Archive for August, 2007

Ordination Questions: Christ’s Lordship & the Holy Spirit

3.) What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of (a) the Lordship of Jesus Christ and (b) the work of the Holy Spirit?

On any given Sunday a visitor to the congregations I serve will hear sixty or more voices united in confession saying these words: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… Although we certainly mean this in some sense, often I am afraid that if we’re not careful, we might miss the incredibly life-altering and subversive message that this commitment signals.

An exploration of the original context for these proclamations reveals the revolutionary nature of this commitment. The word gospel is our rendering of the Greek word euangelion, which was not only used in connection with Jesus, but was also a word used in connection with the birth of Caesar Augustus. [1] This Roman Emperor’s birth was hailed as good news because he was also seen as kyrios, which primarily is a word that refers to power and authority.[2] Salvation

in the first century Mediterranean was intimately connected to the order and rule of Rome. In this cultural milieu, the phrase, “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord,” would have been an extremely subversive statement to make. As Anglican Bishop Tom Wright is fond of saying, it means that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. Confessing Jesus as Lord meant placing your trust and hope in one who exhibited a completely different set of values than the prevailing wisdom of the world. From the earliest times, Christians believed that their trust in Jesus was warranted because he was in fact, “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”[3]

The practice of ministry has shown me that this continues to be an extremely difficult call to follow even after nearly two thousand years. Although the claim easily passes our lips, the reality of affirming Jesus against any other claim to our lives is often excruciating. As a clergy member, I often feel tempted to smooth the rough edges of the Gospel. When encountering a difficult passage of Scripture, my desire to be affirmed and liked is often at odds with the strong call of Jesus. Yet when I surrender my own preferences and comfort for the counter-intuitive demands of Jesus, something strange and miraculous happens.

I believe this is where the two parts of this question merge. It is by the power and work of God’s Holy Spirit that we find the energy and inspiration to live out the unique calling of Christ. By the Spirit, we are strengthened to live differently. We cannot begin to understand “losing our lives to save them,”[4] how “the last will be first,”[5] or “selling our possessions,”[6] unless we are motivated by the very Spirit of God working and moving in our midst. In my ministry, I have seen people make these difficult choices. It’s in the lives of wealthy members brokenhearted by the need in the world and motivated to share their possessions. It’s in the hard decision of a man to quit a job that conflicted with his passion for Christ’s Church. It’s in the utter love for little ones who can give nothing monetarily in return for their support and care. Each one of these acts subvert the common wisdom of our day and shout, “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” By the power of the Spirit, sayings like, “he who dies with the most toys wins” and “always look out for number one” are dismantled and exposed as hollow imitations of the wholeness found in the passionate dedication to Jesus. It is only by confidence in the Spirit’s power and trust in the graceful rule of Jesus that I am able to stand in the pulpit and offer hope, love, grace, and the challenge to be the people God continues to call us to be.

 


[1] Freedman, D. N. The Anchor Bible Dictionary . (New York, Doubleday, 1996)

[2] Bauer, W., Danker, F., Arndt, W., and Gingrich, F., Greek-English Lexicon of the New

Testament and Other Early Christian Literature Third Edition.(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)

[3] Hebrews 1:3

[4] Matthew 16:25

[5] Luke 13:30

[6] Luke 12:33

August 31, 2007 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

Can You Hear Me Now?

Rebekah Miles has a great commentary over at the UM Portal (h/t John Meunier). I’ll let you read this article and withhold comment for the time being. I wonder if anyone is listening…

August 28, 2007 at 6:54 am 1 comment

The Story Continues…

So, I saw our little neighbor-guy riding his bike on Saturday. He asked me when church was, and I said, “Classes are at 10, and worship at 11.” I was a little taken aback when he said, “No…what day is Church?”

Wow, are we conditioned to Christendom or what? I told him that we always meet on Sunday, and that we were looking forward to seeing him there. He wasn’t there yesterday, so I’m going to stop by and make sure his grandma knows that he was very well-behaved (curiosity is not misbehavior!) and is welcome anytime.

August 27, 2007 at 7:35 am 1 comment

Ordination Questions – Humanity & the Need for Divine Grace

2.) What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace?

