Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to All!
I did want all of you to know that the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I am still alive and I am actually writing a lot - just not much on the blog. So I'm writing a short hello to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and to update you on my activities this fall.

I am on the home stretch of my Doctor of Ministry program and am trying to finish off my thesis by the deadline - which would be the end of January. I have completed about 80 pages so far (out of a total of around 200 pages or so). I do have my work cut out for me. I plan to continue devoting as much time as necessary to try to complete my thesis on time.

The schedule is roughly as follows. I need to hand in my final draft sometime before the end of the first week of February. Then when it is returned, I will need to make the necessary corrections and get a final good copy ready with proper formatting and printed on acid free paper, etc., etc.

The thesis defense will be scheduled sometime in March and I will need to travel to Boston for that. Then if everything goes well my graduation is scheduled for May 9th amidst many hallelujahs and much rejoicing and "I told you so's" and "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes" type comments.

The working title of the thesis is "The End of the World as we Know It: New Expressions of Church for the 21st Century"

I also want to apologize for missing a number of opportunities for blog entries. I made almost no comments about the American (or Canadian) elections. I also haven't been checking out what others have been saying.

I have put many of my regular activities and connections on hold but hopefully I can make it up and do some significant reconnecting come February and March. Promises promises!

Many Blessings
May Jesus continue to be the reason for the season in your lives.
Merry Christmas and a Christ filled New Year.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Take This Phone and Flush It

Are you on your cell phone right now?

It seems like everyone is. But I don't like it. With the legislation banning cell phone use in cars being introduced in Ontario things may change - at least while you're on the road. Have you ever done your own informal survey and counted the number of people talking on cellphones while in their cars? I've done it a few times and each time the number of people on cell phones while driving their cars always outnumbers the ones who are not on cell phones.

With these unlimited plans some of the usage gets a little creepy. I know someone who was on the phone with someone literally all day - they called and then just left the phone on - talking once in a while as they were vacuuming or preparing their meals. There were some long silences but also lots of little chatter about nothing - they were just together all day. I don't get that.

I also don't like the interruptions so I often ignore calls - especially if I'm with someone else. That's why caller ID is so good. I almost always ignore "Blocked Caller ID" calls - if someone really wants to get in touch with me they can leave a message - almost no one does. And i never answer any 1-866 or 1-800 numbers - that's just somebody trying to sell me something.

I realize it's become a reality of our lives but I will not go easy into that dark night.

I was encouraged today when I read this little article by Lauren Winner (who wrote Girl Meets God). It was fun to read.

Monday, November 03, 2008

You Are What You Watch

I just heard the results of a study done on adolescent and young adult behaviours.
I looked up the study and found that CTV posted something about it on their website.

The report starts like this ...

"Groundbreaking research suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among those who have tamer viewing tastes."

So what you fill your mind with and spend your time looking at will influence your behaviour? Say it isn't so! Well actually studies show (like James Potter) that most people (88%) actually believe that what they watch or listen to in the media doesn't affect them. However, most of those same people believe that it does affect other weaker people and that those weaker people ought to avoid certain violent or otherwise offensive programming.

New neuroscience research, however, suggests that what we do in this physical world determines who we become. The model of a spiritual soul that is influenced by one category of our weekly activities – worship, prayer, church attendance, etc. – but not by our more mundane daily activities (like watching tv or playing video games) is becoming more and more ridiculous. This neuroscientific research has shown that:

"By repeatedly performing some behaviors we can change the function of our brain and even reshape it. Furthermore, repeated activities such as observing or reading about the behaviors of other people can change the physical shape of the brain and the strength of the neural impulses that correspond to the observed behaviors. The importation of external knowledge, feelings, morals and attitudes through sensory experience has been shown to change the shape and functioning of the brain."

"As an example, in London England taxicab drivers must spend two years learning every street, boulevard and cul-de-sac before they can begin to drive. When they began their training the hippocampus of these drivers was normal in size and density. This area of the brain is responsible for our sense of direction. After two years of intensive training, the hippocampus of these drivers was larger and denser than it had been, and it was also larger and denser than the hippocampus of comparable non-cabbies (Maguire et al., 2000). Intense memorization and training altered the hippocampus structure of these drivers. Considering this change from a different perspective, we could say that changes in the brain as a result of repetitive behaviors may reshape a person’s soul!"

