Wednesday, December 29, 2004

There is an elusive peace that nurtures contentment with the rhythms of life - even those parts that we would rather not pass through. There is an ebb and flow of health and sickness, of youth and old age, of work and rest, of tears and joy . . . and countless other experiences.

Finding that peace is in abiding with God in the inner soul. Our presence with God is His presence with us, and our rest in the place in which He puts us. We do not find this peace by looking for it, but by constantly seeking God. Looking for peace is searching for something to acquire and possess, and seeking God is discovering how to be acquired and possessed. Every spiritual blessing comes to us as we lose ourselves - will and life - to God.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A kind Christian lady who attended a memorial service we had here last week told me that we would grow. She is a member of a large community church and assured me that we would grow because they had begun in a house. I didn't really reply to that comment . . . just said that we are blessed and enjoying living in God.

She was trying with good intention to encourage me . . . predicting that our small group meeting in a humble rented location would blossom into a congregation of thousands meeting in a multi-million dollar complex. She assumed that I needed such encouragement. Obviously, I must have greater ambitions and aspirations than sharing in fellowship with a small band of believers and meeting in a building we share with others. We all know this couldn't be what we are dreaming of . . . a community of loving people who know and care about each other, who meet in modest circumstances so they might minister more to others, where relationships are emphasized and the institution is minimal.

I didn't bother to explain what she wouldn't understand . . . but no, we are not pursuing becoming a megachurch.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

This week I encountered the institutional church garbage that I think makes heaven boil. It certainly makes me boil, and I too think that I have the Spirit of God!

A 16 year-old girl was wanting to plan a memorial service for her deceased mother. She went to the nearby Episcopal Church (this isn't about Episcopal Churches, but any church with this mindset) but was told to have the memorial service meant that it had to be done as an episcopal rite. She couldn't make any changes to have it like she wanted. She was turned away!!!

Woe to you churches, hypocrites! You turn away 16 year-old girls trying to bury their mothers for the sake of preserving your traditions! Your denominational orthodoxy has become a stumbling block to those who are suffering! Your institutions are a wall between God and His children. Suffer the children to come to Him and do not forbid them!!!

Too many who call themselves Christians do not know Christ. They would probably be applauded for upholding the purity of the faith.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

For Christians there are no enemies - because an overwhelming love from God and for the sake of God which is directed toward all his creatures means that there are no foes. Unbelievers, those opposing our faith, and even those persecuting followers of Christ are not to be hated. Nothing anyone can do or believe can make him or her my enemy. Only the flesh has enemies; the Spirit knows only love.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Church structures. Committees, leadership, who is in charge of whom. Management styles, leadership systems. Systems analysis. Understanding the nature of human organizations and group dynamics. Models for conflict resolution. All essential stuff for building an efficient and functional church - right?

I realize that having some organizational element is unavoidable, but focusing on this stuff is poison to authentic communities where the bond is love. The mature don't need structures because they will love and serve out of who God has grown them to be, but the immature who view things organizationally instead of relationally often strive after positions of power within the institution because of their fleshly ambitions and conceptions. Their ambitions may be for the "good" of the organization as they understand it . . . but that is precisely the problem. The immature want to sit on the right hand and left hand. When there is a structure, often those who believe that wielding power through position - even out of all sincerity - often end up in those positions while the truly mature simply go about their work of serving and loving.

Though some basic level of organization is necessary, I think we do better to avoid having positions of power for the immature to quarrel over. It is almost humorous to watch those who conceive of things in a "top-down" way searching for the places of authority in a relational community quite devoid of those positions. I watched it happen in Africa where those ambitious for power could not find a place to grab hold of it, and now with the believers with whom I am priviledged to walk. I've also seen other situations where immature people desired and took hold of positions from which they planned to rule - with all good intention, but nonetheless from fleshly ideas of authority rather than self-sacrificing service. Of course, they would disagree with me and protest that what they do is self-sacrificing service . . . and in their immaturity they truly believe it. They also would resist correction and often take offense at it.

The mystery of communities of disciples of Jesus is that they operate relationally in a way that cannot be analyzed and diagrammed. Try as one might, it is hard to come up with any clear organizational chart for Jesus and his disciples, or the apostolic church. Such systems can be imposed on the textual evidence, but cannot be derived from it.

Monday, December 06, 2004

There is a major cultural shift happening in the West. Actually, the West is going back to join the rest of the world. The experiment in modernity reached its zenith but is now fading. While the West may be entering "postmodernity" . . . the rest of the world never adopted the philosohpy of modernity, though they have used some of the technological fruits of it.

There is some good news about this shift. Modernity, with its humanistic mania, is inherently rejects submission to God. The rest of the world, however, has remained much more open to faith. I observed that it was much easier to talk to pagan, idol-worshipping Africans about Jesus and see vibrant faith spring up in their hearts by the Holy Spirit than to talk to modern Americans, many of whom are Sunday-attending confessors of a civil Christianity. Those non-modern Africans are much closer to accepting the Kingdom of God in their animal-sacrificing paganism than many nominally Christian Americans basically because their worldview already tells them that they are nothing in the world and that they are at the mercy of much stronger spiritual powers. That is so different from a modern worldview that proclaims human ingenuity and strength is the penultimate power.

In the modern West, this mindset subverts Christianity. Often while fundamentalists denounce what they call "secular humanism", their theology shows that a modern humanistic view is the bedrock of their perception of faith.

The hope for the shift now occurring is that claims of human potential and sufficiency are now highly suspect. However, as the history of paganism proves, even when man views himself as being at the mercy of great spiritual powers his response can be manipulation rather than dependence. But it is much easier talk to someone about Jesus who knows he is scum as he offers animal sacrifices to appease the gods, rather than trying to convince someone who is confident that he has struck an accord with Jesus, trading his obedience and religiouslity for a seat at the heavenly table, that he is a pauper and must reach out to God in faith and humility. The gospel is an offense to the pride of this latter individual. Those who know they are refuse receive it gladly.

Monday, November 29, 2004

With the beginning of Advent we are concentrating again on the coming of Jesus - which raises a host of meaty theological subjects. One is the unmistakable self-sacrifice in the kenosis (emptying - Phil. 2:7) of the incarnation, which leads to the cross.

Christians have been self-sacrificing, but for the wrong thing. I believe that in recent decades believers have been called to give themselves sacrificially to the church - when they should have been been giving themselves sacrificially to the world. This has led to an institutionally-oriented and self-serving church without a meaningful redemptive witness in the world. The ministry of reconciliation occurs when the self-sacrifice is made for the world, and not for the collective identity of the Christian organization. Preachers are to blame for calling believers to support the church and for seeking to build enterprises - which has a self-serving link to their own "careers".

