Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Friday, June 24, 2016

What I was Trying to Say...

Jesus has been called a lot of things.  I think one of the most important things he has been called is what he called himself and what was echoed by the writer of Hebrews. 

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” And “I and the Father are one.” Both from John’s Gospel.  Both are Jesus asserting more than a similarity with God the Father, more than a familiar connection.  Hebrews 1 says it like this, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God…” (NLT)

A couple Sundays ago, I was wrapping up my morning message about the image of God and the idols we replace Him with. Jesus, I was trying to say, is the best revelation of God that we have.  One practical application of that truth, I was asserting, was that Jesus should be the lens through which we read the whole rest of the Bible. 

Here’s part of what I said, “If we look at any other parts of the Bible to determine what God is like we have to look at it through the lens of Jesus so that when it doesn't look like Jesus we have to go hmmmm I'm going to have to set that aside because that doesn't look like Jesus I can't ascribe that to God just because it says it because it doesn't look like Jesus. I need a greater understanding that I don't have right now because this is what Jesus said “have I been with you all this time Philip and yet you still don't know who I am.  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father so why are you asking me to show him to you. Jesus reveals the Father.”

I know this was confusing for some. You can give the whole thing a listen here, and let me know what you think.

What I wasn’t trying to say was that we should all go “Thomas Jefferson” on the Bible and cut out all the bits that we don’t like. I wasn’t trying to say that we should toss out some of the hard passages that ascribe horrible violence to God. I wasn’t trying to say that Jesus replaces YHWH of the Old Testament. What I meant by “set that aside…” was simply this, my understanding of the Bible is undoubtedly fallible and my capacity for interpreting its meaning pales in comparison to Jesus’ ability to accurately image what God is really like.  Therefore, when my understanding of a passage paints a picture of God that doesn’t look like Jesus, I need to “set it aside,” ie. don’t build a doctrine around it, don’t change my worship because of it and don’t tell other people my “word of wisdom” because I’m clearly missing something.  If Jesus and the Father are one (and I think they are) and Jesus is the exact representation of God’s character (and He is) then the flaw is in my understanding, not in Jesus’ revelation.

So how does that come up practically?

When I read that women are to remain silent in the church, and I read that through the lens of Jesus, something doesn’t make sense.  Jesus elevated women, included them and encouraged them to speak up.  He sent the woman at the well back to town with a story to tell, he sent the women back to be the first to declare the good news, “Jesus isn’t in the grave!” So, while the plain reading of the text is quite obvious, its actual meaning must not be.  Because it doesn’t look like Jesus.

When I read the Old Testament and the picture of a war-like tribal God is painted for me, it has to give way to the revelation of Jesus in arriving at the best understanding of what God is really like.  At least that is what Hebrews seems to be saying.  I’m not saying that those passages should be ignored or cut out or tossed in the bin.  I’m saying that we need to “set it aside” until we can come to an understanding about their meaning that maintains the integrity of the revelation of Jesus as the exact representation of God’s character. Don’t make big decisions, don’t develop theology, don’t change your worship, don't feel justified in doing violence to your enemies - if it doesn’t look like Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In some ways, what I’m advocating is that we use the same hermeneutic that Jesus seems to be using in the Gospels when he says things like, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”

There’s a worship song that’s currently popular that says, “I’ve heard a thousand stories / Of what they think You’re like.” Well, God’s only told one story, Hebrews seems to be saying, that tells us what God is precisely like and that story is Jesus.

I hope this hasn’t added to the confusion, I know that’s one of my spiritual gifts, adding to the confusion.  Leave comments or questions below and I’ll do my best to sharpen the clarity on what I’m trying to say.  Or offer apologies if I’m somehow missing what the Bible says.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

When a Movement Stops Moving

What makes a Movement a Movement and not an Institution or Organization?

It seems like there are a few key differences but I think what best sums them all up is the presence of what Walter Brueggemann calls, “Prophetic Imagination.” A Movement possess it, an Institution eliminates it.

Initially, it seems that a movement begins when a grass roots felt need is met by a catalyst, develops critical mass and is captivated by prophetic imagination – things can be different than they are now. The danger, as Brueggemann points out, is that which is developed from the prophetic imagination tends to become the enemy of that prophetic imagination as it settles into an institutional rather than prophetic shape.

