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Why does everything seem to be about numbers and lists and steps?*

I was taking a minute this morning to peruse some of the headlining blog posts and the Twitter feed at Churchleaders.com and here’s a sampling of what I found:

Twelve Reasons Why Church Membership Matters

Ten Reasons Twitter is like a marathon

Ten Ministry Principles I Wish I Knew When I Started

Nine Reasons why you shouldn’t give up

Eight Leadership quotes and lessons from Super 8

Five Ways to Protect the Heart of a Leader

Five Distortions of the Gospel in our Day

Four Ways to Show Outsiders You Care

Three Stumbling Blocks to Forward Progress

Three Theological Foundations Shaping 21st Century Youth Ministry Strategy

Two Rules for Transparency in the Pulpit**

There was also an advertisement: 25 Proven Outreach ideas for your church.

Really?

And if I had looked harder, I’m sure I would have found 6 & 7, and maybe 11. (And believe me when I say there were other 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, and 12’s scrolling on the Twitter feed and on the news page.

I have to be honest with you: this bores me to tears. Does anyone really expect anyone to keep all those numbers or lists in their head? This is one thing I dislike about the generation of humanity now living: everything can be summed up in a bulleted list. Sometimes I think preachers or writers do these list things because Jesus isn’t interesting enough. That’s just my opinion.

I’d like to see someone write an article at Churchleaders.com titled: One Reason Jesus is Enough.

I just want to take a moment to express my angst. I hate PowerPoint. And I hate lists. And I hate 3, 4, 5, or any ‘point’ sermons. I’m sure they are helpful for someone, but I’m not interested. I have also decided that if I ever have the privilege of preaching weekly in a local church again, I will not ever use PowerPoint. This is only tangentially related to my point.

OK. That’s my technology rant. Here’s my real point: Do we really need 2 of this or 3 of that or 9 of these and 10 of those? Do we? Is this the point of how to be a ‘good leader’ or how to ‘do the job well’? Isn’t One thing enough? Or is that too simple for the church to comprehend? Or are leaders simply incapable to understanding anything apart from a bullet point, numbered list?

I’m reminded of a song by Rich Mullins: My One Thing.

Everybody I know says they need just one thing
And what they really mean is that they
need just one thing more
And everybody seems to think
They’ve got it coming
Well I know that I don’t deserve You
Still I want to love and serve You
More and more
You’re my one thing

Save me from those things
That might distract me
Please take them away and purify my heart
I don’t want to lose the eternal for
The things that are passing
‘Cause what will I have when the world is gone
If it isn’t for the love that goes on and on with

‘Cause who have I in Heaven but You Jesus?
And what better could I hope
To find down here on earth?
Well I could cross the most distant reaches
Of this world, but I’d just be wasting my time
‘Cause I’m certain already I’m sure I’d find

You’re my one thing (one thing)
You’re my one thing (one thing)
And the pure in heart shall see God***

I’m not putting down Churchleaders.com or the people who write there. I’m just asking a question: Is it too simple to say to the leader: Jesus is enough? Is it naïve to say only One Thing matters?

Frankly, I think too many people make it way too difficult to be a Jesus follower let alone a preacher in the church.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

*Don’t read too much into this article. Mostly I found it amusing that so many articles began with the idea that “Here is a Definitive List of [some important topic]“. It seems about as creative as stacking rocks.

**I have written out the word for the numbers due to a formatting glitch. The articles themselves use the representative symbols (i.e., 12 or 2 or 3, etc.)

***That’s only a portion of the lyrics. There’s more. Mullins may not have been making my point, but I like the song and wanted to include it.

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I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.

We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all loving, all kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name DIABOLOS, “the slanderer”.