While I won't lay all the blame on professional ministers, a good portion belongs there. A desire for success, a tepid modern theology which is dependent on human efforts, and a institutional mindset derived from corporate models have all contributed to a Christian community that practices self-sacrifice for itself instead of the world to which and for which Christ came. Maybe this season of Advent will call us back to the incarnation as a vision for being a missionary movement for the sake of others.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Hawkish Americans tend to see the Europeans as too soft and tentative - not willing to use military might. I wonder how much this has to do with our memory of war.

Mainland Europe had two world wars fought on the ground in their countries in the last century, while for America those wars were profitable both politically and economically. America became a superpower because of those wars - building industry while other countries were destroyed. Many Americans died, but the war wasn't in our country. The last time we experienced war up close was 1865 - and maybe the horror of that experience has been replaced by the myth that the second world war brought peace. The peace in Europe after WWII had more to do with the different approach to peace found in the Marshall Plan versus the Treaty of Versailles, than with the fact that Axis powers were defeated by force.

Violence brings more violence. Only love can bring peace. Is there a "right to defend" oneself or a society against aggression? Yes, but we should never think that defending ourselves successfully is a lasting solution. We might also need to learn that there are many types of violence, and we in perpetrating one form may sow seeds for another form.

Monday, November 22, 2004

One must stop striving for heaven if one is to receive eternal life.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

"God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is byond all reason." - Dag Hammarskjold

"Joy is more a matter of "rejoicing in" rather than being "glad about." - Dorothee Soelle

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The test of a true mentor may be whether he or she is willing to cease being one in the eyes of those they disciple.
I don't do very well when trying to think non-communally. To sit alone and attempt to conjure up thoughts of substance and truth usually doesn't do much. I get a bunch of random pieces and nothing seems worth pursuing.

However, put me in conversation with someone else, and I find myself thinking thoughts beyond myself. When I am responding to someone particular - relating through writing or dialogue - then the magical/spiritual seems to happen. The practice of our community invites an indwelling of the Spirit where God is revealed in newness.

Descartes said "I think, therefore I am." Perhaps we are when we converse, and we are because God enters into the relational moment.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Because I'm don't have time to write more . . . I'll just excerpt some correspondence from today . . . sorry to not include the letter that asked the questions, but you'll have to make do with my answers :) Proceed at your own risk! :P

With the beginning of the Enlightenment man began investigating the world in a new way – and leaving the medieval worldview which had proceeded it (which itself had supplanted the Classical worldview). In some ways the Enlightenment esteemed the Classical – and returned back to an Aristotelian approach – with some notable differences.

This new investigation included a critique of what had been formerly unassailable sacred texts. And higher criticism revealed that more was going on with the transmission and origin of these texts than was formerly believed. I see nothing inherently problematic and myself hold to many discoveries of higher and lower criticism - of textual transmission, the editing of texts, oral tradition, etc. that helps me understand in a way not nearly as romantic and naïve (as I did before) how we received the texts we have.

The problem I see is the tension expressed in the difference between Peter Abelard and Anselm: Abelard said “I know that I may believe,” while Anselm said “I believe that I may know.”

I spent too much of my life in Abelard’s way – making my rationality the measure of all things. The gift of my intellect became my god and I thought it entirely reasonable that God should be proved to me. I was the arbiter of truth. God hid Himself – or actually remained tantalizingly out of my reach – as long as I stood my ground and demanded that He become reasonable to me. Like the rich young ruler, only when I sold everything I had did I find God.

That doesn’t mean I became some fundamentalist ranter who eschews anger and hate all while claiming to be a careful adherent of the Bible. I didn’t even give up my intellect – only my use of it to measure everything.

I see the scientific analysis of any ancient texts from a hermeneutic of disbelief to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A skeptical scientific analysis (I am not saying that is the only way to competently analyze the text) will provide ample proof for more skepticism. That approach uses only analysis and not intuition, existential truth, etc.

In my quote (why didn’t I start here?) I am not referring to scholarly work (which doesn’t have to be persistently skeptical) but to the analysis done by many conservatives where rules are deduced, arguments formulated, and positions buttressed. That type of culling the text for material to build my positions (using it as a resource) rather than encountering God through the text (only one place God may be encountered) leads to the distortion that I believe is seen in so much of current Christianity. I thought I was hearing in some of your comments evidence that you also see some absurd things being done in the name of Christianity. I believe that this handling of the Bible as prooftexts for rationally argued positions is at least one of the root causes of the phenomena we see. . .

For me those issues are any intellectual stance on any subject. The love of God is not a position – like “what is your position on . . .?” Since the rational emphasis of the Enlightenment Christianity has been dominated (but perhaps not populated) by at least some people for whom intellectualizing (the cognitive understanding) is paramount. C.S. Lewis called these people “men without chests” whose heads appear larger not because they are, but because their chests (where the heart is) have atrophied.

By human thought here I mean rational knowledge in an Aristotelian way – as opposed to a mystical knowledge – which IS the visceral and experiential. Friedrich von Huegel’s institutional (Petrine), intellectual (Pauline), and intuitive (Johannine) model seems apropos. Peter reigns in the Catholic church, Paul in the Protestant church, but John has no home though his tradition hides in the shadows of both. I don’t see these as antithetical, but all are needed. There is a place for Paul-like analysis, but without John’s intuitive love (I don’t mean to paint Paul as lacking in mysticism – his faith was formed mystically on the road to Damascus- not intellectually through debate) the analysis runs amok . . .

I don’t think all truth is equal. It is true that every life is sacred and to be valued not for its circumstance, but for its existence. It is also true that I am wearing a t-shirt today. The first truth is not scientifically attainable, but the second is. However, the scientific truth, while eradicating the error that I always wear button-down shirts during the week, has little import. The important truths of life are relational, experiential, and spiritual – all untouchable by science. Scientific analysis, when it is made the gold-standard of truth – leads to a world where the greatest things are physical. My argument is that when this scientific approach was appropriated by Christians and applied to the scriptures, the unimportant became important and Christianity was distorted.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Reconciliation is Bigger Than We Think!
That's the conclusion I came to through our discussion last night. We were following Bill Collin's suggestions about Christian community by looking at Col. 1:15-20. A careful examination of the the supremacy of Christ as described in that passage includes his reign over the heavenlies and the reconciliation of those realms to God. It seems that reconciling humans back to their Creator is only part of the picture, because the entire created world participates in that reconciliation as well as the heavenly realms - which in Paul's cosmology includes the principalities and powers of evil that exist there - what else in the heavenlies needs reconciliation to God? Is it really an surprise that God's reconciliation of His human enemies by the cross would also include a reconciliation of spiritual forces of evil by that same cross? Can it really be that big?

Then we started talking about 2 Cor. 5:16ff and our new creature-ness and how that changes our view of everyone (not just simply fellow-believers)! Here's the missional theology of the Kingdom that is all inclusive - because we start seeing the reconciliation that God has wrought and inviting everyone to discover that reality! Indeed, Jesus is the Savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10) and we see everyone as the recipient of grace - even if they don't know it!

