12.29.2007

Whatever do you mean?

"...the true view of the Gospel will be that which explains the course of events in the first century and the second century, rather than that which seems to have spiritual and imaginative value for the twentieth century."

12.09.2007

Spanking

"Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence."

Wow. Oswald Chambers says it best. How hard it is to let go of ourselves. After spending my entire life trying to lose it to Christ, I will still be caught clutching it tightly in my cold dead fingers. That is hard to swallow!

12.05.2007

12.01.2007

Renounce your Citizenship!

The other day I watched JFK for the first time, in it is a scene with Lee Harvey Oswald in a Russian embassy renouncing his American citizenship as an act of antagonism and protest against the US. It got me thinking about the call to follow Jesus, and how Christians were first perceived in the larger Roman world of their day...

What if becoming a disciple of Jesus was no less (but rather more) a defection from citizenship in this world, and this nation. This amounts to 'traitors in the midst' to the government in Rome! This is why Rome destroyed so many Christians they were a political threat...


What do you do with people who have dedicated themselves to the overthrow of the established order? They propose an alternative way of living that is based around loving service instead of power and control. Their lives are so beautiful and attractive that they (by simply being who they are) are inviting people to ignore the status-quo and shift into their paradigm... But they aren't approaching the city with swords, nor are they attacking with diatribes, they don't wish to leave and start an alternate community but proclaim their intention to subvert this one from the inside, and they are unwilling to compromise, they won't bow to threats of death, nor cave in to promises of reward... such a people must be eradicated, or else they will be the cause of the greatest political/social upheaval in world history.


This is why for centuries Christians went into the flames, in front of the gladiators, and in the midst of the wild beast, while jeering crowds or cool aristocracy looked on...


Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here!

- Jesus of Nazareth

11.13.2007

Where does the solution lie?

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems.

-- Mahatma Gandhi

What problems are we talking about here? ...are we capable of solving our own problems? ...or not?

10.23.2007

Holiness IS

Holiness IS NOT:

Don't drink alcohol, or play cards, or dance, or wear clothes that reveal your calves. (A contemporary version of this list could include: vote Democratic, use drugs, listen to Eminem, engage in homosexual activity.) Don't associate with the types of people who do these things. Don't associate with the types of people who don't condemn these things. Don't associate with people who aren't holy like us...

Holiness IS:

'Keeping in step with the Spirit,' and producing the fruit of that. Embracing the 'abundant life,' the 'spring of living water,' and the overflow of God's goodness. Jesus tells us that God desires mercy and not sacrifice; He desires for us to overflow with goodness to show how holy we are, not to give up good things to show how holy we are.

=====================================

Holiness is a positive thing, not a negative thing; it is a quality or state of being, not the absence of something. Holiness is something true about your being, not something true of your circumstances. If we are 'Holy as God is Holy' then that holiness will send us into the midst of the community of sinners, it will not cause us to flee it in a panic, afraid the unholiness will rub off on us, but rather impell us with hope that the holiness will rub off on them.

=====================================

Holiness is something, unholiness is the absence of something; not the other way around.


Here are some applicable passages:

Romans 12:1-2 Living Sacrifices, embracing what God is doing, not what the culture is doing (not rejecting, but embracing)

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Sexual sin is wrong because it denies the reality that God wants us to embrace

Galatians 5:22-25 The Fruits of the Spirit and 'keeping in step with the spirit'

Matthew 5:20 Righteousness surpassing the Pharisees

Luke 6:43-45 Good fruit v Bad fruit, we are not simply cutting off branches, but producing good fruit

Matthew 9:9-13 Mercy not Sacrifice; have compassion on people instead of focusing on avoiding sin; overflowing v cutting off

Luke 10:25-37 Good Samaritan; the 'evildoers' are those who refuse to take responsibility, they are holy and undefiled, but the are not holy!

John 7:37-39 Streams of living water overflowing

John 10:10 Life abundant

Luke 13 healing on the sabbath v propriety

Luke 11 frauds pharisee dinner, clean the outside but the inside is dirty

10.16.2007

Jump in to the Deep End...

"All we're offering is a chance to change things, and a guarantee that something god-driven and spiritual will occur."

Author of The Breakist Manifestos

10.14.2007

Christian Paganism: Cinderella and Original Sin...

I had an opportunity to discuss the concept of 'original sin' with a woman who used to be a Christian, but is now an atheist. Her understanding of the doctrine is essentially that the world is evil, there is nothing good in it, especially in humanity. We are totally evil, with no redeeming features whatsoever. (Helen, if you are reading this and I mis-characterized your characterization, feel free to correct me...) This was one of the things she criticized about Christianity, its focus on evil; pointing out the problems in the world, and ignoring the beauty...

I responded that my understanding of Jesus' spirituality was quite contrary to this bleak view of the universe, and that I was compelled by my spirituality to see the world in terms of it's inherent beauty, power, and goodness. The ensuing dialogue rumbled about in my brain, sparking along the dusty synapses, and shining light into the remote regions of my intellect...

=========================================

The next morning I was deeply engaged in a wonderfully insightful film with my three year old daughter. I was suddenly struck by the relationship Cinderella had with the creatures living in and around her home. She sang with the birds, cared for the mice, chided the cat, loving them and evoking love in them in return.

The rusty four-cylinder engine between my ears turned over once or twice again...

=========================================

Pagans (loosely defined) see gods behind everything. There is a god in the elm and the maple, a god in the water and in the sky; the salmon and the osprey are manifestations of divine spirits; the moon and the stars are filled with spiritual significance and power. We can interact with these powers, calling them forth, making demands upon them and submitting to their demands; calling upon them for aid, and looking to them for guidance. The universe is alive with divinity, beauty and potency spring forth from every rock and flower; mysterious energy is present in all things.

=========================================

One of the first major intellectual challenges the disciples of Jesus faced in the early centuries of Christian thought was brought upon the spiritual community by a group who came to be called the "gnostics." They espoused a fundamentally Greek view of the Universe. A dualism between matter and energy, between the physical world and the spiritual world, was the backdrop for their understanding of Jesus. They believed matter and everything associated with it to be inherently evil. Jesus was not a man at all, but pure spirit, sent to rescue us from a material world of pure evil. They at times encouraged highly ascetic practices, giving up sex completely, eating sparse and restricted diets, avoiding pleasure.

This stands in stark contrast with the Universe of the ancient Jewish scriptures...

In the beginning God creates a world of dirt and plant, water and fish, birds, flowers, stars, clouds, and all manner of things; His spirit/breath is present within this Creation. God creates Adam and Eve, breathing His spirit into them, they bear His image and are responsible for the world arround them. Adam is in intimate relationship with the plants and animals, He 'names' them, and rules over them as a king over subjects. He is duty-bound to protect them and provide for their care; and they honor Him as the reflection of the Creator. The world is alive with divinity, beauty and potency spring forth from every rock and flower; mysterious energy is present in all things. God pronounces this caucophany of material and spiritual union, 'very good!'

...and so, when the first Christians were faced with the gnostic framework for seeing the Universe, given the spiritual and intellectual heritage they had as followers of a Jewish prophet-king, they naturally rejected such a view. Jesus came to affirm and bring 'life to the full,' not to reject it.

=========================================

The simple reality is that the western world (and western Christians within it) have unreflectively embraced the gnostic paradigm. We have not rejected an intimate Creator outright, but we have embraced a cruel mechanistic world, and so (unintentionally) God has no place in our conceptual framework. We have become deists...

Afraid of the messy comedy, raw sensuality, and blatant hedonism of the natural world, we have slayed it with our dissecting scalpels, our microscopes and telescopes. We have tamed the gods of the trees and the rocks. We have killed the sea god, 'analyzed' and 'studied' the heavens, and demystified the animals. The beasts and trees, the rocks and skies, still sing, but we have lost the ability to hear the melodious voices. The Spirit of God still 'hovers over the waters,' the Breath of God still whispers throughout the earth, but our cold eyes are closed the very medium of His goodness...

...and yet, if we are approached by the God who invented garlic and cumin, roses and peaches, nebulae and waterfalls, children and laughter, alcohol and orgasms, rhythym and melody; then perhaps He can awake in us the sense of divine play, the capacity for joy and energy required to hear the voices of the trees again.

