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What is Worship?

I haven’t published a blog in almost a year. Any number of reasons can be given as to why I haven’t written more. First, I’ve been too terribly busy. My school and work schedule leave little time to think through blogs let alone keep up with current events enough to write. Second, even when I’ve wanted to write, I haven’t had a clue where to start. Most of what I’ve written up until now has been reactionary. I’ve often pointed out problems or given my opinion. Those types of blogs are a dime a dozen, and I don’t think I’ve changed anyone’s mind. This post is different. It purely invites you into my thoughts. I’ve taken up the habit of summarizing and reflecting upon books as I read them. I find that I remember more and get ideas on paper. This post is just that, my summary of and reflection on a book. Because it is a reflection, it might read long at times, and certain ideas might come across as undeveloped. It is possibly a bit too long for the faint of heart, but I hope that those who brave it pick up a raw sense of authenticity. I’m not trying to convince you of anything, but hopefully my musing will spark something within you.

What is worship? Such an elusive question, really. In A Moveable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days (Pittsburgh: Imaginationplus, 2014), Terry Timm gives at least a partial framework for worship. But, rather than tackling the whole concept of worship, he gives a framework for worship throughout the week, offering a new look at how worship should shape one’s life.

Chapter 1: Taste and see the goodness of God.

This first chapter sets the framework for the book. Here Timm invites all to taste and see the goodness of God. He provides many different examples of ways in which humans do this. This tasting and seeing is the basis for worship. Christian worship is a constant sharing in God’s goodness. It is a constant celebration of the blessings that God has poured out into the world. Timm ends this chapter with an invitation to God’s table–which is the subject of the second chapter.

Chapter 2: An invitation to feast.

This chapter introduces the concept behind the title of the book. “A moveable feast.” First, the moveable feast is about catering companies. Then, it is about Ernest Hemingway’s impression of Paris. Finally, it is about the movable feast within the Christian calendar, a day when Christians join in the eternal feast of God.

Timm begins with a discussion of two calendars. The first calendar rules the lives of all Americans. It is broken into twelve months, and it tells us when to go where and at what time. However, Christians are also ruled by a second calendar, the liturgical calendar of the church year. Beginning with Advent and ending on Christ the King Sunday, the church calendar marks different feasts throughout the Christian year. Some of these feasts are fixed (Christmas) and others are moveable. The greatest feast of the Christian calendar is, indeed, movable. Easter.

From here, Timm moves outward, showing that feasts are not unique to Christianity. Jews had feasts they celebrated throughout the year. Also, feasts where about more than just food, but communion. In this sense, the community of feasts has been going on for eternity in the eternal dance of the Trinity, Timm argues. This eternal dance, celebration, feast is that into which Christians are invited. In fact, all are invited, through the blood of Christ, into the eternal feast of the Triune God.

At this point Timm pulls in eschatology (a discussion of the final destiny of the universe). From my present scanning, I’m not sure if he makes all these connections, but I think I can make them for him. His main argument is this, the eternal feast that is to come, is here already–and we can currently share in it. To make things as plain as possible, the eternal feast that Timm speaks of is an image of the coming restoration of creation (think Revelation 21 and 22). When God’s people will dwell with him in a new, perfect creation with new, restored, bodies without blemishes. This taps into the now but not-yet language of the Gospels. The present and future Kingdom of God. Jesus has established his kingdom, but we still wait for it to come in its fullness.

Here, another point is important, one that Tom Wright makes in Surprised by Hope. The Gospel is the good news proclaiming that humans are able to live in this resurrected hope now (transition, the Gospel is the good news that humans can share in God’s moveable feast, now)! God’s people are citizens of his kingdom, and we are ambassadors of that kingdom in the current world. In affect, the Church exists to spread the good news and blessings of God’s eternal feast before it fully comes.

This is the idea that Timm wishes to communicate, I think. (In his defense, Timm touches on these points in the last chapter of his book. However, I’m not sure one can actually follow his point of a moveable feast without making at least some of these connects from an outside understanding of eschatology.)  We have the opportunity to share in God’s moveable feast, his Kingdom, at at any moment. And really, in all moments, if we want to get technical.

All this to say, the moveable feast of God is continual participation in the goodness, glory, and grace, of the Truine God. As we will see, Timm argues that this is what we are invited into with our worship. Luckily he doesn’t stop here. All this is currently super abstract. What does it mean to celebrate in the feast of God, anyway? As we’ll see, Timm shows how the feast of God, or God’s nature, or God’s Kingdom, touches the world in which we live.

Chapter 3: What is worship?

I titled this blog after this chapter. Not so much because I think that Timm answer this question, as much as this book is helping me think through this broader question of what is worship. That being said, I don’t think Timm gives an overall answer to this question here. Instead, he gives a side of worship or an angle of worship.

Timm articulates that “worship is offering our lives back to God for the sake of the world.” He suggests that this is the heart of worship, and he even has four ways in which we do this. I don’t disagree with Timm, but his definition is too narrow. As argued by my mentor, Larry Ellis (in this book Radical Worship), there are three ways in which we worship. The first is through communal worship, the second is through personal devotion, and the final is through how we live.

Timm argues in this book for the third avenue. To give him credit, and If I’m representing him fairly, he seems to equate all worship to this final avenue. If my assessment is correct, he misses the mark here. His shot comes up a bit short, so to speak. Most certainly, worship might propel us outward, but that isn’t the heart of it. At any rate, Timm does establish a good reason for us to worship God through how we live our lives. Thus, we will move forward because the rest of the book shows how we are to worship God with our lives. And, in affect, it shows how God’s feast, his kingdom, comes to the world.

Chapter 4: Worship and mission.

The first way that Timm suggests we are to live out worship is through mission. He argues that giving our lives to God consecrates us for doing his work. This consecration welcomes us into the heartbeat of God, which is for the world. This opens up a discussion on the mission dei–fancy Latin for the mission of God. Timm simply argues that the mission of God is to redeem the world. Our mission, in worship, is to participate in redeeming the world to God. Simple enough. This chapter ends by challenging readers to take the lid off their lives so that God can lead them into his work. How does one do that? To the next chapter.

Chapter 5: Worship as work.