Sometimes we don't know where we are going . . . but the Holy Spirit does! That's what I felt about last night's discussion. I had no idea where we were going until we got into it - but what vistas of grace and God's Kingdom!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Today I was working on planning an order of worship . . . and trying to find some songs to fit with the idea of the incarnation. I know the obvious ones are Christmas songs, but I really don't want the nativity as much as the whole life of Jesus.

Anyway there was a section in the book of baptismal songs where the opening medley was "My Gift of Myself Medley." I think that sounds much too nice. It's as if I'm giving God something - namely me. It should be the "I'm Returning Stolen Property Medley."

Friday, October 15, 2004

Living in a Christian community without a hierarchy creates all sorts of new experiences. The skeptical keep looking for the "hidden" power structures . . . because, after all, you can't simply be serving each other out of love! They want to "sniff" out the power trail to see where it leads.

Still, however imperfectly it is practiced, we are enjoying a communal relationship that is devoid of clear lines of command and control. That presents an interesting question . . . who do you ask for permission? Since there is no one in particular, individually we end up voluntarily consulting with others on actions we are thinking of taking. "What do you think?" we ask someone we think is wise. Out of respect we try and speak to those who might be affected in some way or who may be doing something similar. If I do this will that affect you? When there is no designated person to ask, you just ask somebody. It's really not about getting permission anyway. It's always good to do good . . . and you don't need me to approve it. Just let love and humility lead you to seek counsel and the good of others.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Our community has been enriched by the presence of Bill Collins, a thoughtful and reflective Christian whose faith walk is formally in the Roman Catholic tradition. What do I mean by formally? Well . . . he wants his liturgical experience to be in the historic Catholic tradition, but he is not sectarian and is willing to hob-nob with protestants. Actually, I told him last night that I'm not a protestant - that is, I'm not protesting the Catholic Church. It is obvious to us all that we share in the fellowship of the one Spirit . . . which in our scriptural glimpses into the life of the early church was the way they determined fellowship.

Anyway, Bill keeps talking about how the interpersonal closeness of our community and intimacy is so different from the formality of his Catholic Church community. And while Bill keeps saying how odd it is for him to speak personally and intimately outside the confessional, he does so quite readily . . . opening up himself and his heart to us in teaching and discussion. For something he claims is so unusual for him to experience in a faith community, it is what God has brought him to offer readily.

Truly God is maturing us to a broken humilty which is self-aware in terms of our sin and transparent interpersonally. Those love-discussions which we enjoy in which our inner selves are revealled are healing experiences. May God continue to make the love of the cross our defining characteristic.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Last night in our Tues. night group (really a therapy session for screw-ups under the pastoral care of the Holy Spirit) we got to talking about being obsessive-compulsive. Actually, all night no one used that term, but that was in essence what we were discussing. Our observation was that w all tend to over-do something, some leisure activity, work, pleasure, food, or something. We do not use things redemptively. Our thinking went something like this:

1. We are all prone to obsessing over something in a desperate search for meaning and fulfillment.

2. In this way we corrupt leisure activities, relationships, and the physical world.

3. Abstinence from anything we obsess over (should we say "abscess" over?) may be a temporary remedy but learning moderation is a better long-term goal.

Today as I look back on that discussion I realize that moderation as a human balancing act is doomed to failure. Discovering the peace of God, and therefore the presence of God in that thing over which we are obsessing, leads to a moderation because we are at rest in God. Too often our attempts at moderation are stoic. Then we simply obsess over moderation.

More sin no matter how deep we go! Oh we are broken people! Only our faith in the love of God will bring a peace that finally gets us out of our rut.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Okay. . . here I enter the current discussion of the upcoming election (hopefully from a perspective of faith above every other conviction).

I like the positions Bush espouses on some moral issues more than Kerry, but I really doubt that Bush will actually do anything substantive about those issues. I know Kerry won't do anything.

I don't like the harsh, angry, judgmental attitude that conservatives often seem to have about the moral issues. Conservatives always seem to win on the "being ugly" scale over morally lax liberals. The liberals seem more condescending than spiteful . . . but is that any better? Can't one be right without being condemning or dismissive?

I don't like the way Bush seems to have sold out to big business and the wealthy, but I don't know if Kerry's concern for the middle class and marginalized will be expressed in truly helpful ways.

Bush's simple view of the world scares me. He does not seem to appreciate the complexity of issues . . . for him everything is clear-cut, black and white. He's always right and can admit no wrong. Because some good has been accomplished in Iraq, all the wrongness of how we got there is justified. Why don't we free all the other oppressed people of the world by invading their countries? Much of the world is afraid that America might decide they are wrong and invade to fix things.

Kerry seems to appreciate the complexity of things but I don't trust the basis on which he would choose to address the world's complexity. What good is it to truly understand the many issues and ramifications, and consider them all in the course of making a decision, if the decision is not an expressing God's nature? But now I'm expecting more from a worldly government than is possible.

It seems that much of the campaigning on both sides knowingly misrepresents statements and positions of the other party/candidate in an effort to score political points by instilling fear. There seems to be little generosity, good-will, grace or mercy displayed.

Bottom line - this thoroughly un-Christian system of government which is predicated on competition and conquest (the idea being that two parties fighting against each other in order to win produces good government is like thinking war produces peace) displays all the weaknesses one would expect with something so un-Christlike at the core. A Christlike core would be love, grace, mercy, hope, peace, and joy in a cooperative atmosphere - but it would never succeed in governing sinful people. A government of grace would only succeed in governing people of grace. Capitalism works because it is based on greed. You can always count on sin. An economic system based on loving your neighbor would never work - unless all the people were filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the same with government systems.

For me, I am as disappointed in my choices as I should expect to be - given that this is the world and I am a citizen of God's Kingdom. I have hope . . . but it's not in either Bush or Kerry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Expert to Experiment
The earth is moving under the foundation of old concepts of leadership as the modern model of expertise is replaced by a new definition of authenticity. The postmodern world, the way things are and are becoming - whatever you want to call it - does not put confidence in credentials and those claiming to have the answers, but in those with whom we can join in the process of asking questions.

The call for those who would suppose to lead is to be willing to be vulnerable enough to work out their own salvation in the presence of others. Of course, the temptation of pride is to try and work it out in private, away from prying eyes, and only display that which is presentable. And so the myth of neat and tidy spiritual processes is perpetuated by those who show only end products rather than the hesitancy, confusion, doubt, and tentativeness that is truly the nature of experiencing any transformation spiritually. The myth discourages those honest enough to admit their own struggles, but who are intimidated by the apparent certainty expert leaders.

A Christian community is a group that is willing to be open enough about the journey to honestly discuss the reality of the messiness of faith as it is worked out in the presence of God. May we be bold enough to work it out in the presence of others that everyone may be blessed.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Freedom from Self
While writing a recent piece I made the statement that we have "the freedom to not be limited by what we enjoy" - which surprised me when I wrote it. It may sound weird, but I saw more meaning and truth in the statement than I had intended. It was as if the Spirit was speaking to me through words I had written, but which maybe shouldn't be called my own.

