Peace of Christ passing all understanding and guarding our hearts.  It’s not lost on me tonight that Paul wishes (or maybe pronounces?) grace and peace to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus.

I think the rest of v.2 is important… grace and peace come from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I think sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking grace and/or peace really come from ourselves. Or at least what we do or earn or attain (in terms of peace, anyway).

For me, tonight, I find myself keenly sensing my need for both grace and peace. When I think about my life currently, “peace” is not the first word that comes to mind. So for Paul to pronounce grace and peace to his hearers, I hope I’m one of his hearers. And it helps to remember that both come from The Lord.

Lent is about a certain type of hunger. We fast things during this season, so that when we desire them, we are called to prayer. We hunger after righteousness etc. Tonight, I’m hungry for the peace that comes through grace. Maybe you are, too.

Blessings,

Mark

The Calendar makes sense. AKA: Don’t go all out for Advent if you don’t plan to observe Christmastide.

I’ve got a lot more to say than I probably will here, but I want to get this out there because it’s bugging me.

The last several years of our ministry, Stefanie and I have observed the season of Advent more closely. Advent, it turns out, is the season before and leading up to Christmas. It’s a season of waiting. Of longing for the coming of Christ. Of imagining what life might have been like for God’s people during the long, dark night of the decades before the birth of Jesus. To wait. To “mourn in lowly exile here” while singing with all our hearts, “O come, O come Emmanuel!!” At the same time we remember this period of time in the story of God’s people, we also remember we, too, are in a time of waiting. We await the second coming of Christ, where His Kingdom comes to earth as it is in Heaven. Where all things are made new. Where the dragon dies and the Lamb establishes the Kingdom in its fullness.

Observing Advent has certain implications for our worship practices. It means we wait to sing “Joy to the World,” and other Christmas carols until after December 25. It means we search. We seek. We mourn. We practice what it means to live in Hope in the midst of suffering. To anticipate the “not yet” in light of the “already.” To delay our satisfaction Now, if that doesn’t sound to Christmas-y, you’re right. It’s not. It’s Advent-y. Advent Wreath

Several friends and colleagues in ministry (particularly in our tribe, the Church of the Nazarene) are discovering Advent at the same time. It’s becoming trendy. It’s becoming the cool thing to use the Advent wreath, observe some aspects of Advent, hang a blue or purple banner or two, and feel good about ourselves because we’re observing the Christian calendar.

But here’s the catch:

In the Christian calendar, the 4 weeks of Advent culminate in… Christmas. And for most Christians in the history of the Church, Christmastime is twelve days long… not one.

Last year I spent Christmas day in China as part of my bi-vocational job. I was away from my family on December 25, and I didn’t like it at all. Being on the other side of the world in Christmas was hard, and not something I’d like to do again. One thing last Christmas taught us, however, was to celebrate the full season of Christmas. We decided since I would be in China on Dec. 25, we would celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas and make the best of it.

This year we’re continuing the tradition, and we’re learning an important lesson:

If you’re going to celebrate Advent for what it is, make sure you celebrate the full season of Christmas. If we take 4 weeks to wait for and anticipate the coming of Christ, why celebrate Christmas for only one day? It’s like the way we in the West do weddings: we prepare for months, and then BAM! In the span of a couple hours, it’s over.

Christmas tends to work the same way: Weeks of planning and anticipation… and the actual event blows past us in a flurry of shredded paper, well-cooked ham, and a family gathering or two. In the church, Christmas is sometimes observed on the Sunday after the 25th (when it’s not prematurely observed during Advent), but hardly ever is it stretched over the two Sundays encompassed by the 12 Days. I’ve had other leaders in the church look at me weird when I wished them “Merry Christmas” this week.

I realize it’s counter-cultural. I realize it’s December 29th and the “After Christmas” sales are over. I realize our neighbors have turned off their Christmas lights and neighborhoods are doing Christmas tree pickups. I realize Wal-Mart has Valentine’s day stuff out. I realize singing Christmas Hymns during our New Years celebrations will feel weird, and wishing God’s people “Merry Christmas” on Sunday, January 4 might garner a confused look or two.

