Lentblog 2015, Day 17: The Truth Is In Jesus.

Ephesians 4:17-24; NRSV

17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.


So here Paul launches into the “complaint” part of his letter. It’s consistent with what he just told them: Look y’all, it’s time to grow up. What jumps out at me is verse 21:

” For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.” I’m reminded of some things we tend to believe in my tradition, at least when we’re true to our tradition and haven’t been theologically morphed into sort of baptistified Nazarenes (Apologies to any Calvinist-leaning friends reading this… however the truth is we really do believe some significantly different things).  We tend to believe that truth exists. And His name is Jesus. Now what that means is that truth is not something I can sort of objectively hold in my hand outside of what happens in Jesus. That also means truth doesn’t exist outside of God’s self-revelation in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of John reminds us that the Spirit will guide us into all truth. And the Spirit reveals Jesus, who reveals the Father.

Here’s an example: When Modernity (or the Age of Reason) says something like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” I guess I don’t really believe that anymore. Let me explain… it’s not that I don’t believe that “all [people] are created equal” isn’t true. It’s that I do not believe that bit of truth is self-evident. I believe wholeheartedly that for us to understand what it means to be created equal, that truth only happens in Jesus.  This little experiment called America states in the Declaration of Independence that it’s “self-evident” that all are equal. And then we’ve lived out the last 230-something years proving we don’t really understand what that truth means. I think it’s because we got the source wrong in the first place. I think it’s because we really do believe we can come to truth without Jesus. We can know something because it’s self-evident. But we’re wrong, and we’ve been wrong from the beginning. Truth is in Jesus, which makes our knowledge of any truth at all totally dependent on him. Truth is a Person, no a data set.

We make the same mistakes in the life of the church. We’ve turned theology… theology for Pete’s sake… into a set of propositions to be learned, memorized, and agreed with. It’s facts and data points to be assented-to. And again, we’re wrong. That might be the ‘Merican way, but it’s not he Way of Jesus Paul is speaking of here. Truth is in Jesus. Knowledge of the truth, let alone living it out, happens in relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Such a reality, I think, would really fry our bacon if we really thought about it.

Blessings,

Mark

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LentBlog ’14, Day 41: Even Paul went through it…

2 Corinthians 1:8-22.

Holy Week is in full swing. It’s not even Wednesday and I’m bushed tonight— so this is going to be pretty short.

Here at the beginning of 2 Corinthians, Paul spends some time explaining to the church at Corinth why he has not come to visit them. And here we find a peculiar quartet  of verses:

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. NRSV

 

I wonder what Paul went though in Asia. I wonder what happened to him. Probably I could look it up, reference stuff in Acts and maybe find out. Whatever it was, it was terrible: a death sentence, even. So utterly crushed that he despaired of life itself… and it couldn’t have been fun.

But rather than sit there and bellyache about it, Paul shares what he learned through the experience. He learned it’s a bad idea to rely on himself. Relying on the One who raises the dead is what got him through this terrible trial.

I think we/I could learn from that. We really do worship the One who raises the dead. That puts our sufferings in a different light, no matter how severe they may be.

Think about it…

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 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 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 ’14 Day 6: On Foolishness and Stumbling Blocks

1 Corinthians 1:18-31.

It sure does seem from this passage that Jesus, while embodying the power and wisdom of God, is an equal-opportunity offender:

22 Jews demand signsand Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,24 but to those whom God has called,both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (NRSV)

Christ the crucified savior makes no sense to either Jews or Gentiles… so much so that he shatters their categories and redefines what is meant by “wisdom” and “foolishness.” It turns out human wisdom can only go so far, and when it reaches its end, that end is perhaps the lowest limit of what God would consider foolishness. When I think about that tonight (which is admittedly difficult because I am quite tired this evening) the result is it takes us down a notch or two. or ten. Which is a good thing, because the passage goes on to say the point is that none of us has anything about which to boast, except that we might boast in the Lord.

It seems to me this passage is reminding us again that the best stuff comes from outside of us. Salvation in Jesus is not something made by human hands.

Lest we forget that and go on doing church stuff that has to make sense all the time, Paul says, “Naah. God tends to use this stuff that doesn’t make sense to us to reveal himself.”

We would do well to remember these words, I think, when we’re tempted to pat ourselves on the back for our the stuff we do in our own strength.

Blessings,

Mark