Herbert Blumer described the four stages of a social movement, these have been refined or simplified by other scholars but maintain the same basic meaning.  They are: Emergence, Coalescence, Bureaucratization, and Decline.  The story of Israel, Brueggemann says, illustrates this movement.  It started with Moses and a vision of a “free God” and that life didn’t have to be “this way.” Then, as this new Movement pursued the prophetic vision and a “free God,” they eventually morph into Solomon’s monarchy, and a consolidation of power wherein the former slaves became the oppressors and the Tabernacle was replaced with a Temple and God was ‘permanently’ anchored in place. The Movement experienced both its highest and lowest point at exactly the same time, albeit from two different perspectives.

Eventually, it seems, Movement becomes Empire.

Then, two things happen.  1) The Empire has to marginalize the voices of dissent.  Ultimately, the Empire must eliminate the dissenting or prophetic voice as they clearly endanger the well-being of the Empire. And 2) The prophetic voices begin a race to the bottom to be sure they aren’t the last one standing who is compelled to tell the Emperor that he’s naked.

To resist the gravity that pulls us towards being an Empire, Movements need to be able to carry on what the catalyst started, to nurture the prophetic imagination, to be self-correcting – like science – and invite dialog, facilitate the prophetic imagination and reform accordingly.  But this is almost impossible because the Empire is convinced of their rightness, their efficacy and their sense of an almost divine approval by which they do what they do.  We can tweak the Empire, but we cannot dismantle the Empire, we’ve invested far too much of our resources and our ego.

So, what do we do to get a Movement moving again?

1) Listen to the Artists.  I don’t mean to say that we have them submit papers or proposals or give them 30 minutes to present something to our board or executive council.  I mean that we create Artist collectives and we engage in conversation, listen to the music, observe their dance, walk through their galleries.  Where the Arts are not fostered you can be sure that Empire is gaining ground.  To move, we must let the songwriters and the painters, the dancers and the musicians, the wine makers and playwrights, tell us what sort of future they imagine for us.

2) Listen to the Scholars. Why oh why have a body of scholars developed within the midst of a Movement and then not consult and listen to them?  Empire develops scholars to legitimize themselves and their actions, as needed.  A Movement consults and seeks consensus, it looks for the synergy that comes from a collective who may not agree on every point but who embody the heart of where we are going with a deep knowledge and understanding of from where we have come.  Scholars, however, are often early adopters of the prophetic imagination and this, quite simply, makes them dangerous to the Empire.

3) Listen to the Story.  Stanley Hauerwas writes about the effort of modernity as, “the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.” We have a story but the Empire is a revisionist or a redactor or simply in denial because it suits the Empire to be what is, what was and what is to come.  We need to revisit the work of our storytellers and realize that what we had at the beginning of our story may be because of what we did at the beginning of our story.  We should not think the way forward is through nostalgia or trips down memory lane, these actually serve to reinforce the Empire.  Rather, we need to let our story remind us of the prophetic imagination that once served as catalyst for our Movement and let that be all the permission and authority we need to begin to prophetically imagine what can be.

4) Empower the Imagineers.  Most of us don’t like tension.  But tension is where all the good stuff usually happens. Gather the Imagineers and create time and space where dreamers can dream and sacred cows can be put on the grill for burgers and steaks. Yes, this is scary.  Yes, it may mean uncomfortable change.  Yes, there will be some people who are committed to the Empire and they will threaten to take their toys and leave.  You can’t be a Movement if you’re being held hostage by people who threaten to quit and neither can you be a Movement if you put a gag on the dreamers – overtly or covertly simply by never making space to listen or to act on what comes from them.

Final word goes to Walter Brueggemann, from The Prophetic Imagination, “…every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist.  It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”

What future are you dreaming of?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Figuring It All Out

One of the great myths of the United States is the myth of the self-made man (or, thanks to feminism, woman).  It is a story we tell ourselves and we tell each other and we tell our children, to inspire confidence and attempts at doing new things, particularly in business or politics. It is a defining story for our culture and when you suggest that there is no such thing as a self-made anyone, you provoke the tender places that elicit violent reactions or icy cold reception.

