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

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LentBlog 2015, Day 31: The incarnational, reconciling, upside-down, way of Jesus.

Colossians 1:18-20 NRSV:

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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.


So much in these three verses. The profound incarnational statement of verse 19. The idea that in Christ all things, whether on earth or in heaven, are reconciled. (This of course means that Jesus’ goal isn’t just to save our disembodied souls or something… salvation is cosmic… everything gets to be redeemed. Take that, Gnosticism.)

Then the upside-down way God makes peace… not through power, superior strength, or show of force, but through the cross.

Worth thinking about, y’all.

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 31: On Love as the Greatest of these..

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

It’s a crying shame the most common place we hear this passage read is at weddings.  Just a short reflection on the Love chapter:

This passage means more when you look at it in-context with what Paul is doing in the letter. It’s helpful to remember Paul is writing to a church with divisions, sin issues, and an inflated sense of its own righteousness. They’re puffed up with pride as they boast of their spirituality or the superiority of the particular faction leader they are following.

Paul has been systematically destroying these attitudes in the letter to this point, and here he delivers the knockout blow. In the midst of all the unity-in-diversity talk about spiritual gifts and how we’re supposed to seek the better gifts etc, Chapter 13 comes along and says without love, none of it matters a hill of beans anyway! You can get everything right that he’s talked about in the letter so far, but if you’re missing love, you’re goose is cooked. As for prophecies, they will cease. Tongues will be silenced. Without love, they didn’t matter in the first place.

It makes me wonder how much time, money, effort, and energy is spent in today’s church on things that flat-out won’t matter if we don’t embody the agape love of the Lord. From worship wars to new buildings to new ministries to board meetings. From disciple-making to community involvement to paving the parking lot to reaching Millennials. Without love, all of it is just clamoring over nonsense.

Well played, Paul.

Heaven, help us.

 

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 16: On Equal Footing

1 Corinthians 7:1-9

Again, as is always the case in Paul, there’s more going on in this passage than the obvious marriage bedroom advice.

A lot of folks quote Pauline passages to support a male-dominated, submissive wife dynamic within families. I think such prooftexting ignores passages  like this and others like it.

Here’s Paul talking about a private, intimate dynamic within marriages as if what happens in the bedroom is a part of the faith (which it is). And in the midst of this intensely personal topic, Paul flatly states the sexes are equals. men women

4For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (NRSV)

I think it’s important not to ignore what Paul is suggesting here. The idea here is mutual submission, not one-sided. Those in the first century–and the twenty-first as well– would have easily agreed with the first sentence. Culturally, the idea of the wife belonging to the husband has been around for a long time. Then Paul sneaks one in  on us when he flips it around at states the reverse is also true: the husband belongs to the wife in the same way. They really are equals.

Something to ponder next time someone throws out the “wives submit to your husbands” card as a way to spiritualize men being jerks to their spouses.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 15: The Body Plan.

1 Corinthians 6:12-30.

For a moment when I read this passage tonight I wasn’t sure what to write except the obvious… “Don’t commit sexual sin.”

And then a strong reminder hit me, so here we go.

May I just say, at the risk of offending, perhaps, I become slightly annoyed whenever I hear any version of the phrase “…saving souls?” Christ came to save souls. The church is to help save souls. How many souls were saved, etc…

One thing passages like this (and indeed the whole of Scripture) teaches us about salvation is that it’s not just our souls that Christ came to save. Salvationthe church, the sacraments, the Christian life, resurrection, and eternal life are not limited to our disembodied souls or something. It for certain includes all of ourselves, which includes our bodies.Image

I’ll never forget Dr. Darius Salter, a professor we had at Nazarene Theological Seminary, who said, “God has always had one plan for redeeming the world: the Body plan. That’s plan “A.” And there is no plan “B.” I think we sometimes forget this and lapse into a sort of Gnosticism when we talk only of the salvation of our souls.

