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 25:

Ephesians 6:10-17, NRSV:

 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. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


Again, so much has been written about this passage… it’s so prevalent among spiritual “warriors” out there… I think tonight I’ll keep it simple. Just some of my first thoughts as I read through it.

v.10- our strength is in the Lord, and comes from God’s power. Seems to me this is a good thing to remember, lest spirituality become some sort of “me” power trip, which I’m convinced it’s not, faith healers, prosperity gospel folks, and name-it-claim-it nonsense to the contrary.

v.11– if we are in God… through Christ… we will stand against anything the devil throws at us. It’s not a fair fight, even. God is that much more powerful.

v.12– see yesterdays post. 🙂

v.13–  again here the armor is God’s, not mine. These are gifts of grace, not human design. And the whole goal seems to stand, not militantly conquer.

v.14–  truth keeps your pants on… holds everything up and keeps it together. Again, Jesus is truth… truth isn’t some set of things to learn and agree with. Righteousness covers the vital organs, and forms the front of the uniform, like where the insignia might be. Righteousness in Paul is by grace through faith…

v.15 ::screeching tires sound:: wait… I thought we were at war here… I thought these are weapons of a new Christian empire or something… No… It says wear on your feet whatever makes you ready to proclaim the Gospel of PEACE.

v. 16:– Shield of faith protects… extinguishes attack, keeps one alive in the midst of the barrage. By faith.

v. 17:– Salvation protects your head. Again we are protected by something we can’t take credit for. It’s a gift.  Then finally, the sword of the spirit… it isn’t lost on me that out of all the pieces of armor mentioned here, only one is actually a offensive weapon. Everything else is defensive. And by “word of God” here Paul tends to mean more than just like the Bible or something… Much as I hate to disappoint all the folks doing “sword drills” tomorrow in church. Scripturally, cool stuff happens when God speaks… and He speaks through the Spirit.

Blessings,

Mark

EasterBlog 2014! He Is Going Ahead of You…

If you’re reading this and haven’t heard it proclaimed yet: Christ has risen! Happy Easter!

I woke up this morning with two quotes in my head, both words of angels/messengers from the resurrection narratives in the Gospels.

The first from Luke 24:5:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

And the second from Matthew 28:7

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee…”

 

Those words are sticking with me today. From the first announcement of the resurrection (in Matthew) Jesus reminds his disciples he’s going ahead of them, in their case, into upGalilee. He is risen. And he’s going ahead of you. Get up and get going. Following Jesus means you can’t hang out in the graveyard anymore or hide behind a locked door for fear of the bad guys. (Apologies, sort of, for synthesizing the Gospel accounts here!) Following jJesus also means he’s out ahead of us. Having blazed the trail through sin and death, he continues trail-blazing. He’s calling us toward the future. Toward his mission. Toward folks who haven’t met him yet. Towards the poor. Towards the powerless. Towards those who desperately need to encounter the Good News. Towards our enemies. And he’s not calling us to go anywhere he hasn’t already been. He is risen, and he’s going ahead of you.

Why would you hang around the cemetery among the dead when Jesus is on the move? Get going! Easter means he’s alive! And Jesus’ life and mission aren’t separable… Jesus is always on a mission. Follow him. Get out of the graveyard and get going. He’s already in Galilee doing stuff. What are you waiting for?

LentBlog ’14, Day 32: Can These Bones Live?

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Going again with one of the RCL passages for today (this time the OT reading) because the BCP passage skips to Romans just for the Sundays in Lent.

This is a fascinating passage concerning the (seeming) demise and impending restoration of God’s people. It’s got me thinking about the church.

I look around the church landscape about me and I see a lot of bones. Or at least, churches that look at themselves as a bunch of dead, dry bones. In the vision, God asks the prophet, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Dry Bones

I think there’s good news in this passage for the church…  The answer is yes, but there’s a catch:

They can’t live without help.

They can’t do it on their own.

When God tells the prophet to speak to the “breath” in verse 9, the Hebrew word is ר֜וּחַ, “Ruach.” Same word translated both “Wind” and “Spirit” elsewhere in the OT. The same word is used interchangeably as both wind and Spirit (capital “S”). For these bones to live, they must be given life by the Spirit. They can’t do it on their own. That means all the church growth, church health, re-visioning, restarting, refocusing, re-branding, re-marketing,  restructuring, re-organizing and re-anything-else-you-can-think-of strategies in the universe can’t bring these bones back to life. Only the Spirit can do that. It means we have to quit trying to solve theological problems with systems answers.