The second way in which we live out worship is through our work. Timm begins this chapter by wondering what the purpose of worship is. Is it educational, entertaining, or experiential? He suggests that it is none of these, but is, instead, work. I agree, for the most part. However, I think worship is more than just work.

Timm, then, brings in something that has become near and dear to my own heart, liturgy. He argues that liturgy–the work of the people–shapes our entire life. I have to give him credit here. His thinking on liturgy in life has deeply shaped my understanding of how we live out the Christian life. However, I don’t agree that worship is work. Work is an avenue through which we worship God, but it isn’t worship in and of itself. If Timm isn’t make this claim, then what he intended to communicate is not quite coming through.

Overall, our work is an aspect of worship, but it isn’t the only purpose of worship. Or, worship isn’t only work. What exactly is worship? I’m not sure that I can say, but I know it isn’t just work.

Chapter 6: Worship in a fractured world.

I need to come clean about this chapter summary. It may have missed a couple points in this chapter because I didn’t give it a lot of attention. The general impression is that we need to face the realities of our broken world. However, our worship has space for this. It’s called lament. Further, our worship should give us hope, and we can still focus on the good and beautiful things of our broken world.

Nothing much to say other than I agree. American Christianity could do with a bit more lament from time to time.

Chapter 7: Worship and justice.

This chapter is one of the best. What Timm does in this chapter is show that worship is closely connected to justice. He begins by talking about Micah’s critique of the Israelite peoples’ worship. They lacked justice so God rejected their worship, regardless of how well they followed the law. Timm then links justice, mercy, and humility all together. He argues that God requires these three pieces in worship.

Though I agree with Timm, a better way to put it is that proper worship propels us toward these three character traits. In fact, I’d say that God’s mercy towards us becomes real in our worship, causing us to become merciful to others, and humbling us. Out of our humility and mercy we seek out justice. Timm sort of implies this, but he doesn’t make the connection clear.

In fact, one of my professors has keenly point out the call to proper worship throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the prophets. He argues that the worthiness of the worshiper is just as important as the worship–maybe more so! God can do with a couple misplaced sacrifices, but he will not put up with proper sacrifices from unworthy worshipers. One key to all of this: God had clearly laid out his expectations to those who were unworthy. Their sin wasn’t ignorance, but defiance.

We could learn a thing or two from this. Are we worthy to worship God, or does he reject our worship as quickly as Israel and Judah?

Chapter 8: Worship in the new creation.

Timm’s final chapter is a recap of my commentary on chapter 2. He speaks of the promised new creation, the culmination of God’s grand narrative, and he links the worship of the new creation to worship now. The important piece is connected to what I’ve already said about eschatology, but it is worth restarted because Timm talks about it a bit here. He also draws from Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope.

The heart of the Christian message is not that we will one day die and go to heaven. Instead, we will one day be resurrected–like Christ before us–into new bodies, and we will dwell with God in a new, restored creation. This new creation will be free from pain, suffering, death, destruction, sickness, and all other effects of sin. Iy will be more vibrant, beautiful, and real than that in which we now live. In this new creation, we will worship God, dwell with him, and experience his peace. The good news of the Gospel is that we can share in this resurrection and new creation now! We can catch glimpses of the new creation, and those who believe are indeed citizens there already. We can experience this new world, and the worship found in it, now.

Timm’s point is simply that our worship should reflection the life of new creation. Justice and hope for the poor, widow, orphan, and alien. The lowly will be exalted and the rich will be made low. This is the promise of new creation, and this is that which we can share in with our worship today.

Final Thoughts

Timm’s book is helpful. It isn’t quite what I expected. It has some good elements, but I feel that it lacks the cohesion need to really pack a punch. He has some helpful points, but he seems to confuse action with process. Worship is more than just how we live or how we view our work. Worship should impact how we live and how we work, but how we live and work aren’t at the heart of worship.

I can’t exactly say what is at the heart of worship. I think it has a lot to do with what Timm talks about, but maybe in a different order, with different emphasizes and different nuances. My favorite part of the book is Timm’s point on liturgy, that it is the work of the people. Perhaps he could have started here, and showed how liturgy can thrust us into a world where our faith impacts our work, where we lament the world but celebrate it its broken beauty, where we seek justice, and where we spread the hope of the comming resurrection. Maybe he could have started with the feast–the Lord’s Super–and showed how it strengthens us to live out worship throughout the week.

Then worship becomes about more than living our faith. Indeed worship is about living our faith, and living our faith is a form of worship, but their must be more. If I had to take a shot, I’d say that worship is coming together with God’s people into the presence of God. In this gathering, we enter God’s presence, we are encourage by his word, our spirit is fed by his table, and we are sent into his world. Then Timm’s book comes in. The outpouring of worship is how we come to the feast daily, and share in God’s work.

Pieces of this book are key to worship. Yes, we need to give all of ourselves to God. Possibly the best way to put it is that worship is our recognition of our dependence on God, and our submission to that dependence. When we finally realize that only God knows what brings life, and to have life we must first place ourselves into the life he offers. This is worship because it is true dependence. It is true humility.

Maybe I’m on to something maybe I’m not. Certainly this is only the beginning of my journey.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 16

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:56-69

What is the cost of believing? Is it anything? Here in the US, often not. We are able to claim adherence to the Christian religion and live on as if nothing has changed.

Yet, shouldn’t belief cost us something? Should we expect to believe without a changed life? Without challenge or difficulty?

Those to whom Jesus was speaking in the synagogue in Capernaum on that day in the first century were faced with a choice. They could either believe the words of the strange sign-doer Jesus, or they could continue to believe the Jewish teachings of their day.

For many, the choice proved too great and they chose to walk away.

Many today are faced with this choice. All of us who hear, in fact. We are forced to choose to believe that a man who lived 2000 years ago, in a unimportant part of the Roman Empire, lived and died the Son of God, or we are able walk away. Maybe forced is the wrong word. But, then again, a choice such as this often feels forced because we are choosing to rework the entire way in which we see the world. Like the feeling in your stomach right as the roller coaster you are riding begins to plummet toward the bottom of the hill.

Choosing is never easy.

