Holy Week Blog 2015, Wednesday: When His Heart was Troubled

John 12:27-36, NRSV

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[e] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah[f] remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”


It had to be discouraging for Him. He taught them, did miracles among them, explained it seemingly every way he could, and still they didn’t really believe. He was facing the cross, and in a few short days all of them would forsake Him, and he knew it. And still He trusted. Still His prayer was for the Father to be glorified in Him– even (and especially) in His death. Still He’s drawing them to believe.

It’s impossible for us to really understand where Jesus is coming from here in this passage. All I think I can really say is that I’m reminded of what Romans says when it calls us to have the faith of Jesus… even (and especially) when we face trouble.

So.

Lord God, I pray for the faith of your Son. I pray when we face troubles, you would grow something in us that’s like Jesus. I pray that your name would be glorified in our lives. I pray for perspective, that you would show us a little bit of the bigger picture, so our light and momentary troubles could be seen as just that. I pray for the light, that you would indeed light our way forward. In the name of your Son, by the presence of the Spirit I pray.

Amen.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 37: The Heart of the Matter

Colossians 2:16-23

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.


Short and to-the-point tonight, I think. I’m pretty tired and I’m fresh out of anything that resembles eloquence at this point.

It seems as though these regulations Paul is going after here are ways of sort-of imposing righteousness from the outside-in. It’s like if someone could be forced to comply with certain kinds of behaviors– observing the rules Paul mentions– they could somehow become Godly. Such things have the appearance of self-imposed piety, but in reality they aren’t of any value to check self-indulgence. Instead, the general motion of discipleship seems here to be living-out instead of imposing. One’s heart and mind are changed, and then one lives out, towards the Head. It seems from this passage Paul says we can be doing all sorts of holy-looking stuff, but not really be transformed. The transformation comes by grace through faith. Then faith becomes faith-in-action, lived out, instead of imposed from the outside.

At least that’s what crosses my mind reading this passage.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 23: With Singleness of Heart

Ephesians 6:1-9, NRSV:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord,[a] for this is right.“Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women,knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.


Methinks this passage is a lot more than just one more of Paul’s “do this, not this” lists for which he is known. And the key is in v.5. He calls on slaves to obey their earthy masters as they obey Jesus. And how do they obey Jesus? “With singleness of heart.”

Because one who follows Jesus with a single-minded heart will be the same person and act the same way whether they are being watched or not. There’s an integrity… a wholeness in the midst of brokenness… that happens when God helps us to love and obey him with a singleness of heart.

And that integrity is not dependent on whether one is slave or free, whether they like their job or not, or whether life is turning out the way they had hoped. It is possible, in Christ, to obey the Lord with a singleness of heart, regardless of circumstance.

May it be so in me. And in you.

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 14: On the Church

Ephesians 4:1-6

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

NRSV


I teach a theology class on Tuesday nights. It’s for pastors who are in training headed for ordination in our tradition, the Church of the Nazarene. Tonight’s session focused on ecclesiology, or the theology of the church.  We talked about the church being One (in unity), Holy, catholic, and apostolic. One of the conclusions we came to together is that in many places, we are in the church living below the poverty level in regards to our calling as the church. We are settling for less. We aren’t living out unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. We tend to fall short of living lives worthy of our calling. And I don’t mean “fall short” in a sort of Calvinistic, “we all fall short, so that excuses our sin” kind of way. I mean we tend not to take words like Paul here in Ephesians 4 very seriously.

See, as I read this passage (and it comes as no surprise to me that this is next up after spending three hours tonight talking about the church), I don’t think Paul is simply setting out some unreachable ideal here. He’s not setting the bar impossibly high in hopes that the church will at least improve a little. I believe the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is actually possible for the church to live-out. It takes grace. It takes work. It takes a whole bunch of God’s people getting over their individualism and personal agendas. It takes leaders and pastors who lead out of love, grace, passion, and wisdom and not fear, guilt, and self-centeredness. I think such a church will be an amazing witness to the world around her, and I’m looking forward to being her pastor.

Blessings,
Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 43: Discerning the Body.

1 Cor 10:14-17, 11:27-32

Thinking tonight about what it means to “discern the body” during Eucharist. For sure we need to remember we are not alone and pay attention to the church– the Body of Christ. And Paul is all over the Corinthians for not paying attention to the poor at the table.

But there’s something else happening here, too:

We must discern the Body of Jesus.

Broken.

Bleeding.

Spent.

Powerless.

Poured out.

Obedient even unto death….

….on a Cross.

Simply put, our position in the church is not a power trip… it’s a death, and the death is ours.

So that we might be raised.

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count as loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

 

 

Blessings on Maundy Thursday,

Mark

 

LentBlog ’14, Day 42:

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

No real clue what to write about this passage, except maybe to say it shows Paul’s burden for a seriously dysfunctional church. He refuses to give up on them, and is always trying to figure out how to talk to them about the Gospel, as well as when.

Maybe there’s a time and place for everything. Maybe Paul’s being right about their issues didn’t mean it was the right time to go to Corinth and say so.

I think I have more to learn about that one.

Maybe I’ll just leave it at that for this one.

 

Blessings,

Mark

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.

Blessings,

Mark

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.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 36: On Veils and Jesus

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

 

Boy, am I tired this evening, and I’ve got a lot on my mind… Annnd this passage from 2 Corinthians 3 isn’t particularly ringing my bell tonight. But the purpose of this blog isn’t to write something earth-shakingly profound each night, but to be accountable for engaging these daily passages, so here goes.

I just finished leading a study of Exodus, and we worked through the whole Moses/veil passage. The idea was the presence of God would descend upon the Tent of meeting. Moses would go in the tent to hear from God. Moses would come out of the tent with his face glowing because of the Glory of God. Then Moses would cover his face with a veil, shielding the people from the intensity of God’s Glory. The thought in this passage is the reason for the veil was because the people were hard-hearted and couldn’t stand the intensity of God’s Glory. That’s true in the Exodus passage, too. They were a whining, complaining, mostly faithless, idolatrous, stiff-necked people. It’s not a stretch for me to imagine God’s Glory being too intense for them to handle. And according to this passage, it’s still to intense for them to handle.

Only in Christ is the veil removed. Only in Jesus does the fullness of God dwell bodily among us. Christ is the image (Greek word: ICON) of the invisible God.  No one has seen God, but Christ has made Him known, and we have seen His Glory… the Glory as of the only Son. (John 1). Only in Christ is there a possibility for the veil to be removed… which means, Christ not only brings the fullness of God to the table, He brings the possibility and capability of comprehending God in the first place. I guess, to me, this means we better be careful saying we know anything about/of/from God outside of Jesus.

 

That’ll take our humanistic-trending theology down a notch or two.

 

Blessings,

Mark