How can the church partner with the world while maintaining its identity? By imitating Jesus’ Changing Water into Wine. Lessons from Thomas Aquinas.

“All truth is God’s truth.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this while I was in seminary. And that was a good thing because I needed to hear it. I had spent the years leading up to seminary developing my understanding of truth that was pretty much limited to what the Bible (or at least my interpretation of the Bible) had to say. Any claims to truth outside of the Bible were suspect for me.

I even remember a time in a class I took at USask on Religious Perspectives on Death and Dying when I had to comment (in a test) on the validity of the fictional Death of Ivan Illich to my understanding of death and dying. My reply was that since it was fiction it wasn’t true! Wise Professor Robert Kennedy pointed out that truth can be found in a variety of areas of life including fictional accounts.

And it appears this debate isn’t all that new. The other day I took a look at Mitchell Atencio’s interview Why Nathan Cartagena Teaches Critical Race Theory to Evangelicals with Nathan Cartagena on Sojourners and saw a great idea from Thomas Aquinas.

In 1261, a few years before I went to seminary, Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on Boethius’ On The Trinity. Apparently some agreed with my early ideas — that blending God’s Truth with rational truths somehow muddies the mixture. Article 3 of Super Boethium De Trinitate by Thomas Aquinas answers this question in a very interesting way:

“5. It may be said: No conclusive argument can be drawn from figurative speech, as the Master (Peter Lombard) says. Dionysius also says in his letter to Titus that symbolic theology has no weight of proof, especially when such interprets no authority. Nevertheless it can be said that When one of two things passes into the nature of another, the product is not considered a mixture except when the nature of both is altered. Wherefore those who use philosophical doctrines in sacred Scripture in such a way as to subject them to the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but change water into wine.”

Part of the problem that I faced in the early years of my theological formation was that I somehow believed that the world was divided into two parts: Sacred and Secular. As as young Christian I was warned about the dangers of the world — the danger that I would become worldly. This came out in many areas, including concepts like Christian music, Christian schools and colleges, and Christian bookstores. There was also the idea that people needed to leave the world and join the church. Interestingly there was never an idea that through my influence the world would become holy.

How can we apply Aquinas’ concepts of changing water to wine to the whole sacred-secular debate? The sacred-secular debate keeps the two worlds apart because of fear of contamination — but a contamination that always goes from good to bad. Aquinas says that in order for two ideas to mix that they both need to change. When it comes to God’s truth however, the end result is not a mixture of good and bad but a transformation of the bad into good, much in the same way that Jesus changed water into wine.

So, that brings us to current issues where this can be applied. I can think of three examples. When I was younger the bad guy was psychotherapy. Psychotherapy was bad for reasons that I can’t remember. Fortunately today I have personally benefitted from people who have been successful in blending the truths of God that can be found in psychotherapy with the truths of God found in scripture and have applied those truths into my life.

Christians have also had a love-hate relationship with science throughout the years. Some have suggested that vaccine hesitancy among some Christians is a direct result of the religion-science debate. The argument seems to go along the lines of, “Science promotes evolution that directly goes against the creation accounts of the Bible. If then scientists tell us that vaccines are ok that must mean that they aren’t ok.” What we as Christians often forget, though, is that the early scientists were in fact men and women of faith who desired to know more about God’s creation and started an in-depth study of it.

There has been a lot of talk of late in the church about Critical Race Theory. And that is in fact with the Nathan Cartagena interview is about. The main objection appears to be something like, “CRT is bad because it is Marxism.” Once again the fear of the world influencing the church rather than the church influencing the world rears its ugly head. What we often forget is that justice is one of the key aspects of the Kingdom of God but since it has been neglected so much by the church we need the expertise of those who have thought about justice issues in depth.

Of course I am not advocating an uncritical approach to these issues. As Aquinas himself tells us to “subject [rational philosophies] to the service of faith.” But what I am advocating is that Christians tap every resource available as we seek to turn the water of the world into the wine of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, establishing the values of the kingdom of God, serving God and neighbour, and testifying to God’s truth.

After all, Jesus promises that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the church. Why should we act as if it already has?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash.

Shepherds, work, and the interruption of burning bushes.