Alexander Kalomiros, from The River of Fire

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Introduction

Contemporary Christians often feel Hebrews to be a strange and difficult book. There are, I think, two reasons for this. First, it seems to ramble about and discuss a lot of themes which have never made it into the ‘top ten’ of Christians discussion tops. It begins with a complex discussion of angels; continues with a treatment of what Psalm 95 really meant in talking about ‘entering God’s rest’; moves on to Melchizedek; lists the furniture in the Tabernacle; and ends with an exhortation to ‘go outside the camp’. Well, you see what I mean; were I a betting man, I would lay good odds that none of my readers have found themselves discussing these things over the breakfast table within the last month or two. Small wonder that most people don’t get very far with Hebrews, or let it get very far with them.—NT Wright, Following Jesus, 4

I think he’s probably correct in his assessment. There is a lot going on in the book of Hebrews—and most of the stuff going on is terribly complicated to understand. The arguments are complicated, the exegesis is tricky, and the logic is sometimes a maze of confusion. I’m not suggesting for a minute that I have it figured out entirely. Not at all. That is not to say, on the other hand, that I am completely wordless or thoughtless about this magnificent book.

Exegesis, Patterns, and the Big Idea

What I like to look for when I am reading is patterns: patterns of thought, recurring phrases, foreshadows, double-backs—you know, all those things we were taught to pay attention to when we were learning to interpret writing back in junior high. Reading through the book of Hebrews has given me an opportunity to notice a pattern repeated without fail over and over again in the book at least 14 times in the book. It’s a simple pattern and really helps us understand what the book is about or, at minimum, what small sections of the book are covering.

I add one small caveat: the book does, I believe, have an overarching point. I again agree with Wright who is very careful to write that

The book of Hebrews offers us, quite simply, Jesus. It offers us the Jesus who is there to help because he’s one of us, and has trodden the path before us. It offers us the Jesus who has inaugurated the new covenant, bringing to its fulfillment the age-old plan of God. And it offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us. (Following Jesus, 10)

Jesus is the Big Idea in Hebrews, without doubt. What I would like to demonstrate is a pattern for how we understand what the smaller arguments in the book of Hebrews and thus how they all tie together to help us understand the bigger argument of Hebrews, viz., that Jesus is enough.

I think if we break up Hebrews into small chunks and see how the author ends each argument then we will begin to understand the greater point he is making within each argument. That is, each argument he makes leads naturally to breaks and conclusions which are set off by key words or phrases. Then all of these smaller arguments, when clumped together, give us a grand picture of Jesus. Throughout the book, leading up to this grand climax, the author has taught us how to live—not leaving theology without a point because all good theology has, ultimately, the point of teaching us how to live because of Jesus. So we learn how to live because of Jesus or what Jesus has said or what Jesus has done and when the book is done, we can say, “Yes, I will join him outside the camp.”

Conformity to Jesus

Barth noted that “Christian speech must be tested by its conformity to Christ.” Unless ‘speech’ is a metaphor for an entire life, then I would expand upon his thought and say that Christian life must also be tested by its conformity to Christ. We have concocted all sorts of ways to judge one another (how often do we go to church, how much money do we give, how much do we serve, etc.), none of them without some merit and some with more demerit, but it seems to me that the best way to examine ourselves, the Bible way, is to judge ourselves and see if we, I, in fact conform to Christ. I’m fairly certain the apostle Paul wrote something to this effect at some point in Romans or Ephesians or both. And this only makes sense given that Paul did definitely write that we are being transformed into the image of Jesus, renewed in the image of our Creator who is Christ Jesus.

So all throughout Hebrews, the author will give frequent pauses, after short or lengthy expositions of Old Testament Scripture, and say something like, “OK, here’s a conclusion. I just said this and that, therefore, here’s how to check yourselves against what I just wrote.” Or, “OK, I just said this and this about Jesus, now, therefore, here’s the way you ought to be conducting yourselves.” He does this over and over again; I count at least 14 times where this pattern is used. The key, if you are reading in English, is to find the word ‘therefore’. In our English translations, this word will signify the need for the reader to pause and consider what has just been read. It’s a good exercise in exegesis that when you see the word ‘therefore’ to ask what it is there for.

