Monday, April 30, 2012

Bend in the Road

I'm sorry there was no Weekend Wanderings post this weekend. Jan and I were volunteering at a music festival put on by a local camp and were very busy Friday night and all day Saturday. Sunday was a full day as well, so I ran out of time. Next time.

From time to time, I like to let all my loyal readers (or maybe that's reader) know what's going on in my journey. Some of you know that I have had issues with the institutional church. I grew up in fundamentalism, earned a Bible college degree, and taught for years in Christian schools. I have seen the operation of churches as a member of the congregation, a very part time youth director, a worship leader, a deacon, and an elder. I have taught Sunday School, preached in the pulpit, and performed special music.

About two and a half years ago, we walked away from the institution. I helped a friend begin a "simple" church that met in a bagel shop. At first, things were great. We were building community and beginning to learn how  to disciple and love one another. By the end of the second year, that community had ceased to exist. Some of the folks went back to church, some left completely, and some of us began to meet in another bagel shop. Again, things seemed to be going well. After about four months, without warning, things fell apart. Again, some went back to church, and some just walked away.

Due to the circumstances surrounding the end of this second community, I was devastated. Jan was also hurt, and we both had a hard time for a while. We couldn't figure out what had happened, and had no clue what God wanted us to do. After a lot of prayer, we felt the Father was telling us to rest, not to do anything but rest. There was still one individual who wanted to continue meeting with us, so we have been meeting in our dining room on Sunday mornings for the last four months. It has been good to meet with this person and do a chronological study of the life and teachings of Jesus, with the goal of being transformed by what we learn.

Four weeks ago, I felt the Father was telling us that it was time to be going. We had learned about a new church from our son, Josh and his fiancee, Alicia. The church meets on Sunday evening, so we were able to continue what we were doing in the morning. We checked it out, and decide we liked it. The group meets for a meal before the service, and celebrates Communion every Sunday. Those are two things that I have come to believe are essential in the life of a church. The music is good, and it's not a show where the congregation does more watching than anything else. The mission of the church is to be a community that helps each other follow Jesus, and to reach out for the betterment of our city. Two more things I see as essential.

There are a couple of things that are not quite what I believe a local assembly of the church should be. Each Sunday there is a sermon, and the church is part of a denomination. I believe a participatory meeting is better for making disciples, and I also believe that a lot of denominational policies are extra-Biblical and can distract a church from its mission. I also have come to believe, however, that although I am not a fan of institutional church, the Church can be found anywhere God's people gather, even in church.

So, we have taken a step toward what we think may be where God wants us to be. If we have found a community that is focused on Jesus, on helping each other to follow him, and on being a blessing to our city; if we have found Church within a church, then we will probably stay awhile.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

Today is World Malaria Day. Malaria is a disease we don't face here in this country, but it is one that is deadly in many parts of the world. Learn more about this disease and its effects from this report from World Vision.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

For the Kingdom

From Media Change:

Francis Chan tells an oft repeated story about a child who is told to go clean their room. The child leaves and comes back to say, “I memorized what you said…I can say it in Greek! In fact, some of my friends are going to come over tonight and do a little study on what it would look like for me to clean my room!”
The simplicity of carrying out the Great Commission can often get overlooked, which is why this upcoming story is just plain refreshing! Please meet one of the sweetest missionary couples out there serving Jesus. It is with joy and simplicity they live out the gospel. If you have a moment, grab your cup of coffee and see what I mean. It truly is worth your time:

There’s a bigger picture happening in this video—one I pray you’ll see. The day-by-day manner in which the Martinezs live, brings light. The gospel is preached through simple words and simple actions. Yet the impact of what they’re doing is so huge. Think of it –they’ve reached an unreached people group!
Not just any unreached people group—but a group of people who have access to five more unreached groups! And they led the chief and his wife to the Lord no less!
Here’s what Alfonso said when asked how much money he lacked to complete the well, and how much money he and his wife still needed to raise for financial support:
$600 was all he needed to complete the well, which Media Change has provided.
$300 a month was the amount he and his wife still needed to raise in order to continue their work.
Not only do they live simply, there needs are simple. If you’d like to support the Martinez family, tax deductible support can be sent to:
New Song Christian Fellowship
f.b.o. Alfonso Martinez
705 Heritage Court
Franklin, TN 37067
If you’d like to send a prayer or a word of encouragement to Alfonso and Erika, please write them at jcdministries[you-know-the-symbol-]

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sermon on the Mount

In our Sunday gatherings in our house, we've been looking at the life of Jesus. We've been going through the Gospels in chronological order. About 4 weeks ago, we came to Matthew 5, where Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God.

