Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Religion Test

I just tried taking a religion test but couldn't make it through to the end. The choices were lousy, limited, and cliche. I wanted to find out how suitable I am for Christianity - but they didn't say anything about what "failure to complete" might mean.

It would not have been very valid anyway since I was having to fudge too many times in choosing one of their limited possibilities. The "Christian" answer was usually obvious but many times I cringed at the characterization it inferred.

I guess one thing it does say: I'm not a Christian in terms of the test-makers' definition.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Living true in Love

Last night in our discussion we looked at the familar statement in Ephesians 4:15 commonly rendered in English translations as: "speaking the truth in love".

Naturally, we have often read the English as if the instruction is about preaching or proclaiming truth, with "love" being the way we go about telling others the truth. In other words, we need to tell others what is true, but do it lovingly. The "truth" in this reading of the verse comes down to facts, information, or doctrines. That is what we've heard this verse saying.

But the original Greek has a whole different meaning. The Greek uses a verb form for truth, in essence saying something untranslatable into English - truing in love. The Pulpit Commentary remarks that this word is hardly translatable in English - "it implies being true as well as speaking the truth and following the truth. Truth is the element in which we are to live, move, and have our being."

Rather than being about telling truth in a loving way to others, it is about us being true in love. It's why Paul then talks about the body of Christ building itself up in love - rather than truth.

The focus is not propositional truth statements told in a loving way, but love lived in a true way.

Through it all Tim brought up the concept of truing a tire, which is shaving rubber off an uneven tire until it is perfectly round again. We couldn't think of another English use of true as a verb - but this one works well.

We are to be trued in love.

Then we will be like Jesus, who is truth - not just has it or spoke it, but is truth.

Being true in love.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Holy Communion

I grew up in a Christian tradition that observed the Lord's Supper frequently, but from where I now stand, didn't do it well or with much meaning. We were doing it because we were supposed to . . . and dutifully partook and tried to think the right thoughts in order to please (appease) God. Our thinking didn't go much beyond "we were commanded to do this, so here we are."

Andrew Jones shares a bit of his dialogue with some others in a post when he says:

"so let me get this straight. after examining the last supper of Jesus and the historical accounts of the early church, you have come up with a communion service that: - excludes children, swaps a full meal for a sample, avoids any technology, forbids joy or laughter, happens in a hall with men on a stage, dispenses with conversation, has no wine whatsoever . . and you think that is more biblical? more godly?"

I have the same question - how'd we get here? How can we with a straight face claim that what we have done is anything like the early Christ-follwers? Face it . . . we can't.

However, try to make holy meal more meal-like and authenic and you'll find out how uncomfortable many would be if they were transported back to one of the early churches. Actually, I really don't want a codified observance in any format. It's not like I believe that we must make it more like the original meal. I just wonder what's the problem if we do?

Monday I was sharing a meal with a Roman Catholic brother who expressed his confidence that the Eucharist, in the western tradition, would continued to be celebrated a 1000 years from now. I don't doubt that. I actually enjoy such a solemn, content laden, personally formative, and God-is-present observance.

What I don't get is why it has to be that way. The early Christians didn't have a formal, lengthy, prescribed celebration. They also didn't have a pinch of cracker and sip of Welch's.

Don't get me wrong- I'm not favoring a mode. I am wondering why we've become committed to modes, one way or the other. Give me formal and reverential. Then give me informal and conversational. Tell me when to stand, kneel, and sit. Next, let me do whatever I want. Let's have a full meal, and then let's have a pinch and sip.

No longer being a "patternist" in my thinking, I don't believe that we must celebrate communion in the exact mode of the earliest believers, but I also do not want to become exclusivistic about any later traditions associated with this sacrament. Those modes are not sacred unless we believe some era of the historical church after the first century achieved a level of perfection not realized among the apostles and their congregants.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

This irreverant (be warned) satire on evangelism is too true.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Finding Direction in the Missio Dei

A God-is-Distant Beginning
For me, and some others with similar journeys, we started out with a very removed God. He worked closely with his people in "Bible times" - miracles, prophecies, inspiration, and direct guidance - but in our day had drawn back, no longer doing anything "supernatural." Fortunately, God had left us a manual, the Bible, which we were to follow carefully, mining it for clues about how to please him by doing the right things.

