Thursday, April 29, 2010

Have you lost your life?

When a man was made a knight he would first kneel before his lord. Then he would bow his head, offering the lord both the back of his neck and his sword. He was placing himself deliberately in a vulnerable position, from which the lord could kill the knight, if he so desired. The knight, through this ceremony, was making a dramatic promise. It said, “I offer my life to you. I grant you the power of life and death over me. I am now a dead man. I no longer live for myself, but for you." Meanwhile, the lord would acknowledge this promise and all that it implied by tapping him on both shoulders with the flat of the blade in a symbolic beheading.

According to Jesus, the life he calls us to involves identically the same process:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? ~ Mark 8:34b-37
Though many may have forgotten, this is a HUGE part of what becoming a Christian means. It means losing our lives (at least symbolically, and perhaps even literally) for Jesus' sake and acknowledging him as our sovereign Lord. It includes recognizing that He can send us where He will and call us to action according to His plans. Our life is no longer our own, and we owe to our Lord complete allegiance.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Big is not a synonym for healthy

I had my semi-annual meeting with my gastroenterologist last week. He told me that my Crohn's disease is still in remission (Yeah!), that I'm due for another colonoscopy (Boo! But it's been 4 years since the last one, so okay) and that I need to lose 30 lbs., minimum, before he sees me again in 6 months (Boo! Hiss!!). So I'm going to need to write down what I eat, including every bite of something, and spend a lot more time on the treadmill and the elliptical machine in addition to my usual practice of hitting the weight room. Those of you who have read this blog awhile know that I didn't exactly greet this news with shouts of jubilation so much as a resigned sense of "Well, he's right. It is for my long-term health anyway." So back I'm headed, into the breach, hoping that this will be the time when I not only lose some weight, but that I'm able to take it far enough into the wilderness that it doesn't find its way home. So y'all can pray for me as I suit up for battle...

But since I'm a pastor, I couldn't help thinking about how my situation is analogous to much of the modern evangelical church, which has very definitely concluded that Big is indeed a synonym for Healthy. When it comes to our bodies, we intuitively know this is not the case, yet when it comes the Body of Christ, we somehow think that different rules apply. At the risk over-generalizing, and of sounding either envious or simply self-justifying (since my church is of much more normal proportions), permit to draw out the analogy a little, if for no other reason than to challenge this unhealthy assumption.
  1. When you're too big, some parts of the body work overtime while others don't work at all. Big people have hard working hearts, lungs, blood vessels, livers, kidneys, and colons. But the rest of the body moves slowly when it moves at all. In fact, the bigger the person, the harder the vital internal organs work while the rest of the body becomes even less able to work, move, exercise, etc. In the mega- or even simply large church the same rules apply, with the paid staff working very hard along with a relative handful of dedicated people. But all the work of these organs within the Body doesn't improve its overall health, because to be healthy all of the parts have to move and be exercised.
  2. When you're too big, a lot of energy is devoted to consumption and expansion. Big people think about food and focus energy on it in ways that people with a healthier perspective usually do not. Moreover, they seldom need to buy bigger clothes to accommodate the results. In the same way, it's my observation that in the average mega-church, the vast majority of its members and friends spend a lot of time consuming. Thus, "What are they doing for people like me?" is a common question for people seeking such a church while "I didn't get anything out of it" is a common reason given for leaving the last church. Moreover, it's my observation that the average mega-church does little to actively combat this attitude, so the vast majority of the Body sits, consumes, and gives its money to be spent on bigger pants (er... bigger buildings) to hold the expanding bulk more comfortably.
  3. When you're too big, it's because you eat what you like rather than what is good for you. I'm not saying that every big person got that way via a diet composed exclusively of Ho-Hos, Doritos, and beer. But what I am saying is that being overweight is a result of taking in more than your body is using, and also saying that most big people probably have eaten far more junk food and far too little broccoli than we're typically willing to admit to ourselves. After all, who wants to think of himself as an unhealthy eater? Likewise, many of the people in mega-churches don't put into use what they learn, so that they become simply a repository for biblically based teaching with little or none of it used to further the Kingdom. Additionally, many big churches have gotten that way by feeding the flock a diet of theological junk food that tastes good but does nothing except expand the belt size. All the while, Sin, Judgment, the Cross, Grace, and Redemption go unpreached. This is not to say that the glory of God in Christ and salvation never are taught in such places, only that they are often appetizers or even garnishes instead of the main course, which is precisely the opposite of what is healthy.