I entered ministry holding together two views of humanity. First, we are created in the image of God (the imago Dei). In fact, the Psalmist marvels at the way in which humans are created “a little lower than God…and crowned with glory and honor.” In other words, we are created for goodness and wholeness in the exact image of God. Yet on the other hand, one need only to watch the evening news to see that our world is broken and disjointed. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Things are not the way God intended. In my ministry, I have seen the heights and depths of both views. I have seen the mystery of God’s good creation cradling infants in my arms to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I’ve seen the brokenness of our world in the struggle of a husband and wife whose marriage collapses under the stresses and strains of life.

This tension between the original goodness of God’s creation and the reality of evil and brokenness in our world is the place where we live. Far too often, I have found that people put these in the wrong order. Instead of seeing the imprint of God’s gracious presence in their lives, far too many Christians have heard this message, “You are a despicable, worthless creature, but God might just be able to do something with you yet.” Instead, the wonderful gospel message we are called to share is this, “No matter how you might feel, no matter what you have gone through, you are one of the crowning achievements of God’s good creation! Even though the Fall is lived and reenacted daily in the lives of women and men, the good news is that God will stop at nothing to repair what is broken in your life. The story of Jesus is the story of God’s great reclamation project of our world. God is continually working to form each one of us into the imago Dei. God is actively at work, graciously restoring you to wholeness.”

Grace is the gift of God’s ongoing reclamation of the world, and I have seen this in the lives of those people I serve. I have seen it in a woman recovering from addiction as she joined the Church by professing her faith in Jesus. Immediately she was surrounded by a new family that loves, cares, and prays for her. In that scene, I don’t simply see someone added to the membership rolls; I see the work of God’s new creation happening right there in our midst. I have seen it in a community asking me what has gotten into our members, “I don’t know what’s going on over there, but something’s different.” That is far more than more workers being added to our depleted ranks; that is the very work of God’s new creation happening in our midst. Sin and brokenness are real, but God’s love came first. Through the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, our world is being transformed. That is my understanding of what grace is all about.

August 26, 2007 at 4:32 pm 2 comments

Ordination Questions – Experience & Understanding of God

Inspired by the commissioning responses of Andrew over at Thoughts of Resurrection and the ordination responses of Andy at Enter the Rainbow, I’ve decided to post a few of my own. This has been taking up a lot of my writing time, so I thought at least my blog wouldn’t go silent in the meantime. So, feel free to comment, make suggestions, ask questions, etc. These are all rough drafts and will most likely change in some form or another.

1.) How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of God? Oftentimes, ministry is like the weather in Oklahoma. If you are not happy with what’s happening at any given moment, all you need to do is wait and it will change! Three scenes scattered from my last three years of ministry illustrate this perfectly: a quiet evening at home with my family is interrupted with the news of a motorcycle accident involving a teen from our congregation who was broken but survived, I am awakened by a late night call with word that a beloved matriarch of our congregation is dying in the hospital intensive care unit, and an evening visit with community members at the local high school football game is cut short in order to be with a family at the funeral home when the body of their loved one arrives.

In the middle of life, in the very midst of ministry, I have learned to experience and understand God in a new way. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Looking back at my answers immediately following seminary, I see a very complex doctrinal portrait of God focused on God’s Triune nature, creative power, redemptive purposes, and eschatological vision. Even though I still hold strongly to these commitments, the very practices of baptizing both young and old, offering God’s grace at the table, speaking words of both comfort and challenge from Scripture, sitting with the dying, and leading worship for the bereaved have helped me move more closely to the simplicity beyond complexity. It is no wonder that the first letter of John to the “beloved,” eventually states the simple fact that, “…God is love.”

At times, I am overwhelmed by the sheer mystery and complexity of our Triune God, but through the free gift of grace, I have experienced God’s abiding presence and abundant peace in the midst of the storms of life. Through countless experiences watching God at work in the lives of others, I am more and more convinced of God’s transforming love. So even with a full appreciation of God’s complexity, I have a simple trust that God’s eternal self-giving love descends to us in the incarnation, seeking to reach out to save those who are hopeless, helpless, and hungry.

It is this simple loving presence in the world that motivates my ministry. It is God’s subtle, yet increasingly real work in my life that sustains me through the ups, downs, and surprises of service. The fullness of God’s love is the fullness for which I’m willing to lay down my life.

August 24, 2007 at 4:16 pm 7 comments

Who Owns Your Church?

This weekend, I had the privilege of helping clean profane graffiti off the sidewalk in front of our Church. A friend from the Church and I spent time Saturday morning working to get it clean with a power washer, paint thinner, and a wire brush. On one hand, I was angry that someone would do this in our little slice of Mayberry, but on the other hand, it made me realize that we can no longer pretend that the Church has a privileged place in society as it once did (Post-Christendom) even in rural America.