Much in the same way today, Christians are being forced to choose. Which way is the way of Jesus and which was is the way of the church. Often institutional Christianity diverges from Jesus and we are forced to pick. This was the place in which the Jews and Jesus’ disciples found themselves . They were being pulled two ways at once. One way they had always know, the other was being laid out before them by a strange man claiming to be “the bread that came down from heaven.”

Jesus makes his proposition clear, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” To follow his path is to enter into life with him. To learn to see the world through his eyes. To be broken when he is broken, and angry when he is angry.

This is partaking in his body and blood. However, it is not an easy path. Often we are forced to choose his way instead of the way that we know.

Choosing his way is entering into him, loving him, and being obedient.

Obedience is the hardest choice of all. It forces use to turn from that which we have known from our birth–that which we believe to be good for our own good. No longer are we able to choose our own path, but we must be obedient to his.

We are no longer the rulers of our own lives. We no longer dictate the direction that we go. This is difficult, even for Christians. Often we try to change this message to make it more welcoming to those on the outside. However, truly entering into the “eternal life,” which is abiding in Jesus, requires placing ALL of ourselves in him.

This is the hardest of the hardest choice, and indeed it is a choice we must make. We cannot choose to follow in the ways that we wish. We must enter into his way.

This entering relates to all of life. How we treat one another, how we view our sexuality, how we think about politics and our world, how we spend our money, what type of food we eat, the type of car we choose to drive, how we raise our children, and many many more things.

Dwelling with Jesus is not “going to heaven” but rather living in the life of Christ. Doing has he does, not as we wish to do.

We must make a choice, and walking away is a whole lot easier. But for those who stay, the power of the bread of heaven becomes real, and our choice becomes easier, yet still hard… However, we begin to believe that the words of Peter are indeed true,

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.

Thanks be to God.

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#LoveWins – But what is “love”?

I hate that I feel the need to write this blog.

Just a year ago I would have welcomed the recent ruling of the SCOTUS. But now I am unsure.

In general, this past year has a been a year of processing homosexuality for me. In fact, I have written about it extensively here, here, here, here, here, and here. If you were to go through my posts in the order in which they were written, you would see my thinking take shape. Of late, I have been developing a framework in which to view this issue and many other issues, but that discussion will be for a later date.

What I want to talk about today is love. But before we get there let me put my thoughts within context. I have no issue with the Supreme Court striking down gay “marriage” bans. I agree that there is no constitutional precedent for denying some form of legal union to homosexuals (though I’m not sure it can be called marriage for reasons I discuss here). However, I do take issue with practicing homosexual Christians. Thus, I am writing to discuss love within a Christian framework.

The trending hashtag for the SCOTUS ruling has been some form of #lovewins. This is all good and dandy. I don’t expect our culture to adequately grasp the concept of love. However, I am disappointed that Christians view love in the same way as our culture, and it isn’t as if this is only a homosexual issue. In general, the church has bought into the media BS view of love–which focuses almost completely on emotional and physical attraction. This, my friends, is a horrible understanding of love.

I want to talk about something that Jesus said. A statement that has been used by Christians lately to support the recent SCOTUS ruling.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. -Matthew 22:35-39

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 here. In 1st century Judaism, this passage was know as the Shema and was understood to be the heart of Jewish relation to Yahweh. Therefore, it is appropriate that Jesus sums up all of the law into these two commandments. This is a key point in connecting the continuous narrative between the Old and New Testaments. At the root, the call of the community of God has not changed as the call shifted from Israel to the church.

The general use of the hashtag #lovewins is meant to celebrate that those who wish to marry members of the same sex finally have the legal power to do so. Their love has finally won; it has finally been recognized.

I am not surprised to hear this from our culture. In the past I have welcomed the difference between secular and sacred life within our country’s law. I think it benefits both sides (thought we all know that the divide is purely symbolic and superficial).

However, I do take issue with Christians who use this command to justify same sex marriage. This is because doing so is a misinterpretation of Jesus, the OT, and what it means to be a Christian.

To properly understand this passage we need to enter into the Jewish mindset, which includes their language. Here is an English translation of Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

4) Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Verse 4 starts with the imperative command “hear.” Then, verse 5 continues with the continued command (Wew/Perfect Consecutive if you know Hebrew) “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Or translated better as, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart (understood as volition, not emotion), with all your soul/life (word used both ways), and (literally) with all your very/exceedingly (anything left after your heart and soul/life).” This command is to love God with all your inward desire, your outward action, and whatever may be left. For a Jew, loving God was very much an act of inward and outward obedience.

Thus, when Jesus summed up the law with this command, he was calling his followers to be obedient to God. Then, out of this obedience, flows our care for one another. Only after we understand love within this framework can we begin to talk about love winning (because God loved us even after we failed to be obedient by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for our disobedience).

When Christians misappropriate love to some sort of personal choice or feeling, we overlook the starting place for the way in which we are able to define love.

I am not necessarily challenging the motives of practicing homosexual Christians. Instead, I am calling all of us out. If we don’t first place our love into the context of obedience to God, through the revelation of Jesus Christ, then we are not loving God. My issue with homosexuality of late is that it feels more personal and less corporate. Don’t hear me wrong, I don’t mean to downplay the way in which homosexuals have been treated in the church for the past 50-100 years. There have been, and continue to be, church bodies who treat homosexuals (and other marginalized groups) horribly. Yet, in general, we, God’s people, need to point towards what it means to be part of his community.

What does it mean? It means sacrifice, self-denial, pain, suffering, slander, and maybe even death. The life of a Christian was never meant to be easy. Paul knew this, Peter knew this, all the first Christians new this. Jesus himself told us that many of us would meet the same end as him. When we decided to become part of the community of God, we take our old self and die to it, entering into the community of God’s kingdom where he is King!

If any Christian, not just a practicing homosexual Christian, is able to look me in the eye and say that his or her first desire is to seek God’s will through loving obedience, and through that process he or she has come to the conclusion that God wishes for him or her to pursue some desire, be it a same-sex relationship or something else, then I am more than happy to endorse this pursuit.

However, my current observation of the field is that the western church, following the lead of our culture, is placing individual desires before obedience and the community of God. Until this changes, we will remain a lost people seeking our own damned desires.