=========================================

...and so we should not be surprised at the growing interest in pagan ideas (neopaganism, wicca, etc.) in fact, we should not even be that alarmed. Christians worship the Lord of Life, to any and all who seek to find true power and beauty, they are pursuing Jesus, the giver of new wines and new eyes, the waker of the dead, the party-goer, the True Vine, and the Spring of Living Water. The call to follow Jesus is the call to awaken our hearts to the haunting melodies, the inventive harmonies, and the heart-pounding rhythyms to be found in life; embracing wonder and awe at the awakening of the trees, the glorious skies and the monsters of the deep floor of the sea; embracing the joy and pleasure to be had simply by breathing in and out, exploring the wonderous diversity that humanity and its home has to offer.

What a terrible horror that ever did occur (were it even in but one mind, although it has unfortunately been in many) that Christianity became confused with asceticism, that the warm embrace of a loving Creator became the dark chastisement of a vengeful and distant Progenitor. How could we ever think that God doesn't enjoy that which He has made, and that we are invited to enter into His joy...

"A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of 'Space': at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now - now that the very name 'Space' seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it 'dead'; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he saw now that it was the womb of words, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes - and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers has been wiser when they named it simply the heavens - the heavens which declared the glory - the

'happy climes that ly
Where day never shuts his eye
Up in the broad fields of the sky.'

He quoted Milton's words to himself lovingly, at this time and often."


Out of the Silent Planet

10.12.2007

Homosexuality

Some thoughts and questions…

Loved the distinction between scriptural uses “establish/generate,” that is a very helpful and insightful distinction that gives some flesh to the “exegesis/eisegesis” distinction.

I am intrigued by the notion that Christian homophobia has more to do with cultural roots, than with scriptural mandate (this seems clear to me in our present context, however, I am less familiar with other contexts).

I do find it very problematic, however, to use the term ‘homophobia’ to refer specifically to those who call homosexual acts immoral. I find that use of terminology to be confusing (whether this is intentional or not is a point for debate, but it does seem to me to be an intentional strategy). It seems only prudent to distinguish between those who dislike, disparage, or discriminate against, and those who engage in deep friendship and partnership while simultaneously holding to the position that homosexual activity is unethical. Would you agree that this distinction should be made? Or would you lump both groups under the heading ‘homophobe?’

I am a little confused at the statement that there are no clear condemnations of homosexual activity in Scripture. I agree that it (homosexual activity) is far from central, and in fact quite peripheral to the narrative arc of God’s activity within history, but it seems to me that to claim what Jennings claims is not counter-intuitive, but rather simply inaccurate. God’s primary concern, His most cherished hope for humanity, is hardly that all people engage in heterosexual married sex. How banal! However, it seems to my reading of Scripture, that a life submitted to God’s activity would be moved in directions other than homoeroticism. I’d love to hear your response to that…

FInally, it seems to me that the claims of an integral role for homoeroticism in the Biblical story are simply an example of the homosexual community engaging in the same eisegesis that the fundamentalists are accused of…

To read David and Jonathon as homosexual lovers is to expose oneself as having never had deep, non-erotic, friendship. I have kissed a male friend in the midst of a deeply fervent time of prayer together. I have given my heart to other men in ways perhaps as deep as to my wife and children. I have also actually tried to see another man as in any way sexually arousing, and that attempt really made me laugh! I don’t have that desire (although we could enter into the nature/nurture conversation on that point…)

Again, I would love some feedback from you. This is clearly a topic of great concern to the future of the Church. I hope and pray that the way forward preserves a true integrity of faith in Jesus, and yet leaves behind the alienation that has at times and places come with spiritual fervor in His name. Thanks…

10.06.2007

Aidan Michael Schenk

Well...

the first two were both a week late, this one however, was a week early. That is why he was so small, only a skimpy 7 pounds 15 ounces. Okay, that isn't really small, but the other two were 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 pounds. Everything went great, we went into the hospital at 8:00pm and delivered around 4:45am, Aidan is totally healthy, and so is Tamy.

So far (fingers crossed) Aidan has been extremely quiet. Even when he isn't sleeping he just looks around quietly observing. That is the way his big sister was, his older brother, on the other hand, still hasn't stopped wiggling, hollering, and instigating...

The first two pictures are of some freinds who stopped in to visit, they have two of their own about the same ages as Zane and Zoe...







10.03.2007

The Story

Here is what was shared at our Sunday evening gathering. If you were there, I would love to hear your thoughts on any of this...

Outline:

1) God and His Creation
A) God is Beauty, Power, Creativity, Life, Goodness, Joy, Love
B) God creates a world that reflects His character, "It is good."
C) God creates humankind, He breathes (spirit/wind) into Man, Humanity is the caretaker, image-bearer, God-reflector

2) The Breaking of the World
A) Humanity rejects God and His image, steps out of fellowship with God and His place in creation
B) Humanity loses the Beauty, Power, Creativity, Life, Goodness, Joy, Love

Pain, Fear, Rage, Doubt, Despair, Alienation, Loneliness, Opression;
Confused about who we are and what our place is;
We use each other, sex objects, for money, we lie, and cheat and steal, we hurt and injure each other;
There is murder and rape, people hate each other for the color of their skin or their gender, religion, or sexual-orientation;
There are countries where whole people groups have been exterminated by the millions
There is disease, aids, cancer, ebola; there is poverty and starvation;
Even the world itself is broken, the skies and the waters are polluted and diseased, the animals and the plants are dying off

C) The Creation loses the reflection of God into it, instead humanity reflects brokenness and pain

The world is broken because humanity is broken; we have reflected our brokenness into the world...

3) God's Promised Restoration
A) From the beginning God pronounces His plan to put things right
B) He promises to bless Abraham and use his family to put the world right

4) The Call of a People
A) God choses the descendant's of Abraham, the twelve grandsons, to be His people
B) He places in their midst His Law, His Prophets, His Temple, His very Presence (Image/Spirit/Wind)
C) They are to be a light to the world, Blessed to be a blessing, the promise fulfilled through them, image-bearers, God-reflectors
D) They have a choice; their own agenda or God's, will they see God's blessing and chosing them as a reason for arrogance and pride, to keep the blessing to themselves, to hide the light they have been given; or to step into God's mission?

5) The Son of God; the Second Adam
A) Jesus comes, he is the Second Adam, taking upon himself the restoration and role of the first, God's Spirit (breath/wind) decends upon Him, He is God's image, Son, reflection into the world
B) He takes upon Himself the mission of God, to put things right, reconstituting the nation of Israel (the people of God) around Himself, to possess the indwelling of God (Jesus IS the Law, Prophets and Temple), the light and blessing of the world
A) Jesus chose 12 symbolic students (a renewed Israel, a renewed people of God), God gathered thousands to Jesus after His resurection.
C) He confronts the counterfeit people of God, people must chose between the People of God and the Mission of God as Jesus presents them, as opposed to the ethnocentric, political, nationalistic vision of the Pharisees, Zealots, Sadducees.
D) Jesus is executed as a Rebel, a false claimant to the throne, but in so doing He fulfills the promise, the Crucifixion is God taking the brokenness of the world upon Himself, putting things right through His own pain, reflecting the image of a loving-forgiving-redeeming-suffering God
E) Jesus OVERCOMES the brokenness and death; Resurrection! Jesus is vindicated! He IS God's true light, Israel's true King, He is God's Son doing God's work, redeeming the broken world, putting EVERYTHING back together

6) The Call of a People
B) A choice must be made, my vision of the world, or God's, will I allow God to remake me in His image, will I accept my own brokenness and allow Jesus crucifixion and resurrection to become my defining reality? Dying with Him in repentance and resurrecting with Him by His Spirit?
C) These are the people of God on the Mission of God, they are going to be used by God to fulfill His promise for the world, God's 'Rushing Wind' (spirit/breath) falls on the Church, they are God-reflectors, the Body of Christ, the light of the world, and the source of Blessing

7) The Mission of God
A) The Church has a Mission, "NO!" The Mission has a Church! It is not that God's people have a purpose attached to them, it is that God's purposes have a people attached to them! The Church is the only communty that exists primarily for the sake of it's non-members!
B) God is setting the world right. Restoring broken individuals, restoring broken relationships, restoring broken societies, restoring a broken environment.
C) As Jesus suffered to redeem the world, so too the Church must enter into the brokenness and suffering of the world to redeem it. We must pray with one hand in heaven and one hand on the brokenness and pain that is around us.