[Much of this stuff on the function of the brain is from an article written by friends of mine Paul and Cahleen Shrier called Mirror Neurons and Visiting the Sick: A Neuroscientific Exploration of John Wesley’s Means of Grace.]

So we can reshape our brain by learning. The same research shows that our behaviours also reshape our brain. We change our brain by what we habitually do. We used to call that "developing a good habit." Now science proves it.

Actually, almost 300 years ago, John Wesley postulated that we can become sanctified by our repeated practices of spiritual discipline. Wesley’s theology of sanctification, highlights his role for "the means of grace" in sanctification, and his belief that acts of mercy, such as visiting the sick, allow God’s grace to sanctify us.

Some of the outward signs, words or actions that Wesley included in his means of grace were prayer, searching Scriptures, the Lord’s supper, gathering together in worship, and also acts of mercy towards others. Wesley believed that love of God and love of neighbor could not be separated. Therefore, acts of piety such as worship and prayer will increase a person’s love for neighbors, while acts of mercy such as visiting the sick and prisoners, providing others with food and clothing, will increase a person’s love of God.

He wrote that those who neglected acts of mercy “do not receive the grace they otherwise might.” Further, he argued that those who fulfill the acts of piety may still become weak and feeble in their Christian walk, because they have neglected acts of mercy.

Maybe the author of the Book of Hebrews was right when he said in chapter 12:

2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

He started that section off with:

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Fix our eyes on Jesus - great advice (an imperative really) in this media murky societty, and ...
Run your race with perseverence
Get rid of the stuff that tangles you up.

The truth still echos through our culture.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Behaving Before You Belong or Believe

I've been reading a chapter by Alan Kreider in a book called The Origins of Christendom in the West - fascinating stuff really. He speaks about the erosion of deeply Christian behaviour in the church from the second century or so until the fifth or sixth century. He's really the guy who coined the phrase "Belong, Behave, Believe" (after Grace Davie who wrote a book about the British Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing before Belonging).

He makes a statement on page 3:
"Christendom was the product of millions of conversions. In the early centuries, becoming a Christian entailed a many-faceted change which involved a rupture with conventional values: the converts’ beliefs, belonging and behaviour were all expected to change. To foster this change, the church developed a process of catechesis and ritual which culminated in the cathartic experience of baptism. "

Baptism and entrance into the church during the first couple of centuries did not occur until after behaviour had changed or until there was absolute certainty that conversion had really occurred. This sometimes involved a three to five year adult catechism period. I wonder what that would do to church growth in the 21st Century? Probably slow it down at the beginning but then I think it would really start speeding up.

Another comment:

"Thus conversion was bound to challenge more than a person’s mental ruts or philosophical categories; it was bound to be more than a Glaubenswechsel or a ‘reorientation of the soul of an individual.’ Indeed the change in belief was often quite secondary to the change in behaviour. People were first attracted to the Christians, not by their ideas, but by their distinctive behaviour and/or by the mysterious spiritual powers that seemed to be among them. … Early Christian writers often commented tht people were drawn to inquire about the faith by observing Christian behaviour."

To explain it further:

"Conversion required something deeper [than experience or attraction]. It required the ‘candidates’ – those who had been impressed by the Christians’ exorcisms (i.e. power encounters) or question-posing lives – to submit themselves to a journey of multi-dimensional change. The catechetical programmes that emerged were developed to superintend this change and to ensure that it was genuine. In the fullness of time, this journey would culminate in baptism as the candidates died to their old selves and were reborn. Then and then only, would the process of conversion be complete."

What happened?

"In the early centuries of the church, we have noted, conversion entailed a process of resocialization which taught converts the skills and understanding necessary to live the deviant life (i.e. different from early Mediterranean culture) of an alternative society; and this required of every candidate a change of life. Now, after Constantine, the alternative society was becoming society itself; and conversion was enabling the now deviant pagans to shape up, equipping them to conform to the now normal norms of a Christian society. As this happened, the processes of conversion changed."

"Significantly the subject matter that they were taught was shifting from earlier patterns. The teaching of Jesus which had been central to early catechesis had now in (the Edict of) Milan (i.e. post 313 AD) been supplanted by stories of the Old Testament patriarchs and behavioural guidance from the proverbs, and the stories and examples of Jesus had been supplanted by stories and examples of the saints. Meanwhile the formation of Christian conduct had come to be replaced by a concentration on the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed."

