Friday, December 26, 2008

If You Miss Me Sunday Morning...

The Good New of God's incarnation among men is easily reduced as system of religion complete with rules, membership rosters, and committees. Adhering to things the group has deemed as good and avoiding those things it has deemed bad provides an easily measured marker for religious health. The frequency of participation in scheduled services and activities is a quantifiable measure to determine religious commitment. Leadership and belonging to a task force assembled to maintain or to expand the prominence of the group easily fills the time slots of one's religious responsibility. In the end the group can judge that because a person does not drink alcohol or visit the boat; because a person attends two services and one activity a week; because a person leads the coffee and donuts ministry and participates in the classroom painting ministry they're a model member in good standing. That member is spiritually healthy.

The problems arise when one realizes that the gospel preached by Jesus is unfit for the spiritually healthy. The Good News of God's Kingdom is left for the bottom feeders and the sick. This poses a dilemma for the religious body since no model of church growth is based on algorithms that attract the sick and broken. Religious success demands a new gospel, one that is quantifiable, one that attracts the kind of members who will support the bottom line and provide the resources necessary to maintain the building and employ the staff. Careful demographics to promote a homogeneous growth attracts the correct target group to increase the prominence, showcase the talent, and achieve results that out perform competing bodies and previous internal numbers.

How did we get here? Why does the current religious climate prevalent in our churches look so different than Jesus' gospel? Who is initially responsible, and what is our responsibility individually to the current situation?

I propose 3 answers that I am pursuing personally.

Luke 3:10-14 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
When the people of Israel were convicted by the reality that their membership in the right religious circle was of no spiritual value and therefore asked what did have eternal value, John responded with a model of lifestyle that reflected a new economy where food, clothing, and provision were equal among all. John proposed they stop pursuing the quest for more stuff, and instead pursue more satisfaction. John as well as Jesus in his preaching demanded a whole new alignment of our finances, and gospel alignment.

Mark 12:29-33"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'There is no commandment greater than these."

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
When tested as to the marker of spiritual health by a religious professional of his day, Jesus responded with an unachievable commission that God's people are to live in a community of complete dependence on His nature that then manifests itself into loving others out of the same surrender each is surrendered to God. That is an all consuming command. That takes a commitment of every hour, and every thought. That takes a commitment of surrendering my rights to God, my rights to the people I am in community with. I am seeking out people and making space to be intentional in vulnerability, dependence, and responsibility. This is God's desire for our relationship with him, and his desire for our relationship with each other. This requires time daily in community with him, and in cooperation with other members of his body, so that we can mutually be Jesus, and experience Jesus in one another.

Matthew 8:18-22 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him,he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."
Jesus reminds these would be disciples, that "Follow Me" is a radical realignment of the entire life structure you had previously known. Your old home is no longer your home, your old family is no longer your family. There is CHRIST and CHRIST ALONE! "Follow Me" is a challenge that requires new senses. My touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing must change so that I can feel the living God, I can experience the sweetness of his work, I can inhale the fragrance of his business, I can respond to the callings he gives. "Follow Me" requires my listening, and responding to the fact that God cares enough to desire every thought of my head be captivated by his majesty. "Follow Me" requires I am continually going alongside God to the places and communities he wants me to be a part of, it requires I am listening to his guidance to what is beneficial and what is harmful to our relationship, it requires I am a part of his Kingdom, working where he directs my hands to be. In short, "Follow Me" requires that I respond to the Holy Spirit in my body, in my mind, and in my spirit.

So that is the answers I am being led to. I am done cleaning the outside of the cup. I am accepting Christ grafted into my Spirit, being changed by His vision of a community of a new economic reality realized through committed following of His Spirit. If you miss me Sunday morning, please know I miss you too. I would love to sit down, share a meal together, and talk about our glorious Lord and where he is calling me, and where he is calling you to be more conformed to his image. If you miss me Sunday morning, know that I am obeying my Lord who demands that my god be CHRIST and CHRIST ALONE.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Being the Body You Were Born For

The classic story of the ugly duckling tells about an abused duckling, who is run off the farm by his friends and his family to live outside his home. This duckling is too different from his peers to be accepted. So he wanders about for a long time, being rejected by crowd after crowd until he finally decides to approach the beautiful swans. The duckling figures that being such a beastly sight these kings of the birds will peck him to death, but instead as he approaches them, he looks into the water to see in his own reflection that he has matured into a beautiful swan as well, and he is accepted and finds peace finally being among his own.

Since my high school years, through college, working in a church, and my time since then, I have always felt like an ugly duckling in church. I relate to being pecked at by the people I thought were family. I am used to being discarded and patronized as a radical who doesn't understand the way things really work. I am thought of as being fringe and crazy. Yet, I can not change because I think the Christian faith IS CRAZY!!! As Andrew Shearman says, " Of course we are crazy, we believe in someone we haven't seen. We follow dreams. Either you're all crazy... or else God is actually trying to do something." I have never been fit in with those who are well domesticated.