I have it on good authority that farmers work hard and I’m sure shepherds are no different, which is what makes Moses’ story all the more interesting. Some say bushes that spontaneously burn aren’t all that rare in the Sinai area, although that appears to be debunked here. Regardless, the fact that another bush was burning was perhaps more of a distraction than an attraction for Moses.

I have limited experience with sheep. The farm where Eva and I are currently living has three sheep and last week, while the family was away on vacation, we had to take care of said sheep. It isn’t all that hard — we had to take them out to the pasture in the morning, move them around during the day, and return them to their pen at night. It sounds simple but it was a little more involved than that. We had to make sure the sheep made it to their mobile pen in the pasture, a process that involves dragging them past much more appealing foliage to the foliage that we had chosen for them. It also sometimes involves chasing and catching said sheep to make sure they go where we wanted them to go. We also had to carry a 5 gallon bucket of water out to them and make sure that they stayed watered. When the grass in their moveable pen was consumed we needed to move them to a new location, sometimes ensuring that they had some shade. Daniel usually brought them in at night and his technique was running as fast as possible beside them so that they remained focussed on the destination rather than all the sweet grasses along the way.

I also recently watched Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime. In the show, Jeremy Clarkson takes over his farm when his previous manager retired. The show follows him along as he learns the ropes on what it takes to run a farm in Britain. One aspect to Clarkson’s farm is sheep and there are several episodes devoted to what it means to farm sheep, including being up at all hours to birth them, making sure that the mothers and lambs are all caring for each other while in the pasture, and moving them to a new pasture without them getting into the neighbour’s fields.

It is a lot of work for those of us caring for just a few sheep. How much more a traditional shepherd with a full-size herd that she needs to keep track of? [Just as an aside, did you know that Rachel is one of the few named shepherds in the Bible? Check out her story in Genesis 29]

Which leads us to the question, “Why would a busy guy like Moses take the time to go see the burning bush?” What made him realise that it wasn’t merely a distraction and was something work making him take time out of his busy schedule? The Bible doesn’t say a lot about Moses’ thought process other than to say, “I must go over there and see this strange sight.” There was something strange that attracted his attention.

Moses’ situation reminds me to ask myself if I pay attention to “strange sights” in my day-to-day life that may be God’s attempts to get my attention. [Note that God will always eventually get my attention, as I have written about here.] In what ways does my busyness keep me from opportunities to encounter God? How do I distinguish distraction from a God-encounter? Are distractions in fact invitations from God?

I guess one type of distraction is internet use. But while some of the things that we encounter on the internet may be strange, this type of distraction can’t be labelled a “strange sight” in the way Moses labelled the burning bush. The burning bush got Moses’ attention while he was doing other things that he normally did. It pulled him away from the usual into the unusual. So sorry, we can’t use Moses as an excuse for always being on the internet.

Another type of distraction is escapist fiction. Who doesn’t love a great story that takes you away from your present life and allows you to live in a virtual world of adventure, excitement, and love? I am currently enjoying Burrough’s John Carter series. But yet again, this is a type of distraction that we bring upon ourselves and is not the type of distraction that God introduces into our loves for his purposes.

I suspect the kinds of distractions that God tries are things that distract us from our distractions. Some distractions are actually a call back to the real world. They interrupt our escapes and bring us back to reality. That’s what the burning bush did for Moses after all.

Once, many years ago, while I was talking to a friend, my daughter came up to me because she wanted to show me her new dress. Did I look at her new dress? No. I saw what she was doing as a distraction from what I was doing. If I had it to do over again I would say, Excuse me, to my friend and take a look at Emily’s new dress. Perhaps God was saying, “Pay attention to your family.”

What I my response when someone talks to me while I am watching a TV show? Do I see it as an interruption or a call to engage with someone in real life? What is my response when I and deeply thinking about the solution to a problem and my wife approaches me with a solution? Am I reminded that we are a team and can work things out together, or do I feel interrupted? What about when someone offers me constructive criticism? Do I see it as a change to improve or as a challenge to my abilities? I must confess that I often get these kinds of things wrong.

So what types of distractions have turned into God encounters for you?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image Sandeep Kr Yadev on Unsplash.