The Results were predictable:

"In Constantine’s baptism, the church had required the Emperor to change his lifestyle; in Volusian’s baptism (a century later), there is no hint that conversion required a respectable aristocrat to change - whether in his attentiveness to the needs of the poor, in his attitude to violence, or apparently in the opulence of colour of his dress (i.e. wearing purple signified a governmental position which Christians and also many in government had felt was incompatible with following Jesus). It is hardly surprising that in Rome the result was a respectable aristocratic Christianity."

We certainly see that in the current presidential race. We actually see it in many of our churches and even in our own lives. I have been asked countless "ethics" questions. Can I still do this (fill in the blank) and be a good Christian. As Rodney Clapp says in Peculiar People:

“The question is no longer ”How can we survive and remain faithful Christians under Caesar?” but now becomes “How can we adjust the church’s expectations so that Caesar can consider himself a faithful Christian?””

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wondering About the Church

I've been following the discussion at the Jesus Creed about people checking out Catholicism here and am still fascinated. I’m still working through all this in the context of where the church is actually going in the grand scheme of things. I often have a callous and cavalier attitude toward all church structures and traditions and am convinced that we don’t really have a detailed biblically mandated structure to follow. I've also been doing my share of deconstruction - wondering exactly what should be part of church and what shouldn't - both biblically and historically and sociologically and Holy Spirit guided -ly. So I’m doing some wondering aloud here …

There are a couple of wonderings here – mostly out of ignorance. I wonder if the RCC and EO hierarchies are sufficiently staffed to sustain a huge influx? One hears about the paucity of “vocations” and the scarcity of new young priests. Is there sufficient interest in this generation to staff the potential growth indicated by this interest we’re talking about? Are those expressing interest actually pursuing ordination? Or as I mentioned above is it more about a spiritual search that is consumer oriented.

My second wondering: Is this combination of factors (interest in RCC/EO, lowering of denominational walls, deconstructionism, consumerism, general interest in spirituality, lack of trust and commitment to organizations and institutions, the Emerging church, etc) leading us to a spiritual landscape where there are a few stable towers of hierarchical ecclesiology (the Catholic traditions on one hand and the mega church phenomenon on the other - plus a few reformed holdouts) and then the teeming masses of small groups, house churches, new monastic orders, aging and fading mainline congregations, each consuming religion where they want. Maybe the parallel is the emergence of the super store and the disappearance of the mom and pop shops. Some people will still be fiercely loyal to their neighbourhood stores but most will shop where they get the best selection and the lowest price.

Or maybe a better explanation is that we are going back to the pre Reformation days (sociologically not theologically) whereby there are the cathedrals, where major religious events happen and also the many small folk religions and superstitious practices and beliefs (remember I am speaking metaphorically here).

Any body done some reading or writing on this?

Catholic and Emerging?

Scot McKnight has observed that many college aged people are exploring the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions. He has posted about it on his blog here.

I've found it rather interesting in the light of the last post about the Millennials being dissatisfied with church as we know it. There is a deep interest in Jesus and in spirituality in general but some are finding a hard time expressing it or finding it expressed in typical Evangelical churches. The post is worth reading (so I'm quoting some of it below) but the comments and responses have been very interesting.

Here are some of Scot's comments ...

Paradoxically, I see this as part of the emerging movement. One of the themes of the emerging movement is made up of several threads: weariness with evangelical bickering, a yearning for liturgical form, and an awareness of the value of the ancient fathers of the Church. But instead of pursuing the vicious radical low church ecclesiology we see in some writers today, which is evangelicalism on steroids, these young students move out of evangelicalism with some emerging ideas and return to the ancient church traditions.

How do you explain it? Here is the beginning of my thoughts:

These kids come to college with:

1. No ecclesiology to speak of in their low-church evangelical experience.
2. Complete ignorance of the first 1500 years of the Church.
3. A chaotic postmodern culture in search of anchors.
4. Pastors who act like popes and read the Bible authoritatively with reckless disregard for anything prior to 1500.
5. Professors who each interprets the Bible for himself (or herself if they are lucky to have a woman reading the Bible).
6. Learning to read the Bible for themselves … again with little regard for anyone or any tradition.

And… then these students …

1. Land upon Ignatius and Irenaeus and Athanasius, each of whom materially shaped what we believe.
2. Are told by professors how important these great thinkers were.
3. They see the budding rise of early Catholic and Orthodox thinking in these writers.
4. Know that Nicea is not only a good set of ideas but something you better believe or you get kicked out.