Kinda Christianity

An old friend from long ago is now the coolest author of books that analyze/criticize the Emergent/emerging church. And so naturally, not just because he is a friend, but also because he is a friend with some really important things to say to the 21st century American evangelical church, I'd like to commend one of his latest offerings to you ~ Kinda Christianity: A Generous, Fair, Organic, Free-Range Guide to Authentic Realness. Here's the book description, from its own Introduction:
So you're ready to take the plunge. Ready to translate your quest into action! Without defining yourself, and certainly without boxing yourself into one particular rigid way of doing theology or church, you're ready to become emergent. You have a username and clever screen name picked out at Emergent Village(tm), and maybe you've even begun having church in an empty warehouse in the industrial sector of your city. If so, good for you! But those are just the first, baby steps in your journey (your dance, if you will) into Kinda Christianity. This book will help you along the rest of your uniquely creative path to super-terrific self-discovery.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Reading Chronicles

Chronicles is usually one of the books, after Leviticus, where Bible reading plans go to die. Most people (including me!) don't usually find the retelling of ancient history all that compelling. The lives of the Hebrew kings aren't that exciting, really, unless the guy in question is wicked, and then its only interesting because of the (typically bloody) way that his life ends. But since I believe that "all Scripture" is inspired by God, I've been trying to read afresh the sections I haven't spent much time in, instead of simply reading again the parts that are inspiring to me. And so I found myself in Chronicles this morning, reading about Jehoshaphat. He was, all things considered, one of the better kings of Judah. He was a man who honored God in many ways, though he displeased God by making alliances and intermarrying with the house of Ahab. Nevertheless, though he sinned and was disciplined by God for it, the overall tone is positive-"His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord."

Over and over again, you see the same pattern. Kings whose hearts are "devoted to the ways of the Lord" are blessed, while those whose hearts are not come judgment. As I read, I couldn't help but think about my own life: What if God were keeping a Chronicle of all of his saints, like he did of the Hebrew Kings? Where would he judge my heart to have been? Would I be one of the ones of whom the summary reads "but his heart was not completely devoted to the Lord as his father David's had been" or would I read something else? What about you, dear reader, how would God summarize your life in His Chronicles?

Passive Rejection of Jesus: A Meditation

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
"I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of the Lord’s coming to you. ~ Luke 19:39-44
In the midst of Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, in the midst of what should be the Inauguration Day of the Kingdom of God, something shocking occurs. It’s so startling, and yet so subtle, you might miss it. It’s the fact that the King shows up, just as God promised He would, and no one noticed. Maybe you don’t think that. Maybe you’ve grown up hearing this story, of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem of King Jesus, and so you picture this glorious scene. But there probably wasn’t much glory. Jesus was dressed like an ordinary Jewish peasant, but with a crowd of other peasants surrounding him. There was some amount of cheering, to be sure, but not much. Since it was nearly Passover, it’s likely that as many as 1 million people would have been in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Yet when Jesus comes, publicly announcing himself as Messiah, the Pharisees say: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” In other words, it’s not a big crowd. Most of the cheering is probably being done by people directly associated with Jesus, probably a big portion of whom are the people that became the 120 disciples who were praying in the Upper Room at Pentecost. But it’s a long way from massive support for Jesus’ Messianic claim. The broad run of people regard Jesus as an interesting prophet, to be sure, but not Messiah. And so, when he came on this day, they ignored it. Their reaction wasn’t so much active rejection as passive indifference. But it is rejection all the same, and culpable sin against God.

And so with great tears in his eyes, Jesus announces the coming judgment on the city. That judgment fell, finally, in 70 AD, when the Romans under Titus came in and did just what Jesus predicted—built and embankment against the city walls, encircled it with troops, tore the walls down, and dashed people and children to the ground. The city was partially burned. The Temple itself was completely leveled. The city walls were torn down. Not one stone was left on another. Why did this happen? According to Jesus it was “because you did not recognize the time of the Lord’s coming to you.” In other words, in the eyes of God, the passive indifference of the nation to the coming of their promised Messiah is just as serious as the active rejection of the Messiah by the nation’s leaders.

When I consider the many people with whom I've tried to share the Gospel over the years, it is with an ache in my heart as I recall the fact that many of them had similar reactions to Jesus. It's not that they are hostile, so much as they simply can't be bothered to care. "King Jesus? Well, maybe your king, but not mine." Will the judgment received by people who passively reject Him now, after the Resurrection, be less severe than those who rejected Jesus in the days of his earthly ministry? Scripture clearly says it will not be, and I weep for them.

What I've been doing besides blogging...

It's been a long time. I haven't written any posts so far for the month of April, and I wrote darn few in the month of March. Here's what I've been up to:
  1. Visiting family. My sister and her husband are home from China with my niece. We haven't seen them in 2 years, and after they leave this summer, probably won't see them again for another two. So we've been blessed to visit with them twice in the past few weeks.
  2. Hiring a new church secretary while pretending to be one. My former secretary left our part-time position to seek a full-time position. This means that my associate, Jim, and I have had to fill in the gaps on all the administrative tasks. Which reminds me of the many reasons why we're trying to hire a replacement.
  3. Holiday service prep. Easter and Palm Sunday are a very big deal at our church, as they are at most churches. This year we not only had that usual level of craziness, we also added in hosting the annual Community Good Friday service. Since we're doing all of this while #2 is also going on, I've been even busier than usual.
  4. Being tired and kinda grumpy. Being overly busy and not getting enough time to rest or nearly enough time to be a good husband and father does not make me a very happy person. Which makes me a cranky blogger. And nobody wants to read my prideful, self-centered crankiness. Heck, I don't even want to write it. So now that I'm getting my schedule (and more importantly, my attitude!) re-adjusted, I'm back to it. Hope you enjoy getting more regular posts.