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

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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 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 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 15: Everyone has a part.

Ephesians 2:2-13; NRSV:

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth?10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.


Thinking some more about the church as I read this portion and beyond… and I think what I’ll say won’t take too many words tonight. Simply put: everyone has a role to play in the church. The point of these roles is to make disciples to train and equip folks for Kingdom life. It’s all for the edification of the church, because the whole is what’s important, not individual promotion or something. Not everyone’s role is the same. That’s OK: God designed it that way. But that doesn’t mean someone’s role is less important because it’s different. What comes to mind is how the gears and other parts fit together in a quality timepiece. gears1Some gears are bigger than others. Some are visible at the surface. Others are hidden underneath the layers of other parts. Yet all of them… ALL. OF. THEM…. are vitally important to the functioning of the whole. Remove one of those hidden, small gears and the whole thing stops working. And there are also no parts who aren’t vital to the whole… no freeloaders or tag-alongs… each part has it’s job to do within the whole.

Something to think about….

Blessings,

Mark

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.

NRSV


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.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 11: The Secret is Out

Ephesians 3:1-6

 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for[a] Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery[b] was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

NRSV


This passage is making a pretty simple yet profound point with me tonight… Paul takes 5 verses to lead up to it, and perhaps he’s doing it on purpose. It turns out there’s been a secret of sorts. And Paul, among others, has been sent to proclaim it from the rooftops to Jews and Gentiles alike:

In Jesus, the Gospel is for “those people,” too. 

In Jesus, outsiders become more than just insiders-who-were-outsiders… more than just people who are welcome in our little club, but aren’t really like us… they become co-heirs. Brothers and Sisters. Full-blown, flat-out equals. Indistinguishable from those who were insiders in the first place. Members of the same body with the same DNA.

That’s a bomb going off to folks who say they welcome new and different people, but keep them at arms length because they’re new and different. Some Jewish Christians treated their Gentile brothers and sisters this way, and Paul goes to great lengths all over the place, not just in Ephesians, to remind them that attitude is not a kingdom attitude.

My prayer is to welcome a bunch of new folks into the Kingdom in the coming days.

Blessings,

Mark