This passage in 1 Corinthians is one of the zillions of passages that emphatically states our physical bodies are part of the salvation God has for us. “Our bodies are members of Christ…” “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…” Notice he did NOT say, “Our spirits are members of Christ.” He says shun fornication because sinning in this way is sinning against the body. This whole passage is about Paul’s insistence that the members of the church at Corinth honor God with their bodies. One of the things that means is avoiding sexual sin.

Something to think about… What would it mean to honor God with our physical bodies? Obviously it would mean not doing certain things, but my mind takes it a bit further. I wonder what it would mean for me to proactively do certain things to honor God with my physical body. After all, the Creed says “we believe in the resurrection of the body.” The big deal about the incarnation of Jesus is he was fully God and fully human, which included his body.

Not sure I’ve got many answers to this one yet, but I feel in my bones this might be leading to at least asking some of the right questions…

Blessings,

Mark

Ecclesiology, church hopping, and “we’re leaving.”

I’ve heard it dozens of times, and last week we heard it again. “We have made a decision. We’re leaving this church and looking for a new church.”  If you’re anywhere within 50 feet of a church in the West, you’ve heard it, too.

This particular family’s leaving came as a near total surprise to all of us. There’s no known conflict. No known hard feelings. No known weirdness. Just “We’ve made a decision we’ve been thinking about for a year now.”BreakUp

I’m experiencing a bunch  of emotions when I heard it this time.  At first I was a little angry at the family. I went through the possible real reasons they might be leaving. I did not and still don’t believe in a situation where “everything is fine” this family has no underlying reasons for breaking fellowship with their church.

I felt terrible for the Sr. Pastor of the church.  This is not the news he needs right now, and I’m growing weary of my friends and colleagues getting beat up by dysfunctional church dynamics.

I felt frustration… At what point do people think divorcing (and “divorce” is the right word here) themselves from the life of a church is entirely up to them?  Don’t they realize they have been given to this community of faith just as much as it has been given to them?

And with a sigh and a prayer for mercy, I remembered the lesson I’ve learned so many times the last few years:

The answer is “no.” No, they don’t understand. They don’t understand their family is a gift to the faith community and by leaving they are depriving the community of a gift from the Lord. They do not understand why “divorce” is the right word for what they are doing. They don’t understand why church shopping is contrary to God’s will for their lives and the life of the church.  They don’t understand a pastor’s pain in their leaving might have nothing at all to do with a lower statistical report.

The simple fact is this: This particular family is a product of the church growth movement that has decimated (and continues to decimate) our churches. They are living as they have been taught to live… by the church.

And my frustration at them melted away into a larger concern for the church.

As Tony Jones graphically represented in his blog last week, entire generations are leaving the church and not looking back. A lot of people who “feel led” to leave wind up hopping from place to place until they eventually hop on out of the church completely.

I am convinced one of the main reasons they’re leaving is because we’ve taught and embodied a bad ecclesiology for a long time. They’ve got a skewed, flawed, incorrect definition of what “church” is in the first place. And it’s not really their fault. It’s ours. It’s the pastors’ and church leaders’ fault. When we made numerical growth the #1 priority, we committed idolatry. Over time, that idolatry eventually changed our idea of what the church should be. And now we get to read posts in social media where a seemingly solid, committed family “breaks up” with their church like it’s a normal part of life.

Fixing this problem– particularly in the life of a local church that has swallowed the Church Growth movement hook, line, and sinker– is going to take a lot of time, patience, vision, and intentionality. It’s going to take serious theological/practical work. We’ve got a lot of change to experience to consistently embody a Church that Christ might actually recognize as His Bride. It’ll take a miracle. A bunch of miracles, in fact… because manipulating church systems to affect spiritual change is what got us into this mess in the first place. We mustn’t forget that.

So let’s get at it. Let’s quit reading about it, looking longingly at other ministries that are doing it, wishing we could do it, and start seeking something better.

Blessings,

Mark