In other words….

Everything in favor of thinking EO or the RCC just might be the way to go.

And I suspect they have friends, good solid mature spiritual friends, who are EO or RCC.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Millennials and Church

My niece wrote a little piece on Millennials in the church. I really liked it so I thought I would post her introduction. I think it really captures the flavour of this next generation of Christians: passionate about God but disappointed with the institutional church.

I called my brother this week.

A freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, he’s the epitome of this generation’s busy youth. Besides his studies at this Ivy League school, he’s involved in the gospel choir, the running club, the science department’s research lab, and a local church. When I called, it was one in the morning (Eastern time,) but he laughed when I scolded him for being awake: “Alison, this is early!”

Despite his age, my brother is one of the wisest persons I know. I often call him to get advice, to complain about my boy problems, to discuss politics, or to debate theology. This time, though, he was more reserved. And, after our unimportant small talk, he spoke with an exasperated sigh.

“I don’t know if I can do this much longer,” he said.

"Do what?” I asked.

“This, this - church thing,” he replied. “It’s so boring – the same thing every week! Will it be like this for the rest of my life? Can I put up with it for that long?”

At that moment, I didn’t know what to say. I knew I should encourage him, tell him it would get better, push him to “stay strong”… but I couldn’t. Frankly, it’s because I feel exactly the same way. And, I’ve felt this way for a while.

If the truth were told, I’m tired of going to church. In fact, I dread Sundays. To me, they represent three hours of boredom. I’m tired of listening to a pastor speak at me for 45 minutes (from my 20+ years of attendance, I can usually predict the outcome of his message.) I’m tired of “dressing up” to worship. I’m tired of wearing a plastic smile. I’m tired of seeing our corrupt leaders on the nightly news. I’m just tired.

And, I’m not alone. Besides my brother and I, there are millions of people in the United States today who are fed up with the state of the American church. Statistics show that people aren’t interested in traditional Christianity – both inside and outside of the church. Most importantly, there’s a generational gap that’s growing increasingly larger as time goes on. 

The millennials (the generation just hitting adulthood) are the least churched generation in this nation’s history. And for some reason, institutionalized churches have been unable to successfully attract or retain most of them. Current church programs aimed at the millennials are not working. If the American church wants to survive into the future, they must be flexible enough to re-shape their current structure to be more relevant and applicable to this generation’s youth and the next generation’s leaders.

Thus, young people are leaving the church and turning to other sources for spiritual satisfaction. Within Christianity, three new trends have evolved: Churchless Christians, the Emerging Church Movement, and House Churches. By engaging in these options, some people have found the satisfaction lacking from their typical church attendance. The American church must learn to be open to such new ideas if it wants to survive in the future.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ancient Hebrew Stone Tablet Affirms Resurrection

Here’s an interesting piece. In the midst of discussing scripture and issues about the Messiah with my Jewish neighbours there comes this announcement about the nature of the Messiah – that is actually already eight years old. Inconvenient truths travel slowly. It comes from a number of reports in newspapers (Haaretz, Israel Today and The New York Times, The French Press and the Jewish Journal) and was reported in Joel Rosenberg’s blog

Ancient Discovery Challenges Tradition

At an event marking the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Israel Museum unveiled an ancient stone tablet that had been unearthed in the region of Jordon, eight years previously. The tablet, likely dated shortly before the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago, contains 87 partial lines of ancient Hebrew, which may well provide authentic evidence substantial enough, because of its pre-Christian reference for suffering, death and resurrection, to challenge traditional Judaism as it relates to Jesus Christ and Christianity. Although the tablet requires more scrutiny, initial extensive examinations are proving to be very encouraging. Messianic believer and New York Times best-selling author Joel Rosenberg, widely acclaimed for his prophetic insight, said that the discovery “strongly suggests that religious Jews of the day were expecting the coming of a Messiah who would suffer, die, and be resurrected three days later. Most Rabbis and other Jewish scholars have long argued that the death and resurrection of a Jewish Messiah was a “Christian” invention, not part of long-established Jewish thought or Biblical teaching. But [this news] has a lot of [Jewish] people asking: Are Jews really supposed to believe their Messiah will actually die and rise again, and was this really Orthodox religious thinking before the time of Jesus?”