Growing up, I was taught that the teachings about the kingdom of God were essentially for the Jews of Jesus' day, and that when they rejected Jesus that kingdom was essentially postponed until the Millennium. They were not really for the church, other than as an example for us to follow. We were taught that if we became poor in spirit because of our sin, we would then mourn over that sin, and so on. All of these things would lead to us being "right with God." The other teachings were pretty much new laws for us to try and follow. Still, not a lot was said about the kingdom.

In recent years, as I've studied Jesus and his kingdom, I've come to different conclusions about these teachings in Matthew, and in other passages. I believe that Jesus is teaching about the kinds of people who are welcome in his kingdom, and through whom the kingdom will come. The poor, the left out, the outcasts, are the ones who are in the kingdom, as opposed to the elite, the self-sufficient, those who have it all together. These are the ones through whom the Spirit moves, and the way these folks carry out there day-to-day is completely different from the way those in the kingdoms of this world operate. Instead of pride, there is humility. Instead of "justice," there is mercy. Instead of revenge, there is forgiveness.

We also saw that so much of the way God's kingdom works on this earth has to do with relationships. We are told that seeking forgiveness and reconciliation is more important than worship. We are told that treating others in a loving, forgiving manner is more important than following some rules that allow us to avoid love. We are taught that a righteousness that comes from inside is better than one that is simply external.

Jesus took the "traditional" definition of God's kingdom and turned it upside down. He said that the kingdom was here, but not in the way it was expected. The religious leaders (the righteous) missed it. It was the "sinners" who got it. It was not the best and brightest who followed the King. It was the folks who had been told they were not good enough. The early church was full of these. Somehow, we've taken Jesus' teachings and basically forgotten them. We follow the preachers who are the most articulate speakers, the ones who can command an audience of thousands. We use others for our own purposes, rather than love them. We want God to give us everything we want, instead of being willing to suffer for Jesus' sake.

If Jesus is the King, if we are part of his kingdom, our lives will be such that the world will think us strange. Our values, the way we treat others, will seem upside down. Our righteousness will go far beyond a righteousness that is determined by law. It will be a righteousness that comes from inside, from the Spirit that is in us. We will indeed be agents of a kingdom that is not from this world, and a King who has already conquered the powers. As we look for the ultimate setting right of all things, we will see, and provide, glimpses of that final, full fruition of the kingdom of God.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

Another week has gone by quickly here in the sunny South. Softball season is over and there are just a few days left in the school year. The students are starting to catch a little bit of spring fever, as are some of the teachers. In three weeks, Jan and I will be welcoming an addition to our family. Josh is getting married! It's hard to believe that we're old enough to have a son who is old enough to be getting married.:) I've heard it said that famous people die in threes. This week, if my count is correct, there were five deaths of folks who were famous for one reason or another. I don't know, maybe it's another case of inflation. Anyway, here are the links of the week:
A poem by Andrea Bass.
Good essay from Penny Carothers.
Fasting and feasting.
The last interview with C.S. Lewis (HT: Scot McKnight).
Chaplain Mike wants to ban the adjective, "Biblical."

J.R. Miller interviews George Barna and Frank Viola.
Love the sinner?
Eric Carpenter writes about recent worship services.
Frank Viola gives 20 reasons why the right and the left won't adopt him.
In case you ever wondered what radio hosts did while a song played on air.

Good cartoon from naked pastor.
A little girl's tattoo.
The absurdity of judgement.
Dan Allen writes an open letter to Mars Hill.
No trespassing.

Big and small working together.
Good cartoon from Jon Birch.
Alan Knox has a series on mutuality and the gospel. Part 1 is here.
God doesn't offer explanations.
Gospels as foundation documents.

I hope you enjoy your week. Remember to get out and smell the flowers!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

After a couple of weeks off, Weekend Wanderings is back. The past two weeks have been interesting. A nephew and his family flew in from the west coast for a week. It was good seeing them and we had fun taking them to different places around town. Last Sunday, we celebrated Easter by worshipping at a sunrise service, driving into Charlotte to have breakfast at our favorite little coffee shop, and then celebrating at a church across the street from the coffee shop.

