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 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 29: Paul’s Prayer… for Us.

Colossians 1:9-14, NRSV

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s[d] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled[e] you[f] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


So, tonight this passage is hitting me in a way it and passages like it never have before. I feel no desire to do word studies or try to read the Greek here.

Just this:

As I read this just now, I tried to imagine Paul (or maybe one of our mentors, or one of our brothers and sisters in the church) saying them to me. And I find I need to hear every single word of this passage. It’s a blessing, really. Paul is praying some pretty profound things for the church in Colossae. Tonight, I feel like someone is praying them for Stefanie and I. And I gotta tell you, we need it.

And all of a sudden, the God who stands behind and previous to the scriptures speaks through them. And the Word (Jesus) is pretty much what I think I needed to hear tonight.

Thanks be to God.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 26: Paul’s Concluding Request

Ephesians 6:18-23, NRSV:

 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,[d] 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus will tell you everything. He is a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the whole community,[e] and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ


Ya gotta love passages like this in Paul. He’s in prison, chained for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus as the Messiah. His Jewish countrymen for the most part want his head on a plate. And as he concludes his letter to the church at Ephesus, he asks for their prayers. NOT so he can get our of jail. NOT that his circumstance will change. NOT so that he can get out there and start more churches or something. He asks them to pray that he would be able to preach with clarity and boldness about the Lord Jesus, which is the reason he’s in chains in the first place.

It’s almost as if he’s got other priorities than his level of comfort or something.

More I’m thinking about in relation to this, but I shant publish it publicly. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

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 21: The Music of God’s People.

Ephesians 5:15-20, NRSV:

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Reading this passage, vv 19-20 jump out at me a little this evening. It says being filled with the Spirit can be accompanied by singing and other kinds of music-making. A couple of things stand out to me:

– The songs happen “among yourselves” (plural). This is, again, a church thing and not an individual thing.

– It doesn’t say they are all “happy-happy-joy-joy” songs, does it? At all times and for everything, our singing is to be eucharistic… “with thanksgiving.” What would it mean for that to include songs of lament, for example? Reading this passage, one might assume that being filled with the Spirit means the stuff we will write and sing will always be happy, energetic, and peppy or something. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t reflect real life. I’m pretty sure someone could be “in the Spirit” and still have a terrible day (or month or year…) and the song in their heart could be one that gives thanks through lament.

-The church as the diverse-yet-unified Body of Christ means we’re not all playing the same instrument, and that’s a good thing. An orchestra really only needs one piccolo, for example. And one set of timpani, unless you’re playing The Planets by Holst. But seriously, if the whole orchestra were a clarinet, where would the french horns be? And an orchestra without horns would be a terribly sad thing.

I wonder what kind of music our people are making this week?

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 19: Of Locker Rooms and Kingdom life

Ephesians 5:1-5, NRSV:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[a] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints.Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

 So I’m reading this again and again tonight, wondering what to say… And not a lot is coming to me except maybe this:  Paul is doing a vice list here, laying out specific behaviors to avoid. He lists them twice, using the same terms, in v3 and v5, with a little caveat on obscene talk in v4.

Paul says we’re not to be:

– involved in “fornication,” which tends to mean adultery but is also used as a sort-of generic term for sexual sin. Greek here is Πορνεία, “porneia,” which is the same root word as prostitute and from which we derive “pornography,”  which is perhaps literally translated “prostitution in writing.”

-impure– Greek ἀκαθαρσία, “a-catharsia” which denote uncleanliness, lewdness, and impurity, many times with a sexual connotation.

-Greedy, which he equates with idolatry.

In the midst of this, he says “obscene, silly, and vulgar talk” has no place among God’s people who are growing up.

The image I have in my mind is of a high school varsity (or perhaps college or pro-level) locker room. Lots of fornication, impurity, greediness talk. Lots of silly vulgar talk.

Now, I know not every person involved in high level sports or something is engaged in this garbage, and that athletes exist all over the place who try to embody a Christian ethic in a difficult spot… But I think the typical locker room  stuff is a decent picture of what Paul is talking about here. And it’s the kind of stuff our society tends to promote: the womanizing, rich, carefree sports jock or rock star life.

Paul says such a life is not a Kingdom life. Instead, love (and that’s agape for those of you playing at home, not eros) must rule all… love that lays its life down for others. Love that holds its tongue and speaks εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) “thanksgiving” instead. (Yes, that is the same root from which our “Eucharist” or Holy Communion comes…)

I guess what this passage is saying to me is it’s time for the high school jock or rock star wanna be in all of us to grow up. The Kingdom life leads us elsewhere.

Blessings,

Mark