Obviously, though we wouldn't have said that God was an impersonal force, practically our interaction with God was very impersonal because all we had was the Bible. We lived with and by a set of documents. God was passive and an observer while we worked hard to please him according to the instructions he'd given.

A God-is-Near Discovery
Something world-changing happened when I was found by the reality of a near God, who was not only known distantly through texts, but immediately by his continued work and presence. Obviously, I didn't throw away my Bible. I did, though, need to discover how to live within the presence of God, interacting moment by moment.

Now I can change my verbs to present tense - and I am still learning how to live with God as a person. This is not easy, because besides the old view I had, there are other ideas about what it means for God to be real and active in our world, and for us to shape our lives to his reality.

A God-is-Leading-Me View
See, some would tell me that since God is living, active, and present - I can expect constant and daily guidance in everything. Walking in the Spirit means taking every matter to God and looking for divine help - answers, direction, or whatever is needed. Being a spiritual person means being in touch with God's voice, and his word is personalized to me and directs me each moment to do His Will. We learn to hear God's voice and to faithfully respond.

In it's best aspects, this view takes seriously God's involvement in our world and encourages constant reliance on Him. I am to think of God always, and trust Him for everything. That is good.

One of the possible problems with this approach is the assumption that there is personalized divine direction for everything. Will God tell me specifically which car to buy? I don't mean does he establish principles of moderation, of propriety, of extravagance, and of stewardship under which I look for how to be godly in my decision, but will God pick the Toyota over the Ford for me directly? Am I to look for a sign of God's leading when I am in the dealership?

It may sound as if I am making fun of this view, but I am not. These are real, practical questions for how I am to expect God's Presence to shape me. These are faithful questions. Do I look for specific, addressed-to-my-question answers?

An associated problem is how to know whether I am getting that direction from God, or is my "impulse" coming from somewhere else? It can become too easy to be certain that all my urgings are from God. If I adopt this approach, at least let me be hesitant with my "readings" of God's Will lest certitude close me off from God's direction which may not always come from within me. A good question is whether God's direction is regularly or only occasionally a matter of an "inner" message laid on the heart.

A God-is-at Work View
I actually like another understanding of God's immediate action and presence, and a different expectation of what it means for me to receive direction - and this is the Missio Dei, or Mission of God. This is a different starting point: God is at work with his purpose or mission, rather than God is at work guiding me. Let me try to unpack the difference.

Starting from the Missio Dei we would say that God is not distant, but as throughout history, intimately involved in his creation. God is near and active. What God is doing is completing his work. His constant activity is not attending to me (answering my questions, directing each decision) but attending to his purpose. This doesn't mean I have no direction. It doesn't mean God is leaving me out. On the contrary, my work is to join God in his mission! He has shown us what is good . . . act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

I do have constant direction from God, but it is not centered on me and my questions about this or that in life, but centered on Him and his purpose. My direction is not what car to buy, but how to be about God's purpose. Ultimately, with this view, I do have to bring my purchase of a car under God's direction. I do not expect God to make something happen to direct me to the right car dealership, and choose the "right" model, but I do have to ask how my choices might be in harmony or out of harmony with God's purposes.

The spiritual life, walking in the Spirit, or however you want to describe this God-centered life . . . is not learning to be a "sign-reader" of all God's personalized messages to me, but how to conform myself to what God is really doing. God is not attending to me; I am learning to attend to Him. There is a world of difference here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

We wrestled in prayer this morning . . . and God delivered. Malevolent presence was replaced by comfort and peace.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Weekend Update . . .

Had a great time in Dothan, AL yesterday with Christians of The Journey. Two of us went to spend Sunday with them, and were blessed by their gracious hospitality and encouraged by their community and focus.

I told them that it reminded me of being in Africa - where every Sunday was a 2-4 hour drive to a church to teach, discuss, and reconnect with Christians I hadn't seen in a while.

We get to experience the same in reverse next weekend, as Christians who've started a house church in Auburn travel here and we'll have some time to sit down and discuss how God leads in being his people in our respective situations.

Should be a blessing!