I'm a bit behind in my blog reading, but here's a taste of some of the good stuff floating around the web:

Good post on trust.
Icebergs, onions, and some other stuff.
Scot McKnight on N.T. Wright.
A disgruntled freedom.
Frank Viola praises dry spells.

What's in it for me?
Arthur Sido on elders.
The beauty of conflict.
Alan Knox on unity.
Relating to humans.

Kansas Bob asks a good question.
Light of the world.
Alan Knox on resting and working.
Invitation to the journey.
Chaplain Mike on a special day.

Personal Jesus App? Really? (HT: iMonk)
Ronnie McBrayer on Easter.
Bubba Golf! (HT: Scot McKnight)
Alan Knox reviews Viral Jesus.
Jesus as the way.

Have a blessed week!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How God Became King

I've started reading How God Became King, by N.T. Wright. So far, I've read the first three chapters and I can tell that I am going to like this book. The basic idea of Wright's latest work is that the church has, over the centuries, forgotten the "middle" of the story of Jesus in the New Testament, that we have left the question of "why did Jesus live?".

As I grew up in fundamentalist churches, I remember hearing a lot of sermons about Jesus coming to earth to die for our sins so we could live forever in heaven. I remember singing a song in a Christmas cantata that stated that Jesus was "born to die." A lot of energy was spent studying Old Testament passages, the epistles of Paul, and passages about the "end times." We also heard messages on the parables of Jesus, usually with an attempt to apply them to 20th century life. I don't remember hearing a lot of sermons or Sunday school lessons on the teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom of God. Those that were preached usually asserted that those teachings were about the future millennial kingdom.

As I have read N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and others, I have come to the belief that Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Sermon on the Mount is about the kind of people through whom the Kingdom will work and how the people in the Kingdom will live. As I read the Gospels through a new lens, I see better how it all fits together. Not only do the Gospels make more sense, but the entire story of Israel and the promise of the coming Messiah comes to life in a way that goes far beyond "accept Jesus and go to heaven when you die."

I am looking forward to reading the rest of this book. From time to time I will post things that are meaningful to me or that I think may help explain the idea that the Kingdom is here, right now.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Come and Die

One the things that has become a tradition for us is the annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross here in Rock Hill. This year the event was held on the campus of the university in town. It is always a meaningful time. This year was more special than others.

This past year has not been the best for Jan and me. There have been some very good things happen, but also some things that are not good at all. This year has seen us experience the death of two communities of faith we were involved in, the second after only a few months. In the last three months we have also gone through the very messy death of what we thought was a close friendship. All of these things added to the usual stresses of life have been hard for both of us, but especially hard on me.

Today, I had the opportunity to help carry the cross from the first station to the second. As I was walking along, I could sense Jesus saying to me, "This is what I want you to do." I have read the verse where Jesus says that anyone who follows him must take up their cross, but this was the first time it had hit home that Jesus meant me. I am the one who is to take up my cross and die. It's a fine concept to think about, to debate, and to teach, but I'm finding that actually taking the idea and living it is not easy at all. In a sense, I have died a little bit this year. To be honest, it hurts. It is one of the hardest things one could go through.

As I continued on the walk this afternoon through the different stations, I was again struck by the realization that Jesus knows exactly what I have gone through, because he has experienced the same thing to a much greater extent. In Gethsemane, he agonized over the death he was facing, asking the Father if there was any other way. Recognizing that the cross was the only way, he faced it. Fortunately, that was not the end. After death came resurrection. Jesus conquered death and brought life. As he said, a seed must go into the ground and die before it can yield a harvest.

After the walk, as I sat at the foot of the cross and reflected on what Jesus had said to me, I knew that he has called me to come and die. But as the song below states, he "bids me come and die and find that I may truly live." There can be no joy on Sunday morning without the pain and death of Friday. There is no resurrection without death. There is no salvation without the cross.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

You Want Me to Do What?

In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples' feet. The Master washed the feet of  his followers! This was something that was was normally done by a household slave. When guests came to a house one of the slaves would wash the dust and dirt off their feet. It was an act of courtesy in that day. I can't think of anything we do today that would be comparable.