Being a slave to pleasure is a stifling existence spiritually. If we are confined to what is enjoyable, our souls will wither. Though most people would desire freedom from hardship and toward pleasure, as disciples of Jesus we value freedom from the curse of knowing only pleasure so that we may grow into the image of Christ. When I am loosed from my addiction to personal pleasure, I will be free indeed.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Responding to Persecution
Continuing my thoughts from the last blog . . . I remember my Church History professor talking about the two ways the pre-Constantinian church responded to persecution: Apologetics and Martyrdom. That seems to be the apostolic approach as well. Certainly Paul engages in apologetics as he explains himself to Roman officials. And the martyrdom . . . well, that's something that scares us.

Compare the apostolic response to the response of many Christians today. There is little true apologetic given, certainly no martyrdom, but lots of campaigning, legislative wrangling, calling for our rights, and claiming that America is a Christian nation so Christianity should be the officially sanctioned religion.

Unless Christians learn how to be aliens in America, travelers who are looking for a city whose Builder and Maker is God, their cultural faith and civil religion will continue to become more and more impotent in the marketplace of ideas.

Monday, August 30, 2004

God's People and Persecution
To suggest that American Christians are undergoing persecution would be to insult the believers around the world who know what suffering really is. I don't intend to render the word meaningless by suggesting that the American Church in being moved out of a position of governmental favor and privilege is experiencing honest-to-goodness persecution. Those accustomed to a position of dominance usually whine when forced onto a level playing field in a pluralistic philosophical environment - but that hardly qualifies as persecution. The more American Christians wail about their treatment with extremist language, the more others will be convinced that evangelical and conservative Christianity is a threat to society.

Having experienced Christendom so long some have come to believe it is the believer's birthright. Not only is it a questionable understanding of God's Kingdom, Christendom has been shown to be a poor environment to spiritual nurture.

In the midst of cultural change where Christian faith is being counted as one among the many, it would serve believers well to look at the historical response to real persecution. Maybe in that we will find a direction for reacting to the very mild situation where I am not banned from praying to God, but only from coercing others to pray to God.

More to come . . .

Monday, August 23, 2004

Neither Jew nor Greek
I think we made a big mistake when we first talked about having a ministry to Hispanics. I think it was a very honest and sincere mistake, but an error nonetheless. One of our desires was to reach out to the people in our community with love and service. That was good. We wanted to be intentionally diverse. That was good. There was an individual who had a vision for serving the Hispanic population and had the skills to do it. That was good.

The problem was that whenever we talk about having a ministry to a certain group we start thinking in a 'them' and 'us' mentality. We (the Christians in this faith community) will serve them (a distinct group not part of our community). I am not fussing over the language of describing realities. The Hispanics we were wanting to serve were not sharing life with us, and our goal was not to 'convert' them to our group. But it is almost a condescending position that we assume when we target a group in that way, though all very unintentionally.

Even though the goal was to serve and not get them to join our group, it would have almost been impossible for them to become full participants in our faith community had they wanted to do that. It would have been more like they would have always been labeled as those to whom we minister. Maybe I'm not expressing this distinction very well, but I think there is something real here.

By God's working our faith community has become more diverse, but that has been because God has brought African families into this body of believers to share in both giving and receiving. If we had a ministry to Africans I think we would be putting them at a lesser place. Instead, God has shown us how we don't have a ministry to certain groups, which presupposes they will be mainly receivers, but God has expanded our community to include more believers, who though having different perspectives and experiences than some of us, stand equal with us in ministering to one another. The differences are obvious culturally, in experience, and even the articulation of our faith, but God is showing us how to be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female . . . as God intends. We have not put these individuals into a mental category of those to whom we minister, and so we have been blessed as they minister to the rest of the congregation in teaching, leadership, and service. I believe God is teaching us how to live as the Kingdom of God in which all peoples serve one another without worldly distinctions. Praise God!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Regular visitors to this blog will see the new format. I like it . . . but I hope to play around with it more and add more graphics.

Some little add-ons I had on the old blog were lost when I chose this new template (you didn't think I did this on my own, did you?). I lost the old add-on comments, so those gems that some of you wrote are gone. I didn't know that was going to happen! Honestly, I didn't! It wasn't that I couldn't stand the competition . . . that your comments might be more insightful than my blogging! Really! Anyway, I like the new comments format better.

I also lost the stats generator. Maybe you never noticed it, but there was a link called Go Stats or something like that down at the bottom of the page. You know what I could do . . . and what I did do all the time . . . was to click on it and find out how many "hits" my blog was receiving, what days people were visiting my blog, where I ranked among the "Culture and Relationships" blogs on Blogger (somewhere usually around 270) and a bunch of other stats. When I visited my blog to see if there were any comments, there was that little tyrannical stats generator tempting me to check the usefulness of my blogging existence. The little beast became an ego-meter. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit . . . my existential angst wasn't that tied to the stats add-on . . . maybe the stats record is simply a good proxy for a bigger temptation.

Anyway, I've chosen not to have a statistical record anymore. What does it matter? Modernity lies deeply ingrained in my being and its penchant for measuring everything by numbers is a habit I don't want to foster. It's an addiction I've been fighting since going to Africa. I don't freakin' care anymore . . . well, honestly I do. I want to know how many people are visiting my blog. I want to be validated! I want to know someone is reading this! But I don't want to want to anymore.

The way I'm going to try and kill that little modern monster is to deprive it of nourishment. It's been on a bread and water diet for years, but still managing to stay alive. To break myself of a lingering numbers fetish I'll get rid of little counters like that one. But, of course, you know what the second question is after "So, where do you go to church?" - "How many members do you have?". And if someone already knows the answer to the first question, then question number two moves up to number one . . . even if they asked me that three months ago. If it is about numbers, why are we still worshipping one God?

Monday, August 09, 2004

When I published my last blog I got a pop-up offering me a free Dell laptop computer! How apropos!
Usually I don't pay much attention to "pop-ups" or other ads when I'm surfing the net, but one just caught my attention (while checking out my own blog). It was a banner that promised a free* copy of Halo 2, the limited collector's edition. Okay, I confess that I'm a gamer and think that Halo is about the best game ever produced - and I am counting down to November 9 when Halo 2 is released. So that was an enticing ad.

When I clicked on the banner I got a "pop-up" ad that promised a free* Halo 2 with free shipping*. You know what I kept seeing - those little asterisks. It was always free with a catch. At that point my well-entrenched skepticism took over and I didn't click on the pop-up because I knew I would have to do something like apply for a new credit card, refinance my home, or sell a child to get the "free" game. Either that, or I was going to have to buy the game and get the collector's edition upgrade for free. It really wasn't going to be free, but the ad didn't want to tell me on the front end what the real story was.