As a pastor, I see this same sort of mythologizing among Christians who come to their “own conclusions” about faith and feel great confidence in the rightness of their preferences or of the conclusions they have drawn. These conclusions and preferences have no orientation, no “north star” other than the gravity of their own thoughts and feelings. This is a human condition, so it’s no surprise to see it in the attitudes and actions of believers. In large part, I think this is the unintended consequence of cutting people off from the Story we’re all in, the work of modernity that coopted faith for its own ends.

Stanley Hauerwas writes about this as, “the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.”

In the pond I swim in, we often refer to this as “the next move of God.”  We could just as easily call it the next wife, the next job, the next re-invention of myself: me 2.0. We talk about “what God is doing today” as if he’s started a new story – because that fits the narrative we’re already living in. Frankly, we prefer a faith practice that reinforces the things that we already believe, the feelings we’re already feeling, the conclusions to which we’ve already come. And by wrapping these all up in very spiritual language we externalize our issues and make noble our actions as we seek to follow Jesus the way we want to.

This path locks us into the inevitable entropy of disintegrated anticipation and the need to keep jumping to a new story as the last one fizzles, fails or falls apart.

Since I’ve been a Christian, not as long as you might think, we have Marched for Jesus, Willow Creeked, Wimbered, Alpha-ed, K.C. Propheted, Inner Healed, Watchmened for the Nations. We’ve been Purpose Driven, Spiritually Mapped, Soaked, the Father’s blessed us, we Cell churched, Shepherded, Globally Awakened, had the restoration of apostles and prophets, done Identificational Repentance and we’ve taken our cities for God.  We have been revived in Brownsville, renewed in Toronto, done 24/7 prayer, 24/7 worship, Youth Churched, fasted for spiritual breakthrough, made intercessors a separate group from everyone else in the church, taken Steps to Freedom, watched Transformation Videos, joined the Global Day of Prayer and discovered the moving pinnacle of worship in Integrity, Hosanna, Maranatha, Vineyard, Hillsong, Delirious, Passion, Jesus Culture, Elevation, and the soup du jour.

Some of the above has been amazing.  Some has been rubbish.

A friend of mine, a younger friend, moved to a large city and found himself in the midst of a number of people his age, believers, intent on following Jesus.  Of course, they couldn’t find a local church that exactly did it for them.  So they started meeting together in an apartment. As their numbers grew, they rented an apartment together, collectively, just to hold their meetings in.  They sat on the floor on pillows, sang acoustic songs, listened to insights they would share with one another, and from one guy in particular who people seemed to look to as an unelected leader or spokesperson for those who gathered.

At first, they didn’t take up an offering, they just helped out the poor in their neighborhood and among them. Once they had to rent an apartment to accommodate their growth as a group, they started to take up an offering, just to help with community expenses, and my young friend was made the “keeper of the bank account” because he was, and still is, gifted by God to handle and create resources.  In a short amount of time, my young friend was involved in two conversations.  The first was awkward.  The “unelected leader” of the group had found himself devoting more and more time to teaching and conversations and need meeting within their informal group.  He came to my young friend and wondered if there were any moneys in the community account that could be used to reimburse him for time missed at his regular job and cover some expenses incurred from doing his volunteer work with their group.  The second conversation was with their whole community, not awkward at all, but an epiphany of sorts.

They called a “community meeting” after their regular meeting for worship and insights. Some of the young adults wanted to discuss an issue.  Several of the young couples had started to have children.  In fact, there were a number of babies in their meeting and several women who were present were also pregnant.  They wondered together whether or not there was something they could do so that the young moms could stay in the room for worship but the babies were all nearby in some adjacent room or something, with someone designated to look after them, maybe on a rota of some kind so not just one mom or individual had to be in the next room with the babies all the time?

It was at this moment my young friend (who had grown up a PK) told me, that he realized they had become a church like the churches they had all come from.

As followers of Jesus, we’re in a Story.  It’s valuable to know the Story we are in because it will save us from thinking we’re “boldly going where no man has gone before.” It will orient us to the things that have always mattered and will always mattered.  The Story will help us sort out our wants that we’ve always projected onto God from the main and the plain of what God is doing.  Knowing our Story helps us sort out the phonies and their miracle claims because we know the Story and what miracles really look like. Immersion in the Story we’re in will carry us through the seasons when it seems like nothing is happening because we know we’ve been there before and these deserts always precede something better. Knowing our Story gives us heart for the long haul rather than spastic sprints from one “move of God” to another.