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“I am thoroughly convinced that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it. But standing it may prove to be a more difficult matter than those who take their view of heaven from popular movies or popular preaching may think. The fires in heaven may be hotter than those in the other place.”

Dallas Willard, from The Divine Conspiracy

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A few weeks ago, a guy I knew died. He died in a house fire with his 5 month old son. His wife and two other small Children were coming back the next day from Florida.

At the same time, I was fighting bronchitis, a double ear infection and strep throat. I was falling behind on my school work. I was too busy and under-resourced. I was discouraged.

That Saturday I almost skipped church. I had received a few shots and was starting to feel better but I was still so far behind and discouraged and to be honest I was struggling with the “ug” question.  There was the death of a man who had sold his life for Jesus. His wife and children. There was my impending failure at school. There was just the over all “ug” of life catching up with me.

I didn’t skip church.

I went and it was awesome. I vaguely  remember what was preached. What I do remember was singing “It is well with my soul.” One particular line came down and hit me so hard, I almost had to sit down.

These particular words pierced my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! (Emphasis mine)

I grew up singing this song. It had never hit me like it did at that moment. Perhaps because I have a life time of failures to reflect upon now. I’m not really sure why but it was a time where God reached down and hugged me all at once. In a world of partial forgiveness, God’s love is perfect. It is redeeming. I bear my sin no more.

We can let go of our anger. We can let go of our hurt. It’s OK to struggle with ug questions of life. God is big enough to handle it.

Be blessed today as you realize that God has forgiven you wholly.

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There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place in the world of the church (blogdom serves as a microcosm of this phenomenon). It is marked by a careless attention to detail when it comes to Scripture which thus results in a profound misreading of Scripture to suit one’s own ends, to justify one’s own position, and to hammer to death those with whom we disagree. This phenomenon is, of course, proof-texting.

I heard a professor say it like this once: A text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof-text. Or, something similar to that. As I reflect on the way I was trained to read Scripture and exegete it, I see what the professor was getting at: the authors of the Bible did not write verses. Instead, they wrote books comprised of stories, poems, laws, Gospel and more. Paul did not sit down and write Romans 3:21. Paul sat down and wrote an entire letter to a church (or churches) in the city of Rome (1:7). In other words, what we call Romans 3:21 is merely (not minimally) part of a carefully crafted argument concerning God, the Scripture, and humanity contained within a much larger context. He wrote it to a specific people, at a specific time, and in specific circumstances.

Still, he did not write a single verse of Scripture. He wrote entire letters, the contents of which have been, through the years, utterly mangled in people’s attempt to justify their own belief systems in a sort of a priori kind of way: I have an idea, let’s see if I kind find a verse of Scripture to back it up! And, as it turns out, just about any idea we want to find in the Bible can be found in the Bible. And wow! The ideas are limitless. I never cease to marvel at the religions that have been constructed upon the foundation of one jot or one iota of one word of one verse and then given the name ‘Christianity.’

I have an idea about the Bible that is fairly simple and greatly eases the project of exegesis. Commenting on the nature of the hermeneutic used by Luther, Berkhof writes, “He defended the right of private judgment; emphasized the necessity of taking the context and historical circumstances into account; demanded faith and spiritual insight in the interpreter; and desired to find Christ everywhere in Scripture” (Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Louis Berkhof, 26-27). It’s in that last phrase that I find the most hope and, I think, that through the years it has been that piece that has stuck in my mind and heart more than any other piece of hermeneutics: Jesus is there in Scripture, and all I have to do is open my eyes, listen to the Holy Spirit, an adjust my priorities (so that I am looking for Jesus and nothing else).

So, we look carefully at Scripture and we see Jesus all over the pages, and in every story, without allegorizing or even putting too much effort into it. Paul did write, “But apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” Jesus made similar statements in Luke’s Gospel: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms” (Luke 24:44, cf. Luke 24:25-27). There are other instances too, for example John 5:36-47 and Acts 8:26-35—especially verse 34-35. That sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Even the book of Revelation, so often abused and misused and misunderstood is perfectly understood if we begin with the idea that it is (as it is in the Greek) ‘the Revelation of Jesus Christ’ (I take it as both an objective and subjective genitive) instead of as ‘the Revelation of John’ (as it is in English) or the ‘Revelation of how the end times will come about’ (as it is in so much popular fiction based on the book.