Too often God's grace has been presented as free* (with that ubiquitous asterisk). Investigation usually reveals that what the preacher meant was that the offer was freely given but the actions needed to qualify for God's free offer are extensive and meticulous. So stringent are the requirements that one begins to wonder what the meaning of "free" is. The nuanced small print is that one does not work to earn salvation but one must work to receive and keep salvation. God's grace and forgiveness is free to those who meet the qualifications. But it is free.

What rubbish! God doesn't have an asterisk by His free offer of eternal life through Jesus. Whatever one might construe as "requirements" God Himself supplies - be it faith, repentance, confession, humility, submission, or anything else. And as those who have received freely we become giveaway communities who share in God's generosity by extending it to others. The abundance of grace creates a celebratory atmosphere that is irresistible. The Gospel becomes Good News (as it should be) and life in Christ becomes joyous. Kingdom parties become common, and the invitations are thrown around with abandon. Come one and all to feast in the palace of our God!

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I saw a billboard along the highway today - "You Must Be Born Again - Jesus Christ". My instant reaction was that the Gospel doesn't fare too well when put on billboards. I was also asked a few days ago to summarize our faith community's essence in a succinct phrase, one that would fit on a t-shirt. I was stumped. Ask me to take an hour and talk, but not 10 seconds. Do I talk about God's dramatic and gracious rescue of us as miserable sinners? Do I talk about how our day-to-day emphasis is to seek the transformation that God does in changing us into the image of Christ? Do I mention that our identity is in a communal relationship with the Triune God rather than assent to any doctrinal formulations? What do I say about what God is doing, how we seek His leading, and our emphasis on "roaming about the Kingdom"? The possibilities are many and varied.

Now I know that having a mission statement or slogan is considered essential to having an identity, but all the ones I've heard are virtually the same even though the churches that create them are radically different. It seems to me that the slogans, then, are not very representative. No church says "we are here to make you feel good" or "it's all about appearances". No, the churches for whom those statements are true are going to say something like everyone else - "where we love God and people so they grow to love Jesus and their neighbors in doing good." Or maybe it's "We Worship a Worthy God who Works by His Spirit to Win the World." That is a church that likes w's.

I think the problem is reductionism - both with the billboards and the mission statements. If you want to know what the community is about, live with us for a while. Let me talk to you. But I can't give you that picture in any meaningful way in 15 words or less. My family doesn't have a mission statement, and don't ask me to summarize my relationship with my wife and children on a t-shirt. My relationship with God and my spiritual brothers and sisters doesn't fit on one either.

I do believe that despite what any mission statement says, if you live with a group for even a short time, you will discover what they are about.

And the Gospel . . . it's much more than "you must be born again."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

In Matthew 21 two questions are asked - one of Jesus by the religious leaders, and the other of those leaders by Jesus. The leaders' question is about "authority". They want to know the nature of the authority that is behind what Jesus is teaching and doing. Jesus asks a question about the motivations of a person's heart that lie behind one's actions.

To me this exchange exemplifies the differences between the ways of God and the ways of humanity. The same tension arises constantly in Christian churches as human legalistic views fight against the work God is doing. When it comes to actions the human concern is about the authority and correctness of them, and God's concern is for the motivations of the heart that gave rise to the actions. While the religious leaders examine the legality of things, Jesus talks about faithfulness in the heart of people who are moved to repentance.

Jesus and these religious leaders are like ships passing in the night - headed in opposite directions and talking about completely different matters. Those who talk about authority will never understand the One who came to be servant of all. In the Christian world we need less talk about who has authority and more about what is in our hearts.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

We've been talking about baptism in our community. One thing which has become exceedingly clear to me is that baptism is to be a unifying experience (1 Cor. 12:12-13) both bringing people to God and to a communal oneness with each other through the Spirit. Tragically, that has not been the case in the Christian world. Baptism has been a cause for much division and the non-acceptance of other believers. Something has gone wrong.

My own thoughts concerning the root of the problem is that we Christians tend to think that the one baptism of Ephesians 4 is defined by human understandings of the rite and human ways of practicing it. We believe that the one baptism is a doctrine that must be comprehended instead of a mystery that is God's grace in us. The one baptism must be that God performs one work in all - even when our understandings and practices differ. We are bound together by a common work administered by God. This is something we must accept by faith, even as we acknowledge that our thoughts and convictions regarding the rite differ.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

So last Sunday we talked about Brother Lawrence and the notion of Practicing the Presence of God. Actually, we had several meditative quotes from the lay brother, and we were encouraged to stay more conscious of God . . . and to adore and love Him constantly. Want to know how I've been doing? Well it's Wednesday, and really no better than the week before. I can't say that I've been particularly more aware of God or increasingly focused on the imminence of the divine in my life and around me.

Does that mean Sunday was a waste? No . . . because if I take a much longer view of where I am and where I have been, I would say that I am more conscious of God now than I was several years ago. But then again, last Sunday wasn't the first time I had been introduced to the practice of God's presence. Sunday was another nudge in the direction God's been leading me for a long time. Often the spiritual results aren't instantly apparent, though on rare occasions we humans are treated to an epiphany that does create dramatic change. We get more nudges than we do epiphanies.

Here I sit thinking about how I need to be more aware of God. Last week I wasn't thinking about this on Wednesday (at least I can't remember thinking this) . . . so last Sunday's meditation is having an effect.

"Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes" (1 Corinthians 4:5)

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

A long time ago I came to understand that pride is the root of our spiral into deepening separation from God. Satan's pride resulted in his fall, and serves as a warning for us. If pride has a child, it must be selfishness - and an awful child it is. How do we mentor those who are so consumed with themselves that all they can think about is their personal circumstances, how they can get what they want, or what is going on with them? How do we encourage dying to ourselves and destroy that devastating tendency to make "me" the center of everything?

One solution seems to be in a discipline of helping others (getting out of exclusive self interest) - but selfish people won't do that. "Sorry, I'm too busy with myself to practice that . . ." Even if the discipline is presented as a way for they themselves to be helped, the spirit of selfishness has too tight a grip. My experience is that all my attempts seem to fail. Selfishness continues to cause those caught up in it to destroy themselves. I can't break that hold in someone else no matter how I try.

Humbled by the power of sin, and have to turn back to faith in God. If the spirit of selfishness will be driven out it will be through the Spirit of God. May God do the work that I cannot do in myself nor in others. Sola Dei!

Monday, June 21, 2004

I just got back from a two-week trip to Honduras (June 3-18). As you might imagine, the experience was rich with God's presence. There is little that can equal spending a couple weeks just doing good for others. There were no distractions and since our basic needs were provided for by workers at the place we were staying, we could devote ourselves to simply serving the Hondurans. Every Christian finds such a trip appealing because it is an intense participation in the discipline of good works.

As much as we might like to live this way always, it is not possible. When I got home there was the grass to mow, errands to be run, and work (the kind that is the source of my paycheck) to be done. Though markedly different, this too is the will of God. The truth to be recognized is that the presence of God which we sense so clearly in concentrated service like through this Honduras trip, is equally available in our ordinary daily existence. Tasting God's goodness in a special circumstance should help us find Him in more typical activities.