8) The Buffalo Vineyard Church
A) We have a choice! Will we repent and allow God to define us, to heal us, to set us right? Allowing ourselves to be connected to God by His redeeming death and resurrecting Spirit, will we submit to His Spirit (Breath/Wind)?
B) The Church is in danger of the same judgment as the nation of Israel if we do as they did, we must recognize that we are chosen to serve. We cannot create a bubble of Christians, marginalizing everyone else. We must be the church for the world, or esle we are not the Church! The Church for too long has rejected God's purposes in the world, and rejected the peopple that God loves and wants to bring in...
C) Becoming the people of God, connected to each other through community, truly and deeply knowing and loving each other.
D) Joining the mission of God, connecting to the broken places and people around us in our own lives, in the larger city, and in the larger world.
E) I say YES! We are a small group of people who meet in a home weekly to worship and learn and pray, to eat and listen and encourage and challenge, to serve the needs of the poor and the broken, to warmly invite others to participate, to include anyone who desires, to see that reproduced around the city. We are beginning to experience God's restoration, God's healing breath and spirit, (I invite you to participate and receive Him) There are people in our church who are dreaming about making an impact on the world around them; connecting the arts and spirituality, serving the broken and needy people in our city; THEY GET IT! The Church is for the world!
F) To have an expanding network of small communities of people who are commited to the Mission of God, reflecting His image, allowing the Christ-life to dwell in their midst, to invite others to participate and to see that same thing reproduced a thousand times throughout our city and our world...

So now it gets practical---

We want to see more, in more places, we don't want to hold on to this

GIVE AWAY THE BLESSING!

*MAYBE YOU NEED TO BE PUT RIGHT, HEALED, WE ALL DO!

How do we share what we are experiencing? What we are commited to?

Handout: See the end.

10) Conclusion
A) Story - You are invited to find yourself in God's Story!
B) Mission - You are invited to put the world right!
C) Repentance - It begins with the choice to allow God to put your own soul right, to take your brokenness upon Him and to create you anew, and Breathe (Spirit/Wind) in you again



Handout:

Begin your day by praying the Lord’s Prayer
Pray through the book of Psalms
Pray over the daily Buffalo News Headlines
Read the Gospel of Mark every day for a week
Ask someone to recommend a book to read
Worship God
Compose a song or poem praising God
Spend time in contemplation on who God is
Be silent for an extended period of time
Spend a week without listening to any radio/TV
Give up food for a day and buy a homeless person lunch and/or pray for starving children
Confess something to someone else
Go out of your way to encourage someone
Pray for God's insight, and then write an encouraging letter to someone
Invite someone to join you in any of the activities on this list
Invite someone here to your home for a meal
Open your home to start a second home group
Spend time with someone who has nothing to offer
Offer to perform a menial task for the Church
Spend time with someone you wouldn't normally
Get someone here's phone number and go have coffee together, ask each other deep questions
Rake leaves in your neighborhood
Visit sick people in a hospital and pray for them
Share with someone your spiritual journey
Invite a friend to be a part of our community
Sponsor a child with World Vision or Be-A-Hero
Help someone move
Offer to pray a blessing over a random stranger
Tip 100% at your next meal
Volunteer at the Homeless shelter
Listen to someone
Meet someone’s practical needs
Organize an art show exploring spirituality
Research ways our community can practically make an impact on: AIDS, Environment, Global Poverty
Pick up trash on your block
Organize a drive to replace light bulbs with energy efficient ones
Volunteer with Aids Community Service
Travel to another country to serve their needs
Pay the toll for the car behind you
Start a blanket drive
Volunteer with Big Brothers-Sisters
Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity
Start a Sunday School for children that meets at one of the housing projects in the City

9.29.2007

...and then there was Jesus

Sneakily, each of the descriptions in the previous post correspond to four movements or groups that were present in the culture of 1st century Judea. I took some liberties with the descriptions with two objectives in mind; to offer them as contemporary approaches to culture (as I think we have groups of Christians in our culture who correspond to each of these options), and to trick you into picking one of the options that Jesus rejected!!! It was into the midst of the following spiritual/social/political options that Jesus entered:

=====================

1) Zealots - This was a group who was fed up with the control of foreign powers and false leaders. They were committed to ushering in the Kingdom of God by means of force if necessary (and it was often necessary!). They were constantly fomenting rebellion, and rigorously opposed the Roman occupation of the Jewish homeland. Their posture toward the world was combative and antagonistic.

=====================

2) Essenes - This was a group of people who were committed to living out the values of God's Kingdom. They felt like the best way to accomplish this was to abandon the evil and compromising culture of the day for a pure and godly community in the wilderness. The Essenes built a community in the desert where they could bring God's Kingdom in by leaving behind the people who would hinder it. Their posture towards the world was one of seclusion and retreat.

=====================

3) Pharisees - This was a group who took it upon themselves to maintain the purity of the Jewish people. They held to a rigorous understand of purity, and they wanted to impose that standard upon all other Jewish people, whom they looked down upon as defiled. They believed that God's Kingdom would come when the Jewish people would turn from their dirty lives and enter into a life of holiness. They believed that they possessed this holiness and would dispense it to those who did not. Their posture towards the world was one of arrogance and disdain.

=====================

4) Sadducees - This group had attached themselves to the political powers. They saw their only hope of maintaining their place as the cultural and economic elites as aligning themselves with authority in an attempt to gain it themselves. They were willing to let go of some of the things that God had done, and to deny some of the things that God had promised to do, in order to cement their relationship with the political authorities. Their posture towards the world was one of compromise and connivance.

=====================

Jesus fundamental difference from those above lay in His understanding that God's blessing is always to be given away. These other groups saw God's blessing as theirs by right, they saw their status as 'God's Chosen People' as a reason to exclude others (the Romans, the sinners, the poor, the culture as a whole). Jesus realized that God wanted to breathe restoration into the world through Jesus. The others arrogantly assumed that God wanted to breathe privelege into them so that they could sit atop the world.

Jesus walked out a unique understanding of God's Kingdom. He did not look down on the less fortunates of the world, berating them for their poverty and ignorance like the Pharisees, nor did He choose to abandon the world to chaos and pain as the Essenes had. He chose rather to work to change the state of the world, to heal and emancipate, to resurrect and empower. His method for doing this, however, was not the violent force of the Zealot, nor was it to court the powers of the world, trading God's power for the impotence of worldly play-Kings as the Sadducees did.

Each of these four groups sought to define for themselves the Kingdom of God, usually reserving the place of honor in that Kingdom for people who (coincidentally) looked remarkably like they did. Each of these groups was willing to marginalize some other aspect of society to maintain their own place of primacy in the soon-to-be innaugerated Kingdom of God.

Jesus saw the Kingdom of God as God's good authority coming to those who were marginalized by these groups. His way of bringing the Kingdom was a sharp contrasting rebuttle to the ways listed above. Essentially, Jesus saw Himself as fulfilling God's purposes of putting things right in the world, He took upon Himself the calling of the Nation of Israel, to be a light to the world and a blessing to the nations. Jesus entered into the broken places to bring healing, taking the brokenness and suffering upon Himself so that others could recieve from Him the life of the Spirit. He was not passive, but He was peaceful; He was not compromising, yet He was compassionate; He did not run from the world, nor did He fight it; He embraced the world, with all of its pain and alienation, despair and violence, and He simultaneously embraced heaven, with all of its beauty and purpose, power and joy.

It is to this subversive and provokative way that Jesus beckons us. He bids us, "Come and die with me, so that you might live, and others will live with us... We will bring heaven to earth, and God's Good News to those who are in desparate need."

9.27.2007

I am the Truth...

Why is it that we can refer to Jesus' words about truth as an excuse to have a verbal barrage of truth claims for every person we meet? The very person we are quoting asked more questions and made more cryptic remarks than He ever dispensed truth-claims. We can use the phrase 'born-again' in ways that flatly contradict the way Jesus used it. (In it's original context it was a brilliant exercise in purposefully confusing terminology, and we have made it into a badge of spiritual politically-correctness...) Instead of becoming like a baby, newly-birthed into a world of God-breathed beauty, we have become like religious grad-students, showing the world how much we know, religious thought police...

If as Christians we believe that truth is a person whom we learn from, not a statement that we believe, how should that change the way we handle people's questions? (Or our own?) How would that affect the way we determine what is and isn't an accurate statement about reality?

9.21.2007

From a Good Friend

Evolution of AFM

Growing up, sports were the focus of my life. I found my purpose in recess basketball games. My identity survived or came crashing down in accordance with the results of a neighborhood football game. There was no greater feeling then sitting in a baseball dugout with my best friends, spitting seeds and cheering on our teammates. There was no greater sense of accomplishment then winning a wrestling match over a childhood rival.

Sports created a simple world for me. I could understand it. I could work within its rules. I think this is why people of all ages sit in front of the television day in and day out and watch sports. There is a part of us that longs for life to make sense again. We long for purpose and an understanding of how to operate within such a purpose. Sports can offer this. But even though sporting events can mirror certain aspects of life, life asks us much bigger questions then can be found in the latest addition of Sports Illustrated, an ESPN highlight reel or through the atmosphere of a Monday night football game.