So, may we know the Story and not be taken in by the stories we’ve made up for ourselves when we thought we had no story.  And may we be saved from “self-made” thinking and find the freedom of being made by God, embedded in the brilliant Story that he has given us.

Friday, May 27, 2016

When Is Your Tribe Not Your Tribe?

About 20 years ago I walked into my first Vineyard Church meeting.  My story is like the story of many others who did the very same thing and suddenly realized, “This is my tribe! These are my people!”

My own journey with God had taken me from a Cessationist movement and into a desert where my faith was deconstructed.  It turned out that my desert was in an ocean all along and God was engaging me in a process of formation that continues until the Last day. But I’ve enjoyed this feeling for two decades – I am part of a Tribe that gets me, that connects with God the way I connect with God, that lets God define himself rather than the boxes we build for him.

As I have lived and grown and been changed, I’ve found my Tribe within the Tribe: the Vineyard Scholars.  From a certain perspective, I might be a scholar.  I am not a theologian, but I do love theology. But what makes this Tribe within the Tribe dear to me is that, in hanging around them, reading them and engaging with them in conversation, I feel at home in both my head and my heart. This group is a grace from God to me.  They make me feel sane, they challenge me, they remind me what I have always loved about the Vineyard from the very first day I walked into my very first Vineyard Church meeting.

But lately I feel I am standing at a crossroads. I feel like I am standing at the center of an X where trajectories would appear to offer alternate futures from this time and place we’ve been sharing together. I love my Vineyard Tribe, but the question I contemplate a lot is this: what happens when your Tribe stops behaving like your Tribe?

From my perspective there are 4 Vineyards within the Vineyard today.  Let’s call one “Vineyard Classic.”  That’s the Vineyard that Carol Wimber gathered in her living room and connected with God in worship using 3 chords and a lot of hunger.  I’d call number two “Vineyard lite”, we maintain our continuity with our history but we’ve pursued legitimacy and reputation over our values.  We’re much more about church growth than we are about Kingdom theology.  The 3rd version I see on the go and growing is “Baptiyard,” a strange Baptist/Vineyard hybrid that references the Holy Spirit, teaches on the Holy Spirit but utilizes the Spirit as a tool and more likely to listen to experts on “exponential attendance growth” than waiting on the Holy Spirit. This group is invested in a primary goal, being a new mega-church (or at least a mini-mega-church). Finally, the 4th stream that flows is what I would call “Bethyard,” another hybrid, this one a mix of Bethel and the Vineyard.  There have always been some in the Vineyard who want more, more experiences of the “glory cloud/gold dust/angel feathers/stick quarters to the wall” stuff.  Who believe “everyone gets to play” but seem to think one or two of us are better at playing than the others. In the Vineyard we have embraced the Already and Not Yet of the Kingdom of God: an enacted inaugurated eschatology.  The Bethyard folks have simply concluded that in the Vineyard we’ve emphasized the “not yet” too much and they, like Bethel, prefer a realized eschatology and land heavily on the “already.” The trouble, of course, for the Bethyard folks is this – what do they do when a Bethel gets planted nearby? Why will people stick around for the hybrid when they could have the real thing?

Back to me. (…cause, y’know, it’s all about me…)

Seeing this all play out around me, like a stranger in a strange land, has me contemplating these days, wondering what happens when my Tribe doesn’t feel or behave like my Tribe anymore? These are probably the growing pains of any movement, we are young at this in the Vineyard. But for sure, some of us have already decided to take our stuff and go elsewhere.  And a recent letter let us know that some Vineyards haven’t been contributing their 3% and if it that doesn’t change by October, they will be presumed dead (my expression, not the Vineyards). Can a relational movement, as I have perceived it, survive when consultation and conversation is replaced by position papers and mass emails?  Or were we never a relational movement and I’m simply deluded?

