Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Between Crucifixion and Resurrection...

I realize that I'm posting off schedule, but I got a little inspired today. I hope you like it.

He was the one. He was the Messiah. He was the one that was going to lead Israel back to prominence, back to God.

And now he’s gone.

I just can’t believe it. I saw him do things that I could believe. Even seeing them with my own eyes, I had to convince myself that I wasn’t dreaming. I saw him raise the dead, cast out demons, make bread out of nothing. I watched in amazement as he took the fever away from my wife’s mother, calmed storms, and walked on waves.

I heard him teach about getting back to God. He talked about loving our neighbor. He talked just a couple of days ago about making the Temple into a house of prayer again. He was the one who was going to lead the way to God. He was going to remove the Romans and their lapdogs and set up God’s Kingdom.

And now he’s gone. I watched yesterday as he died on a cross. A cross! He was killed like a criminal, in between two thieves! He was the Messiah; he was the chosen one, and he was killed like all the others. Even John the Baptist was beheaded.

And I tried, I tried to get him to do it right. When he started talking about dying, I told him he had it wrong. And when he talked about that he came to bring a sword, I made sure I brought mine to the Garden two nights ago. I was ready. I knew that he’d set it up there and he was about to start the revolution. I didn’t know if he’d strike dead the Temple guards or convert them to our side.

But then he just went with them and that bastard traitor, Judas. I wasn’t going to let that happen. If he wasn’t going to start it, I was going to. I took it out and I slashed that servant of the High Priest. But Jesus even stopped that.

So I followed and when I got to the courtyard, I… I…

And now he’s gone. He like all those other Messiahs, dead by a foreign hand. I guess I could keep talking about the stuff he talked about. That was good, loving your neighbor, taking care of the poor, visiting the sick. That was good stuff.

I’ll probably go home now. I was making a good living as a fisherman. I was supporting my family.

I just know that I’m going to miss him, the twinkle in his eye as he got ready to heal someone. That look of righteous anger as he was going to confront those self righteous Pharisees. That smile of love when he got around children.

I’m really going to miss him…

Friday, March 25, 2005

I Get So Emotional…

I come from a tradition that tends to eschew emotional outbursts within the context of community (Churches of Christ). The worship tends to be fairly staid and lethargic, singing songs like “Amazing Grace” with a sense that it is neither amazing nor graceful.

As a result of this, as a junior in high school I started attending a charismatic church (that used to be a Church of Christ) where the worship was much more exuberant and you tended to leave the worship service on an emotional high, rather than feeling like you’d just buried your dog. This was a great experience for me, because I got to experience the joy and tears that I truly believe are a part of life as a human in a context of worship to God.

There was a negative side to this as well. If the songs didn’t strike me just so, or the leader didn’t do something I liked or approved of, or I didn’t get that emotional high that I’d come to expect, I felt like the worship wasn’t… really worship, I guess. If it didn’t satisfy me, it didn’t really make it to God.

I’ve been in this last place for a little while now. We are blessed at Otter Creek to have a worship ministry that is second to none. Brandon does a great job in trying to balance traditional and contemporary and trying to appeal to all sides. But for some reason, in the last three months or so, I’m just not feeling it.

I try not to be cynical about church and how we do it, but it’s hard. I hear things in the context of classes or sermons that I like, but there’s still this big question mark about the whole thing. I sometimes feel like I’m giving lip service to something. Like my heart really believes it, but it’s still trying to convince my head. And sometimes my body.

I believe God is there and I believe God deserves my worship and praise, simply for being who He is. I have experienced the grace of God in my life and I know that even though I feel somewhat distant and like I’m starting to intellectualize the experience of walking with Him, there is a mystical quality to it. (Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself? I am, kind of.)

Worship is important and I look forward to those times when worship affects me emotionally again. But I’m also starting to realize that if I put too much importance on that 90 minutes on a Sunday morning and how that affects me, I’m creating a new law. I’m saying that if I don’t get emotionally moved by worship, then that worship wasn’t effective. That’s wrong. Worship is a part of all Christians, and not just on Sunday morning or when we’re in the church building. It’s how I treat my wife and daughter and how I tip my waitress or treat my neighbor or judge him.

This Sunday, this Easter, God will get my worship. And God willing, that Monday after Easter, He’ll get my worship. And the day after that and the day after that. I won’t always get emotional about it, but I will worship the Lord of Heaven and King of Creation with my life.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll start to sense once again that supernatural acceptance of who I am in Him.

Sorry for the ramble. It's just where I am on this Good Friday.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Get Off Your Ass and Do Something

I’ve always loved the story of the Good Samaritan. I’ve always loved the idea of someone showing kindness to someone else, but only recently have I begun to realize the serious call this puts on our lives as Christians.