When I was younger I did not think about life’s biggest questions. I did not worry or ever cry out because of injustice. I never had regret. I was insulated.

As I grew older life became complicated. As a college wrestler athletics became a job. Life presented more questions then answers. My sense of purpose began to fade away.

After college I moved to San Diego and entered into a small theology program through Point Loma Nazarene University and tried to answer some of my questions. To pay the bills I became a certified personal trainer and a high school wrestling coach. All in all, my life revolved around training. I trained people’s bodies in my studio, I trained my wrestlers on how to win on the mat and I was getting spiritually trained in my theology program.

At first the three spheres of my life remained separate. I saw no real connection. However, I soon realized that spirituality encompasses every aspect of our lives. We live holistically. Nothing is secular. Everything is spiritual.

I then became excited about integrating spirituality into health and fitness. My sense of purpose came back. I started to feel alive again.

My excitement continued to grow as “spirituality” became a buzzword in mainstream America. Classes like Yoga and Tai Chi sprouted up everywhere as people began to realize that spirituality is integral to health and that our modern scientific culture was neglecting their spiritual needs.

I then heard about a conference in Las Vegas that dealt with the role of spirituality in health and fitness. The conference was put on by a reputable company whose goal was to inform the rest of the health and fitness community on how to integrate spirituality into their professions. So with the companionship of a good friend and fellow trainer, I packed up my bags and went to Vegas.

The conference was filled with smiling faces and charismatic speakers. Health was in the air. But a true sense of purpose and meaning was not. One speaker after another came forward and reproduced lines from watered down Hallmark cards while providing a relativistic view on life. I was about as inspired as a bachelor doing dishes alone on a Saturday night.

After one of the sessions I walked up to all the speakers who were sitting at a long table and asked them a simple question. “What do you mean when you say the word ‘spirituality?’” Silence was my first response. Which would have been better then what followed. After a long pause they all looked at each other and almost in unison said, “that is a really good question, we don’t have an answer.”

I was shocked. I had expected an answer that would move me, inspire me and potentially change the course of my life forever. But here I was at a conference on the role of spirituality in health yet not one of the keynote speakers knew what they meant when they said the word spirituality!

I left the conference extremely disappointed. Even though I liked the idea of integrating the body, mind and spirit into a holistic approach to training, I knew that spirituality encompassed much more than an avenue to looking good and having deep conversations at coffee shops. Spirituality is based on the living God’s interaction with the physical world and how we participate in that process. On the car ride home my mind raced with questions. The Absolute Fitness Mode is my answer to those questions.

9.20.2007

The Four Options...

Which best describes you?

=====================

1)

The world is full of people who want to decieve and destroy. They need to be confronted with the truth. You want to expose the lies of those in positions of cultural power. You want to remove the godless authorities from their places of power and show people the truth of God's word. You hope to see godly men and women occupy those positions of control and authority and you are willing to combat the forces working against that hope with whatever social and political means are at your disposal. Your ideal society is one where God has been placed at the top, He is publicly honored by politicians and leaders, professors and business owners. All of society is ordered by the ways of God, from schools and courtrooms, to public places and private homes; the ways of God are taught as the only right way to live.

=====================

2)

The world is a place that has nothing of value to you. You desire to stear clear of those who would corrupt you or your family with their godless ways and evil deeds. Your ideal society is a group of people who are devoted to living for God, who have removed themselves from the evil ways of the world. You would love to live somewhere in the country (living a simple, rural lifestyle) with these godly people, teaching your children the good life, and drawing closer to God.

=====================

3)

The world is a dirty place that needs cleaning up, you find yourself wanting to teach people the right way to live. If the world would only take note of what God has been saying and begin to obey, the world would be a better place. You have little patience with people who chose a life of ignorance and degradation. Your ideal society is one where everyone has comitted to living a pure and righteous life. If people would only follow your example, and listen to what you tell them, they would discover that they too can be blessed by God.

=====================

4)

The world has much to offer. If you could only attach yourself to the right people and the right insititutions, you would be able to use the power and energy and knowledge for good. You want to enlist the aid of those in power to accomplish the goals of God. Your ideal society is one where the spiritual community is on good terms with the secular authorities and those in positions of cultural influence. You don't want to 'rock the boat' unneccisarily, and are willing to find healthy and appropriate compromises to make things work and get things done.

If you read this, I would love to hear which of these viewpoints you would align yourself with. I would probably fit in the number 3 category, although I would have said number 2 a few years ago...

9.14.2007

These words do not apply to you...

Constitution

I happened to listen to a popular radio talkshow the other day that has a Paul McCartney song as it's theme song. Here are the lyrics:

This is my right - A right given by God
To live a free life - To live in freedom

Talkin' about freedom - I'm talkin' 'bout freedom
I will fight - For the right
To live in freedom

Anyone tries to take it away
They'll have to answer
'Cause this is my right

I'm talkin' about freedom - Talkin' 'bout freedom
I will fight - For the right
To live in freedom

I was really disturbed by this, precisely because this show is overtly 'Christian.' These lyrics stand in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus. For someone to claim to follow Him and then to endorse the agenda that this song proposes as being in line with His teachings is simply irresponsible.

My pastor relayed a story to me about one of his college professors. The man read aloud to his class the famous lines from the Declaration of Independence; "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." He then instructed his class:

"If you are a follower of Jesus, then you cannot claim that you have any rights whatsoever; this Declaration does not apply to you."

9.10.2007

The 'Good' Book?

The following is a response to a thread elsewhere, I thought it would be profitable to post it here:


Helen asked: "...how do you know it is 'the correct version'of Christianity?"

It seems like this is an unintentionally misleading way of approaching the subject. If you asked a scientist if they were 'staying true' to Darwin's theory of evolution, or Newton's on gravitation, they would respond, "That is not the goal, the goal is to accurately describe reality." I don't really desire the correct 'Christianity,' but rather the correct version of reality!

For this reason I hope to use other 'versions' of Christianity as aids to understanding reality, but not as definitions of reality. Just as a scientist will take advantage of the work of others while simultaneously proffering her own. I don't attempt to stay true to Luther or Augustine, Billy Graham, Pope John Paul II, or Benny Hinn.

Helen also stated: "I respect your opinion but with all due respect, that's all it is, right?"

Most assuredly, that is all that it is. I don't pretend to be anything other than what I am; a scientist will speak of things she doesn't begin to fully comprehend, and so too humans speak of the even greater reality that is God. However, that is not to discount all attempt to understand. I would hope to dialogue about the matter in question, how else are we to do this if not first by stating our own position?

You (and others) had stated that the Bible was full of contradiction. When I asked for a particular incidence, you offered that of Paul v Jesus on the question of 'salvation by faith.' If my response is to be discarded as 'mere personal opinion,' than what is to be the point of our dialogue? I would love to hear why you find them to be contradictory on the subject, and assume you would want to understand why I find them to be complementary.

Which gets us to the point of contradiction itself:

I fully appreciate that 'arguments between Christians who are very familiar with the Bible, over what the Bible teaches, are alive and well,' I don't think that this is problematic for what I am trying to say. There are certainly some things that are taught by Jesus and His followers that are difficult to reconcile, but many of these are intentional paradoxes akin to the article linked above. Most contradictions, however, are simply failures to aproach the text on its own terms.

You said, "...if the Bible was clear and non-contradictory, Christians who all say they believe it would not have unresolvable debates over what it says." But I think that this places to much trust in human ability to set aside personal desires and perspectives. On top of this, I think this highlights the main problem with talking about 'contradictions.' It forces one to approach the Bible in a way that was never intended. If I read Psalms as a manual for understanding the physical construction of the universe, then I am quite simply and willfully ignorant.

I did get around to the list of contradictions, some of the 388 are outright deceptive (proverbs 26:4-5), (I only looked at maybe 30) every single verse was provided in an archaic translation, without context, and without an attempt made to understand the point within the larger context of the writing. Perhaps if I spent time sorting through I could find something a little more 'intellectually cohesive' but that list is precisely the reason why I ask people for personal examples...

You referenced 'key texts,' it is exactly this that I find problematic. What are the 'key texts' to Dickens' Great Expectations? ...or Handel's Messiah? ...or the U. S. Constitution? ...or U2's Helter Skelter? ...or MLK Jr. Epistle to the Americans?

Also, I think I was unclear (it seems such a common problem for me!!) when I mentioned the author's intent...