The tablet’s text will help to validate, according to leading Israeli Bible scholar, Israel Knohl, that: “a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus….[the tablet proves that] what happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and His followers based on an earlier messiah story.” Notably, Mr. Knohl’s lecture at the anniversary event is entitled: “The Gabriel Revelation and the Birth of Christianity.”

Tsvi Sadan, an Israeli theologian and also a Messianic believer said, “One can agree or disagree with Knohl’s conclusion, but the persistence of one of the leading Old Testament scholars in Israel today [Israel Knohl] to prove that the death of the Messiah for Israel’s sake is not a Christian innovation is commendable in light of the tenuous relationship between the Jewish people and Jesus.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Addendum)

Someone has questioned my assumptions about the role of stewards in the first century CE in the post I just published.  I make the assumption that the steward in the parable can actually be be commended or held responsible for good behaviour because although he was actually using someone else’s money he still had the authority to make decisions about rents and profits. Therefore an explanation is in order concerning how much authority the steward actually had as he took charge of the rich man's accounts.  I believe that he did have the ability and responsibility to act – and with almost complete autonomy. It would have been the steward who set the rents and collected the debts – or actually overcharged the tenants in his desire to make his master wealthy and increase his master’s honor (and therefore his own). That situation was common in first century well-to-do households. A quote from another source (a real book and a first century expert) might help my position here.

I have been reading Ritva William’s book Stewards, Prophets and Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA 2006). It has provided a wealth of insight on the patriarchy and patronage system in place in the first century. A few quotes should make the situation with the steward and his master’s money more clear. First she quotes from another author:

"In the "limited good" world of the first century Mediterranean ... seeking "more" was morally wrong ... Because the pie was "limited" and already all distributed, an increase in the share of one person automatically meant a loss for someone else. Honorable people, therefore, did not try to get more and those who did were automatically considered thieves. Noblemen [like the rich man] avoided such accusations of getting rich at the expense of others by having their affairs handled by slaves [the steward]. Such behavior was condoned in slaves since slaves were without honor anyway.”
Malina, Bruce and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, Minneapolis. 2003 p.124

Williams continues with these comments:

"Here we see one reason why the majority of private and public oikonomoi [the Greek word for steward] were of servile origin. Slaves were not only regarded by their elite masters as lacking the appropriate sensibilities for honorable activities, they were also actually encouraged to develop the money-grubbing attitudes and behaviors that their masters despised. Slaves and lower status persons (clients [or tenants]) were socialized to believe that their “well-being was completely wrapped up in the well-being and benevolence of the patron. Slaves and freedmen who had been put in charge of their patron’s wealth were proud [and honored] when they were able to increase it.  (p.58)

The unjust steward actually does have significant control over the financial debts owed by the tenants. Others have also asserted this as well - but for different reasons.  I believe Williams gets it right when she asserts that the first century stewards were more like "high roller" profit maximizers [fund managers?] as opposed to hesitant, obsequious "go-fers" [domestic staff like a butler or cleaning lady].

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Christian in America (and Canada)

In light of the American election race a couple of things came up that I thought I would share.  I have been comparing Canadian approaches to church and Christianity and politics with American attitudes and approaches and some of my musings I posted here while I was in Boston.

The first little thing was this hilarious picture that my son sent me.

Producing a card that said "Keep Jesus Canadian" just wouldn't make sense and just wouldn't be funny. But in so many ways Americans really do have their own Jesus.

This comes to light in the second thing I saw this week. In the latest issue of Time Magazine both McCain and Obama share a bit of their faith journeys. Barack Obama is pictured praying while holding hands with Rick Warren. John McCain has a picture of him reverently bowing his head. They also make a few personal comments. Allow me to quote a few lines.

McCain Relates a story from his time in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp: "On Christmas Day I was standing in the dirt courtyard when I saw that same guard approach me. He walked up and stood silently next to me not looking or smiling at me. Then he used his sandaled foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas, even in the darkness of a Vietnamese prison camp."

This is a great story celebrating the cross of Christ and the true meaning of Christmas. But if a Canadian politician shared the same story he/she would be censured for their exclusive statements about religion - implying that he/she would not be inclusive or fair in their treatment of people of other religions.

Barack speaks of his own faith story this way: "I began my Christian journey over 20 years ago, as a young man fresh out of college. And since that time I've been serious not only about deepening my relationship with Christ but also about the way that all Americans can live together in our diverse, pluralistic society. Faith shows us that the weak and defenseless are not a problem but rather a priority, and a chance for us to live out the message of the Gospels."