A wonderful example of what I am talking about is the letter we call ‘Hebrews.’ This short letter, surely one of the most beautifully written books in our Bible, is about Jesus—first to last. It is difficult to read Hebrews and come away with anything but a stunning picture of Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. I could go on and on and on.  All this is to say that I believe we spend far too much time looking for things in Scripture that are simply not there—and we are not meant to find them. When we read the Bible, we are meant to find Jesus.

Jesus is the point of Scripture. I heard it also this way: The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is Old Testament revealed. Cliché? Yes. True? Yes. “Jesus our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7; it’s kind of difficult to escape the sort of Jesus hermeneutic that Paul is using.)

But there is ‘tragedy’ in the church. Mafred Brauch writes of this tragedy, “…many who most passionately and stridently proclaim allegiance to the Bible and love for the inspired, authoritative Word of God often interpret and apply Scripture in ways that are abusive, thus distorting its mean and message…[C]onsequently, instead of releasing the transforming power from God and the treasures of God’s Word into the world in and through broken vessels of our presence and witness (2 Cor 4:7), we contribute to brokenness and abusiveness in our world” (Abusing Scripture, 18). Brauch goes forward with five specific ways we manage to accomplish this (the following paragraphs are direct quotes from Brauch):

A. We use [the Bible] as an instrument of bitter warfare, both within our own circles and against outsiders: we condemn, judge, malign, demean and reject. What does this say about the validity of the central message of Jesus—loving not only brothers and sisters but also neighbors and adversaries?

B. We announce that the Bible speaks the truth from God about human life and relationships, but then we undermine our commitment to that truth by using all kinds of biblical proof texts—often out of context and not in keeping with their original meaning or intent—in an effort to ‘prove’ to those with whom we disagree that we are ‘on the Lord’s side’ and they are of the devil (or at least very wrong!) Is this attitude and practice compatible with the spirit and teaching of the Jesus of the Gospels?

C. We use biblical texts selectively to build arguments for particular theological doctrines or biblical teachings, while conveniently ignoring biblical texts that stand in tension with our views.  Or we employ sophisticated (and often deceptive!) ‘exegetical gymnastics’ to eliminate tensions between and among diverse texts, or we reinterpret texts that are inconvenient and do not support our dearly held convictions or doctrines. What does this say about integrity in the work of interpretation?

D. We invest tremendous energy and time on matters that our Lord told us were not to be our primary concern (such as timetables of the end times) and spend too little time and energy on matters that both God’s prophets and our Lord, as well as his earliest followers, placed very high on their agendas—such as a passion for justice, peacemaking, concern for the poor and righteousness in human affairs. Does this not undermine our claim that the whole Bible is our authority?

E. In the midst of the confusing and distorting voices about human sexuality in our time, we champion Scripture’s call to holy living and morality, grounded in creational intention and covenant commitment. And so we must. But at the same time we often blithely set aside or ignore the cancers eating away at the communal life and witness of our churches—such as strife, bitterness, gossip, backbiting, greed, divisiveness—all named in the New Testament as incompatible with kingdom values (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 4:25-32; 5:3-5). Are we then not guilty of distorting the Bible’s claim on all areas of human life and community?  (All quotes are from Manfred Brauch, Abusing Scripture, 18-19.)

I don’t think Brauch is suggesting anything radical or out of the ordinary or, for that matter, new. What I do think he is suggesting is that we carefully examine ourselves and how we use Scripture, what we expect of Scripture, and what we are showing the world when we talk about Scripture. Let’s find a way to listen to Scripture, to seek Jesus who, from first to last, is the Mystery of Scripture.