May our experiences of holy presence in the ordinary things increase.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

What do we make of the changes in our world? There is plenty to be in despair about - economic woes, moral issues, war in our world, and all the questions that these are raising. When watching these matters unfold it seems that the participants in the debate have a desire to win at all costs rather than to engage in meaningful dialogue and a search for truth. There is an intellectual tribalization occurring and a genocidal warfare being waged against opposing viewpoints. Whether is it gay marriage, Iraq, or some other subject, so much of the rhetoric on all sides is a "take no prisoners" approach to winning against the "enemy" (those with whom we share in human society, our neighbors, who think differently). That does not bode well for a culture.

However, what is God doing in the middle of all this . . . if we indeed believe that God is still acting in the human story? One stark lesson is that we should have no hope in this world. We are only in despair if we expected this world to offer anything lasting. If we are distressed over economic woes, were we depending on economic vibrancy for our happiness? If we are disillusioned by evidence of moral weakness, is it a sign that we believed too much in the evolutionary progress of fallen human society? Does world instability and terrorism reveal that we sought a peace offered by military power and political alliances?

My personal anxiety about any of these current problems reminds me that I have not found rest and peace in Christ alone. May God lead me to unrivaled security in His love.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

As we seek to participate in our life in God, one given by grace and lived through grace, we often hear a debate surface about the emotional and rational aspects of that life. Many times the discussion devolves into a competition between proponents of one or the other of these eminently human expressions of being. On one hand, some seem to associate the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit with our emotions, while other see emotions as the greatest of pitfalls, and advocate a rational approach.

Let me suggest that the debate is not between these two aspects of human personhood, but between man and God. Those who would put their trust in rationality seem to miss the declaration of God that human understanding is corrupt - they are darkened in their understanding (Eph. 4:18) and their thinking became futile (Rom. 1:21) - just to point out two passages. Those who fail to recognize that every feeling is not from God, also fail to discern adequately that fundamental sins such as pride have hefty emotional components. With so many sins being emotive in nature, no wonder rational solutions meet with failure. Knowing the right one should do is little defense against a desire to do wrong.

I believe that the true situation is that both human emotion and rational thought are corrupted and untrustworthy. The debate is not between either being emotionally centered or intellectually guided - but being human centered or divinely guided. Both human emotion and rationality are redeemable and both may be used by God to guide. We must be aware not of the dangers of either one, but of both. We must seek how God leads and guides through both. Being confident in either feelings or thoughts is flawed, but trusting in God and Him through both is a journey to being transformed.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A truly formative part of my spiritual journey has been the eight years I spent in Tanzania, East Africa. The formation came in many different ways, but one of the greatest blessings was to see the spirituality of a non-secularized people who put their faith in Jesus. I say "non-secularized" because the Africans I was blessed to know had not adopted a western worldview that elevated human capability and relegated the spiritual to the realm of superstition. Once someone asked me if those Tanzanians believed the spiritual was just as "real" as the physical - but that question betrays our bias. In my response I avoided the whole question of "real" and using the physical as the standard, but stated that they related equally to both what is seen and unseen without thinking in terms of what is "real" and what is not. For those Africans everything is a seamless whole. For this reason, there is a robustness to their faith that shows the weakness of the faith of a thoroughly modern person whose belief is formed within the boundaries of modernity's parameters.

This last Sunday I was truly blessed to help welcome a new family that last week moved here from Africa. In spending time with them and seeing and hearing their powerful faith in God expressed in everything, I was reminded again why I learned so much from those Tanzanians. I might have gone as a missionary to share with them the Good News, but they accepted and believed it in a way surpassed my own belief.

Our African friends here have come as missionaries whose mission is to be a part of a mobilization effort. They are here to earn money to send back to support Kingdom work in Africa. As one said, God provides us three meals a day and the rest is Kingdom work.

Praise God that we have some missionaries among us whose sense of calling will undoubtedly challenge us all. God may have sent them for another reason as well - to feed a revival among American churches which have become too comfortable!

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Well, my long absence from this blog has ended. It is amazing to me that it has been a month already.

The reason for the sabbatical was that our faith community moved to a new leased facility. It has been a good time of seeing God provide - the renovation of the building that took only two weeks with everything happening ahead of schedule (whoever heard of that!) and new opportunities for ministry becoming evident. The other aspect that I've thought about through this month is the need to keep our focus on God.

Probably the biggest temptation during this time is letting blessings move us away from God. We could easily become exactly what we resolved not to become - that is, a church focused on itself. Maybe it is just a sign of our sinful nature that we can so quickly be distracted even when God's hand is so evident. The reassuring thought is that since God Himself is moving us into this new period in the life of this church, then we know that that there is a purpose which will be realized by Divine Grace. Our faithfulness to the directing of God and openness to unexpected possibilities must be our congregational lingua franca. When God moves, there are tremendous possibilities both for faithfulness and apostacy. May we humbly choose the former and avoid the pride that would feed the latter.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Good Discussions Become Stale Positions
Vigorous and timely Christian dialogue that leads to an incarnational practice of faith daily is essential to having a relevant message. I might even characterize that discussion as argument or debate, as long as the spirit is irenic. There is nothing ungodly about believers engaged in a desperate search for the meaning of faith in our cultural context, and in a lively discussion of the possibilities as long as grace and love pervade the exchange. But, of course, such is so rarely witnessed that many will likely doubt that it could even exist.

I describe the practice of faith which we seek as "incarnational" because it must be the authentic presence of the Divine within historical circumstances. We are concerned with our historical circumstance, and should be. This pursuit of the incarnation of faith in the "flesh of our time" will be an attempt to interpret the nature of God in normative ways for our behavior, priorities, relationships, and congregational life. When done well, these discussions result in teachings about the truth of God's own revelation of Himself which frankly and perceptively address our context. The debate is vital and necessary for Christians of a specific time and place to proclaim a relevant message of hope and conviction, and for their working out of faith daily to be true salt and light.

The problem is that when the fleshly context, the historical reference of a discussion ceases to exist, or changes either dramatically or slowly over time, often the doctrines remain. Those untethered teachings which once had immediate relevance to the daily life of certain group of God's people often take on a life of their own. They are no longer incarnational teachings, but ethereal statements of belief. Once a fleshly context no longer anchors the teaching to a specific daily practice which has a immediate relevance, they become stale positions and intellectual posturing. Often, these morph into tests of orthodoxy, now in a theoretical way - far different from the circumstances of their formation.