Wow! I commend both of them for speaking frankly about their faith. To be honest, it sounds like Obama has a more personal faith - more in line with what Evangelical Christians would affirm whereas McCain's faith sounds a bit more "mainline Protestant." But that's only my view from a distance.

The sad thing is that in Canada comments like that would have marginalized both candidates. I honestly think that many Canadian journalists and more left leaning politicians believe that a strong faith makes you incapable of running for government positions. Actually it is only strong Christian faith that disqualifies you. Being Jewish or Muslim or Sikh or a devotee of Wicca would be acceptable options.

Parable of the Shrewd Manager

We discussed this parable during church this past Sunday. It’s a tough one to understand and we didn’t quite resolve it so we decided to give it another week and take a fresh look at it next Sunday. It seemed like a good way to get back to the blogging. I’ve gone around this parable a few times and looked at it from different angles but I think I figured out a very good interpretation (if I do say so myself).

Unfortunately I didn't have it figured out last Sunday and had made a number of wrong assumptions.  For the Hills gang I apologize.

If you want to look at a couple of other guys who took a stab at it you can check them out here or here or here - not that I necessarily agree with any of them.

The Passage

Luke 16:1-15
The Parable of the Shrewd Manager
1Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.  2So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
3"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
5"So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
6" 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. 
 "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'
7"Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' 
 " 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. 
 "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
8"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
13"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
14The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

The Characters

The Rich Man
– he is the householder, the landowner, the patriarch, the patron, the “paterfamilias”
The Steward
– the household manager (oikonomos), a slave elevated to a position of responsibility in the rich man’s household – in a less wealthy home the wife would normally have been the household (and therefore financial) manager
– this steward is called unjust ("dishonest" in the NIV but more properly translated "unrighteous")
- it was the job of the steward to make money for his master - so it was often the steward who determined rents, collected them, reinvested them, etc.
The Tenants/Debtors
- they owe oil and wheat (in the two examples given) to the householder which means that they could be paying back loans or actually paying rent - it was also likely that they were paying too much rent

The Story

Jesus tells a parable about a rich land-owner, his manager who had complete responsibility for the estate, and certain tenants who owed rent to the land-owner. The land-owner accuses his manager of dissipating or squandering his wealth, and tells him to give an account for his work as a steward in his household. The steward (whose position as a slave was precarious even at the best of times) realizes that he is about to become jobless and homeless, but he’s not prepared to do manual labour or beg, so he hatches a cunning plan. He calls in each of the tenants. (Although only two are specifically listed they are only representative of the many more he went to. The KJV says “every one of his lord’s debtors.”) He takes out each one’s contract, filled out in the tenant’s handwriting and signed by himself. The manager gets each tenant to reduce the amount owed, signs it himself, and feels thoroughly satisfied that although he may have lost his home and his job, he has made some new friends who now owe him substantial favours. He has also made life much easier for these lower income, lower class families. He may actually have extended to them justice.

The Problem

The Parable is difficult to understand.
On the surface it seems like the Rich Man commends his steward for cheating his master out of what he is owed to save his (the steward’s) own skin. And then Jesus commends him for using money (actually someone else’s money) to make friends. It seems that the dishonest (more properly “unrighteous”) steward is being commended for his dishonesty. It becomes even more difficult when Jesus instructs his hearers to use worldly money (actually it’s “unrighteous" mammon the same word "unrighteous" or "unjust" used to describe the steward) to make friends here on earth so that they will have eternal dwelling places. The problem is that it seems like Jesus is telling us to be dishonest and to use someone else’s money to buy our way into heaven. But that is only a problem when we make personal application too quickly without understanding the point of the story.

The Explanation

To make sense of this parable, we need to be able to understand a number of issues. We begin by trying to understand the context in which Jesus is speaking this parable. We have to transport ourselves out of our 21st Century understanding of stewardship and into the first century situation of Jesus hearers.

The main clue to understanding the parable is near the end of the section in verse 14 where it says “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.” Jesus is speaking the parable to the Pharisees and challenging their lifestyles of power, wealth and influence.