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The Pope, Climate Change, and the American Dream

Did you know that Pope Francis recently issued a papal encyclical in regard to climate change?

If not, you can read the encyclical here. However, what I want to talk with you about doesn’t require you to read his letter. I don’t even care if you believe that climate change is a real thing, or if humans are responsible if it is real. None of that really matters. Instead, what does matter is the way in which Americans (and other developed nations) view the earth and our natural resources.

See, the U.S. and other developed nations are destroying our planet. We are pillaging our own home, and we don’t even care.

For many, the debate of climate change is political. If you are conservative you reject it, and if you are liberal you preach it. Many evangelical Christians reject climate change for several reasons. 1) Because for the most part they vote republican, and they believe liberals are out to ruin our country and destroy jobs. 2) Or they don’t care if it exists because God is going to destroy the universe anyway, so who cares if we destroy our planet, right?

Christians, we need to care about climate change. Not because of science, but theology. I will provide one theological reason and two ethical reasons for why we need to care about, and act on, a call for better care of our planet.

Imago Dei

What does it mean to be human and to be created in the image of God, anyway? Though there is any number of opinions about the nature of the imago dei, one classic presentation is that part of being created in God’s image places us above the rest of creation. Many Christians use this type of hierarchical setup to justify our abuse of creation. “God gave us creation to use, right? Why shouldn’t we use it however we’d like?”

Now, I don’t disagree that there is a hierarchy in creation. In fact, I welcome this claim. This is in fact what makes us human and different from creation. However, with greater reward comes greater responsibility. As the shining jewel of creation, we are tasked with dominion over creation and the responsibility of subduing it.

Dominion carries the idea of rule or authority. We rule over the earth as God rules over all of creation. We are the image of the ultimate ruler in creation. As rulers over creation, our actions should directly reflect the will of our ultimate creator and ruler, God. When we chose to use creation in any way that we see fit, we are rebelling against our imago dei and indeed one of our key roles in this world.

A prime example of this is America’s over consumption tendencies. Have you ever noticed how almost everything we buy is meant to be thrown away? Water bottles, diapers, cell phones (after a short 2 years), and the list could go on. The American way is to consume, and boy are we good at it!

This leads to my next point…

Selfishness

At the heart of America’s over consumption is selfishness. All we care about is serving our own needs. Fast Food, disposable diapers (made with petroleum), water bottles, quick fix diets, you name it we’ve got it in America. We are the rulers of quick and cheap. At the heart of our desire to consume–quickly and cheaply–is a selfish desire to have what we “know” we deserve.

One of the deepest issues that many Americans have with climate change is the possibility that, if we are indeed causing it, we may no longer be able to live the way in which we have been living. In fact, our current rate of consumption is unsustainable.

Further, we are not just selfish in obvious ways (our consumption of fossil fuels for energy) but in other ways too. I’ll give you an example. My grandfather used to be a dairy farmer. He got out of the business 25 years ago, but he still knows people who are in it. He told me that when he milked they would milk each cow for about 50 gallons of milk a day. He told me that now they try to get closer to 70 gallons of milk from a cow a day. In today’s dairy farms, a cow isn’t good for more than about three years.

This is only a small example of the lengths we go to to get what we desire. Have you ever walked in the supermarket and thought about all that food that is just sitting everywhere? There are at least 5 major supermarkets within several miles in every direction of where I am currently sitting.

Simply said, America has a consumption problem, and it goes deep to our soul: the American Dream. My friends, when we overlook the clear abuse of resources in our country you are acting out of one motive–self interest.

Ignorance

Finally, there are many Americans out there who have no concept of where many of our goods come from. This is no longer an excuse. As our world becomes smaller, we need to ask questions about the goods we consume. When we don’t, we allow environmental abuse to continue.

Another important point that we need to start to understand is that environmental abuse is bigger than just global warming. Though global warming and climate change may be a very important part of environmental politics, Christians need to also be aware of the type of food and other goods we consume. Where does your meat come from? What type of lives do dairy cows live before meeting their end? Did the chicken that laid your breakfast ever step foot outside of a cage?

Indeed, the way that domestic animals are treated should be important to Christians.

We should also be aware of who made the goods we consume. Who picked the coffee beans that went in your cup of coffee this morning? Were they paid a fair wage? What about the person who made your favorite pair of jeans? Often our cheap goods come with a steep, human price.

Now what?

My friends, climate change may be a political issue. However, the pope was right to speak out against the abuses purpantrated by developed nations, of which America is the self-proclaimed leader. We have a responsibility to creation that is woven into the essence of who we are.

Our call is to care for creation. Do we need to stop consuming animal products, petroleum products, or any other type of product one can think of? Of course not. Part of our divine mandate is to utilize resources in creation. Yet, that does mean we are to abuse it.

Until we understand this and drop the rhetoric, we are failing at our God-appointed task.

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Memorial Day In Light of Reading Revelation Responsibly

Being a Christian is hard. We live in two worlds. It can be really difficult to navigate them. When holidays like Memorial Day come around, how should we react? Some of us fully embrace the festivities, while others of us are skeptic or even hostile. I think both response are a bit off. We should never take lightly the lose of human life, and Memorial Day is a time when we remember those who died serving our country. However, I think it becomes very dangerous when we begin to connect Memorial Day festivities too closely with God, Christianity, and the church. It is very dangerous to use Scripture verses to remember those who died serving the United States of America. It is very dangerous to celebrate Memorial Day (and other civic holidays) in our churches (often times with more pomp and circumstance than Christian holidays). We need to remember, Jesus is King over all of the world. American soldiers are not God’s army. It is a tragedy that so many lives have been lost defending the ideals of this country (for better and worse). Yet, those lives were not given for freedom. They were given for American idealism (again, for better or worse). The only giver of true freedom is the slain lamb who died to set all of the world free from death. That, and that alone, is freedom, and it is offered to all. With all of this said, I invite all of you to read this post I wrote last year. I hope it encourages you to think about how we can better live in two worlds.

[What follows is original to this blog.]