Not long ago, I read a post or an article about someone saying the trash on their church lawn reminded them of the messiness of the world and was a call and reminder of the mission to which we are called outside our doors. Believe it or not, this statement gave me the strength to pray we could reach the kind of people who would spray paint on a Church sidewalk with the good news of God’s Kingdom.

Even as I was breathing this prayer, a little boy from next door walked up to see what we were doing. He proceeded, without blinking, to recite the profanity written across the street at the school, and asked if we had seen it. When we said no he proceeded to give us a parable. He said, “Who owns this Church anyway?” I tried to explain that it is like the school and it is owned by a group (since he likely had never heard of a denomination). He said, “No our principal owns the school.” Maybe so! That’s sure the way it’s structured from a third-graders perspective, isn’t it? He then said, “I know who owns it anyway,” and then pointed at my house across the street. “That guy over there owns it.” My buddy was laughing, when I told him I was “that guy over there.”

A few minutes later, I invited the little guy to the Church I “own.” He ran in and asked his grandmother, and lo and behold showed up yesterday morning – on the second row, with his feet propped up on the pew in front of him, like he owned the place. During our welcome, when we go around and shake hands, he was up on stage running his hand through the flame of the candles!

Who owns the Church anyway? Jesus said to save your life you must lose it. To save the Church, maybe we need to lose it. If so, I can’t think of a better way than by handing over the keys to a little poor third-grader who lives next door with his grandma. Sounds crazy…almost like a parable.

August 20, 2007 at 6:47 am 4 comments

Backyard Wildlife

I was playing in the backyard with my son, and saw these two incredible butterflies. Fortunately, they stayed around long enough for me to get my camera out and snap away. I was so impressed with how some of them turned out.

Backyard ButterflyBackyard Butterly IIBackyard Butterfly III

Found out with a little searching that these are Agraulis vanillae more commonly known as the Gulf Fritillary.

Backyard Butterfly IVBackyard Butterfly VBackyard Butterfly VI

August 17, 2007 at 5:06 pm 1 comment

Church of Nature

Buffalo MountainI was reading an article yesterday in Ladies’ Home Journal (yeah, yeah, don’t ask) about the “Church of Nature.” In this article, a concerned mother saw her downcast son on a Sunday morning very upset about having to go to Church. She asked him why and he said, “I’d rather be watching our tadpoles.” Immediately she had a revelation and decided that every now and then they’d play hooky from Church and take the kids down to a nearby river to explore the “Church of Nature.”

I don’t really have much to say about the article. I’m not going to spend any time speculating on the underlying theological and philosophical commitments of the author. Instead, I want to think about the Church. Is your Church so boring for kids that they’d rather watch tadpoles? Do kids beg their parents not to come to Church?

More than anything, this reminded me of my childhood. I grew up in a little Southern Baptist Church in rural Oklahoma. As soon as I read this article, I was reminded of how we weren’t forced to make a decision between being outside and going to Church. Many times I can remember our Sunday School teachers, far wiser than many church education experts, deciding it was too beautiful to stay in our classroom. Instead, they would say it was time for a nature walk, and we’d take off down the little country road behind our church. The teacher would say something like, “When we get back we’ll talk about all the things we see that God made,” and during our trip we’d throw rocks off the bridge, catch crawdads, and play in the water.

After worship, during church dinners, we kids would barely stay inside before going out to play in the little branch running through our property. We’d catch crawdads again, try to splash each other with rocks, and build dams with rocks and pine needles. Of course, these miniature Corps of Engineer projects would often undergo forced dismantling at the request of our wiser elders after a brief lesson on erosion!

I can also remember leaving worship after a particularly vivid sermon on having the faith of a mustard seed, the kind that could move mountains. None of us had ever heard of Tom Wright, and so we didn’t “know” that this was referring to the temple mount. Instead, we’d all stand in the parking lot talking as we’d look across the road at Buffalo Mountain and marvel. Someone would inevitably say, “Wow, can you believe that if we had enough faith we could move that mountain?” We’d be astounded by God’s power, really astounded, and then go home. Who wouldn’t want to go to Church and experience that?

I’m not sure where the person who wrote that article went to church, but it sure wasn’t where I grew up. Maybe she went somewhere too sophisticated and busy talking about God’s care for the environment to really get out and love it like God does. Too bad.