As I’ve read the Gospels, I’ve noticed that Jesus reserves his harshest criticism for those who think they’ve got their beliefs right, but do nothing to act on them. This parable is no different as there are two members of the Jewish clergy who pass by the beaten man. Jesus always had strong words to speak against the religious authorities whether in Temple, or calling them a brood of vipers, or here in this story.

And to make it even more remarkable is that a Samaritan is the one who is the hero. He’s the one who gets off of his donkey and cares for the man. An outcast; a heretic. And when Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” he’s telling a Jew to go and act like this Samaritan. To show mercy and kindness and compassion.

This is the call of the Gospel. This is the call of Christ. Jesus says here that our neighbor is anyone in need. Faith is good. Believing certain things seems important to Jesus. But if we do not act on those beliefs with compassion and love for each other, that faith is dead. If we don’t bother to get off our donkeys to care for people, we are not truly followers of the Christ whose name we purport to wear.

So I pose the question to the readers: What is our obligation to the poor? How involved to we get? Is donating funds enough? Should we get involved with the lives of the poor rather than kowtowing to the rich?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Why Church Sucks and Is Completely Necessary

Note: These thoughts were sparked by an article by Eugene Peterson called Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons. Well worth the read, particularly for the following quote:

But many Christians would look at this church and say it's dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.

What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don't get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

Over the last year or so, I’ve started to believe that as Christians, we’ve really failed at what church is supposed to be. As I look at the early church, it was a community of people. They gathered together, not because they felt some obligation to do so, or because if they didn’t they would be “disfellowshipped,” or because they felt like it would get them into heaven.

They did it because they were a community. They did because they wanted to be around each other. They ate together, they met in homes, and they got deeply involved in each others lives.

The way we do church now in the formal setting does very, very little to encourage this kind of closeness and intimacy. In our formal worship, we sit in pews and stare at the back of people’s heads and sing songs to the front and listen to the preacher and pass communion plates silently. Very little community happens in how our worship times are structured now.

But I believe that, even though we could do some significant things to reform how we do formal worship, community happens almost in spite of these issues. Church gives the opportunity for many different ages and types of people to come together (in theory). I’ve walked down the hallways of my church and seen older women giving parental advice to younger ones and setting up appointments for lunch. I’ve seen people arranging to meet at someone’s house for fellowship and study. Bonds form through this really screwed up entity that God still uses to accomplish His will. It’s an institution that has taken care of my family and that I strive to love, in spite of its considerable failings.

One of the great ironies of the Christian life that have become really apparent to me is that Christianity is an intensely personal journey that is only done really effectively in community. I find myself amazed that God designed things in such a way, but there you have it.

Next week’s blog: Get Off Your Ass and Do Something (based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Wow, so many visitors today! Well, I'm glad you all dropped by, people I've known as long as I can remember (Clark [yes, I am quite pathetic]) and those I don't know at all (Kim).

Anyway, welcome to my little world. If you get a chance, look back at some of my old stuff too. I always like to hear what people are thinking about the things I'm thinking.

And just to let you know, I post on Friday's. I'm not a posting machine, like some people.

The Other 99

Last night, Sheryl, Kinsey, and I attended a deal from Magdalene Ministries, which I would take the time to explain, but Clarissa Cox did a much better job. Long story short, it’s ministry to women who have been drug abusers and prostitutes, helping them get off the streets.

Anyway, I was thinking about stories and the power of God’s grace told through the stories that the three Magdalen ladies told us last night.

This may not describe anyone else, but having been a Christian basically my entire life, sometimes I don’t feel like I have a story. I’ve never done drugs, I don’t smoke (well, a cigar a couple of times a year), I don’t drink (well, a glass of wine a couple of times a year), I wasn’t abused as a child. I have my little quirks like everyone else (mom disfellowshipped from the church I attend now; going to a charismatic church for a while), but I don’t feel like I have that big dramatic story of God’s grace acting in my life or a Damascus road experience that I can use as a springboard in the sharing of the Good News.

I think a lot of that is driven by desire for drama. You know, we watch our big dramatic shows and love the stories told on them. And we love the stories that people tell. But I think that the stories of faithful people are just as uplifting, if not as “exciting” as the others. That the 99 sheep have stories to tell that are just as important as the one. God’s faithfulness to us is something that we should talk about, and we can talk about those. Not to brag because (insert self-righteous voice here) “I’ve never fallen away, like that rotten tax collector,” but to show that life with God is possible without the awful horrible things that can happen in life.

OK, am I way off base on this or just slightly out in left field? Thanks for reading this, whoever’s out there.
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