I was not refering to God, but to the author. That is what I mean by taking something in context. If I am trying to understand what the person who wrote it meant by what they said, (instead of taking a phrase and using it as a 'key text') then I will be in a position to ask the deeper (and faith inspired) question, "What is God saying through this?" An even better example of contradiction (although on the same topic) is "justified by faith" in Galatians and "justified by works" in James; here the actual words directly contradict each other, but this 'contradiction' requires that we assume it is proper to approach these letters with an 'atomistic' dissection. My humble assertion is that this assumption is incorrect; language doesn't work that way.

(I will be the first to admit that often American Christians approach the Bible in exactly this rigid, 'reductionistic' and scientific way...)

I don't want to be seen as advocating 'special insight' but rather a different approach. Instead of approaching the Bible as a compilation of absolute truth statements, approach it on it's own terms...

9.09.2007

The Love of God Demands a Life of Activism

"So the greatest of all virtues is love. It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian faith. This is at bottom the meaning of the cross. The great event on Calvary signifies more than a meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history. It is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power drunk generation that love is most durable power in the world, and that it is at bottom the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. Only through achieving this love can you expect to matriculate into the university of eternal life."


Martin Luther King Jr.

9.07.2007

Conservative Politics and Conservative Lives

Why do conservative Christians also live conservative lives?


Let me explain the question...

Christians in America tend to be politically conservative, although there are plenty of liberal Christians as well, however, the typical conservative Christian (who views theology in a conservative way, and trends towards the conservative end of the political spectrum) also tends to live those political values out on the personal level.

This is not the proper time to discuss my own political views (that will only muddy the water), but suffice it to say that I have no problem with Christians aligning themselves with conservative politics. If you are convinced that the policies proffered by conservative politicians would provide for the welfare of the people then, by all means, vote your conscience. The problem arises, however, when the conservative political philosophy is brought to the personal level.

The typical conservative is against redistribution of wealth through things like Welfare, Social Security, Medicare, etc. This may very well be an innapropriate way of running a country. However, if that same posture is applied at the personal level, then we are in direct contradiction with the ethic of the Kingdom of God.

It is exactly this contradiction that I see in conservative Christianity. The emphasis on personal responsibility has led conservative Christians to eschew helping the poor in their community. Perhaps they will give a little money, even less time and energy, but only very rarely will they actually involve themselves in the lives of the needy people in the world.

The single driving force (at the personal level) behind the conservative Christian way of life (in my humble, yet accurate, opinion) is a desire to create a social bubble of safety and comfort, removed from the evils of the world; drug abuse, vulgarity, sexual perversion, etc. This force is in diametrical opposition to the mandate of the Gospel.

What this amounts to is the very thing that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees; using their status as God's elect to abuse the very people they were 'elected' to bless!!! We, like Abraham, have not been chosen by God to enjoy His blessing, but to give away His blessing.

===============================

To be a disciple is to become a child; embracing change and becoming a learner is central to being a Christian. (What else would 'born again' refer to?) This means that we can never have a condescending attitude. We are not like spiritual PhD's dispensing wisdom, rather we must be like spiritual children constantly asking, "Papa, how should I do this?"

If we approach life as a disciple we will see the glaring problem with removing ourselves from the problems of the world.; taking our spiritual blessing and 'leaving the playground.'

===============================

I propose that Christians should be orthodox in theology, ambiguous in politics, and radical in lifestyle.

9.05.2007

Friends from Munich

We received an email a few months back asking if we would be willing to house a group of three Germans traveling through the area. We agreed, not thinking much about it, as we have an entire third floor that is currently empty. We thought perhaps that they would stay the night and leave the next morning, we assumed they would not have much impact on our normal routines. We did not realize what was in store for us...

They showed up after a dissapointing week of Church Planting; Ingo and his new (and newly pregnant) wife Gisela, and their friend Maryann. They ended up staying for two days. It was one of the most encouraging, and uplifting encounters with perfect strangers that I have ever had. From the very first conversation we had, till the time they left, it was like having family visit in that they were so comfortable to be around, and yet there were all sorts of interesting things to find out about them (both as people and as emmisaries from a foreign land).

We were able to have some really wonderful conversations about what God was up to in our lives and in the world, they joined us for our Sunday service to the Retirement Facility, they spent time with us praying and worshiping, and they spent time with some of the folks from our Church. They had some very encouraging observations about who we were and what we were doing, they also were an encouragement to one of the young men in our Church. I came away from the weekend with my spirits lifted and refreshed.

At one point during the weekend I was struck by something...

The authors of the letters that now make up the Christian Bible speak often of the Church in ways that highlight the intimate bond that exists among the community who have been touched by the Spirit of Jesus; 'The Family of God,' 'The Body of Christ,' etc. In my time with our visitors I discovered this bond with them.

I have relationships that are deep and commited, friends for whom I would give my life, and with whom I have labored and laughed, comforted and cried. This was unique, however, in that I realized that it was not we who had created this bond by 'joining the same club,' nor even by our long hours together, but rather the bond that I discovered was present because of God's action in our lives. I found in Ingo a kindred spirit, the Spirit of Christ.

I had a moment of illumination, a realization that this man and I had submitted our lives to the same purpose in the world. It was like finding out after the fact that someone had shared the same trench with you in battle; there was a bond that was discovered, not one that was created.

This is what God intends for all of us to have with all people; a sense of belonging to the same central reality, God and His Kingdom. God desires that we could enter into relationships with others that are easy and encouraging, that can become the foundation for a life of joy and purpose, beauty and hope.

8.29.2007

Be All That You Can Be!

No this isn't a rerun of an old US Army commercial...

I had some visitors a week or two back from Germany (I am still putting together a rumination on their visit) and I got to reminisce about the Church we were sent out from. I had a conversation with Ingo on my front porch that involved me explaining my thankfulness at having been a part of our sending church for the years that we were there. He asked, "Why was it so special?" This was some of my response:

Church is not supposed to be about putting the best person in the best place to do the best job; creating a perfect product for the consumption of those who show up. There are so many problems with this approach to Church (it creates a clergy/laity dichotomy between those who are and those who are not, it promotes comfort over sacrifice, it promotes a 'discriminating palate' instead of an activist lifestyle, etc.) but I would rather discuss the amazing aspects of a different approach to Church.

If we stop trying to get the best person to come and put on the best show, and instead use the various aspects of Church to be the 'training grounds' for the individuals who perform the various functions, then we are begining to live out the meaning of such passages as Ephesians 4:11-16.

Here are some practical examples:

Why do we want the best worship leader leading worship? Wouldn't we rather have someone step into that position who will be grown and developed by their time in that role? Instead of finding the person who knows how to develop and oversee small groups in a church and paying them to come to your church and do that there, why not let someone who is already in the church yet doesn't know what they are doing give it a shot, in the process they will be developing the very attributes that God wants to produce in them?

There are some fundamental assumptions behind such an approach:

1) The Church's primary role is to represent the person of Jesus to the world in attitude and action, word and deed, both corporately and (more importantly) individually.

2) The role of Church leadership is not ministering to the Church 'laity;' it is equipping, educating, and empowering the 'normal' Christian to minister to the world.

(I have heard it speculated that the Apostle Paul would define the role of baptism in an individual's life the way we today view ordination. In other words, the way most people today think of the role of priests or pastors is the way Paul understood the normal Christian life.)

3) Success in spiritual terms has to do with an individual's connection to God's realm of power, not with the number of people connected to our particular organization.

4) Completing a well-defined task is not the same thing as spiritual growth.

5) Being given the answers to your questions is nowhere near as beneficial as the experience that comes from figuring out the answer.

6) If you are lacking in gifted people in your local community you do not have a resource problem you have a training problem.

Some practical ways that I have seen this walked out at the Church we were sent out from:

Consistently placing less qualified people in positions of responsibility; from the managers of the Coffee Shop to the worship leader, to the pastors, to the small group leaders, to the outreach directors, to the Sunday School leaders, etc. our church viewed a willingness to learn and to serve, and a heartfelt love for Jesus and hatred of their own sin, as the sole prerequisites for accepting responsibility in our community.

"Soft Architecture" - An intentional fuzziness in structure that provided enough room for people to struggle with God. Individuals were forced to seek their own answers, their own job descriptions, their own growth into the task at hand. There was some structure, but mostly there was encouraging relationship with other spiritual sojourners.

A willingness to let people 'mess things up' by learning through doing. Just like a parent does more work in letting their three-year-old 'help' cook dinner (but is providing all sorts of wonderful opportunities for maturing and bonding), so it is more work to let someone learn how to lead a ministry after they start leading it.