We can't grasp the significance of this ordinary show of hospitality. In the first century, most people walked everywhere they went. The roads on which they walked were dirt, and were either dusty or muddy, depending on the weather. There was also the good chance that they stepped in some animal droppings along the way. So, to be the foot washer meant that you would have to clean the feet of folks who had dust or mud, mixed with sweat, mixed with who knows what on them. It was not at all like taking someone's hat and coat as they come into your house. It was a dirty job. Peter knew this. He possibly felt shame and humiliation at his Lord taking on one of the dirtiest jobs in a household. Peter told Jesus that he was not going to wash his feet! Only after Jesus told Peter that he had no part in him if he refused did Peter submit.

In John 13:14 & 15, Jesus says that he was setting an example for us to follow. Some groups take this as a literal command and have services in which they wash each other's feet. I believe that there are a couple of layers to  this example. One is connected to Jesus teaching that those who lead in the kingdom are to be those who serve. Jesus said that if he, their Master could serve them, they were to serve each other. Paul wrote in Philippians that Jesus took on the form of a servant, and that we are to have the same mindset. Paul also wrote that we are not to think too highly of ourselves, but rather be willing to do menial work. This example of humility is one most of us think of.

I believe the example of foot washing and service also is connected to the command to love others. In Luke 7, we have the account of a sinful woman, possibly a prostitute, crashing a dinner and washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and putting expensive perfume on them. Jesus, in talking to the host about this, says that it was her great love that drove her to do this. She loved much because she had been forgiven much. In John 15, Jesus says that the greatest love is (disagreeing with Whitney Houston here) when a person lays down their life for their friends.

Jesus calls us to love others in the same way that he loves us. That means we are to be willing to lay down our lives for them. I believe that laying down our lives for our friends means that we are willing to do whatever it takes to do them good. That means we may have to do dirty jobs, jobs that no one else would even think of doing. It means that we should be the first to humble ourselves and take a lower spot on the totem pole.  It means that we put our brothers and sisters first, even when it may cause us pain. We do this because of the great love we have for Jesus. That love is to extend to all the other members of Christ's Body. We are to be like the woman in Luke 7, who loved much because she had been forgiven much, not like Simon, who loved little because he thought he had little to be forgiven.

I don't want to see something that's not there, but I wonder if Jesus statement to Peter that if he didn't let Jesus wash his feet he didn't have any part in him could be seen as saying those who refuse to humble themselves and love others enough to lay down their lives and serve others don't have any part in Jesus either. I don't know. I just know what Jesus commanded.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Give Me Jesus

In the midst of all the comings and goings of this season, with vacation trips, new clothes, extravagant productions, and churches full of people, let us not forget the One it is all about.

Palm Sunday

Replay from a few years back:

This past Sunday was the day Christians commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was hailed as the King by the people along the road into the city. While the people did recognize Jesus as the promised King, they did not understand just what his kingdom was all about. They were looking for someone to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel back to its former glory. Even the disciples did not totally understand. By the end of the week, many who were hailing Jesus as King turned against him and saw him as just another in a line of failed would-be messiahs.

Many today also misunderstand Jesus and his kingdom. Some see the kingdom as something in the future. Today we depend on Jesus to save us, and take us to heaven when we die. The kingdom will happen when Jesus comes again. The idea that Jesus is the King, right now, does not enter into our minds.

This incorrect thinking has produced a church that is weak and ineffective. It has produced people who only see the Jesus as a ticket to heaven, as "fire insurance." It ignores or explains away much of the four Gospels. It has caused many to leave the church. I believe that fear is one reason many would rather see the kingdom as something off in the future. Fear that, if we take Jesus' teachings seriously, we will have to give up control. Fear that Jesus may ask us to give up the American Dream. Fear that our comfortable life will be no more.

So, while the first century church proclaimed the subversive message that Jesus was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, bringing down the wrath of the Roman Empire, the church today proclaims a message that is quite compatible with the powers that be. Either that, or a message that you can accept Jesus as "personal" Savior, live a moral life, and go to heaven and escape this world when you die.

The first century church turned the world upside down. The church today, well...

Moving On

It's been a while since I've written here. Life has been happening the past few months. I have decided to start fresh, so I'm mo...