This semester I was required to read the book Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation by Michael Gorman. Gorman’s goal in writing this book was simple enough. He desired to leave readers with a simple, informed, responsible understanding of Revelation. I couldn’t recommend a better book for the average Christian who is interested in learning more about the final book in our canon.

Yet, I must warn that this book will probably make you uncomfortable. See, American Christianity is obsessed with two things, end times theology and America, both of which are heavily challenged by Gorman. I grew up reading books like Left Behind and believing that the United States government could do no wrong. I was proud to be an American, and I believed that the Left Behind series was gospel. My guess is that the average evangelical Christian shares similar convictions to the ones with which I grew up. So, I shall share what I have learned with you, and I beg that you will consider these insights before dismissing them.

Gorman’s lens through which he interprets Revelation is Jesus as the slain Lamb. This imagery is found within the pages of Revelation itself, in chapter 5:5-6 we read,

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.  And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

In this passage John is told to look at the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but when he looks he sees “a Lamb standing, as thought it had been slain.” Both of these images carry Old Testament imagery, but Gorman’s point is that although Jesus is indeed the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the rightful heir to the throne of David, he takes his throne as the slain Lamb. Jesus has asserted his Lordship through sacrifice, and, thus all of Revelation must be interpreted through the lens of Jesus as the slain Lamb. There is an opposition to Jesus in Revelation, Babylon which is ruled by the dragon, the beast of the sea, and the beast of the land. These three are often thought of as the satanic trinity. They parody the divine trinity in all that they do. The way of Babylon is to assert dominance through oppression, coercion, and force. Gorman’s framework of interpretation seeks to identify the way of Christ in the midst of an oppressive empire.

As Christians, we confess Jesus as Lord. Within the above framework, we serve the Lord and King of the world, who has established his reign through sacrifice and death on a cross. In contrast, John’s audience found themselves in an empire which used oppression, coercion, and force to see their will done in the world. The empire of Revelation is described in the same way, but as noted above it is called Babylon. See Babylon was one of the first empires, and it makes sense that it would be the framework for John’s vision, and the mold in which all other empires are cast.

The Roman Empire definitely fits this description and, as we will see, so do other nations throughout history which stand in contrast to God’s kingdom. However, Gorman believes that Revelation does more than just place the kingdom of God in contrast to the Empires of this world. It also calls Christians to “uncivil worship and witness” because claiming that Jesus is Lord requires one to openly defy the empire. A large part of civil society is participating in civil religion. For the Romans this entailed participating in the Imperial Cult, which was worshiping the Roman Emperor as a god. For Gorman, a key application of Revelation is to help Christians see civil religion today.

This is where things will probably turn ugly. A lot of what Americans hold dear and true, even American Christians, is indeed our form of civil religion. Yet, today our civil religion doesn’t look like emperor worship or the pagan worship of the first century. Instead, civil religion today looks a lot like Christianity, or at least the way in which most American Christians believe Christianity should look. Gorman argues that this melting of American civil religion with Christianity has taken place through the sharing of common symbols and spaces, rituals and holy-days, language, music, and texts. Here are some examples that he gives in his book:(1)

Sacred symbols and spaces

  • National flags as sacred objects
  • National flags in churches
  • Crosses in military or other non-church contexts
  • Blending of Christian and national images (cross and flag, Jesus and flag)

Sacred rituals and holy-days

-Civil rituals made religious

  • Official days of prayer
  • National feasts/holy-days – (Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving)
  • State Funerals
  • Moments of silence
  • Prayer at political and civic events
  • Prayer around the flag pole
  • National days of prayer, prayer breakfasts
  • The pledge of allegiance, at school or other civic gatherings, to the flag as icon of a nation “under God”
  • The national anthem at sporting events
  • Swearing on the Bible
  • Chaplains’ prayer before military combat missions

-Religious rituals made civil

  • Pledge of allegiance in church
  • Recognition of active military or veterans in church at national holidays
  • Prayers for “those serving our country” or “the/our troops” in church
  • Sermons and children’s sermons on patriotic themese
  • Use of patriotic music in worship
  • Religious events on national holidays
  • Religious gatherings in times of national crisis

Sacred language

  • War as “mission”
  • “Sacred” duty/honor
  • Divine passive voice” “we are called”
  • “God bless American”/”God bless our troops”
  • Echoes of /allusions to the Bible in civic and political discourse
  • Attribution of biblical language for God or God’s people to the US

Sacred music/national hymns

  • Patriotic songs as sacred devotion with much (“God Bless America”), some (“America/My Country,’Tis of Thee”), or even no explicit religious language (the national anthem)
  • Hymns with explicitly nationalistic and militaristic language (“Battle Hymn of the Republic”)
  • Hymns with allegorical militaristic language interpreted literally and nationalistically (“Onward Christian Soldiers”)

Sacred Texts

  • The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights
  • Famous speeches by sacred leaders and heroes
  • Biblical texts that seem to underwrite national values such as freedom and redemptive violence

Sacred stories of sacred leaders and heroes

  • Founding Fathers
  • Leaders in crisis
  • Great warriors
  • Veterans in general

Gorman’s point is this: in the United States, Christianity has been melted with American civil religion, often times in such a way that Christians don’t even recognize that this has happened. This above list is more than enough food for thought, I think.

But now comes the most important question, why does this matter?

It matters because when we ordain civil religious rites and rituals as sacred, we ordain Empire. Yes, you read that correctly, I am suggesting that the United States government is an Empire out of the line of Babylon. It doesn’t take much of a gander into our history to see oppression, coercion, and force in our past. We are a country built upon war, violence, and power. In fact, all countries are built upon the ways of Babylon. This isn’t just a US issue, but indeed is the fate of all governments.

Thus, when Christians uninhibitedly participate in civil religious practices, or even worse, when churches allow these practices to enter into sacred worship, we are ordaining the empire of the Dragon and giving credence to the rule of Satan.

Instead, John, in Revelation, is calling the church to uncivil worship and witness. We are to witness to the slain Lamb who is our risen and reigning king, and abstain from civil worship, even if it means persecution and death. In Rome, it was illegal to abstain from the Imperial Cult because Rome used it as a means to foster civil community and order. Today, American civil religion functions in a similar way. Though we aren’t threaten with imprisonment, lose of citizenship, or even death for abstaining (here is an interesting thought experiment. If Christians were suddenly threatened with the loss of US citizenship for continuing to identify as Christian, what would you do?), there is risk of public shame or ridicule for taking an uncivil stance in regard to American civil religious worship. Yet, this is exactly what Revelation urges Christians to do.

