Lentblog 2015. Day 25:

Ephesians 6:10-17, NRSV:

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


Again, so much has been written about this passage… it’s so prevalent among spiritual “warriors” out there… I think tonight I’ll keep it simple. Just some of my first thoughts as I read through it.

v.10- our strength is in the Lord, and comes from God’s power. Seems to me this is a good thing to remember, lest spirituality become some sort of “me” power trip, which I’m convinced it’s not, faith healers, prosperity gospel folks, and name-it-claim-it nonsense to the contrary.

v.11– if we are in God… through Christ… we will stand against anything the devil throws at us. It’s not a fair fight, even. God is that much more powerful.

v.12– see yesterdays post. 🙂

v.13–  again here the armor is God’s, not mine. These are gifts of grace, not human design. And the whole goal seems to stand, not militantly conquer.

v.14–  truth keeps your pants on… holds everything up and keeps it together. Again, Jesus is truth… truth isn’t some set of things to learn and agree with. Righteousness covers the vital organs, and forms the front of the uniform, like where the insignia might be. Righteousness in Paul is by grace through faith…

v.15 ::screeching tires sound:: wait… I thought we were at war here… I thought these are weapons of a new Christian empire or something… No… It says wear on your feet whatever makes you ready to proclaim the Gospel of PEACE.

v. 16:– Shield of faith protects… extinguishes attack, keeps one alive in the midst of the barrage. By faith.

v. 17:– Salvation protects your head. Again we are protected by something we can’t take credit for. It’s a gift.  Then finally, the sword of the spirit… it isn’t lost on me that out of all the pieces of armor mentioned here, only one is actually a offensive weapon. Everything else is defensive. And by “word of God” here Paul tends to mean more than just like the Bible or something… Much as I hate to disappoint all the folks doing “sword drills” tomorrow in church. Scripturally, cool stuff happens when God speaks… and He speaks through the Spirit.

Blessings,

Mark

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Lentblog Day 24: Choose your battles.

Ephesians 6:10-12 NRSV:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.


Confession time:  I cannot stand the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This is really too bad, because it gives a decent hymntune a bad rap, but I refuse to sing it. The lyrics glorify some sort of Christian Crusade straight out of the bad old days. I tend to agree with General Patton: “War is Hell.” So, as a Christian, I think it’s a bad idea to view ourselves as in some sort of war with the world, with culture, with folks who don’t believe, with ISIS, or really anyone else. 

This is where Ephesians 6 comes in. Paul reminds us that our struggle is NOT against people. Read it again: our struggle is not against people. It’s NOT. It’s not against the world that does not yet believe. It’s not against culture. It’s not against the Republicans or the Democrats.  We’ve got to understand we’re not at war with anybody, really, and as long as the church keeps trying to find, name, prosecute and persecute “enemies” who are flesh-and-blood people, we will fail in the mission of Jesus, which is to redeem all things. Understand this, church… we fail in being like Jesus when we participate in demonizing other people. 

I’ll admit, this is a tough one for me, but in regards to a totally different people group. Folks outside the church don’t aren’t threatening to me any more. I do not see non-believers, hard-core atheists, or folks who a disillusioned with church as my enemies. (I believe in prevenient grace.)  See, for me, my enemies tend to be “church” folks: folks who claim Christianity, but for various reasons don’t live really at all like Jesus. I have a serious problem with the clergyperson or layperson who preaches or says the right Sunday School answer in a church gathering, but then lives as if none of it is true. I’d rather have a conversation with an honest atheist than with a church person who is just playing games.  So perhaps I too am in danger of failing in the mission of Jesus, because it’s easy for me to think my battle is with those people.

So. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to discover a different way. A more Christlike way. A way that remembers who the real enemies are and who they aren’t. I’m not saying we just need to spiritualize every single thing and blame every bad thing that happens on the Devil or something, excusing peoples’ terrible choices and full-blown sin as OK or something. That position is theologically bankrupt. But. We could better understand this passage from Ephesians, I think, and that might lead us through this present darkness. Inside the church and out.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 20: Living an Exposed Life

Ephesians 5:6-15, NRSV:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them.For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
    Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”


I’m reminded of a photography class I took in high school, back before digital photography really existed. We had these interesting devices called film cameras, dark rooms, and enlarging machines. I guess it’s all pretty primitive now, considering what used to take 1/2 an hour in a dark room now takes 5 clicks on PhotoShop (or paint.net, which I recommend) and hitting print. See, we used to have to tightly control how much exposure to light the film or the paper received. Too much exposure ruined what happened in the dark room.

Light does that, you know. It tends to really mess with what happens in the dark. In real life, light exposes things… makes hidden things visible. There’s no hiding the dirt when the light gets turned up. No more pretending things are clean when they really aren’t. This is the life to which passages like this call us. It’s an exposed life. One where there’s no more hiding, because everything has come to light. No more secrets hidden away in dark corners, shamefully (or not) glad the light hasn’t shown them for what they are.

I think the grown-up life in Jesus means walking in the light. Even welcoming it. Letting God heal those things that are too shameful to even mention. No more shame. No more hiding. No more hypocrisy. No more explaining away our willful sinful behavior using stupid cliche’s like, “I’m not perfect… just forgiven.”  It’s groups of people, living exposed, dancing around in broad daylight, unafraid to be seen for who we are, because who we are is being made holy… like, really holy… by the grace of God.

Are you living exposed?

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 18: It’s That Neighbor Thing Again….

Ephesians 4:25-32, NRSV

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.


This one’s tough, because here in this typical Pauline virtue list I hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 22: Love the Lord with everything, and love your neighbor.  I hear the sermon on the mount: Bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse… And that’s tough for me sometimes, especially visa-vis those who have gone out of their way to hurt, damage, or slander you. See, the catch with this whole love your neighbor thing is you don’t get to pick and choose who is your neighbor. Your neighbor is just as much the person who might have hurt you the most in this world as it is the nice grandma-type neighbor who bakes cookies for your kids.

So yeah. This one’s tough for me, because this is not some pie-in-the-sky, unattainable vision for Christian utopia or something. These are Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus, trying to get through to them what the “grown up” Christian life looks like.  That means it’s God’s will for my words to be gracious, even to the “neighbor” who talked junk about me recently to a friend. No room for bitterness. Be angry, but do not sin. Be a people who speak the truth in love. Don’t grieve the Spirit. Forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

Just like everything else in Christian life, methinks to live that out consistently will take miracles of God’s grace. Lots of them. So I find myself asking the Lord to keep having at me. Change me into the type of person who actually embodies this stuff. Make our church into a people who embody this stuff. Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessings,

Mark

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.

Blessings,

Mark

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.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 13

Ephesians 3:14-21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,[g] 15 from whom every family[h] in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

NRSV


I’m wondering what it might mean to be “rooted and grounded” in love. It’s late, and I’m having a hard time getting my thoughts going here… but to be rooted and grounded in something seems to carry with it a certain steadfastness… like a tree whose roots run deep. When a thunderstorm comes along, it might get the crud kicked out of it, but if its roots are deep and strong, it needn’t fear being uprooted. The tree’s roots form its foundation, and they’re also how it gets fed.

So what does it mean to be rooted and grounded… in love? For our strength and daily bread to come from love? Hard concept to pin down, love. It’s always on the move. It’s a relational term, not positional. You can’t hold love in your hand or easily quantify it. Love happens only in relations, between us and God and our neighbors. What does it mean to be “rooted and grounded” in something that’s nearly impossible to nail down?

I’m not too sure. But I suspect it has a lot to do with being in Christ… in the Spirit…

Blessings,

Mark