August 17, 2007 at 8:42 am 2 comments

Are we Sims?

According to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, there is about a 20% chance that we’re nothing more than characters in a large simulated universe ran by sentient beings of the future. This proposal is briefly explained in the New York Times article, Our Lives, Controlled From Some Guy’s Couch.

While this highly speculative theory is very interesting, it seems to be less imaginative than one might imagine. Think about it. To me, this seems to be a modern or post-modern example of Feuerbach’s old claim that God is simply humanity’s desire writ large – i.e. God is a projection of our desires. In this case, however, the very metaphysic of the universe is our current technology writ large. Computer simulations are a reality in our world, Bostrom seems to argue, so who’s to say we aren’t simply part of a grander more elaborate computer simulation of the future?! Is this any different than early humans believing that storms, earthquakes, etc. were gods in some way?

In the end, I think our faith can hold up to these kinds of critiques, because Jesus simply does so many things that I don’t want to do. Who wants to love or forgive their enemies? I don’t. Who wants to give up their life to save it? Not me. If my deepest desires were written large upon the universe, the God of my invention would look a whole lot different. Wouldn’t yours? So, I think there is something important about the fact that God’s difference is revealed to us by the very paradoxical claims of Christ revealed through Scripture. There is something that refutes the Feuerbachian claim in the very fact that our calling is so often conflicted with our intuition and desire. Yet at the same time, when we pursue God’s call to live in this counter-intuitive way we are given peace that surpasses understanding.

So, I guess I’m not worried that we’re simply Sims after all.

August 16, 2007 at 6:01 am 2 comments

Off-Road Disciplines

Off-Road DisciplinesI have been on a self-imposed book buying moratorium as I wait to begin my D.Min. program. Something tells me that I’ll be buying a lot of books during my time in that program, so I should save my book money for those. However, my trips to the local libraries just aren’t enough. I guess I’m too used to ordering stuff from Amazon.com at the drop of a hat! So yesterday when I went to Tulsa to take my truck back for a recall, I stopped by Cokesbury and bought a new book: Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders by Earl Creps.

So far, I am very impressed with this book. When I read books, I often think of the kind of person who would really benefit the most from reading it. For me, this book is an excellent introduction to postmodern/emerging concepts for those conservative or evangelical clergypersons who might be suspicious of these movements, but are still passionate about reaching people influenced by postmodernity in a missional way.  To be honest, this book seems to be written for an older audience.  I’m pretty sure the reason this might fit those types well is related to Creps’ socio-cultural context, which I mention a bit below.

Let me offer you a few great quotes from my early reading, as I’ve found myself underlining quite a bit so far. In the first chapter, Creps talks about the need to move from a centralized model of leadership (the big, authoritarian pastor model) to a model where Christ is at the center of our lives in missional communities. Unfortunately for us, he believes this shift is often, if not always, motivated by death of our dreams and ambitions.

A missional life, then, experiences the centrality of Christ as our failures expose the illusion that we merit the center position. Failure, among other forces, reveals this illusion for what it is, crucifying it and giving us the chance to invite Christ to assume the central role in practice, instead of just in doctrine (p. 10).

He continues later in the chapter with what I believe is the biggest danger for those of us who care about reaching people for Christ in creative and culturally-sensitive ways. Emerging Church “techniques” imposed on a community can easily devolve into what he describes here,

We like to transform things technologically, thinking of ministry as an instrumentality, ourselves as the CEO, the Holy Spirit as a sort of power cell, and the church as an object we modify. In so doing, we risk creating not much more than a hipper version of irrelevance (p. 14).

He closes this chapter with a challenge that speaks to me in a way that is painfully clear,

In it all, God calls me out of the center that He alone rightfully occupies, to let go of things I treasure, to meet Him among the marginalized where He is always most at work. I will meet Him there most profoundly if the transformation of my inner life is at stake (p. 14).

I really relate to a lot of what Creps is doing in this book. He is operating out of the Assemblies of God tradition and runs the D.Min. program at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, so I imagine he has many of the same challenges as those of us in mainline denominations who are used to doing things a certain way – especially those of us with more “conservative” theological pedigrees. No doubt he has plenty of challenges unique to his setting as well. In any case, I’m looking forward to continuing my conversation with Creps through this book, and I pray that God will continue to mold me into the missional leader I am called to be.

August 15, 2007 at 7:21 am 6 comments

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