All this to say: the Church should be doing everything in its power to help every individual connected to it to come to look like Jesus

8.28.2007

Healthy Community

Some thoughts on community:

Communities are defined by those inside and those outside; the Church is a community that exists for the sake of those outside of it.

The community established by Jesus should accept and welcome everyone on the sole basis of their value as a human being, dearly loved by the Creator.

Jesus' community cares about people so much that it is unwilling to see them destroy themselves, others, or the world around them. His Church will do everything that love demands it to do to prevent that destruction.

Community is not possible without a significant level of personal knowledge and transparency; it is not possible to have community with people who you do not know or do not know you.

Communities are full of people who belong to each other. Despite the personal price (in terms of annoyance, lost energy or time, money, emotional pain, misunderstanding, etc.) people will not abandon the relationships within the community.

The Church contains within itself (this is somewhat misleading as the Divine Wind is also present within the Church) all that it needs to function in power and blessing. The community on the Way of Jesus needs no additional 'ministries' or 'programs,' parachurch organizations or governing bodies, to accomplish the purposes of God for which it has been placed upon the earth. "The local Church is the hope of the world!"

God's community is not divided by economic, racial, gender, sexual, political, social, educational, or any other lines.

8.23.2007

Institutionalization...

I had someone tell me that psychology has taken the place of the elderly in our society. What we used to look to our grandparents for, we now pay someone $100 dollars an hour to do for us (and of course we pay someone to take care of our grandparents in the process as well...), and I don't think we are better of for the 'professionalization' of wisdom at living.

We have taken essential aspects of society and 'trained' people how to 'do it better' and then watched as society is no longer capable of adressing these aspects...

We have schools that don't educate effectively, a criminal justice system that perpetuates criminal behavior, and a social welfare system that creates poverty; this is due to the underlying assumption that professionals are better at doing it than community is, and so undermining community in the process.

No wonder we have seen the atomization of families, the failure of community services, etc. there are professionals to do those things for us...

...do you think we are better off?

8.19.2007

Brooke Astor

What is written on the tombstone of a woman who gave away several hundred million dollars?

Would you like to have that written on yours?

8.17.2007

Basil Rocks!

If you live alone, whose feet will you wash?

- Saint Basil

Not to be confused with the other Saint Basil who was given the title Yurodivy

8.16.2007

SEX Part X

These are some closing thoughts on the topic:

Click on the title link to read previous posts.

========================

We are told that we cannot change who we are, and that it would be unwise to try. It is this mentality that leads to arguments in defense of pedophilia. If what I feel is not subject to critique or to change, if my desires are legitimate simply because they exist, then where does morality go? How do we decry the arguments of Mr McClellan?

Certainly our culture is not ready yet for such a position as his, without fundamental change in the way we determine wrong and right, however, where else is it likely to go? I am not trying to yell out, "the sky is falling!" but rather ask the question, "How do we rebut these arguments supporting rampant lawlessness, if we rule out an appeal to some standard of right and wrong that exists irrespective of our feelings toward it?"

It is easy to see the lie if we take it into other realms of human behavior. To say, "I desire to have sex with my girlfriend, therefore I should have sex with her" is no different a statement than, "I desire my neighbor's car, therefore I should take it," or "I don't like my employer, therefore I should punch him."

Simply put, the desire for something does not, in and of itself, legitimize the fulfillment of that desire.

=============================

Having said this, I would like to point out, a large part of the problem is our weak sense of joy, and our unwillingness to pursue true pleasure!

"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds ours desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

-C. S. Lewis

Like Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of soup, (Genesis 25) we trade away our God-given sexuality for fleeting pleasures that diminish as they are attained. We trade the joys of marriage (which is much more deeply and naturally sexual) for that of the idolized and romanticized life of the 'porn star.'

The adult film industry is portrayed as a glamorous world of delight...

...why is it then that the porn stars fantasize about a normal life, while they struggle with impotence, and pop pills to keep the genital herpes from breaking out?

It is not the married couple in their monogamy who are 'missing out' on sexual pleasure...

=========================

I have come to this fundamental conclusion about sexuality (it is, of course, about everything, not just sexuality):

The way of the Cross is the way of return to true human-ness...

Our humanity has been corrupted, it must 'reboot' with the 'system disk.' Jesus is that system disk; the early Church called Him the "Second Adam." Jesus is the Son of Man, the quintessential human being, the perfect representation of what it means to be human. He is the 'new' man, the beginning point of the newly reconstituted humanity, the firstborn over all creation. In Jesus we begin to see the true shape of our humanity.

If this is true then we are called to a radical rethinking of our way of life. In fact we are called to a kind of death. Our very selves must be given over, and we must take the self of Jesus. This is the way to become who and what we were meant to be.

Jesus the truly human one defines humanity, and so sexuality is also defined by him, and so our sexuality must also be submited to him (along with everything else) for crucifixion and resurrection.

I am fully aware of the arguements that some will make. The Cross responds to our claims about ourselves by stating, "The way you are defining yourself is not the central problem, the problem is that you are defining yourself in the first place! Come to me and let me set the broken bone, let me start the song in the right key, let me be the foundation for your building, let me suffer the consequences off your actions!"

8.13.2007

Jesus' Pizza and the KJV

So I returned to the concert, pizza in hand...

I was able to have a couple of brief conversations about what I was doing and why. But most people were more interested in telling me why the street preachers were wrong, or what they disagreed with about Christianity, or what their own beliefs were. I did get to have a neat conversation with a group of 'travelers' who responded with, "This is the most random f--king blessing ever!" They seemed to be the most genuinely grateful of the bunch.

I guess there was another group of three homeless/hallucinating/street people. They asked me to pray with them. I held the hand of a homeless vet with no legs, and no fingers, and put my hand on the shoulder of young traveler who was high on something, and we prayed for God's blessing on each other and those around us, until the vet starting cussing and yelling at someone who wanted some pizza...

Then I made my mistake...

I engaged one of the 'evangelists' in conversation, "Do you think there might be another way?" I was accused, ignored, preached at, and even insulted for my lack of education (I told the man that I had a hard time understanding the King James Version of the Bible, and felt that it was an improper translation to use given the context). This, of course, led to a history lesson/conspiracy theory on the men who had perverted the Bible into some of the heretical translations we have today.

I was not listened to, cared for, or encouraged. The conversation lasted too long, took too many rabit trails, and ended exactly where it began: with me convinced that these were sincere, and sincerely misguided people, who had an unquestioning aproach to what they had been inculcated into, and the 'evangelist' convinced that I was a wishy-washy Christian who either didn't understand the Bible or didn't want to follow it.

All in all the evening left me with a sense of frustration over my own lack of foresight (why, o why, did I talk to the guy? I guess I'll die!); a sense of the overwhelming love of God for His children, especially His wayward children; and a sense of the inadequacy of what I am doing.

I did have a fleeting, yet profound experience, while walking toward the concert with Jesus' Pizza, I was praying for God's help, "I don't know what I am doing, I am not capable of doing what needs to be done here God! I am incompetent and impotent, I am an inadequate choice to be a messenger of Your Grace." And then it hit me, "THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT!" It was God telling me, "It is not your job to communicate to the heart's of men, speak your words, give away My pizza, and at some point they will hear MY words."

8.08.2007

Poison Pizza and the Love of God

So I decided to add my two cents to the 'Go to Hell' debacle at our local free outdoor concert. (Check the title link if you don't know what I am talking about!)

I went down to the concert, sheet-pizza in hand, and approached the angry group of fifty-plus teens who were surrounding the 'evangelists' with their signs depicting hell. I opened up the box, said "Free pizza, just take one!" and in less than a minute it was devoured! I had three or four young people ask me why I did what I did, I responded, "Because God loves you very much and He wants to be a part of your lives." I was greeted with a cautious round of agreement, and one young man who was a little more enthusiastic about it.

That seemed to be the end of the conversation ...so I thought I would bring another pizza! I called the store, walked over and brought it back. This time I had people gather around and listen before I opened the box, "I want you to know why I am doing this," I said. "Jesus loves you." One of the kids asked, "So what, did you poison it!?" Another asked, "Are you with these guys?" (Indicating the guys with the signs) At this point I think I got a little teary eyed, "No I am not with them, I don't believe those guys are speaking for Jesus. I want you to know that He cares about you very deeply."

With that I opened the box and shared another sheet-pizza, I got a few more thank you's, and one person in particular asked a few pointed questions about who I was and where I was from and then thanked me profusely.

I spent the next thirty minutes fighting back tears, overwhelmed by God's love for these people, and this city, and burdened by a deep need to do more than simply giving pizza to people...

...our world has gone to hell! If we don't do something, who will?