“Why are you kicking against the goads?”: How do I know when God is trying to get me to change?

A few weeks ago we needed to vaccinate some calves against black leg. It was quite the process. First we had to round up the cows and calves in the pasture and gather them in a temporary corral. Then we had to move them through the farm yard and across the road into another corral — this one with three sections. We then had to separate the cows from the calves. The final step was to run the calves through a chute four at a time (a process that involved a lot of shoving). At the end of the chute they were locked into a smaller space so that they could be vaccinated. Eventually they were all released into another pasture to continue on with their lives.

None of this would have been possible without a goad.

I actually had to take a look at my Oxford Thesaurus of English to get an equivalent modern word for “goad.” Here are a few: Stimulus, incentive, encouragement, stimulant, stimulation, inducement, fillip, impetus, impulse, spur, prod, prompt; incitement; motive, motivation.

Basically, a goad is a tool used to get cows to move.

We had a variety of goads. Some were long thin whip-like instruments made of fibreglass. Others were old hockey sticks with the blades broken off. The most scary of the bunch, for the cows that is, was a plastic shaker that made noise when moved. All of these tools are used to make sure the cows go where you want them to go.

Jesus used the word “goad” in his encounter with Paul on the Damascus Road when he asked, “Why are you kicking against the goads?” (Acts 26:14). It was him saying, “I have been trying to get your attention for so long. Why are you not listening?” The way the question is asked implies that God had been trying to get Paul’s attention for quite some time.

What were the goads that Jesus used to convince Paul? While the list is not explicit in scripture, I could think of these possibilities:

  1. Paul knew the scriptures and the scriptures point to Christ — road to Emmaus. yet Paul didn’t see this yet. 
  2. Paul heard Stephen’s testimony about Jesus, but still approved of his death. 
  3. Paul knew the teachings of the Jesus followers, which is why he persecuted them. 
  4. Now Jesus takes matters into his own hands and personally appears to Paul in a very dramatic way!

We can be grateful that Paul finally yielded to the goads and chose to follow Jesus but the real question is, “What goads am I kicking against?” And perhaps, “How do I know when God is trying to convince me of something?”

[I thought about including a list here but then that might be goads you are kicking against and not ones that I am kicking against!]

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by Ekrulila on Pexels.

3 Types of Evil

The years leading up to the pandemic have exposed a variety of bad things in the world — things that perhaps in the past were not as noticed by people not directly affected. These issues include the #metoo movement, racism including Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, Asian Hate, and Residential Schools, and violence such as the militarisation of the police.

One area of dispute is the extent of evil in the world. Some people simply say things like, “I am not racist so racism isn’t real” or “I have an indigenous/black/person of colour friend who hasn’t experienced racism so it isn’t really an issue” or the kicker “Once people accept Jesus they are no longer sinners so things like the mistreatment of others will just disappear.”

These various approaches view evil as being something personal and so provide personal solutions to it. And this isn’t all that surprising given that the default message of the evangelical church over the years has been, “Invite Jesus into your heart and your sins will be forgiven.”

Evil, however, is much more complex than simply being personal. In fact there are three types of evil, or sin, that are discussed in the Bible: Personal evil, natural evil, and structural evil.

In this post we will take an introductory look at each of these types of evil with the hope that a renewed understanding of these will lead to justice and change in society.

Personal Evil.

Personal evil has been the central way that people in recent times have understood evil. There are three ways to approach how the Bible understands personal evil, each one from a different cultural perspective.

Guilt to Innocence is the most common understanding of personal evil, largely due to the predominance of western Bible interpretations. It uses a courtroom as its motif. This understanding has led to popular gospel presentations such as the Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion, and the Roman Road to salvation. The emphasis to this approach is that all are guilty of sin and are thus in need of righteousness. This perspective is common among individualistic societies.

Shame to Honour is another perspective on personal evil. In recent years, students of culture have seen that many peoples on the earth do not see things in light of guilt and innocence. Some people better understand a proper relationship with God through concepts of honour and shame.[1] Shame to Honour emphasises relationships and how they can be restored. This perspective is common in communal societies.