The problem is not the people in the institutional church, it is the very institution itself. I had a high school teacher who told us, "institutions are threatened by movements which become institutions that are threatened by movements." The church is an institution, make no mistake it is not a body, it is not a branch of a vine. It is a hierarchical system of power that promotes those that succeed, and goes to war to against those that threaten the power base of the system.

Christ's church is not to be an institution. Christ's church is not to be a movement. Christ's church is not to be a religious system. Hans Kuhn wrote, "Christ came to start a Kingdom and all we gave him was a church" His church was never meant to be anything but the body of Christ on earth. The church when she pretends to be anything other than a body, with Christ as it's head has lost her way and become a family a squabbling pecking domesticated ducks, when she was meant to be a glorious band of swans.

I won't be an ugly duckling anymore, I am the adopted prince of the King of Ages, an heir to Kingdom of Heaven, with all authority given to me to claim a crown of righteousness. There is no place for a swan in the farmers duck pin. I will not be fed the farmers grain, when there is a world of lakes for me to feast in. I will not be kept in a pin, when soaring is my creator's intention. The institution that has replaced the body of Christ feeds people a cheap white bread version of Christianity and keeps them safe in fences of their creeds and doctrines. The duck patch is a safe place for ducklings, but it just won't do for those who want to rise up and seek out the richness of their destiny.

I am going out from here to live out the nature of Christ. I am going to be crushed by the word of God, to have my limited nature wrecked by the magnitude of a limitless God. I am soaring through the skies to hear God speak. I do not want the protection and scholarship of the institution, if it keeps from from being in the heavens of intimacy with my God.

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we must act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. - Soren Kikergard

I believe Andrew Shearman wraps everything I am trying to say up perfectly in the next sentence of the sermon I quoted earlier, "If we decide to actually cooperate with him it will happen" I am finished trying to fit into the duck pin, and ready to cooperate with God, to be a people who reflects his present incarnation on earth.

I will by the grace of God, BE the body I was born for.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Like You God, LIke You

My soap box does not look like my God's. In Hosea 13:4 - 14:4 he sends a warning needs to be read. I am highlighting a few of these verse, but you need to read the entire lecture to get the full point of the message God is bringing.

Hosea 13:12-15 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up;
his sin is kept in store.
The pangs of childbirth come for him,
but he is an unwise son,
for at the right time he does not present himself
at the opening of the womb.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Though he may flourish among his brothers,
the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come,
rising from the wilderness,
and his fountain shall dry up;
his spring shall be parched;
it shall strip his treasury
of every precious thing.
Hosea 14:3-4 Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, 'Our God,'
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy."

I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
God is on a roll, convicting Israel of the consequence of their sin. God is disciplining these people, not punishing but disciplining. I love this about God, because in the midst of this tyrate about the outcomes of their decisions he stops to remind them of his awesome provisional love. Read 13:14 again and you see that he reminds them that He is one who will DESTROY DEATH. He is the one whose love is freely given.

I want my words and my thoughts to be like God's when I rant. You see, it is out of the very death destroying love of God that he sends correction. His warnings to them are not angry screams, but passionate calls for a course correction. His jealous anger is not motivated by a petty need for self gratification, instead it is love so pure it is holiness. My anger is rarely motivated by anything more than lazy self seeking convenience.

About 4 years ago one of my coworkers lost a young family member in a terrible train accident. After the accident he talked about how his cousin called to her son to stop him as he was walking toward the oncoming train. My heart breaks, as I remember this story, feeling the mothers pain, crying out of her love for her son hoping her words will intercede and stop the tragedy about to be poured out on him. This is the heart of God's cries.

This is his holy love as he rants. His love causes him to stop. He stops to remind himself, that there is hope! He stop to remind them that death and all it's power will be swallowed up by love. He stops to remember the price, the price any good parent would pay, to save his children from themselves. He stops, to consider again incarnation, and it's power to unite all things back into perfect peace fellowship with the unity shared among the Godhead.

Perfect love has great cost. Any love that has no element of suffering is not God love. Any love that does not cost us our very lives is not incarnation love. As the boy's mother would have taken the hit of the train upon herself, our precious God showed us what real love is through his suffering to make all things right in himself, to destroy not just the consequence of death, but the very institution of death itself.

We worship a God whose love has turned away the anger of our apostasy. We worship a God who has healed us so that all things may be made new in him. We worship a God who promises that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.(Heb 2:9) We worship a God who invites us to become like him in this radical love. We are invited to the mystery that by losing every right to our lives in this old kingdom that we are awakened to a new kingdom with an abundant life that continues perpetually as we together become his new incarnation body.

Psalm 19:14 - May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I just want to be like my father, my God!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Discipleship of the next Generation

You want to continue to be my people you do two things. Number one, you gladly receive these blessings I give you called children. Number two, you disciple them in your homes so that they don't look like the culture around them. The minute you stop receiving the gift of God through the womb, and the moment you stop disciplining them in your home they begin to look like the culture and the community of God begins to vanish before your eyes.
Voddie Baucham - The Centrality of the Home