But, what if…?  What if….

…God’s people (the Church) modeled a different (though not really new) way of marking the time for the world to see?

…we celebrated the full festival of the 12 Days of Christmas, even though the rest of our culture is thinking Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day?

…after the long wait of Advent, we celebrated with all the full-blown joy that only Christmas can bring… for 12 days?

…the old-school Christian calendar really does make sense?

… we all, tomorrow (December 30th) wished our friends, family, and neighbors a full-hearted Merry Christmas?

Blessings and Merry Christmas,

Mark

Merry Christmas

LentBlog ’14 Day 27: On Discerning the Body

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 It really is fun to read through 1 Corinthians and watch a master at work, for to be certain, the Apostle Paul is a master. He’s going further after the divisions in the Corinthian church here, and the picture he paints is pretty bleak. It turns out that when they gather as a church, the Corinthians carry on as if it’s just a regular meal: the well-to-do folks with certain financial and/or social status are turning it into a drunken food fest, while others who are brothers and sisters in Christ go hungry. The elites receive the respect and status they have come to expect. Others further down the totem pole receive nothing.  Paul slams the door pretty hard on this behavior. Why? Because it’s not the Gospel. The instructions for coming to the Lord’s table Paul gave them were what he received from the Lord. And it turns out coming to the Lord’s table is, in fact, pulling up a chair to the Kingdom of God, where there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female… The Lord’s table is a great equalizer, because we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes” (v. 26).  When we are offered a seat at this table, it we must remember that we are equal. All are offered a seat at this feast.  To selfishly consume (and consume, and consume) individually without regard for others puts us in the same boat as those who crucified Jesus. In case we’ve forgotten, that’s a pretty terrible place. Again Paul’s got the Bloated Leech in his sights.. and he’s about to pull the trigger using one of his best analogies for the church.

LentBlog ’14 Day 4: A Short Reminder

(Apologies for this not posting last night… not sure why it didn’t, but here goes…)

Hebrews 2:10-18.

Nothing too profound tonight… at least if by “profound” you mean something extremely important said in a new, catchy, or wordy way. After reading all the BCP (Book of Common Prayer) readings for today, the Epistle again stood out. I almost blogged about my sermon passage this morning, but I figure that would be cheating. So I’m sticking to the discipline– this part of the blog is supposed to be about my engagement with the BCP passages… so here goes:

Lest we forget, the reason Christ has the power over sin and death is because Christ shared in our flesh and blood. He experienced the judgment of sins (not his) and died that way. He was made perfect through sufferings… yea, even death. But forget this not: that’s where our hope comes from, and nowhere else.

Nowhere else.

Christ is the Anknüpfungspunkt. He is the point of contact. And in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. record needle

Lest we forget, and allow our “Christian” stuff (services, gatherings, activities, songs, worship, sermons, ecclesiology, polity, leadership practices, catch phrases, and bumper stickers) to forget this One who was made perfect through bloody, suffocating suffering and become nothing more than Godless exercises in human group dynamics, sociology, and psychology.

Anyway. This is what this passage is saying to me tonight. I think our “Christian” stuff could be so much more… and maybe less.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog Day 19: Heirs… through suffering.

Romans 8:12-16

Paul adds to the Spirit language here by referring to believers who live in the Spirit as “children of God.”

And he’s doing something really neat here, I think. He’s spent some time talking about being a slave to God instead of a slave to sin. He identifies himself as a slave to God in 1:1. But here, he makes a shift: this slavery to the Lord results in becoming children of God. Instead of bondage or heavy-yoke slavery, the Spirit is the spirit of adoption. Of son-ship and daughter-ship. And if we are children of God, we become God’s heirs… heirs to the kingdom.Image

And that’s great… it’s a wonderful promise that’s true. And it’s one of the things we hear a lot about, in a “nyah-nyah… Christians win in the end!” sort of way. In a “justice will be done in the end and my enemies will get what they deserve” kind of way. In a “all we have to do is hunker down and endure, because the rest of these pagans are going to hell eventually and we’ll get our reward” kind of way.