It’s going to take a miracle to raise these bones from the dead.

And I’m really OK with that (though it matters not whether I’m OK with it or not), because it takes a miracle for the church to truly exist in the first place. The true church never was a human-made endeavor to begin with.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 28: ONE.

1 Corinthians 12:1-12.

So check this out. Here is tonight’s passage, with some usages of the words “same” or “one”  highlighted:

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Get it?sum

It’s almost as if Paul wants the folks at Corinth to understand their unity in the Spirit is more important than their individual gifts.

Regardless of one’s giftedness, the same Spirit is the source. When the individual’s contributions to the community are truly in the Spirit, they fit within the diverse framework that is the Church.

What I guess I want to say here is that churches are significantly more than just haphazard groups of people who believe roughly similar stuff who happen to hang out together an hour or two per week. There’s more to it than that. The total is greater than the sum of the parts. Our gifts are diverse, thank God. We don’t all have the same role, preferences, or God-given abilities. But  the unity, health, vibrance, and ministry that can happen when we  recognize (and embody) the same Spirit working in and through is is nothing short of miraculous.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 9: Paul Nails It Again.

1 Corinthians 3:16-23.

I think Paul is sometimes too detailed for his own good. Now, I don’t really mean that… what’s happening here is more our ADHD as readers or something… but sometimes Paul says so much so densely-packed that it’s easy to forget his overall argument.

I had to remind myself of that again as I read this passage.

Keep in mind Paul’s theme here in the first part of the book– he’s countering church division, and particularly those who pridefully follow other teachers in the church who have evidently come along after Paul, evidently trying to one-up him theologically or at least rhetorically. He’s just come through this section where he said he laid the foundation others are currently building upon, and the fire will show the quality of their work in the end. Some are building with gold, which is uncombustable. Others are using sticks. One’s work will be standing in the end, and one will not.

In the midst of this building argument Paul reaches a sort-of mini-conclusion: “So then, Let no one boast about human leaders…” (3:21a NRSV). Remember, the over-arching thing Paul is going after here is divisions in the church. Evidently for Corinth, the divisions were at least in part caused by folks putting their trust in people other than Christ. Image

And the thought runs through my mind as I write this (and I’m very tired tonight!) that I’ve never heard of someone leaving the church because they didn’t like Jesus. I think folks have to follow Jesus, not people. If we did, a lot of church troubles would go away. Who knew. It’s almost as if Commandment #1 from Exodus 20 means what it says.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 7: On Using Your Brain.

1 Corinthians 2:1-13.

Engaging this passage this evening, I’m reminded of the times in my experience when passages like this have been used as reasons not to pursue theological education. “See!” I’ve heard, “Paul says let your faith rest on the Power of God, not all this human wisdom stuff. I don’t need to go to Seminary/take a class/be ordained/study in the School of Ministry. The Spirit will teach me everything I need!”

To which I say balderdash.  Paul uses his perceived lack of wisdom as a rhetorical device among the Corinthians. He did not proclaim the Gospel in lofty words, using the terminology of the wisdom of the day. This is not to say he couldn’t, folks. “Among the mature, we do speak wisdom…”

Now, to be straight here, Paul is pretty clear that wisdom (as the world knows it) on its own is pretty worthless when discussing the things of God. It is a dangerous and unfaithful thing to think we could reason our way to the truth on our own. (Thank you, Modernity, for nearly convincing us that we could… So glad you’re in the past now, at least in most circles. Please stay there.)

But neither is Paul saying we chuck our brains when we become Christians. UseYourBrain

The third option here is maybe something like this: the human ability to reason (which is really given to us by God in the first place, so it’s not like it’s ours or something apart from God’s grace), when married to and made subject to the work of the Spirit, can be a really cool thing.  Not that wisdom (or study, or school, or rhetoric) is the Way to the Father… in and of itself, human wisdom doesn’t even reach the same level as the foolishness of God… but that wisdom, as an act of worship, responding to and formed by the first Word God speaks in Jesus, is a very good thing.

For the theologian, then (and by the way, EVERY word any of us utters of God is theology), the words must be a worshipful thing. Using our brains with all our might, trying to engage these things admittedly too big for us to fully comprehend, we speak. We pray. We teach. We sing. And we must do it all as worshipful response to the Spirit, so that our faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

 

Blessings,

Mark