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 ’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 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 5: On Divisions and Leader-Worship

1 Corinthians 1:1-19.

The rest of the BCP Epistle readings for Lent this year come from 1 Corinthians, and I can’t wait. I’m excited to jump in again with this book.

It sure does’t take Paul long to get to the point here, does it? After the signature, the “to whom,” and a brief thanksgiving paragraph (vv 4-9) Paul jumps right in. It makes me chuckle to myself every time I hear someone say the problem with “today’s church” is that we’re not enough like the “New Testament” church. Oooh, if we could just be a New Testament church, all this modern stuff would melt away into First-Century Christian utopian bliss. Busting into this pipe dream comes the reality of the church at Corinth. This church had issues, folks. And, incidentally, it was a New Testament Church.

Only 10 verses into his lengthy letter to Corinth, Paul is already addressing and naming divisions within the church. Not only is the church in Corinth splitting… it seems to be splitting several different ways, with different factions becoming disciples of different people. I can almost see Paul face-palming as he hears the news. As if Paul or Apollos, or Cephas were the point of the Christian faith.

There’s a lot that could be said here, but what’s on my mind tonight as I read this again is this:Image

We make the same mistakes in today’s versions of Christianity. I think some of it is a cultural thing… We like leaders here in the west. We identify with the leaders we like and follow… when a ministry really takes off, we tend to say things like, “Wow, isn’t Francis Chan such an effective leader for the kingdom?” When a ministry struggles, we tend to blame the leader first. We can become pretty focused on our leaders… Folks can come to identify themselves and each other as Rob Bell disciples (or haters), for example. Insert any pop Christian leader here, and you’ll find lists of people who either vehemently follow or don’t follow him/her. Whitfield. Moody. Graham. Schuller. Warren. Hybels. Bell. Osteen. Just coming up with that list conjures various feelings within me.

But folks, in the midst of all this leader-worship (or thereabouts) Christ can get lost. I am a part of the Church of the Nazarene. I can name several past and present leaders in my tradition for whom I have utmost respect. Some make me want to throw up in my mouth a little. What I’m finding, at least in my own life, is the leaders I most respect are the ones that point me to Jesus. The ones who tend to lead me to the cross, even if it means they won’t sell as many books. The ones who help us embody the Way of Salvation, even if it means they get slandered by ignorant Fundamentalist bloggers.

Lest we forget the words of Paul:

13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God* that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.

NRSV

I guess what I really want to say is, if you’re a leader, don’t get caught up in yourself. It’s not about you or how witty you are or how entertaining your sermon was or whether you launched the right program last week. The operative questions are: Did you point your people to the cross? Did you call them to legitimate community with God and each other? We all know we can get lots of slaps on the back and accomplish none of the above.

And if you’re a layperson in the church, don’t engage in leader-worship. Don’t hop to another person’s church because they seem to be awesome at something your pastor currently isn’t. Leader-worship is idolatry, y’all, and last time I checked, breaking Commandment 1 was a big no-no.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 4: A Short Reminder

(Apologies for this not posting last night… not sure why it didn’t, but here goes…)

Hebrews 2:10-18.

Nothing too profound tonight… at least if by “profound” you mean something extremely important said in a new, catchy, or wordy way. After reading all the BCP (Book of Common Prayer) readings for today, the Epistle again stood out. I almost blogged about my sermon passage this morning, but I figure that would be cheating. So I’m sticking to the discipline– this part of the blog is supposed to be about my engagement with the BCP passages… so here goes:

Lest we forget, the reason Christ has the power over sin and death is because Christ shared in our flesh and blood. He experienced the judgment of sins (not his) and died that way. He was made perfect through sufferings… yea, even death. But forget this not: that’s where our hope comes from, and nowhere else.

Nowhere else.

Christ is the Anknüpfungspunkt. He is the point of contact. And in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. record needle

Lest we forget, and allow our “Christian” stuff (services, gatherings, activities, songs, worship, sermons, ecclesiology, polity, leadership practices, catch phrases, and bumper stickers) to forget this One who was made perfect through bloody, suffocating suffering and become nothing more than Godless exercises in human group dynamics, sociology, and psychology.

Anyway. This is what this passage is saying to me tonight. I think our “Christian” stuff could be so much more… and maybe less.

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

 

LentBlog Day 41: It’s Friday…

From Matthew 27:

 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

NRSV

aslan_on_table

Then Revisiting Romans 6, in snippets:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…

For if we have been united with him in a death like his…

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed…

For whoever has died is freed from sin.

But if we have died with Christ…

10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all…

11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

NRSV

The life we have in Christ only happens through first identifying with his death. Easter doesn’t happen without Friday.

Found myself serving communion tonight at the beginning of Tenebrae gathering and had a deep, deep sense of this truth wash over me. Folks must have been wondering why I was in tears as I served them, but I couldn’t help it.

I simply can’t get over how deep the rabbit-hole goes with Jesus. He really demands my my life, my soul, my all.

It’s Friday.

But Sunday is coming.

Blessings,

Mark