In May, I participated in a two-day workshop hosted by my regional leaders and led by Derek Morphew. It was brilliant and I was reminded by both the content and the participants why Vineyard is my Tribe. But for me it was also bittersweet as my perception is that the content that focused on Mark and Kingdom theology is becoming an ever quieted voice within our Tribe and the values that pulled us all together with Jesus at the center, is becoming something other than what it once was.  We all grow, we all change, life is a process and this is not an ode to the good old days. This is just me, a little voice out on the edge that feels deeply indebted to my Tribe, deeply appreciative for who I perceive we are, but I am feeling increasingly doubtful that when I show up for the next reunion the Tribe I once discovered will be the Tribe I will find.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Questions and Answers for Steven

Recently, Pastor Steven Furtick was asked the following questions for an email interview.  He declined to answer.  So, in the interest of helping a guy out, I offer my answers which he is very welcome to borrow…

1) You say you were inspired to write (Un)Qualified after being called out by a critic on YouTube. Tell us that story and how it shaped your definition of what it means to be qualified?

Obviously I can’t help with the story but I can tell you what it means to me to be “qualified.”
Honestly, I feel like I’m the most inadequate person to be doing what I do – not just as a pastor but as a husband, a dad, a neighbor and, well, a human being. What qualifies me, I believe, in all these areas is the love of God that is manifest in Jesus Christ. To borrow from Paul – if God is for us, who can be against us? And one more line – God’s strength is perfected in my weakness. To boil that down – I guess what I think qualifies me is that I am aware of my own limitations, shortcomings and sin and have confidence that in His love, God equips me with all I need to live the life to which he has called me. I’m qualified to live my story, not yours, not Steven’s, not anyone else’s, by the love of God, the grace of God meeting my willingness to acknowledge my weakness and my need.
p.s. I probably should have read Steven’s book before answer that…

2) You point out that the Bible is filled with stories of broken people that God has used to do big things. What is an area of brokenness in your life that outsiders would be surprised to learn about?

I try to be pretty transparent about my stuff, my wife thinks I may be too transparent. The brokenness that I am most keenly aware of is how selfish I can be.  My primary addiction is to myself and whenever someone tells me to “take care of yourself” I almost respond, “get behind me Satan!” because nobody takes better care of me than me. (I know God takes better care of me as His child but I look after – to use an old Bible word – “my flesh” like a boss.) That means I wrestle with pride and judging my best against other people’s worst a lot and I wrestle with keeping my eyes and thoughts where they ought to be. And writing this I am realizing that I also struggle with what you think of me too because after my previous sentence I’m now worried about it.

3) Some of your critics will undoubtedly say that you writing a book about being qualified is ironic because they don’t think you are qualified to lead in ministry. They claim you are arrogant and that your church operates on a cult of personality. How do you respond to such things?

Well, all I can think of is to apologize to my critics and those I have hurt or let down and ask them to forgive me.  I suppose my response is to spend some time in prayer and introspection, listening to the Spirit’s voice on this. I can definitely be arrogant, so I need to own that and make amends where I can.  Making sure other leaders are released and recognized in their ministries will hopefully defuse any sense of spotlight that might land on me.  A cult of my personality would be so incredibly boring that I don’t think we’d draw much of a crowd.

4) Some are uncomfortable with the size of your house and the level of personal luxury you’ve achieved. They say this proves you are unqualified to lead. You’ve publicly thanked God for your house, saying you live in line with Jesus’ teachings. In a world of poverty and prosperity preaching, does a pastor’s personal wealth reflect on his or her qualification for ministry, in your mind?

I think my use of my wealth definitely reflects on my qualification for ministry.  I live in the tension of being part of the 1% while part of a world where brothers and sisters of mine are going to bed hungry regularly.  Daily. I think greed is a pervasive and acceptable sin in our western world, though we typically don’t preach or teach on it.  I sometimes feel bad about the amount of stuff I have, not based on merit, simply based on the needs of my family.  These things have to create tension in our lives and we must live lives that reflect that tension or we can hardly say we’re being influenced by Jesus.

5) You say, “God can’t bless who you pretend to be.”  What do you mean by that?

I can’t say what Steven means but I can say that the masks we wear insulate us from God’s transformative love and isolate us from each other.  I think a big part of the work the Spirit does in our lives is to restore who we were made to be rather than who we would like to be and definitely freeing us from who we pretend to be.