Think about it: what would happen if we, the Body of Christ, consistently pointed to Jesus instead of our pet projects and pet theologies when we talk about Scripture? I wonder how much strife could be done away with in the church if we ‘used’ the Bible to talk about Jesus—which is what God used it for. Doesn’t it lay to rest a lot of controversy when we point to Jesus instead of ourselves? Seriously, isn’t the end of all hermeneutical adventures to find Jesus? I wonder how many churches could be planted if we preached Christ and him Crucified instead of something else? How many churches would not split if we were all on board that Jesus matters only? How many preachers would not lose their jobs if they consistently, weekly, perpetually preached about Jesus? Conversely, how many preachers would lose their jobs if that were all they talked about?

Sometimes I think that we talk about all the extra stuff because we are not brilliant enough to talk about Jesus without end. Or we get bored talking about Jesus so we have to talk about all that other stuff that is so beside the point. I’d challenge any preacher to put aside his plans for sermons about life, family, finances, heaven and hell and talk for a whole entire year about nothing and no one but Jesus. I contend that if we talked more about Jesus we could talk about the rest of it much, much less. Can we ever exhaust our conversation about Jesus? But we are not predestined to become like a theological system or an idea about life. We are, Paul wrote, predestined to become like Jesus (see Ephesians 1)—and God is, in fact, renewing and restoring in us the image of Jesus (wow, see Colossians; what else could this mean, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ, in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4); see also Hebrews 12:1-3 among others).

“The story of Jesus is full of darkness as well as of light. It is a story that hides more than it reveals. It is the story of a mystery we must never assume we understand and that comes to us breathless and broken with unspeakable beauty at the heart of it, yet it is by no means a pretty story, though that is the way we’re apt to peddle it much of the time. We sand down the rough edges. We play down the obscurities and contradictions. What we can’t explain, we explain away. We set Jesus forth as clear-eyed and noble-browed, whereas the chances are he can’t have been anything but old before this time once the world started working him over, and once the world was through, his clear eyes swollen shut and his noble brow as much of a shambles as the rest of him. We’re apt to tell his story when we tell it at all, to sell his story, for the poetry and panacea of it. ‘But we are the aroma of Christ,’ Paul says, and the story we are given to tell is a story that smells of his life in all its aliveness, and our commission is to tell it in a way that makes it come alive as a story in all its aliveness and to make those who hear it come alive and God knows to make ourselves come alive too.” (Frederick Buechner, “The Two Stories” in Secrets in the Dark, 85-86),

May we find Jesus in the Scripture, that the world may find Jesus in us.

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No, really! :-)

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I’ve been finding my way back recently. It’s not been an easy journey. I have chronicled my journey here and elsewhere. The road has been crooked and confusing. The journey has been filled with missteps and sidesteps. My feet have been tangled in weeds and soaked from stepping in potholes deep enough to hold melted winter water.

Sometimes we grope in the darkness and hope for a helping hand. Sometimes the hand is clenched, fist-like, and lands squarely on our jaw.

Therefore, when I approach Scripture these days it is not without trepidation and fear and trembling. I used to be a ‘pro,’ but the Lord was convinced that I need to be demoted to the minor leagues. He demoted me in dramatic and startling fashion. I have had to find a way to know God when I don’t have to know God. It’s hard to know that water quenches thirst when it’s on tap, much easier to know it does when you are in a desert. Still, as I walk back to the life I was ushered from, I begin to find my way back to the pulpit. That is, I find myself able and wanting to talk about Scripture from a particular point of view: the pulpit.

The view from the pulpit will never be the same for me again in this life. And that is probably a good thing.

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The short letter to the church at Ephesus has, for reasons not entirely unknown to my heart, captured my attention anew in recent days. Last year, it was from reading Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection. It was also due to a sermon series I heard at one of the two churches my family attends—the preacher did a masterful work exegeting Paul’s thoughtful, pastoral and prophetic words, bringing them to life inside the congregation.