Undoubtedly we all carry with us the baggage of some of these stale beliefs. We cling to these in the false notion that thinking the right thoughts on these subjects, which have little or no bearing on our daily attempts to live like Jesus, is somehow important to God. What would be the change if we resolve to discuss, debate, pursue, and teach no thing but that which directly involves our daily walk of faith? How many subjects would languish undiscussed for lack of any immediate relevance? How many questions would not be pursued because how we live to love God and our neighbor on Monday is not affected? Think of the Christian unity that would result.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I believe that our sense of being related to one another as Christians in the world should consist of being conscious of two things. First, we should have a sense of belonging that is based on the daily, face-to-face relationships we have with other believers. These fellow travelers share our journey, and we enjoy an intimate and immediate fellowship in love which is the joy of a spiritual relationship. Our relationship is based on our daily walks together.

The other consciousness I believe we should have is an awareness that there is a universal, invisible church that spans all places and time. My relatedness to that vast body of fellow travelers include that 'great cloud of witness' from history and the millions of other contemporary believers in Jesus. I don't have face-to-face relationships with this numerous congregation, but I have a sense of belonging that I am in the midst of that God-led, Spirit-filled throng. I should be conscious of a relationship with them by faith, if not by the personal experience of interaction.

There is a third consciousness that I once had, but don't have now, and which I believe I never should have had. That was a sense of belonging to a numerous group of believers with whom I didn't have immediate or intimate relationships, who included more than those Christians with whom I regularly shared life, but a group smaller than the church universal. My relationship with those people was only theoretical, based on the impression that we shared certain practices and beliefs in common. That group was my denomination - a group encompassing less than God's church, but more than those with whom I walked daily. With my denomination I felt a special bond. Very long ago, that denomination was synonymous with what I thought was the church universal.

When I came to see that God was doing more in this world and had children beyond my denomination, I nonetheless held onto my denomination as people with whom I felt a special affinity. I esteemed them over other believers. Being in a group of them was better than being in a group of "other believers." The real test was when I was driving on long trips. Invariably I would pass numerous places of worship. Whenever I saw a building with "our name" on it I felt a certain closeness to the people who gathered there, even though they were completely unknown to me. On that same trip I would drive past other places of worship with other names, and though I would acknowledge in my mind that believers met there, that they were people saved by grace, I would nevertheless think of them as "of other groups." I acknowledged that they could be children of my Father, but I didn't feel as close to them as those who had "our name" on their building. I was denominationally minded. My mind divided the Christian church into denominational camps.

I had no reason to think those with "our name" would somehow be warmer, more loving, more accepting, more godly, or more anything else good than those under "other names." But I had a predisposition to those with "our name" - my sense of belonging was not in God's universal church, but in my own denomination.

I have heard people justify the existence of denominations, but I no longer can. For me the journey has been long, but I am convicted that I should only be conscious of two ways of being related to other Christians in this world: 1) the Christians with whom I share my daily walk and 2) all other Christians in equality. I am repenting of there ever being a third group - larger than those who love me personally and daily, and yet smaller than all believers who are accepted by God.

Friday, February 27, 2004

It Takes Faith To Attend A Lectureship
I went to Texas last Sunday afternoon, and stayed a couple of days to participate in a "lectureship" at a Christian University. I taught a class and got to attend a few others, but mainly hung out with some friends. I also made some new friends.

The whole trip was ostensibly about the "lectureship" but it was really about relationships. I think that "lectureships" in general, as modern mindfests, will be going the way of the dinosaurs unless something is done quickly - not to update them, but to totally rethink them. Having a lecture-fest is not even remotely appealing to many people. It sounds like what it is - lots of lectures. If we haven't noticed, lectures are not what many people are seeking. They are looking for something where there is more dialogue than for speeches full of answers. They want to participate, not just listen. They want to experience, more than become better informed intellectually.

Of course, true to the form, my class offered better answers than I really have. Well, I 'm sure it sounded that way even though I didn't mean to convey that. Classes are supposed to offer answers, that's why people go to classes. My confidence was not in the act of teaching, but in the Holy Spirit who can lay a message on our hearts.

It takes faith to go to a lectureship.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

As usual, certain elements of our American Christian subculture seem to be "gospelizing" something that shouldn't be. In other words, making some thing a test of orthodoxy, an matter of conscience, treating it as if it were the Gospel itself, and then portraying anyone who disagrees as a persecutor of Christianity. For sure, there are persecutors, but not everyone who has a different take on some matter is necessarily anti-Christian.

No, I'm not talking about Judge Moore and his granite monument which one must endorse or be labeled anti-God. It is my impression, just me talking here, that a little of this is taking place over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion. Mel Gibson isn't inspired and doesn't claim to be. Neither was the movie script, camera angles, cinematography, the actors, or anything else. It is great that he wanted to make the movie. But this is not a holy struggle between light and darkness to have the movie released, how the movie is reviewed, or what people think of it. I'm sure that the movie will be very impactful. I also think of several matters to remember.

The inspired writers of the New Testament said little about the gore, violence, and physical suffering of Jesus. The Gospel writers do not dramatize the events for us, but speak rather sparsely of the crucifixion. No preacher worth his salt today would pass up the opportunity to wring more out of the story than they do. But still they don't.

The writers of the epistles say little of the agonies of Christ's death, giving only brief allusions and certainly not graphic portrayals. Our examples of the early kerugma, or preaching of the apostles, clearly centers on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ - but not on the actual violence of Christ's death. Of course, one could say, they knew what crucifixion meant. Yes they did, and it would have been ridiculous for the apostles to argue that the manner of death was significant, because it was a common form of execution. The rebel slave Spartacus was crucified but that meant nothing for me.

The meaning of Christ's death is not in the physical manner of it, nor the cruelties associated with it. Thousands of others died in the same manner, many suffering more prolonged and painful deaths than Jesus - take the two thieves who died that same day, for instance. The meaning is not the torturous manner of death, which is why I think the inspired writers did not dramatize that for us. If Jesus had been beheaded, electrocuted, strangled, poisoned, thrown to lions, or anything else, he would still be my Savior. We just wouldn't wear crosses. Interestingly enough, the early Christians didn't use a cross as a symbol for their faith - they used a fish.

See the movie. Jesus suffered greatly in his death. The extremity of his suffering is not what saves, but the atoning life of a righteous man paying the death-penalty for sin. May God use the movie to His glory.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I've been getting over a disappointment with God. No, it's got nothing to do with yesterday's blog - as if you follow my blog that closely. We've not been talking too much lately. It's been my problem, not His. But His faithfulness is getting through my selfishness, and that's good. It has been like two good friends who've had a fight and don't know how to start talking again. Of course, it's been me who hasn't known how to start talking again. I've been very aware of God's presence, and his patience, but now I guess I'm giving in and letting go of my stubbornness.

In fact God has been speaking to me, which is what I just realized. No, I didn't just realize it, because I've known that all along. I guess I've just been moved by that kindness to repentance (Rom 2:4). I also want to learn from my disappointment. There is a lesson in there somewhere that will reshape me.

BTW- why does the spellcheck on this blog website not know the word "blog"???? Duh!