Don’t hear me wrong, I am not saying that everyone who works for or participates in the US government is worshiping, following, or honoring Satan. Instead, I am pointing out that Empire is nothing more than the product of this world and a vessel of this world. The ways of the world will never prevail. Jesus has already done the work necessary to forever abolish the ways of Empire, and he did this with what is considered foolish by all who buy into the ways of Empire–death and peaceful sacrifice. This sacrifice is different than the one we “celebrate” for Memorial day because Jesus didn’t die in the line of duty fighting the powers of the world with violence. Instead, he allowed the powers to have their way with him, but to their own avail, because power and oppression never fosters true freedom. Jesus’ act of ultimate sacrifice forever loosed the chains of oppression and power to usher in true freedom. Those who follow Jesus today experience this true freedom, and a day is coming soon when all of creation will also experience this freedom too.

See Revelation ends with the establishment of a New Heaven and a New Earth ruled by a righteous and just king who won, not through the ways of Empire, but through sacrifice and death as the slain Lamb. This, my friends is what we must never forget. We must see the world through the lens of the slain Lamb. We are a people of the slain Lamb, and HE HAS WON. This is the message and hope of Revelation. Not that we will one day be raptured to heaven before the Great Tribulation but that we have hope now, today(!) because Jesus has already defeated evil the likes of Empire. Let us not lose hope, because the time is near when God will restore creation and sit over it as the slain Lamb!

In this way, my friends, let us not celebrate and remember those who died to protect our Empire, but instead let us mourn the death of those who died through the oppression of all Empires out of the line of Babylon, and let us hope and pray for the day when the slain Lamb will completely overthrow the likes of Babylon to rule FOREVER.

——————————-

(1) See Michael J.Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation, (Eugene: Cascade), 2011, 51-52, for the complete list.

Marriage, Homo- and Hetero-

Homosexual marriage is not going away. With more and more states making it legal, pastors and congregations around the country are soon going to be forced to take this issue head on. Most of the conversation out there seeks to understand the difference between state and religious marriage, the actual meaning of particular biblical passages which speak to homosexual relationships, or how to move forward in affirming or rejecting these types of relationships. All of these conversations are good and necessary, but we are all missing something…

Marriage in the church has become an idol–homosexual and heterosexual.

Yes, you heard (or rather read) me correctly. American (evangelical) Christianity has made marriage into an idol which will ultimately lead to its demise. In fact, we have made marriage so important that we have pushed all who are not married into the same category: second-class citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Interestingly enough, many of you may be familiar with St. Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church on this matter. (Pay close attention to vv. 7-9, 25-28, 32-35, and 38)

7 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

-1 Corinthians 7

Rather interesting, right? Paul straight up tells the Corinthian church that marriage is not a sin, and neither is sex within the marriage relationship, but that it is better for those who are unmarried to remain so. For “[t]he unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” and “the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit.” Paul doesn’t encourage the married to divorce or to abstain from sex. Instead, he compares remaining married after becoming a Christian to remaining a slave after becoming one. It seems safe to say that Paul wasn’t keen on marriage.

Why? Well, he thought that Christ would return soon, within his lifetime even (at least at the time when he wrote 1 Corinthians). Paul wrote with a sense of urgency for the spread of the Kingdom of God; for believers to fully fix their lives on the mission of Christ. Marriage didn’t make sense because it only distracted believers from this mission.

Towards the end of his life Paul began to understand that Jesus would not return in his lifetime. Yet, does this mean that Paul would change his view of marriage?

In practical terms, yes. How would the Christian movement continue if the first generation of believers didn’t reproduce?

However, the realization that the church is in this life for the long haul doesn’t void Paul’s advice. This is because the heart of his teaching remains true today. Christians are not husbands and wives first and believers second, but rather we are all members of the church and citizens of the Kingdom of God first and husbands and wives second. Serving Jesus and his kingdom is our primary call.

In this view, marriage becomes second to your community of believers. Your spouse may be your spouse, but he or she is your brother or sister in Christ first. This levels the playing field. We all enter the community of God as equals. (Oh, and if you are an active, loving member of the community you will naturally show love and service towards your spouse. This insight doesn’t undermine the marriage vows by any means.)

The church’s obsession with marriage has alienated both single adults and homosexuals. Single adults are often looked at with a suspicious eye and homosexuals have been completely forced out in many cases. Do we expect anything different? When you elevate marriage to the heart of Christian community, and then deny it to those who feel attracted to the same sex, the natural reaction is to overemphasize one’s sexual identity (I mean no disrespect here).

The church has replaced “identity in Christ” with “identity in sexuality.” Rather than reorganizing our lives around the call of Christ, we have reorganized the call of Christ around marriage.

This reorganization undermines Paul’s true call to all believers: “to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God...”

Paul’s main focus was developing believers who sacrificed their lives’ in service to Jesus through the transformitive power of the Holy Spirit.

We have elevated the individual above the whole–both heterosexuals and homosexuals. We are not Lord, Jesus is. He has called us to live a life of sacrifice, which is directed towards his mission in the world. This applies to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Both have over emphasized sexuality and placed it before our identity in Christ. Until we realize this, the church will continue to be plagued with identity issues.

——————

I am indebted to Rodney Reeves, Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, (Downers Grove: IVP), 2011, 128-145, for impacting my thinking on this issue.

doubting_thomas

What does the resurrection mean?

Below is the transcript from the sermon that I preached this past Sunday. If you would rather listen, you can find a recording here. The texts discussed here are: John 20:19-31, 1 John 1:1-2:3, and Acts 4:32-35.

Introduction

Universe altering moments…

  • the first harnessed spark towards containing fire
  • the first wheel
  • the Bronze Age
  • the printing press
  • the new world
  • the Enlightenment
  • Modern Science
  • Capitalism
  • Democracy
  • WWI & WWII
  • The assassination of JFK
  • The fall of the iron curtain
  • The internet and cell phones
  • And finally, September 11, 2001 and the modern war on terror.