I have realized much, lately, that I am hungry again. The letter to the church at Ephesus has startled my taste-buds like a fragrant and aromatic wine. It’s like tasting a sweet cake all over again for the first time. It’s like having an ice cold beer after cutting grass in the hot August sun. It’s like seeing my wife, gorgeous and majestic as she was, on our wedding day. It’s like waking up from a long illness and craving a tasty, sumptuous, and rich dinner. It’s like walking down the Emmaus Road hungry and finding oneself strangely satisfied, without ever having taken a bite, because Jesus was in our midst all along.

Do I have words to describe what water tastes like after walking thirsty across a desert for many, many days? What is a sound night’s sleep like after being awake for many days? What is a dreamless night after a year of nightmares? What is it like to finally beat up a bully who has been humiliating you day after day after day? What is it like to put on fresh socks after walking for miles barefoot on the jagged rocks? It’s like realizing again that our hunger is satisfied only by things we cannot feed ourselves. Taste and see, the Lord said. It’s no wonder he told us to taste and see. I gave up pop for Lent; water is delicious.

Yeah. That’s what Ephesians has been to me as I have awakened from my slumber and realized that Jesus has not been nearly as silent as I had previously thought.  I am hungry. I am thirsty. Ephesians has been good food, good drink, for me.

The other day, I was reading through chapter 1 again and I realized some important things about it. So I offer some tentative thoughts from chapter 1.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,  in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians, like pretty much all of the Bible, is about Jesus. It is really, truly difficult to avoid that idea. What I noticed is that God is working out a plan in Jesus. Read through these verses slowly and notice how many times he uses simple pronouns: he, him, his. Notice how often he talks of Jesus, writes his name, sings his praise. God has a lot to do through Jesus and he is doing it, has done it. God means to accomplish three main tasks as I see them here in chapter 1.

First, he means to bring us all together into complete unity (v 10). All things in heaven and earth under Christ. All of this is accomplished through the work of Jesus—this is his purpose in Jesus. Complete oneness of all God’s people, and all God’s places, in Jesus.

Second, he means to bring about our final redemption (v 14). And in the meantime, he has given us a promise, a seal, in the form of his Holy Spirit. Our redemption is through his blood (v 7).

Third, he means to once and for all, finally, to place all things under the feet of Jesus (v 21-22). This dominion begins with the church. We are the firstfruits of his rule and authority even though clearly all things are under his authority (Matthew 28)

That is brief and unfinished to be sure, and they should probably be expanded and finished. What is amazing is this: look how much the church is included in this work of God! Look at what he has done for us, how much he has included us in the mystery, how much he has invested in the church, how much authority he has given us already, how much he has promised us, and how he gone out of his way to make sure we are not entirely in the dark. We know what to expect of God, we know what his ambition and goal is: unity, redemption, dominion—all resulting and exalting God’s glory (‘to the praise of his glory’, 3, 6, 12, & 14).

I just finished reading David Platt’s as yet unpublished book Radical Together. He writes of what I believe is of utmost importance that many of our churches have yet to figure out here in this world (that’s not a blanket criticism, just a general observation based upon my own personal experiences in the church–and I’m probably limiting it to the Church of Christ/Christian Church). You see, the letter to Ephesus asks the church to be involved in some rather important and heady stuff—stuff we couldn’t plan, cannot finish, and cannot control. The letter also informs us that we have not been left helpless or powerless. Platt captures exactly my point:

As long as church consists of normal routines, and Christianity consists of nominal devotion with little risk, little sacrifice, and little abandonment, then we can do this on our own. But what happens when we give ourselves to something that is far greater than we can accomplish on our own? What happens when we dare to believe that God desires to use every one of our lives and every one of our churches to bring about kingdom advancement to the ends of the earth? We will find ourselves around every corner and at every moment dependent on his power and desperate for his grace as devote ourselves to his purpose. (129)

This is the God who calls us to abandonment and the freakishly terrifying idea of taking his Gospel to the masses of lost and hopeless people in this world. This is the God who gives us a spirit of wisdom and revelation that we ‘might know him better.’ And when we know him better, we clearly communicate Him to others. He has given us resurrection power to accomplish that very purpose that all things may one day be brought to complete unity, that one day he might finally redeem us, that one day all things might truly be brought under the power and rule and authority of Jesus—to the praise of his glory!