A third approach to understanding personal evil is Fear to Power. In recent years, students of culture have seen that many peoples on the earth do not see things in light of guilt and innocence. Some people better understand a proper relationship with God through concepts of Power and Fear. Jesus overcame the power of Satan and death on the cross and gives power to those who are afraid.

Natural Evil.

Natural evil includes things like famine, drought, disease, wild animals, floods, storms, and disease.

Floods: God brought “a flood of waters on the earth” (Genesis 6:17).

Thunder, hail, lightning: God “sent thunder and hail, and fire came down” (Exodus 9:23).

Destructive Wind: God sent a “great wind” that destroyed Job’s house and killed his family (Job 1:19). Earthquake: By the Lord “the earth will be shaken” (Isaiah 13:13).

Drought and Famine: God will shut off rains, so neither land nor trees yield produce (Leviticus 26:19–20).

Forest fires: God says, “Say to the southern forest, ‘I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree’” (Ezekiel 20:47).

These events affect people all over the world and the results are often not good. A super typhoon went through the Philippines a number of years ago. In a small coastal town many lives were lost as logs from the mountains were washed through the town. Those logs were seen as a curse. About a week later, a small island community was awakened by cries of, “Thanks be to God. He has provided these logs for us. Now I can build a house/boat/business.” Those same logs cursed a week earlier in another place were now seen as a blessing.

It’s important to point out that these natural evils started with the curse in the garden of Eden, where, because of Adam’s sin, the ground was also cursed. It is this curse that leads to the examples listed above.

Structural Evil.

Structural evil is a system or pattern of beliefs or activities in an organization or culture that hinders or opposes the advance of God’s kingdom in this world. There are structured evils rooted in society’s prevailing religious, social, economic or political systems. The key element of structural evil is that it is organizational, a pattern or network that opposes the Kingdom.

Examples of structural evil include things like tax evasion, caste systems, dowry, sexual mutilation, slavery, racism and apartheid, colonialism, and bribery or governmental corruption.

Key elements of structural evil include the existence of a wicked power or spirit. Structural evil is also corporate, either organizational or institutional. It is systemic, with patterns, networks of activities or parts. It has a multiple nature including laws, law enforcements, culture, taboos, attitudes, beliefs, lack of alternatives, and repressive rule. It can be social, political, economic, or religious. It aims to create chaos, division, injustice, human suffering or natural damage. It opposes advance of Kingdom of God.

The good news for structural evil is that at the cross Christ defeated sin, death, and Satan. These now have no hold on believers. All authority is given to Christ … He is far above all and every other name. The Church as His Body shares this authority over Satan & evil spirits. In Christ the believer is given the authority to disciple nations.

Conclusion.

The church needs to further develop its theologies of evil so that we can both acknowledge the extent of evil in the world, and also find better ways to deal with it. Emphasis needs to continue, of course, on repentance from personal evil, but we also need to incorporate ways to repent from both societal and natural evils.

What do you think of this 3-part framework?

Feedback is always welcome!

Notes:

1 Other great sources of Honour-Shame based theologies include works by Jackson Wu, Jayson Georges, and Werner Mischke.

Image by Paulette Vautour on Unsplash.

What should be my place in the church’s pecking order?

My wife and I have spent the past week on a farm and one incident reminded me of the common saying, “Pecking order.” There were a bunch of eggs in the incubator waiting to be hatched and our arrival at the farm was the due date. One by one the little chicks pecked their way out of their shells and began the next phase of their lives. Which is when we noticed an interesting occurrence. Those chicks who hatched first began to peck at the chicks born later. This is the famous pecking order that determines who gets to peck whom?

It’s the most basic form of relationship and while I can’t begin to try to understand the way a chick’s mind works it does illustrate the way some relationships are oriented around power and domination.

Sometimes the same thing happens when people come to faith. Those who come to faith first set the rules for the next who come to faith. There are countless examples in the Bible, perhaps the most famous being the Pharisees and the prodigal son’s older brother.

Acts 15 is a great example of how the pecking order was challenged and a new way of relationship was hatched. Apparently some of the early Jesus followers decided that non-Jews also needed Jesus and so they began to proclaim Jesus to others. The first stage was Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, who was a Jewish proselyte. Others, however, went further and began to talk about Jesus with people with an entirely different worldview. This of course created turmoil in the early church as people accused both Peter and these other Jesus followers — now called “Christians” — of violating God’s laws.