What is the most universe changing moment in your life? It doesn’t need to be as huge as the moments above. Maybe it was someone coming into or leaving your life. Picture it, how did it impact you and change the trajectory of you life?

These are the moments that define our world… and make us who we are…

Two thousand years ago those closest to Jesus were in one of these moments. For them it felt more like a moment of saying good-bye to someone in life, but as we will soon see, instead it will be the biggest moment in history. Now, as we step into their journey on this second week of Easter I challenge us to step outside of our 2000 years of theology and tradition, and let the events of the resurrection unfold as they did for those closest to Jesus during the weeks fallowing the first Easter Sunday…

Body

As we step into the narrative of John’s gospel, Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdalen, Peter, and the beloved disciple, whom we presume was the apostle John. Now, in this week’s Gospel lesson we see that Jesus appears to the rest of the twelve, but for some reason Thomas was not present. At some point after this appearance, Thomas hears that Jesus has appeared to his companions and he indeed has risen from the dead, but Thomas rejects their testimony.

This is where we get Doubting Thomas… yet often I don’t think we give him a fair chance. It isn’t that he doubted that Jesus could, or even would, one day be resurrected. The problem was that Jesus had not resurrected in the way in which he had expected. See, by this time in Jewish eschatology, there was a common belief of a coming resurrection. However, it had never occurred to anyone that there would be a resurrection before the resurrection. See, good Jews believed that one-day all the righteous, at least, would be resurrected. Yet, they didn’t have room in their cultural understanding for a resurrection of one, before the resurrection of ALL. In this way, Jesus’ resurrection was counter-cultural and universe changing, even for his disciples.

So, Thomas’ doubt was perfectly acceptable, given his cultural understanding. For him to accept that Jesus was indeed resurrected required him to change his universe, and ultimately alter the course of his interaction with his culture, and the world.

Moving on in the text, we are then told that Jesus appears to his disciples again, Thomas included. In their presence, Jesus invites Thomas to inspect his wounds. We have a lovely depiction of this event on our bulletin for this week [the title photo of this post]. Don’t you just love the imagery, I image it would have been something like this, only probably with more blood and grossness. Yes, what a vivid (and uncomfortable) picture it paints in our minds? Yet, I think it is important for us to feel the discomfort, because Jesus was indeed, and still is, human. His resurrected body isn’t completely out of this word. Yes, he is able to appear and disappear where he wishes, cloak his identity from individuals at convenient times, and hear what people say when he is not present (thought his may be more of a God thing than a resurrection body thing), but he still eats, and he is still physical. This is an important insight in our journey of understanding the resurrection.

As we continue there is an important note that needs to be made about the narrative of John’s Gospel. Throughout his Gospel, he makes many references to signs. At this point we have reached what is often called the conclusion of his Gospel. He states in vv. 30-31 that, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” First, let me draw your attention to Jesus’ exchange with Thomas, “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This statement is a contrast with John’s final statement about the signs in his Gospel. Thomas needed to see in order to believe. Jesus offers a Beatitude for those who believe without needing to see. In the same spirit, John urges his readers to rely on the testimony of those who were eyewitnesses, and to remain faithful through the help of the spirit, without the need to see these signs with their own eyes. This textual point is helpful in learning to recognize the narrative movements throughout different books in the New and Old Testament. But our examination this week doesn’t stop here…

Let us recap. The resurrection was, and is today, counter-cultural and universe changing. Jesus has risen, and he is what we will become! He is the first fruits of creation, and the first of the resurrection. We one day will join him in this same resurrection. Also, the resurrection is world changing for more than just us (those who are in the church), but instead it changes everything for the world. The events above are nothing when placed in comparison to what Jesus has done in the resurrection. As John testifies to in our second lesson today, “he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also of the whole world.” The whole world is touched by Jesus’ resurrection. His resurrection was the beginning of the end. Indeed, we are in the end times; we have been for the last 2000 years.

Conclusion

What do we do with this? What does the resurrection mean for today? I’ve already suggested that it gives us a glimpse of what we are going to become. That we will one day share in this resurrection. Also, John shares with us that this resurrection is good new for the whole world.

Further, Jesus’ resurrection is as counter-culture and universe altering today as it was for Thomas in the first century. It is imperative that we see the way in which the resurrection impacts life today. Jesus is risen, he is physical, he is our atonement for sin, and our advocate to the Father. However, all of this theological stuff is useless if we can’t see WHY these things matter.

To understand the why, we first need to answer the how. HOW is it that Jesus’ resurrection alters the trajectory of history and rewires our understanding of the universe? Because it is physical, more physical even, than his picture here before us. We live in a post resurrection world, where things are as they have never been before. So, why does this impact our lives? Because it changes the way in which we understand ourselves in the world, and how we interact within our culture setting. Our first lesson paints a vivid picture of one way our interaction with culture and the world is transformed by the resurrection.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.  (Acts 4:32-35)

Socialism right? As good Americans we know that this type of societal structure does not work. Where is the motivation for each individual? Well it tells us right here, “great grace was upon them all.” Don’t hear me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that socialism is a viable structure for societal success. Instead I want you to see that, through grace, humans are now able to live by a different rule, to a different King. In this way, the resurrection is counter-cultural like nothing before it. We are now within the grace of God, and this is good news for all. It changes everything, and we are living in the heart of it. We have been given the opportunity to show that the resurrection is still physically alive and able to turn the universe on its head. We are always living witnesses to the physicalness of the resurrection. This is because the resurrection is indeed physical, before anything else. We now have in view what it means to be fully human, and we are now able to live towards our full humanity, by the grace of God. We are on a journey, an eschatological journey, towards our coming resurrection and the full restoration of all things to God. This, my friends, is the good news of the Gospel and the counter-cultural reality in which we live.

Now, let us go forth, believing without seeing by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, and proclaim, through out physical living, the goodness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us live into what we are becoming, and let us remember that in every circumstance our physical interactions are testifying to what is here and yet to come. A period between the first and final resurrection, when the universe is indeed different, and we have a hope like no time before.

Thanks be to God.