I will let you know how tomorrow goes, I will be going back down to the Thursday concert.

8.04.2007

SEX Part IV

This is yet another lengthy installment on the topic of sexuality, click on the title link to read the previous statements...

After having outlined sexuality in its current state, and contrasted it with natural,* healthy sexuality, I thought it would be prudent to discuss some of the causes and rationale behind the unhealthy and unnatural state of sexuality as we find it in our world.

A quick recap: healthy sexuality is designed for the enjoyment and procreation of a man and a woman who are comitted to each other so deeply, spiritually and emotionally that they could be called "one." Unhealthy sexuality then, is any sexual expression or gratification that comes from a source outside of this type of relationship. Unhealthy sexual expression would obviously include sexual contact with anyone other than a spouse, but would also include things like pornography, fantasy, voyeurism, and even flirting. In short: any activity that provides sexual gratification involving sources of gratification other than the spouse is unhealthy for the individual in question.

Unhealthy sexuality would also include sexual gratification and expression with a spouse that contradicts, conflicts with, or otherwise inhibits, the spiritual 'oneness' of the marriage relationship. It would be damaging to both husband and wife for one of them to recieve sexual gratification from the physical pain of the other (as we see in some cases), or to coerce the other into performing sexual acts in ways or at times that they are uncomfortable with, or even to withhold sex (under certain circumstances). Healthy sexuality will function as a natural and integrated aspect of the couples comitted relationship of mutual concern and submission.

Check out this article by Dallas Willard on Marriage

=============================

The above statements are obviously seen by many as 'behind the times' and probably even 'repressive, dangerous, and controlling.' This cannot be helped! So let us take a look at some of the common reasons for our current sexual state (if you can think of more, feel free to comment!)...

"This is who I am, I can't change who I am."

"This is how I define myself."

"This is how I show and receive love."

"I am not capable of controlling this."

I am certain that there are other reasons, but I think these statements get at the twin driving philosophical undercurrents that feed our culture's sexuality. We see a fundamental lack of discipline and delayed gratification (even an inability to see the benefit of discipline and delayed gratification!) coupled with a belief that an individual can and should decide for herself what is right and what is wrong.

=============================

What is moral?

We proclaim that the individual should be allowed to live in whatever way pleases them, and that this is morality. There are many who have addressed the philosophical pitfalls of relativism, I will not get far into them, other than to say, without some reference to an outside source of ethics, there is no logical basis for them. We may look at the lives of moral atheists, but when we do we are looking at fundamentally illogical people. Without some outside standard there is simply no way of deciding that one action is moral and another is not; there is no basis for calling Mother Teresa "good" and Adolf Hitler "bad." Try it yourself and post your responses here ...how would you differentiate between the two without some outside point of reference? (This, incidentally, is the conundrum that Philosophers have found themselves in for many decades, how to determine what is good, without reference to an outside source.)

Over against this stands the Biblical picture of the universe, with God's illumination of right and wrong. God is judge not in the sense, however, of a modern western magistrate determining what the law says and interpreting it accordingly, but rather in the older sense; God is a bringer of justice. God is the source of justice and righteousness, not merely a signpost pointing towards it.

In this sense, then, we can begin to understand morality as more than a set of rules laid down arbitrarily by one who has the power to enforce them, but rather as a description of what is 'good.' God does not prevent us from doing what we want, but rather points us to what is truly beautiful, joyous, powerful, true, and good (what we ultimately want!).

What is sin?

Sin is not (as is commonly thought) merely 'bad deeds.' Sin is the flawed state of the human spirit by which we are fundamentally drawn toward actions that damage ourselves, others, and the world around us. This 'bent-ness' of the human spirit then manifests itself (the bad tree bearing bad fruit) in 'bad deeds.' It is this inward bent that is sin, a desire to take good things and use them in ways for which they were never intended. A doctrine of sin, when properly understood, would not be denied by any observant person; the world is upside-down precisely because of misplaced human desire.

Sin is the perversion of human nature (we were made in the divine image) into something less than human; and no one is immune from that corruption.

...so God does not tell us to avoid certain behaviors out of a sense of cosmic 'bah-humbug' but rather out of a deep reverence and love for His children and the world that He gave them charge over, and a deep hatred toward whatever would damage those children and that world.

The trick, of course, when it comes to sexuality (not just sexuality, but all aspects of humanity are effected as well) is that what God proclaims as 'wrong' is not perceived as such by much of humanity. We say, "how could this be bad when it feels so good?" And, "how could this be wrong when it is such an integral aspect of who I am?" Because we don't look to God as the source of right-ness we doubt His assessment of what constitutes a perversion of human nature.

But an appeal to our nature is inappropriate if our nature has been corrupted; what are we to do without God if, when we look deep within ourselves, we find that we enjoy inflicting pain on others? What if the fundamental core of ourselves is selfish? Without an outside reference point to inform us 'which way is up' we are left only to follow "the needy beast within our chest."

The power to be moral!

The simple answer to those who believe sexual desire is uncontrollable are the millions of personal struggles and victories of humans of all genders, ethnicities and orientations. My sexual behavior has changed drastically over the course of my life as a student of Jesus. The same can be said of promiscuous teens, homosexual women, male prostitutes, porn stars, rape victims, child-abuse victims, adulterers, etc. There are examples of people from literally every sociological category who have experienced a marked change in sexual behavior, and the nature and scope of their sexual desire!

We have been told a lie. We do have the power to alter our sexuality. When we align our spirit with that Spirit which guides the Universe, our sexuality will be altered (along with everything else!). There is no fundamental difference between sexuality and other areas of our person, and yet we would not think of tolerating this type of reasoning from someone who claimed an inability to control their physical violence. Many cultures have demonstrated a remarkable proclivity for chastity; our problem is not that we are incapable of discipline, only that we don't want to be disciplined.

==========================

*I understand that the word natural usually means something like "the state of being of an object that is in accordance with its fundamental nature; without outside interference." We talk about the natural state of a dog in contrast with the 'tamed' state of the same animal. Some would argue that this would mean that 'natural' sexuality then is simply whatever human sexual behavior actually is, without outside cultural, or religious pressure.

However, this ignores the basic Biblical understanding of the state of the universe: God made everything fundamentally good ("very good" in fact!) but then the very heart of man became corrupt, humanity became 'inhuman.' (Romans 1 states, "Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either") The natural state of humanity is for us to live according to the way God made us, the way we currently live is just as 'unnatural' as if a stone were to fall upwards, or the sky were to turn yellow with pink polka dots!

A Parable of Biblical Literacy

8.03.2007

Quote

"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a
man is wise by his questions.”

7.29.2007

The Land of Empty Houses


For those of you who aren't all that familiar with our new home town, there are large areas of abandoned housing, especially on the East side of the city. This is the area of Buffalo that is the most run-down, the poorest, and has problems with both drugs and violence. The West side also has some of these same problems, however, the West side doesn't have anywhere near as many abandoned houses, or empty lots left over from demolition.

We have been having a crazy time here these past months. As many of you now know, Sam and Dre have returned to Redding. We miss them still, but are glad that they are back with family and familiar settings. We also look forward to seeing you all in less than a month; we will be in Redding the end of August and the beginning of September!

We have been diving headlong into the relationships that we have established here and it has been a tremendous blessing. God has gathered a wonderful group of people. There are small business owners, college students, and street people; people of different ethnic groups, sexual orientations, and spiritual backgrounds; it makes for great conversation!

We continue to serve the local retirement home every Sunday morning. We show up and help serve coffee and snacks, spend time talking and listening, sometimes praying, with the residents, and then sing songs with the group. We have been serving in the kitchen at the City Mission monthly. At this point there have been a few people who have come and served along side us at these venues, but it seems that the church at large has yet to take ownership of this. Pray that God would spark people to serve the community and that we would be sensitive to that spark in people's hearts!

We have had some great Wednesday evening church 'services' in our living room. Most recently we tackled the topic of 'sexuality' which has been a hot topic as of late. We have a group that runs the gamit of sexual expression here and sex seems to be one of those topics of which our culture has little tolerance for what God has to say. We seem to have a group of people who are going to keep coming back no matter how many times they are told they must 'die to themselves;' this is very exiting! However, I believe that there is yet much that God wants to do in our community. Please pray that God would be speaking to people, calling them to drop everything and give their lives to Him!

We also have both a men's and a women's group that meet weekly to discuss a book. Both groups are seeing lively conversation, and this last week one of my co-workers showed up to the men's group. I was really encouraged by his response! We are looking into putting together a men's retreat with the Vineyard Church in Niagara Falls (about 20 minutes away), and I would appreciate your prayers toward this end.