What’s so amazing is that God has included us in that plan. Amazing.

God does not involve us in his grand, global purpose because he needs us. He involves us in his grand, global purpose because he loves us…Let’s rise up together as selfless followers of a self-centered God, and let’s live—and die—like we believe our highest prize is his global praise. (Platt, 135)

To the praise of his glory.

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Those of you who read or write here are well aware of the fact that I am a huge, huge disciple of Eugene Peterson. Not in any sycophantic or worshipful way, but in the sense that he has been my pastoral mentor since I first ordained as a preacher nearly twenty years ago. When Eugene Peterson speaks (or mostly writes) I have a tendency to listen well. I trust his judgment because he is wise, learned, and has been a pastor all of his life. He understands people, especially those in Christ, and he listens well to what they say before he opens his own mouth. (One trait of Peterson’s that I have yet to master perfectly.)

When he endorses someone or something, it is not because he made a snap judgment, but because he has prayed through it. Peterson is not afraid to learn and grow (as is evidenced in writing his latest book, a memoir simply called The Pastor.)

So I happened to chance upon a short interview with Peterson here. And if we are willing to listen to what he says in the interview (only two small paragraphs or so), we might find he is saying something rather profound about the church–the church he has been a pastor in all his life. The interviewer, Timothy Dalrymple, asks Peterson: “What are your thoughts regarding Rob Bell’s book and the controversy it ignited?  What inspired you to endorse the book?” Peterson’s response is nothing short of beautiful:

Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister.  We have different ways of looking at things, but we are all a part of the kingdom of God.  And I don’t think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight.  I think that’s bad family manners.

I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says.  But I think they’re worth saying.  I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people.  I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement.  I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him.  He may not be right.  But he’s doing something worth doing.  There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal.  We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way.

Now I fully realize that this conversation will be ruined because all we will want to talk about is whether Rob Bell is a heretic or not. Or we will find a way to mince Peterson’s words until he is saying something utterly different than what he is saying. But I want to make a larger point that may otherwise go unnoticed: There is something wrong with the church.

That is Peterson’s point. The church is not the place where we arrive. The church is a collection of misfits who do not fit into this world–who have been brought together by love. The church is a people who worship and rejoice and cry and struggle and hurt and suffer and live and love together. The church is a collection of people, ragamuffins, on a journey (which is one reason why I think the Bible constantly portrays God’s people on the move), but too often the church is seen as a place from which kings and queens pontificate. And Peterson is right about how such an attitude affects the church.

We get so caught up in the ‘who is right and who is wrong’ and the ‘who is in and who is out’ that we totally miss the struggle and the beauty of church. Who can scream the loudest? Who are the power-brokers? I laugh at the words ‘Farewell, Rob Bell’ because I don’t know that Bell was ever invited in in the first place. I never cease to be amazed at who believes they are the arbiters of inness and outness in the church. Maybe Rob should have tweeted back, ‘Farewell, John Piper.’ But I suspect, given what little I know of Rob, that he probably would have tweeted something like, ‘Grace and Peace, John Piper.’

Peterson said, “I Don’t think that brothers and sisters should fight.” I agree. That’s the way the world does things, not Jesus; not the church.

There may come a day when the church will become what it was born to be, but I suspect until that time comes, there will be a segment of the church that will continue to guard the doors with AK-47’s and M-16’s. They will welcome some and dismiss others; they will hire some and fire others; they will talk about grace and live by the sword; they will act like they are the head of the church, and not Jesus. They will say as much that they want to hear from God, but when he speaks they will cover their ears.

And those who want a simple church where they can hurt and suffer together, question and dialogue, journey and struggle, will be left out because they simply do not have it all together. And in today’s church, where aesthetic beauty triumphs over filthy catacombs, no one wants the ugly to mess up the pretty.

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From here.

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