LentBlog 2015, Day 10: Our Need to Win is Killing Us.

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,[b] called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[e] 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[f] into a dwelling place for God.

NRSV


I think sometimes our need to win gets us in trouble. In fact, were it not 11:00pm after a long week, and I were to spend some more time really considering that statement, I don’t doubt that I would say something like, “Our need to win has disastrous consequences for us on all kinds of levels.”

It’s the leader who can’t see the obvious failure they’re promoting… because they have to win. Two friends in a disagreement putting their friendship in legitimate jeopardy because the both have to win. A businessman or CEO putting the company at risk with bad decisions… because he/she has to win. A nation that drops bombs on civilians in retaliation for something… because of a need to win.

I’m reading this passage in Ephesians tonight, and the thought crosses my mind again: Jesus brings about reconciliation, in this case between Jewish and Gentile Christians. And he does it all wrong.

See, the way our world tends to resolve conflicts is one party in the conflict eventually proves themselves stronger, more powerful, more numerous, or more cunning, and forces the capitulation of the weaker party.  The weaker party surrenders to the stronger, and a sort of peace can be reached. So if a terrorist bombs you, the way to end terrorism is to bomb them into submission or something. Hence the desire to win.

But God brings about reconciliation in Christ… through his death and resurrection. Reconciliation comes about not through show of force and forcing the weaker party to surrender– God could do that any time God chooses, right?– but through the infinitely stronger and more powerful party humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant, and dying. He wins… by losing. He brings unity… through surrender and humility.

I wonder what would happen if pastors, churches, and people modeled this kind of reconciliation?

Worth thinking about.

Mark

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LentBlog 2015, Day 5: A Church with a Reputation

Ephesians 1:15-17.

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[e] toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him…

NRSV


I read more than just these three verses tonight, but the later section spoke of something I want to consider more tomorrow and hit in another post.

What kinda got me tonight was when Paul says he has heard of the Ephesians’ faith in Jesus and love towards all the saints. It turns out the Christians in Ephesus had a reputation. In their case, having a reputation was a good thing. I was reminded of the passage in John 13 where Jesus taught his disciples the world would know they are his disciples because of their love. Sounds like the folks at Ephesus were known by their faith and love. Not a bad rep to have.

In light of this, can I say what I’m tired of and convicted by this evening? I’m tired of hearing about churches (and larger denominational structures) who have a reputation of unfaithfulness and not love. I’m tired of hearing about churches where dysfunction is rampant because folks love getting their way more than they love the Lord and their neighbors. I’m tired of the reputation churches have as places where people fight over stupid non-essential junk. I’m tired of some churches that flail around, beating the air with their fists, because sometimes their pastors are asleep at the wheel. I’m tired of seeing churches who are being led out of fear and not faith and love. I’m tired of hearing from my non-Christian friends the reason they aren’t involved in church is because of how the church lives out its so-called faith. ::end rant::

I’m convicted by these verses, because I am so. totally. ready. to pastor a church with an Ephesians kind of reputation, and our church plant isn’t off the ground yet. I’m convicted because I, too, live out of fear sometimes… fear of failure, among other things.

So let me ask you, so you can join me in this self- and church- examination: What’s your church’s reputation?

Blessings,

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 ’14, Day 39: A Touch-Base on Ordination

1 Timothy 6:12-16

Today I’m sticking with the BCP Epistle reading because it’s not from Romans– not that mind Romans, mind you, but I blogged it last year.

So this passage from 1 Timothy is a change from the Corinthians stuff… but it’s good.

Here’s Paul writing to Timothy, at the end of the letter where he gives his charge to Timothy as a minister. Paul pulls out some big rhetorical guns here… the stuff in 2 Corinthians keeps appealing to Christ as the source of Paul’s authority. This Timothy passage includes one of the strongest references I can remember to the authority of Jesus:

In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ… 

As I read this passage, I’m reminded of the charge General Superintendent Nina Gunter gave to Stefanie and me at our ordination. It seems Paul is trying to have the same effect on Timothy as he reminds him of the confession he made “in the presence of many witnesses.” And then Paul reminds him of the authority behind his charge.

And I’m reminded how serious this ministry life really is. Here at the beginning of Holy Week, I’m reminded of the confession Jesus made before Pilate… a confession that got him crucified, but also a confession which results in our salvation. I’m reminded this ministry life is not just a job or something… it’s real-deal Kingdom stuff. May we never, ever take that for granted again.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 34: All things to edify.

1 Corinthians 14:20-40

I’m engaging this passage from 1 Corinthians 14 tonight, and it just keeps coming up: All things are to edify the body. Chaos is bad. Everyone for themselves, doing their own thing, is bad.  When the church gathers, having order is good. Exercising our gifts together is good. But it’s not a “to each his/her own” kind of thing. It’s an “us” thing.