But that attitude tends to ignore verse 17:

  and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

We will be heirs if we suffer with him? 

I read that tonight and it occurred to me… it really is just as Jesus said. The last will be first. To become the greatest we must become the least. To lead we must serve. Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, the persecuted. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are we when folks lie about us and get away with it. 

I guess I feel myself on the edge of something deeper here… Like we’re called to be Kingdom people not because Jesus is going to put the beat-down on the Muslims in the end or something. To be a follower of Jesus for more reasons than he just happens to be the winning team. The way to the resurrection (including our resurrection) goes through the cross. The Way goes through it and not around, under, or over it. 

And let’s face it: being last really stinks. So does being lied about. So does suffering. But it’s the way to inherit the Kingdom, and it’s worth it.

Blessings.

LentBlog Day 17: A Hint…

Romans 7.

Disclaimer: It’s been a crazy long day, but a good one. I’m pretty tired at this point, having watched a movie with my wife and kiddos… so I make no claims about the quality of what I’m about to write except it might be gibberish.

I read Romans 7 tonight and I’m seeing slavery again. Paul is being rhetorical here, setting something up for his hearers. It’s kind-of like a mini-chapter 2, where he points out the futility of the law to set someone right before God. In the end, the law serves a purpose for which Paul is grateful: it brings the knowledge of sin. But bringing the knowledge of sin and being able to set someone free from sin are two different things. For Paul, the law only leads to futility. It will point out where we fall short, but it can’t set us free. It’s powerless on that front.

As a result, you get that oft-quoted struggle found at the end of Romans 7 where Paul’s trying to win the award for how many times one can use the word “do” in one paragraph. If one is trying to be righteous on one’s own, this struggle is the result. The law awakens something in us that we begin to see the crud we’re doing and how it’s not how God calls us  to live. But we’re powerless to really do anything about it.  (This, of course, is tough to preach in a culture that prides itself on pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.) And he does the Paul rhetorical thing here where he builds up the bad news… “who will save me from this body of death?!?”

But in the midst of all this, he gives us a hint in verse 6:

 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

And if you aren’t listening closely, you could blow right by it: It’s the life of the Spirit part. Freedom from the dominion of sin comes from the Father through the son… in the Spirit.

I’m sure I’ll be talking about this tomorrow because Romans 8 is coming, but I will say this: It’s as if the life God calls us to is Trinitarian in nature. Image

That’ll fry your brain pretty quick when you really think about it.

Blessings.

LentBlog Day 9: Something from Nothing.

Romans 4:13-25

So, it’s late on Day 9. I’m quite tired tonight, but Romans is still kicking my tail. I like the discipline this blog is helping me develop. I don’t have much clue how many folks are reading this stuff and have even less of a clue if it’s helping anyone. I do know it’s helping me.  So far, Lent 2013 has been a good thing.

What’s really speaking to me this evening from this passage is this:

“in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed…” (vv. 17-18a)faith

Abraham believed God was a God who creates things that don’t yet exist.  The God who creates something from nothing. God promised him he would be the father of many nations, and all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him. The fact he was an old man married to an old woman didn’t matter to him. Those facts did not cause him to “weaken in faith.”

 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (vv. 20-21)

(The word translated “distrust” here is ἀπιστίᾳ, “a-faith” or “not-faith”)

What’s challenging me tonight is… Do I have anything close to that kind of faith? Here’s a man whose faith did not waiver when God promised him something impossible. He truly believed God could create something ex nihilo. It was that faith… faith that didn’t blink in the face of impossible circumstances… faith that believed God no-matter-what…  that faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.

I’m praying for that kind of faith. Because we are counting on God to create something out of nothing  (and we’re the nothing).