Peter’s rebuttal is simple: The same Holy Spirit that guides us also guides these new Jesus followers.

The result was the order issued by the early church leaders that is recorded in Acts 15 that outlines how these new Jesus followers could be folded into the church.

This was a reversal of the pecking order concept where the old timers get to set the rules. Now the newcomers could create their own rules. In fact, it was the very rules themselves that lost their ability to shape culture. Rather, the Holy Spirit would somehow intervene in the lives of these others and help them to reshape their own cultures for Jesus.

Jesus says, “Be the one who gets pecked. It’s ok to be pecked because I have been pecked, too.”

So what other pecking orders exist within the church? What does the Bible have to say about these pecking orders?

Intergenerational pecking orders. But Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Don’t stop children from coming to me!” and also a few verses earlier in Matthew 18, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.” What does this mean? Sometimes people whose faith is fresher have a better approach to faith.

Favourite Bible Translation pecking orders. It is interesting that most of these debates are about English translations of the Bible, even though English is not one of the original languages. It doesn’t make sense if we are happy accepting other language translations but are only happy with one English one. What is important is that God says in Isaiah 55, “My word … will not come back to me without results.” What does this mean? God’s word works.

Favourite preacher pecking orders. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 — “some of you say, ‘I follow Paul’ and others say, ‘I follow Apollos,'” — talks about the teamwork involved in church ministry. What does this mean? Be a team player when it comes to church. Listen to a variety of voices. Engage in conversations rather than monologues.

Theological pecking orders. People love to fight about theology. I can remember to this day some of the theological arguments that I had more than 30 years ago — and I loved debating because I knew that I was right! That is the problem with theological debates because the goal is to find out who is right and who is wrong. The bible advises us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). What does this mean? Be prepared for the reality that you may not always be right!

Hermeneutical pecking orders. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation and for many years one hermeneutical system has reigned supreme: the grammatical-historical method. The problem is that this isn’t necessarily the default hermeneutical system used either in the Bible (eg. take a look at how Peter interprets scripture in at the end of 1 Peter 3) nor in various parts of the world. What does this mean? Sometimes other people know how to make sense of things too. It’s best to dialogue with them rather than condemn them.

Where is your place in the pecking order? How can I embrace being pecked rather than pecking others?

Note: A few days later I happened to see all the chicks huddled together because it was cold. I guess a common problem is more important than pecking each other! Is that why persecution sometimes makes the church stronger?

Is it ok to call my Pastor “Pas”?

Tagalog

Have you seen the post making rounds on FB? It says,

“Don’t call your pastor “Pas.” 1. It’s Unbiblical and 2. It’s Unprofessional.”

Really?

Pastor is a socially and culturally constructed word that means something different today than it did in the Bible times. In no place in the Bible are we commanded to call someone a “pastor.” In no place in the Bible in the role of pastor a professional role. (And while we’re at it let’s get rid of the notion that “the pastor is the highest calling.”)

Grammatically, “Pas” is a diminutive that is a term of endearment. It is actually more meaningful than the term “Pastor” (when used as a title). It implies a close relationship between the person and the pastor, a relationship where a spiritual leader has the ability to speak into the life of the parishioner. 

Calling is much more complex than “some are pastors and the rest are not.” The Bible tells us that all walks of life, all activities, and all people are able to minister to the glory of God. 

So if you are a pastor and someone calls you “Pas” accept it as the sign of love that it is — and be sure to love that person back!

Ok ba kung tawagang ko ang Pastor ko ng “Pas”?

Nakita mo na ba ang nashare na FB post ng ganito?

“Don’t call your pastor “Pas.” 1. It’s Unbiblical and 2. It’s Unprofessional.”

Talaga ba? 