I would love to entertain any of the questions you might have about what is going on here, feel free to post them or to email them to me...

...I will leave you with one last comment:

We have a young man who is struggling with what he believes about Jesus. He grew up in a very conservative Christian home but in the past few years has discovered homosexual desires within himself. He now is unsure of what he wants to live for. We have loved him for months now, and he is at our house several times a week (he is regularly at our Sunday morning outreach), but we have also had some very pointed heart-to-heart talks about what God says about healthy sexuality. The other night he told me that he thought we were doing church 'the right way' and that 'even though you don't agree with everything about me, you love me and accept me, you don't try and force me to be like you.' I was encouraged by what he had to say, and thought that you too would be encouraged to know that you have played a part in this young man's life.

I pray that you would have the privilege of helping those around you navigate this world, and that you would discover Jesus helping you as you do...

SEX Part III

Follow the title link to previous thoughts...

We laid out the arguments that our nature is spiritual and we should see it so to properly understand our sexuality, and that our spiritual nature is fundamentally skewed by our separation from God. We also shared how our own inner being (spirit, heart, will) can not be the source of anything good, as that source is twisted; the statement 'this is who I am' is not to be understood as implying 'this is who I should be.'

So now let us attempt to deal with sexuality itself, as we find it in our world, and describe it as it should be.

Our culture has very little to say about sexuality, other than to endorse any fleeting fancy we may have as a valid expression of sexual health. With very few exceptions, there are no restrictions placed upon sexuality by our culture. So long as your sexual expression is not done against the consent of those with whom you are expressing it, that sexual act is considered valid by our culture. Aside from rape, or sex with someone deemed incapable of giving consent (mentally incapacitated and minors) ...anything goes. Multiple partners, heterosexual, homosexual, group sex, premarital sex, pornography, fantasy, voyeurism, etc. No thought is given to the potential consequences of these sexual expressions, they are considered valid simply because they exist.

Standing over against this is the definition of sexuality that God gives us.*

God wants us to enjoy our sexuality! If you doubt this spend a few days browsing through Song of Songs. It is very erotic. The old, Victorian way of thinking about sex may have been 'Christian' in the sense that many Christians held it, but it was not Christian in the sense that it is foreign to the way the Bible speaks of sexuality. God created us as deeply sexual beings (as we have previously stated) but this sexuality has a proper function and a proper context.

Sexual connection between a man and a woman is intended to be part of a larger and deeper connection between them; the Bible speaks of them 'becoming one.' This oneness of a man and a woman in marriage is characterized in the (in)famous 'submission' passage in Ephesians 5. Paul speaks of marriage as a mutual submission of two individuals, each serving the other in a way that seeks their betterment, joy, and fulfillment. It is this context of mutual commitment, service, and deference that is the proper place for sexuality to be expressed.

As we earlier defined it, our spirit is essentially our 'will' or our 'heart' (it is the center of who we are, the non-physical part of us that is the essence of our person, the part that yearns, intends, chooses, and desires). For a husband and a wife to become spiritual 'one' is for the will, the heart, the spirit, of each spouse to permanently align with the others, and in this way we begin to see how sexuality mirrors, expresses, and develops what is essentially a spiritual reality in the life of the married couple.

To conclude, God's design for sexuality is much more holistic than that of the culture at large. Sexuality is not a tool to be used by a person to acheive certain goals, nor is it the whole defining characteristic of an individual, rather it is an interconnected aspect of the true central person (spirit). For this sexuality to be abstracted from it's larger spiritual context is to do damage to the individuals engaged in it. (As Paul says, "sexual sin is sin against your own body.") Sexuality is to be a part of a deeply commited relationship between two people who are continually growing in their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual union. In this sense sex outside of marriage is really not even 'sex,' but only a cheap plastic version of the real thing. (Of course it is entirely possible for marriage to be a cheap plastic version of the reality as well, but that for another day...)

*I also want to briefly adress the issue of celibacy...

...we were created 'incomplete' but this doesn't mean that singleness is inherently wrong or bad, or even somehow inferior (1 Corinthians 7:1) but rather that the natural, healthy, sexual desire is a God-given aspect of humanity. There is nothing wrong with a woman or man remaining single and celibate for the duration of their time on earth; our deep spiritual/sexual union with a spouse does not have to be the only way we connect with humanity; many religious orders include vows of celibacy and those who undertake such vows sometimes speak of 'marrying' all of humanity. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 those who are single are not distracted from the purposes of God in the world.

7.28.2007

Submission to Authority

This is attached to some old thoughts ...follow the title link.

Why should we submit?

The first, and simplest, answer is obedience to the command of scripture:

Colossians 3:22-23 gives us a practical example of the difference between obedience and submission; the difference between obeying when the master is watching, and obeying with sincerity of heart.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

Ephesians 5:22-6:9 expands upon, and gives practical examples for, the simple statement of Ephesians 5:21, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Romans 13:1-7 also discusses submission and, in addition to simply commanding us to submit, teaches us that all authority is instituted by God, hence rebellion against authority is sin. This passage also links freedom causally to submission; we ought to submit for our own good! In our sinful, self-focused mindset we have been trained to believe that by submitting to others we are somehow robbed of our ‘Creator-endowed, inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Nothing could be further from the truth!

Why should we submit?

The second answer is …for our own benefit!

The Message paraphrases a famous passage in Galatians 5 that ties in to this causal link between submission and freedom. Self-focused grasping for our desires never produces good fruit. If we puff out our chests, put up our dukes, and fight for our rights, we lose out on the abundance of life in Christ. If instead we submit ourselves to the will of God for our lives we gain freedom; freedom from ego, freedom from fear, freedom from the ever-vigilant paranoia of self-protection. …and even more we gain Christ, His peace of mind, His effortless joy, His fathomless hope, and His otherworldly love.

Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, makes the point that freedom is the result of discipline. Each spiritual discipline has a corresponding freedom; just as the discipline of practicing scales on a musical instrument directly correlates to the freedom to spontaneous musical talent, so the discipline of submission leads to freedom from self-focus and self-gratification. We submit, not for the sake of the one we submit to, but rather for our own sake.

In the beginning our parents were given one simple rule, had they but trusted God enough to submit to His desires, we would still be living in the effortless “cool of the garden;” enjoying God’s unbroken fellowship. God knew that mankind could not have the experiential knowledge of evil, and remain in fellowship with Him; He knew that it would bring us shame, and that it would cause us to hide from Him; submission was for our own good, not God’s.

7.26.2007

Temple

This could very easily turn into something so much more than what I have the time to make it...

Jesus 'Attack' on the Temple

Jesus was not trying to reform Temple worship. He wasn't trying to rid spirituality of commercialism (the moneychangers were a requirement for worship, not a distraction from it) nor was he claiming that they were abusing the pilgrims who were coming to the Temple by extorting money from them. Jesus was attacking the Temple itself. He was not purifying worship, He was preventing it from happening (by preventing people from procuring the needed objects with which a devout Jew would worship God). We are blinded to this by the fact that our worship has never been accompanied by the smell of burning animal hair, blood, and the bleating of animals, we think worship is about guitars and drums...

This was not an attack on the 'money-lenders,' this was an attack on the entire system of Jewish redemption; not, as is often supposed, an attack on the system God set up, but rather, on the way in which people were abusing that system. A system that was impeccably trusted without question to make peace between God and men, and yet touched only the outer edge of Jewish lives, never entering the heart.

Jesus attacks it as a 'den of robbers' and for failing to be 'a house of prayer for all nations.'

It had become a source of national pride, a symbol of Jewish piety and spiritual superiority, allowing them to mistreat others, and still view themselves as superior to outsiders. They saw themselves arrogantly as priveledged insiders, instead of fortunate adopted children.

I was going to draw parralels to today's "christian" culture and the body of Christ as the Temple, but since I don't have the energy right now I will let you draw your own conclusions...

Jesus was attacking the mindset that viewed the Temple and the religion associated with it as essentially a short cut to being right, and that it has little to no effect on things that really matter in a persons conduct and character...

Jesus attack on the Pharisees is (in today's Christian worldview) understood as an attack on their spirituality, they were legalists; in reality, Jesus' attack was a political one, they were using their privileged position to oppress others for their own sake. They were not only neglecting their call to be the light of the world, but were using their election as a source of pride and separation from the world that they were supposed to be illuminating! (Does this hit close to home yet!)

Jesus doesn't accept blessing unless it gives away...

(Sorry this is scattered, but I had these thoughts collected here so long that I was forgetting what some of my short-hand meant and I thought I needed to get it somewhat coherent and just post it!)