“In thinking be adults.” (v. 20). The other thing this passage is saying to me is centered on being intentional. When we gather, it’s a good thing to engage the whole experience with everything we’ve got, including our brains. So many times folks get caught up in the emotional aspect of a worship gathering… taking stock of how we feel during a certain part of the gathering etc. I think if we could find ways of partnering the depth of emotional stuff with a depth of thinking in our theology, we might really be onto something.  I think our people want to engage God at a deeper level… and not limited to a deeper emotional level. I think they want to think deeper thoughts so they can live more authentic spiritual lives.  I think that means we have to be intentional about how we are discipling people in our worship gatherings. In this passage, Paul says something like, “whatever you do, don’t do it willy-nilly. Be intentional. Be organized. Do everything for the maximum edification of the whole group.”

I think we can do a much better job at this.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 26: Consider the Other

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Are you sensing a theme yet? I am. And it won’t be too long before Paul whammies them over the head with it: Christians are to live their lives with a constant consideration of others. Paul’s not speaking of a passing thought that thinks about other people every once in a while. He’s build to a point where he’s about to say a life lived without discerning the body–  that is, without significant consideration of others, either as the church gathered or scattered–  is idolatrous and sinful.

The short version: You ain’t the center of the universe, Jack.

At the core of the divisions found in the church at Corinth is the idea that each individual is sovereign and should live autonomously. 

It’s also at the core of the divisions we find in our churches presently, particularly in the West.

So here’s Paul spending another half a chapter trying to kill the bloated leech, and I find myself wondering what our churches would look like if we really lived like this.

Something to ponder…

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

LentBlog ’14, Day 12: “Your Father’s Coming Home.”

1 Corinthians 4:8-21.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone. Methinks I’m liking St. Patrick more and more, largely because I can’t stand snakes.

Well, that and I’m always looking for another excuse to post this video:

Enough Trinitarian Heresy smack… Onto the passage at-hand, Patrick.

I have many memories from my childhood. I grew up a rather strong-willed kid, and I’m thankful for the patient endurance of my faithful mother. She’s the main reason I’m a follower of Jesus today. Many, many times in my younger years, during moments where I was being particularly difficult, I very clearly remember my mother saying, “Your father is coming home soon. And I’m going to tell him about all this.” Those words came as the pronouncement of doom. I remember them with dread. If my tantrum was bad enough to tell dad about when he got home, I knew I was in serious trouble, because dad didn’t mess around.

That same dynamic is happening in this really cool passage from 1 Corinthians 4. Paul’s going after the divisions in the Church, and he’s about to take them down a notch or two. He’s dripping with sarcasm in vv 8-11… “WOW, look at you! You’ve already arrived! You don’t need anything else! Compared to you, the apostles are like the scum of the earth!”

Then it turns in v 14… Paul reminds them he, and no one else, is their spiritual father. And he’s not happy with their collective attitude. He’s been away for a while, and some think they can get away with their behavior because they think he won’t return. Au contraire, says Paul. “I’m coming there soon, and when I do, I’ll get to the bottom of what’s happening… What is real, and what is fluff.” He then leaves it up to them… which will it be when he comes? The rod of discipline or a spirit of gentleness? Father Discipline

As I read this passage, I think we in the Church of the Nazarene don’t really have the benefit of something like this anymore. We used to revere and respect the District Superintendents in this way… When they would visit, we would all sort of scramble to clean stuff up. A DS could come and weigh-in with his/her ecclesiastical authority and bring things into line. Maybe that’s just how I remember it and it wasn’t really like that back in the day. But I for sure think we don’t have it now. There are probably lots of reasons why. The DS’s don’t know what’s really going on in most churches these days. Sometimes because they are too busy doing other (IMO less important) stuff. Sometimes they have been given too many churches to supervise, and knowing the ins-and-outs of each church is impossible. Sometimes they simply just don’t (or won’t) do the work.  Sometimes even when they do come, they aren’t given much real authority or credence.

In the midst of these dynamics, I wonder what it would be like to have a Paul-esque figure in the lives of our churches who could write an email to be read to the congregation and say, “Look, you’re misbehaving and I know about it. You’re not living like you’re following Jesus. I can see it from here. In 2 months, I’m coming there. You get to decide the manner of my coming. Will it be the rod or gentleness?”

I’m not suggesting we get into a dynamic of motivation by fear. And not every church needs the rod. But I’ve seen enough churches (and sometimes pastors right along with them) behaving badly that as I read this passage tonight I wonder…

Would it not be helpful for some of us to hear, “Your Father is coming home. And when he does, he’s going to sort this out one way or another.”

Blessings,

Mark