6) How have you pretended to be something you are not in your own life and ministry?

I’ve tried on so many other pastors and their ministries over the last 30 years that it makes my head hurt to think about it.  I’ve read books, attended conferences and seminars and then tried to be these other people and live their story in my context or particularity.  It doesn’t work. Not really.  In fact, I’d say it poisons the soul.  I’m conscious today that I live under the influence of others and I’m cool with that, but I also like me and who God created me to be.  I embrace my introverted self, my quirks and weirdness and the awkwardness that is part of being who I am.  If I’m honest though, I have to admit that pretending comes easy but hopefully between the Holy Spirit and my wife I get called out enough to break the habit.  Getting older has given me the gift of feeling this need to pretend become smaller and smaller.

7) How do you distinguish between what it means to be qualified in God’s eyes versus the world’s eyes? Does one’s reputation among outsiders matter?

In my experience, it comes down to the voice of the Holy Spirit talking to me, convicting me, encouraging me, guiding me to know what counts with God.  I’ve seen way too many “qualified” leaders in the Church crash and burn or their families and marriages implode or their hubris get the better of them.  The problem, of course, is that we’ve built an evangelical machine that feeds this and rewards it until they crash.  (And even then we can offer a great contract for a book on how they rebounded.) No one in the Church gets there alone, we’ve fueled it, fed it and applauded it – we drink the Kool-Aid and then ask for more.  We can’t blame these men and women alone; we bear the weight of this with them.  Does reputation among outsiders matter?  Absolutely.  But “reputation” in the sense that we live like Jesus, a man of “no reputation.” We don’t want to be jerks for Jesus but if the world is applauding us and calling us successful, we need to double check our lives. To some we’re going to smell like death, to others we’ll smell like fresh air – we should always be evaluating how we smell and to whom we stink.

That's it, I hope that's helpful Steven and I appreciate Jonathan Merritt asking these questions and giving me a nudge for some time with the Spirit today to clean out some closets. Are there questions that are too scary for you to answer? Which of these 7 would you rather not think about?  Should leaders expect to be accountable for the way they live and choices they make?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Protecting the Gospel from the Truth

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Pastor/Evangelist/Miracle Worker ‘X’ tells a story about something they did, hypothetically, let’s say they claim to have brought someone back from the dead.  Unfortunately for you, you’re the kind of person for whom details matter, and the details of their story make you go, “hmmmm.”  So you check in to some of those details and find out that the story ‘X’ is telling is, well, an exaggeration at best, a bold faced lie at worst.  When a friend tells you this same story as something that really happened, you tell them the “rest of the story” only to be met with, “Dude, you’re sowing seeds of doubt, you’ll hurt people’s faith, you’re going to bring shame on the Gospel.  Don’t tell people that stuff.”

Or someone else tells a negative story about Pastor/Evangelist/Miracle Worker ‘X’ and you feel compelled to circle the wagons and protect dear ‘X’s reputation so that the people they’ve led to Jesus, help grow in faith, inspired to step out and “R-I-S-K” will leave the faith, get shipwrecked, doubt, stop coming to church.  “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” is the quotable for moments like those.

The person in the above scenarios who finds themselves in a world of trouble with their family isn’t the exaggerator or the person behaving badly, generally it tends to be the person who asked the uncomfortable question or ratted out the anointed ‘X.’  We feel compelled to protect the Gospel from the Truth.  There is a curious aspect to our human experience wherein it seems when the legend collides with the truth, we prefer the legend.

I think for those of you who know the Emperor has no clothes on, the pressure is immense to say nothing.  I apologize for maintaining a culture where that pressure gets applied to protect people from the truth.  I think for those of you who feel compelled to double down on the Emperor’s new clothes, we’ve created a climate where we have encouraged you to not think independently and never question the narrative.  Truth, it seems to me, should be able to withstand scrutiny and shouldn’t require us to delete Facebook or blog comments in order to maintain ‘the anointing.’  We’ve tied faith to not asking questions and loyalty to blindness, and for these things, I apologize and ask God to help us overcome our fears and insecurities and help us trust that Truth is always where we find God and lies are always where we find the enemy.