1. Wala kang makitang talata sa Bible kung saan may utos na dapat tawagan nating mga pastor na “pastor.”

2. Wala ka ring makitang talata sa Bible kung saan may sinabi na ang mga pastor ay “professional.” 

Saan kaya galing ang mga ideya nito? Sa tingin ko ito’y nagmula sa kasabihang “The pastor is the highest calling.” Ang problema ay wala din ito sa Bibliya. Sa totoo lang, malalim ang konsepto ng pag-tawag o “calling” sa Bibliya. Ayon sa Bibliya, mahalaga sa paniningin ng Diyos ang lahat ng uri ng trabaho, lahat ng bahagi ng buhay, at lahat ng tao. Lahat ito’y pwedeng gamitin sa papupuri sa Panginoon. 

Bukod dito, ang paggamit ng salitang “Pas” ay isang term ng pagmamahal na ginagamit ito upang ipakita na may pagmamamahal ang isang tao sa kanyang espiritwal na lider. 

Kaya’t kung ikaw ay pastor at may tumawag sa iyo na “Pas” tanggapin mo na lang ito bilang tanda ng pag-ibig nila sa yo – at siguraduhing mong mahalin ang taong iyon!

Image by Ben White on Unsplash.

Thoughts arising from Mike Breen’s “How do you make Missional Disciples?”

I have been following with interest the current discussion led by Mike Breen regarding disciple making and the missional church. Since both missionality and disciple-making are personal interests of mine, I have enjoyed reading the blogs and reflecting on how they will reshape my understanding of church and mission.

Today, Roger Helland, posted on the BGC Alberta Facebook Page the following statement/question in response to Mike’s latest post:

As I reflect on Christian life and leadership, I am both convinced and convicted, that disciple-making is the goal, end result, and organizing practice to which I must commit. Disciple-making is the Jesus ordained mission of the church. But, it is built more in organic relationships and imitation. I need to take some time to explore Mike Breen’s questions, which are both convicting and compelling for me personally. If you want to read his blog, have a look, and offer your reflections about the need and nature of disciple-making. How would you see disciple-making flourish in your life and leadership, in your church, and in our district and denomination? Do you, does your church, have a plan for disciple-making? Is the plan working? What are the outcomes? How do you measure them beyond simply the number of baptisms?

Bums in pews is the traditional way that we have measured disciple making. If we have more attending church on Sunday morning then we are making disciples. Our goal: “Invite your friends to church.” Once you have done that, the discipling process goes through stages such as teaching them to tithe, getting them to teach Sunday School/lead a cell-group, getting them to join the choir or the board or the deaconesses, etc. By definition a church in this model means basically a Sunday-morning worship service. Thanks to Reg Bibby we realised that we were just circulating the saints and that more bums in my pews meant less bums in my brother’s pews. And of course we forgot the mission of the church and so we looked for another solution.

So then we thought, let’s look at baptisms as a guide. Our goal: “We are having a regularly scheduled baptism on _____. If you want to be baptised just let the pastor know and we will add you to the list.” This is considerably less “missional” than the previous “Invite your friends to church” (because it is primarily insiders who are asked to participate) but it does at least try to answer the “circulating saints” issue. But then, for example, I know of one specific church that has baptised literally hundreds of people. Unfortunately, you would be hard-pressed to find many of those baptised believers involved in a church today (much less involved in mission). And the church that was planted no longer exists.

So now we are looking at disciple-making as a guide. If disciples are being made then the mission is successful.

It seems to me that we have a problem of definition. For some, a disciple is someone who attends church on Sunday and gets involved in some part of that operation. I suspect that if you asked someone on the street to define disciple of Christ they would include regular Sunday-morning church attendance as one of the key factors. Baptism would be much farther down the list – I suspect that tithing would be higher in the minds of many 😉

So in answer to your question, Roger, “Does you church have a plan for disciple-making?” My answer would be, “Yes, all churches do.” Next question: “Is the plan working?” My answer would be “Yes, insofar as they each fit our own definition of what a disciple is.”

Obviously there are problems. But perhaps because we are both too specific AND not specific enough in our definition of disciple. Disciple means “bums in pews;” disciple means “baptisms. But disciple means far more than that. Mike Breen talks about “Dinners. Parties. Work days. Grocery store trips. Mission. Worship services. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Funerals.” This I think is really at the crux of the matter. For me it’s not so much what are we doing wrong as it is how can we enhance the disciple-making that our churches are already doing to be more holistic, inclusive, universalistic, biblical, accessible, understandable?