It is important to understand who the steward is and what his job is. The steward’s job was to manage the affairs of the household or the estate of the rich man. This estate included people who worked the land or operated a business under the patronage and protection of the householder (the rich man). Through the rich man’s benevolence (or patronage) the tenants were able to ply their trade and in return they paid him rent (in the form of oil and wheat and other things that they may have produced). The steward was the manager – like Joseph in the book of Genesis - second in command only to the householder himself.  He was the communication hub, the leadership conduit for the entire operation. He conveyed the wishes of the master to the tenants and implemented them. The steward was able to bring blessing and justice to the debtors – even though he was a lowly steward – essentially a slave with an office job – because he had the resources of the master under his control.   It was just as easy for him to direct the resources of the estate to his own selfish ends – which he was accused of doing.

The parable is a stinging indictment of the Pharisees, who could be seen as the rich man in this parable – the ones with power, wealth and influence. They had religious authority, political authority and financial authority. They were in effect the local government and had significant influence in all affairs concerning the Jewish people – and could enforce the law in every area including the death penalty (two examples: the woman caught in adultery and the stoning of Stephen). They loved money and placed heavy burdens on the Jewish people – not only with the keeping of the Law and the religious traditions but also in the area of taxation. The peasants (the tenants) were required to bring the firstfruits, their tithes and offerings, and were required to pay a temple tax. They also were required to bring proper offerings to the temple but since many came from great distances they purchased their offering animals in the temple courts. They were of course required to pay for those offerings with the official temple currency which was only available – for a small fee - through the temple moneychangers.

The Real Explanation

However, the real key to the parable is seeing the Pharisees as the steward – for they were actually God’s stewards (only using God's authority, privilege, influence and wealth). God is the landowner and the people of Israel are the tenants. God is the provider, the landowner, the patron and the Father of the children of Israel. The priests were the go-between, the brokers and stewards of God’s blessings and provisions. They were to exercise godly stewardship – to manage well the responsibilities of God’s household. However they were consistently found not to be faithfully exercising their stewardship.  They wasted the Lord's estate using it for their own selfish desires.  They placed unnecessary burdens on the tenants and had become "unrighteous" the very opposite of what they claimed to be.

Jesus is using this parable to contrast the unrighteous steward (who acts shrewdly or wisely) with the Pharisees (who do not). Their Master (kurios =Lord) has heard that they (the Pharisees) have been squandering His resources and so He calls them to give an account of their stewardship. The steward in the parable acts wisely (shrewdly) and blesses the tenants in order to find favour with them. He is commended by his Master. Jesus says that this unrighteous steward (a child of this age) is wiser than the “sons of light” (a term used to refer to the tribes of Levi, Judah and Benjamin and therefore referred to the priests and rulers). The Pharisees are condemned by Jesus for squandering God's "stuff" - the things that belonged to God - when they should have been good stewards bringing honour to their Master and managing the rest of the household (the tenants, relatives, livestock, land, etc.) well.

In that light the rest of the teaching of Jesus in this passage lines up and makes more sense. The steward is not commended for being dishonest. He is being commended for blessing the tenants and for wisely reducing the burden upon them. The key of the parable is in its comparison (don’t be like an unjust steward – be a good steward! But in comparison to the Pharisees even an unrighteous steward deserves more commendation than they do.)

The Rest of the Parable

The rest of the teaching in the parable works out like this:
Verse 9:  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The Jewish priests and rulers (Sanhedrin) should be using their wealth and influence (even though it really belongs to God) to be blessing others (making friends) so that they are able to secure eternal blessings (literally an eternal dwelling place) not just to be comfortable here on earth. The wealth of God is to be used to lavishly bless people not to hoard it to yourselves or to be stored in barns – even if the barn is the temple.  The Jewish rulers needed to reduce the burden placed upon the people. Jesus says this about them in Matthew 23:4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

However, Jesus instructions to the people were:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Another interesting application might be that we need to be reducing the sin burden that other people carry by forgiving them.  This may be what it means when Jesus says to his disciples that as they forgive other's sins they will be forgiven, 21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." John 20:21-23

Verses 10-12: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
This is clear. Jesus is condemning the Pharisees for the fact that they have been unfaithful in their dealings with worldly wealth (the small things) so how can they be expected to administer the true riches of spiritual life and heavenly dwellings? The Pharisees have been unfaithful by demanding such a heavy burden from the people. They have squandered the tithes and offerings (worldly wealth) given by people in worship to God. They "dissipated it like the prodigal son did his inheritance. So how could they possibly effectively communicate the love and grace of the landowner or graciously minister that love to the people? The phrase "property of your own" seems to be a direct reference to the eternal dwellings mentioned in verse 9.