Here’s a quote that might be useful for all of us in the Church in these days…

Here are some typical spoken or unspoken rules in unhealthy family systems:
Do what “looks good”, even if it is dishonest
Don’t be a bother and don’t rock the boat
Deny things you don’t want to see, and they will go away
Do what I say, even when I do the opposite
Express only happy positive feelings
It is wrong to be angry or sad
You must never question our behavior, but go along with it
You must conform to what we expect of you, no matter what
Your needs are not as important as our needs

We can do better.  I can do better.  And in 2016, by the grace of God, I will do better and let the Truth protect the Truth.  May God give us all a healthy family system as sons and daughters in 2016.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mind the Gap

The old story/joke about Christian Education goes like this: a Sunday school teacher was in the middle of a lesson with her class when she asked, “He crawls up trees, gathers acorns and other nuts and he has a long bushy tail, what do we call him?” A little boy raises his hand, “I know the answer’s ‘Jesus’, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”  Meant to poke fun at our evangelical tendency to make ‘Jesus’ the answer for every question, when the conversation is about the nature of the kingdom of God the answer really is, ‘Jesus.’

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, particularly as I prepared a series of messages for this month.  Yesterday, a very good question by a Facebook friend has turned up the volume on the thoughts I’ve been having.

Jesus is called Autobasileia, Origen’s clever way of saying that Jesus is the kingdom in person.  If we want to know what the kingdom is all about, what kingdom living looks like, we simply refer to Jesus.

If we accept that premise, we’re faced with some hard challenges.  In fact, I think the list of things that acknowledging this challenges in how we presently appropriate faith would be so long as to be practically impractical. Like the mosquito in the nudist colony who could see the job but didn’t know where to start, the amount of reform, personally and corporately, seems beyond reach.

Unless we had someone who could help us.

I think the old poem by Wilbur Rees (I think I first read this in Swindoll’s Improving Your Serve – back before Amazon boys and girls), Three Dollars Worth of God hits the mark that I’m trying to get to:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

When I honestly evaluate my own life in contrast to the Autobasileia, I sense a substantial gap between the way I’m living it and the way he lived it.  The gap isn’t one of commandment keeping, while I’m far from perfect in that regard, I’m much closer to the Autobasileia than I am, say, Donald Trump. If we can all be honest for a sec, not ‘sinning’ isn’t really as hard as we sometimes make it out to be if we reduce our definition of ‘sin’ to the letter of the law.

The challenging bit is living like the Autobasileia, loving like him, giving like him, forgiving like him, giving up my life like him, carrying my own cross every day.

Personally, I prefer a more comfortable cross.  I like a more reasonable expectation on my life than living it for someone else.  I’m happy to put my family before myself (often – not always) but that’s where I want to draw my line.  That’s the contribution I prefer to make.  And the irritating thing is that the Autobasileia keeps erasing that line or refusing to acknowledge the existence of that line or respect that line – and he keeps calling me out to where he is, way beyond my lines.

There’s another old story about an ancient church father who was fielding some tough questions from recent converts to faith in the Autobasileia. The original Bible Answer Man?  The question came from some new Jesus followers whose occupation had been idol making.  The local church leaders told them they had to give up their trade and get a whole new bag.  They appealed to this church father back in the day about the unfairness of their situation and wrote, “We must eat!”  The church father had a simple reply, “Must you?” I hate that story because it challenges some of my own presuppositions that deep down I know aren’t really true.

Honest investigation sucks because you end up with answers that are incredibly inconvenient and almost always demand a change in the way you think and live.  An awareness of church history and general history adds to the uncomfortableness.

Dwight L. Moody famously quoted a word he received from a friend, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” I think of Antony when I read that quote.  I think of Francis.  I think of Martin.  I think the reality is that we have seen, and we create a special classification called, ‘saints’ to explain these outliers.  These are our pros, the rest of us are just amateurs unless we decide to turn pro.

I know you don’t struggle with this.  I realize this is my own internal conflict between the Autobasileia that I read in the Gospel and the pale imitation that inhabits a corner of my life and that I bring out at the appropriate times and places.  But today I wanted to share that struggle, to share my wrestling in the off chance that someone might share my struggle, someone might be interested, that someone might be on the same journey on which I find myself on this road to the Autobasileia.