So the question is how can I get this going in my life so I can contribute to the disciple-ness of someone else, even as they contribute to mine?

What is the Good News? Certainly not this!

I first came across Bill’s story quite by chance doing some surfing through Wikipedia. It interested me a little but not enough to research any furhter. Then I came across this post on Anthony Bradley’s blog and got another perspective.

Reading this made me emotional. I was sad as I read Bill’s story. But when I got to his description of his parents’ religion I got angry. Let’s see what you think:

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, my parents are fundamentalist Christians who kicked me out of their house and cut me off financially when I was 19 because I refused to attend seven hours of church a week.

They live in a black and white reality they’ve constructed for themselves. They partition the world into good and evil and survive by hating everything they fear or misunderstand and calling it love. They don’t understand that good and decent people exist all around us, “saved” or not, and that evil and cruel people occupy a large percentage of their church. They take advantage of people looking for hope by teaching them to practice the same hatred they practice.

A random example:

“I am personally convinced that if a Muslim truly believes and obeys the Koran, he will be a terrorist.” – George Zeller, August 24, 2010.

If you choose to follow a religion where, for example, devout Catholics who are trying to be good people are all going to Hell but child molestors go to Heaven (as long as they were “saved” at some point), that’s your choice, but it’s fucked up. Maybe a God who operates by those rules does exist. If so, fuck Him.

Their church was always more important than the members of their family and they happily sacrificed whatever necessary in order to satisfy their contrived beliefs about who they should be.

I grew up in a house where love was proxied through a God I could never believe in. A house where the love of music with any sort of a beat was literally beaten out of me. A house full of hatred and intolerance, run by two people who were experts at appearing kind and warm when others were around. Parents who tell an eight year old that his grandmother is going to Hell because she’s Catholic. Parents who claim not to be racist but then talk about the horrors of miscegenation. I could list hundreds of other examples, but it’s tiring.

 

What right do these people have in calling themselves followers of Jesus? Then I was reminded of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who seemed to get it really wrong even though they so badly thought they (and only they) were getting it right. How does the good news get messed up so badly?

Here is the post in full over at Anthony Bradley’s blog:

Bill Zeller’s Painful Suicide Note–Sexual Abuse & PTSD + A Conservative Christian Home = Suicide – The Institute.

It does lead me to ask myself, however: How am I getting it wrong in my presentation of the good news? What are you doing right?

“Kenosis” is a theologically charged word that is loaded with hidden meaning … for me.

Kenosis is a theologically charged word that is loaded with hidden meaning. It appears in Philippians 2 and is used to describe the way in which Jesus humbled himself. It says he “emptied himself ….” Of course the question is always put from the perspective of Jesus: of what did he empty himself? I don’t know how many discussions that I have had related to understand this concept of “emptying.”

Today I had an insight. The context of the passage is not focused on defining for us exactly what it was that Christ emptied himself of. The context is actually a question: Of what will you empty yourself?

What is your understanding of kenosis? What needs emptying in your life?

Sometimes I Wish I Had A Magic Wand

In the popular series of movies Harry Potter, I observed an interesting phenomenon. Every time a character wants to perform some mundane task, such as packing their clothes, closing curtains, etc., all they do is wave their magic wand and the task is instantly done. To be honest, this seems a little bit cool. I mean who wouldn’t want to be able to finish those tasks in such an easy and painless way? I would probably use it for washing dishes and washing the car.

But then I got to thinking about my own relationship with God. Why doesn’t he give me that power? Why can’t I, who have been a part of his family for my whole life, just wave a wand (or perhaps just say a prayer) and have whatever it is instantly done? Of course, some of us have experienced God’s power in this way but this experience is by no means universal.

There must be something in those little tasks that God still wants me to experience. There must be something about washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, packing my clothes, or washing my car that somehow helps me in my relationship with God.

It reminds me of a line in the Star Trek movie Insurrection where one of the characters says something like, “We believe that when you make a machine to do a man’s job, you take something away from that man.”

What do I take away from myself when I try to find the easy way out?

What times do you wish for a magic wand? How can doing that thing yourself help you relate to God in a richer way?