Myrrhbearing women at the tomb

He is Risen! The good news for the universe!

He is risen!

The Son of God has (physically, in the truest sense) risen, defeating death and beginning the restoration of the universe.

The good news of the resurrection is for more than just Christians, it is for the whole universe! His work has freed the universe from its inedible end, and began the process of restoring it to its former glory!

This is news that all need to hear. Jesus didn’t rise to save you from hell, he rose to defeat death and restore the universe to its created intent.

This good news is for more than humans, too.

All of creation (i.e. the universe, as it expands!) is being restored.

Thus, a post-resurrection world is good news for all of God’s creation!

If you’re skeptic of this whole Christian narrative, drop the “from” language and think about the “for” language. Jesus rose so that you could be for something better, not of this broken world, but for a world that is coming, and will fully come!

Sounds crazy, right?

I’m one who thinks things such as these are better left fuzzy and strange on the edges. Like quantum-physics, or seeds (see here)….

Let us praise the Lord, the creator, savior, and one who holds all things together. He subdues the chaos and has already done the work that will one day abolish it. Until that day, let us praise him and live in his likeness.

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Millenials and Christian Formation

Back in its January/February 2015 issue, Christianity Today ran a cover article written by youth ministry professor Andrew Root that caught my eye. The argument of the article appeared to suggest that churches needed to worry less about reaching out to millennials using a bit of wisdom from Bonhoeffer.

Until recently I had the article on my back-burner waiting to be read. Now that I’ve read it, I’m beginning to see how it fits into the bigger conversation I’ve been having with myself over the last several months.

Root’s framework for writing the article comes out of a recent book that he wrote which studies how Dietrich Bonhoeffer approached youth and children ministry in early 20th century Germany. He argues that Bonhoeffer rejected the German church’s attempt to appeal to the youth culture because it missed the mark. Bonhoeffer offered the suggestion that youth shouldn’t be what shapes the church, but rather the church should be proclaiming the world of God and youth should listen.

Root’s overall suggestion is that the American church today is too worried about saving millennials. So much so, even, that we miss our true mission, to proclaim the word of God. This realization should reshape the way in which we do youth ministry. Rather than “loving on” youth, Root suggests this about churches who truly want to reach young people.

[T]he church that truly seeks to invite and welcome the young is driven not by youth at all, but by the desire to discover the revelation of Jesus Christ in the concrete and lived experience of young people. We invite them to struggle, along with the rest of the church, to discern the presence of Christ in their midst.

I think this idea is connected to something bigger than just youth and young adult ministry. It goes deeper than just how we do church, but touches why we do church. At some point the American church got away being a community of believers who know one another, teach one another, and live out their mission and became an entertainment industry. I’ve been apart of church meetings where the main question being addressed was the way in which we could be more appealing to the masses. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to think about perception, presentation, and environment. Yet, these aren’t the end, but a small part of the beginning (I’d argue that, if churches are doing things well, these details fall into place).

Church communities have become products of the consumer. Often these consumers don’t even realize they do this. If you ever said, “I’m just not being fed” or “I wish we would sing this song” or “I want the pastor to preach more about that”, then you have been a consumer. Each time you leave one church for another, you are telling the church you left that you don’t like their product (there are valid reasons to leave a church, don’t miss-understand me). Which needs to come first, a change in mindset by consumer Christians or entertainment-driven churches? This is sort of a “the chicken or the egg?” question. However, if the church is made up of people then it takes people who get it to be the catalyst. Root’s observation is rather telling of more than just youth/young adult ministry but of the entire way in which we “do” church.

Recently I read a chapter out of the book The New Parish by request of my senior pastor. In this particular chapter the authors suggest there are four modes of churches out there today, 1) the seeker mode, 2) the heritage mode, 3) the community mode, and 4) the missional mode. They argue that all four modes are insufficient, and that a healthy church body needs aspects of all four. This is achieved through what they call “the ecclesial center”. This center is where holistic worship takes place and is comprised of three elements: community, formation, and mission. My experience is that many churches are beginning to get aspect of these three, but they often fall short in Christian formation. Yet, a church that lacks formational depth has no roots of understanding.

My suggestion is this: the American church is full of people. Often, we get community or we get mission, but I think we fail to get formation. We through a bunch of people into a room with a bible and call that discipleship. However, deep, Christian formation takes commitment and work. Until the church begins to rethink formation and Christian maturity, we can’t expect to reach anyone–especially millennials.

How do we get Christian formation right? I’m still working this out, but first I think we need to value it.

Peace from Work, Which is Found in Jesus

In the final chapter of his book Every Good Endeavor Tim Keller writes about the idea of work under our work. What he means to communicate with this odd little phrase is that all of us have a driving force under the work we do. We inherently work for something else, something under our work.

Within this chapter Keller grabs onto a new way of understanding acedia, one of the 7 deadly sins often called “sloth” and understood to be laziness. Keller, referencing Dorothy Sayers’ book Creed and Chaos, describes acedia as more than just laziness, but rather a life lived in pursuit of selfish desires. In some ways it is living for oneself.

The way in which this takes shape in the heart, through work, is rather fascinating. Keller suggests that a heart that suffers acedia can actually look rather busy; however, when the heart has nothing more than the self for which to work, the other 6 deadly sins (wrath, greed, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony) become the object of our pursuits. A heart that suffers from acedia is empty waiting to be filled. Passion may exist but it empty and void.

However, when one looks towards Christ, Keller suggests, passion and the work under our work begin to take a different shape. One can see that Christ’s work was done, not selfishly, but selflessly. Then Keller makes a more interesting twist. He points towards Matthew 11:28-30 and Jesus’ claim that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.” Work under the yoke of Jesus is easy with little burden because we are no longer bound to desires of the the work under our work. Our self-service can go away because Jesus has done what we are able to do. He has done the work which gives us live and work in the peace of Jesus. We may rest, knowing that our service is purely worship.

Work is essential to human well being. We were created to work and cultivate creation. However, work in the fallen world often becomes less about our God-given mandate and more about our man-made desires. Let us remember that in Christ we are set free from our old ways and made know in him. Thus, we are set free the the worldly bonds of work so that we may rest in Christ and work for, and in, him.