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

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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 13: The Definition of Dysfunction.

1 Corinthians 5:1-9.

So, it turns out Paul is in tune with what’s happening in Corinth. He’s not there physically, but he knows what’s up, and is bringing his authority to bear. And he does a pretty hard thing here… he pretty much orders the excommunication of a church member who is sleeping with his step-mother. This revelation comes as a slap to the face as I read it tonight. Up til now, Paul has called them out on divisions… some following him, some following Apollos etc. But here he’s talking about full-bore, in-your-face sexual sin in the midst of a church that has been bragging about its heightened spirituality.

I’m reminded of something a mentor told me a few years ago:

The definition of dysfunction is when known sin is continually happening in a church and nothing is said or done about it.

No Evil

Here’s another place where we don’t really want to be like the “New Testament Church” but sometimes are. Here’s this group of Christians in Corinth, boasting about their righteousness, talking about how mature they are spiritually and how God is doing awesome things among them… And blatant, known sin is happening in their midst without them even batting an eye.

That kind of dynamic is like yeast, Paul says. It works its dark way through the life of a church and threatens to ruin the whole thing.

The simple, yet culture shaking thing this passage is saying to me tonight is this: Our churches are to be places where we know and are known: For all of our struggles, heartaches, failures, successes, victories… and yes, sins. And they must be places of great grace coupled with great accountability.

Because according to this passage, “Don’t ask/don’t tell” with regards to sin won’t fly in Christ’s church.

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

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

LentBlog Day 29: Go and Make DISCIPLES.

Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus_Disciples_icon

I’m deviating from Romans again tonight because I’ve got something on my mind from yesterday that I need to share.

I went and visited a man in the hospital yesterday who is in his 80’s, in suddenly very poor health and nearing the end of his life on planet earth. He’s probably what most folks would consider an old-school Nazarene guy. As we were talking and praying together, he said something pretty profound:

“I am so glad,” he said, “that after I got saved, my brother and my pastor took me under their wing and showed me what being a Christian really meant. I really didn’t have any idea what it was all about, and I’m glad they showed me. They discipled me, really. And I’m glad.”

When he said this, he sort of closed his eyes, laid his head back on his pillow and let out a sigh of relief though a great big, contented smile.

And right there I was reminded of the Great Commission from Matthew 28. Probably this particular post is for the more evangelical-leaning folks among us, but if you’re reading this and you’re not an evangelical type, keep reading, ok? I think it’s important.

The commission with which Jesus sends his disciples into the world says, “Go and make disciples.

It does not say, “Go and hold a big crusade so you can convince a bunch of people to pray the sinner’s prayer.”

It does not say, “Knock door-to-door asking people if they’re going to heaven, then scare them into some kind of mental decision.”

It does not say, “Make the ‘Number of Conversions This Year:’ line on your pastor’s report the top priority.”

It does not say, “Go carry a sign, yell on a street corner, or Facebook your brains out telling people they need to get their ticket to heaven.”

No, it simply says, “Make disciples.” Baptize them into the life of the Triune God. Teach them how to live a life that follows Jesus. Know you’re not ever in this alone.  Now go and get at it.

I think making disciples looks a lot like the life my friend in the hospital has lived. A couple folks walked with him for a very long time and taught him. He was their apprentice. They walked through tough days and awesome days, teaching him the way of Jesus. In the process, he was forever changed, and now approaches death with a smile on his face.

Now, admittedly, every story has a beginning. We have those moments of justification/regeneration/rightification. No doubt. But they are only the beginning of the life of a disciple. I am so glad God is moving our theology past notching our gunbelts when someone “gets saved” and back to long-term, community-based, life-lived-with, relational discipleship. I’m convinced it’s our commission and calling.

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

On training leaders and going deeper.

Jumping right in here, so here goes.Image

I’m pretty sure as a pastor we don’t train our people enough theologically. As Stefanie and I work on beginning something new, I’m convinced we must create a high expectation for the theological education of our leaders.  I’m inspired by our Spanish-speaking colleagues on the Kansas City District. They expect their leaders to be in the ministerial course of study, regardless of whether they profess a call to ordained ministry. As a result, they have consistency among their people. Their leaders are just as busy and work just as many hours as their Anglo counterparts. And they engage in theological/biblical courses in addition to worship and discipleship classes. 

This week Stefanie and I began teaching a class at MFC for the leaders. It’s heavy. It’s deep. It’s unapologetically Wesleyan and Nazarene. One student came out of the class saying she felt she was back in school, but she really enjoyed the class.

And I find myself thinking, why would we hold the deep aspects of our doctrine from our people?  If it’s good enough for ministerial training, why keep it from our lay leaders? 

A question for my Nazarene colleagues: What would it be like if you could go to any leader in your congregation and have a conversation about the plenary inspiration of scripture or relational holiness, and everyone was speaking the same language?