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

There is a disappointment that comes when we long to help those who do not desire help. When we realize the limits of what can be done with the unwilling and self-defeating, even self-contradicting actions of those who say they want peace, hope, joy and love, but stoutly refuse it. God is God. Jesus is the Savior. In our arrogance we postulate what we would do if we were God . . . but to let God work in the lives of others - that takes faith.

I good friend sent me the following quote from Nicholas Wolterstorff, which I've been keeping on my desk and which continues to speak to me:

God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God's suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love.

So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For Love is the meaning. And Love suffers. The tears of God are the meaning of history.
But mystery remains. Why isn't Love-without-suffering the meaning of things? Why is suffering-Love the meaning? Why does God endure his suffering? Why does he not at once relieve his agony by relieving ours?

Friday, January 23, 2004

Collective Discernment and Individual Freedom
We are still growing into a new practice of community which is different from what many of us have experienced in the past. I think that it can be described as Collective Discernment and Individual Freedom. In many churches, the reality is that a few people make decisions which everyone in the larger group is expected to adopt. These are usually program-driven organizations which tend to want everyone doing the same things at the same time and in the same way. People are told to support the programs. Regimented activity is seen as helpful. It might be for some, but probably not for everyone.

The way we are trying to live as a community is with the recognition that the Spirit works in different ways in each Christian. There is no “everyone-must-be-doing-this” type of program structure. In a general way we talk about everyone growing up into the image of Christ, but we realize that there are many paths to that goal. Therefore, we have the freedom for anyone to do whatever God is calling that individual to do. If someone wants to have a Bible study with people in their neighborhood on Wednesday nights, there is no program that says “no, you must do what the others are doing on Wednesday nights.” Talking about not having “membership” does not mean that we are uncommitted to Christ or His Church, or sharing our lives together, but rather that a person does not “join” Disciples’ Fellowship as if joining an institution. A person does not join and then have to participate in required programs or duties to the organization. We share a common life in Christ in which we encourage and help one another without quenching the Spirit’s work in each believer.

For the really large directional matters, we do act collectively – and we do that through collective discernment of the God’s leading. We discuss and listen, and in our group discussion try to hear what God is saying to His people. We acknowledge the direction God is leading, but we allow individual freedom for each to be a slave to Christ - rather than being slaves to the programs of a church.

Some times it is easier to allow a church to do our spiritual thinking for us - don’t make me discern what God’s Spirit wants me to do, just give me a system of programs to follow. Organizing some ministry is not a bad thing, but making participation in that program the definitive mark of faithfulness is mistakenly thinking that God’s Spirit does the same work in each one of us, in the same way and at the same time. If I have an idea of what “we should be doing”, maybe it is actually an idea of what I should be doing. If others join with me that will be great, but maybe God is telling me what I need to be doing.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of wanting to control others. I might say I have an idea about what everyone needs to do to serve the poor. The reality is that I can do that and invite others to join me. I can’t say that everyone must serve the poor according to my plan. I can’t even say that everyone has to serve these poor. What I can say is that we all need to serve others and bring glory to God. Some may do that by serving the poor, others might serve unwed mothers, others the people in their apartment building, others mothers of pre-school children, others college students away from home, and on and on. I can say we all need to be involved in Christian relationships, but I cannot say everyone must be involved in our program of small groups. Even as we organize small groups, we should not say that believers must participate, but that these groups provide one way to grow up into Christ. We may recommend, but can never require.

Every Christian who is part of the Disciples’ Fellowship community is free to do anything to serve God. We simply recognize that God may be working in other ways in the lives of our brothers and sisters. We will not impose anything except the rule to love another. Our practice of Collective Discernment and Individual Freedom is based on a recognition of how God’s Spirit works collectively and individually.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

At our worship gatherings we don't take up a collection . . which sometimes raises questions. Here is my reply to an individual who was wondering why:

. . . I want to address the concerns you raise about giving, because I agree with what you say. Perhaps I can clarify our intentions and actions.

The main reason we chose to stop taking up a collection (not to stop giving!) was because visitors, especially some of the people we are trying to reach, often have a view that churches are all out to get your money. These individuals are turned off by extravagant buildings, inflated salaries, preachers who drive expensive cars and wear expensive jewelry, and have a skeptical outlook on churches in general. We want these visitors to see that we are not simply trying to fleece the flock. This is not a church that thinks constantly about money. Money is not that important. It seems that Jesus says the pagans are the ones who have material things foremost on their minds (Matt. 6:32-33).

I also believe that too many churches teach that you must give to that particular congregation. I believe that a more biblically correct teaching would be that we give, but I will require no one, not even one who regularly worships with us, to have to put their giving into "our" work. That is the “institutional” focus of church that I want to get away from, and develop a more “Jesus focus”. We want to make it clear that we preach commitment and discipleship to Jesus, not to our church. I want no one to make loyalty commitments to Disciples' Fellowship – but to Christ and the church which is universal and spiritual. I’ve seen too many people confuse supporting their congregation with being true to Christ. That seems to me to be dangerous. I could use harsher language . . .

Our choice had to do with visitors primarily. Visitors who are poor and have little, and who do not yet understand a Christian view of giving, would not understand about our giving. Rather than make those visitors feel uncomfortable before they have learned, I would rather teach them about giving and not let the collection plate get between them and coming to worship with us. Because we are concerned with teaching about a proper view toward our possessions, we made the decision to incorporate a prayer of thankfulness in each worship time to express our conviction that everything comes from God and that we are to be thankful. We are simply trying to make giving truly a “free-will offering”.

Passing the plate helps teach our children about giving, but not passing it won’t mean that our children don’t learn about giving. Real teaching about giving is going to have to take place more than when the plate comes around. So I don’t think that not passing a plate each week means giving is unimportant to us or that teaching it is unimportant. I believe there are simply other ways to give and teach about giving.

When it comes to giving, I do not believe that I should teach any of the following:

1) If one gives one will always receive back, especially in terms of what was given (Sometimes the blessing is treasure in heaven when the gift was some thing or action on earth).

2) The reason we give is so that we will receive (this is only greed and treating God as the best investment).

3) God’s blessings are contingent or dependent on our actions – that God only blesses after we give or do what is right, etc.

4) God promises anything more than daily bread – which is a lot less than any of us enjoy.

5) If one is a good Christian then one will prosper in this world.

My theology of giving can be simply stated as “we give because God gives.” God gives without receiving or expecting to receive. To be like God, we are not only givers but those who give without hoping for repayment, from God or anyone else. That God does often lavish us with blessings, not because we gave so well but even when our best giving is so poor, is a testimony to his grace.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Okay . . . everyone seems as stumped as I am. While I don't have an easy answer, I think the question I posed has something to do with knowing ourselves, and being brutally honest about our motives. If I do that . . and have a good grip on what faith is, maybe I can tell the difference.

Monday, January 05, 2004

When is it faith, and when is it recklessness? That is a question a good friend asked recently in a group where we were talking about opportunities. That is a very good question. How do we determine when we are acting in apparent recklessness because of faith, and when we are simply being reckless and excusing it as faith?