Verse 13: "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
If they were truly serving God the Pharisee stewards would not have placed such a heavy burden upon the tenants (the Gospels call them “the multitude.”) It is impossible for your goal to be to gather up worldly wealth for yourself and to also serve God. The true calling must always take pre-eminence.

Verses 14-15: 14The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.
No matter how we might justify it to ourselves, bad stewardship is always seen in heaven. Selfishness and dissipation can not be hidden from God.

The Application

We have become God’s stewards in Jesus. The apostle Paul says that we are stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). How are we exercising our stewardship? Are we using our worldly wealth (the wealth that comes from God for He supplies all our needs) to bless others? Or are we squandering it or merely storing it up for our own use? This wealth will not make any difference in heaven (we can’t take it with us and we can’t spend it there anyways). It only bears eternal fruit if we use it wisely here while on earth.

How are we stewarding the mysteries of God? Are we being faithful to reveal the Lord's desires and purposes with our stewardship - i.e. those around us - those "under our jurisdiction?" Are we faithfully sharing the abundance of spiritual wealth with those around us - with our family, our neighbours, our co-workers, our household?

We have to recognize the humility of our role as stewards. A steward is a slave with some extra responsibility. We must not think too highly of ourselves. We must remember that all the riches we manage are only in our hands because of the benevolence of the Master. They don't belong to us. We are not more exalted than the tenants - in some cases we may even be of much lower status. 1Corinthians 4:2 states: "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." Have we been faithful?

There are a number of other ways to make application but that can be up to you.
Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I am just finishing off two weeks in Boston for my last residency in my DMin program. We have had a good time of discussing ministry and renewal. One of the most difficult things to communicate to the other members of my class was the difference between Canada and the United States. In some ways we are very similar – particularly when we talk about Christian issues. However, most of the USA is still much more conservative than Canada. Massachusetts residents consider themselves among the most liberal in the US.

This was backed up by a recent Pew Forum report which did show that this understanding is actually true. There are less people who believe in God, less people that go to church and more people who believe that there are other ways to heaven than through Jesus Christ. But at the same time, every day that I was here at seminary, the Boston Globe had an article about religion either on the front page or on the front page of the Local section. One day it was an article about Eugene Rivers (a black pastor in South Boston credited with the “Boston Miracle” – an inner city renewal project), a piece on female leadership in Reform Synagogues and then some local interest pieces about local churches. It just seemed that religion was at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The language we use is the same and some of the problems are similar but somehow Canada is further down the road to secularism than our neighbours to the south. I listed some of these issues in one of my assignments which I pasted below.

Hills Church is located in Thornhill, a community of 132,000, in the city of Vaughan (population 240,000) at the edge of the largest city in Canada (Toronto – census metropolitan area population of 5.1 million). In some ways we live and minister in an unreachable neighbourhood – at least in the sense of a traditional approach to ministry and to church planting. Church growth, church planting and evangelism encounter deeply entrenched barriers. This may be true for much of the United States as well, but there is an even stronger resistance to active Evangelicalism in Canada – for a number of reasons.

The first is a strong secular and multicultural ethos. Even though this secular mentality does not necessarily represent the majority of the population statistically, it still exerts a strong influence over the Canadian psyche. We see this most clearly in politics. In the USA, all presidential candidates (Obama and McCain and even Clinton) attend church. They are expected to attend church. Not attending church would actually constitute a significant political disadvantage. In Canada attending church has become a political disadvantage. All you need to do to discredit a candidate is to expose their regular church attendance or their adherence to traditional values. This is only one example of the prevalence of secularism in Canada. There is no appeal in Canada to the “traditions this country was built on.” Canada is a self-proclaimed secular nation. We have no entrenched law concerning the separation of church and state because the church at one time was the state (Roman Catholicism in Quebec and the Church of England [Anglicanism] in much of the rest of Canada). So we have a history of groups resisting the state established church (Methodism and Catholicism resisting Anglicanism in English Canada and more recently, a complete break against Catholicism in Quebec). This has paved the way for a militant multiculturalism and political correctness (don’t offend any minority groups) in the current socio-political landscape.

The second is a strong resistance to and distain for an American-styled Evangelicalism. There is a deep bias against what is seen as the war-mongering, anti-gay, anti-abortion Evangelical platform. Most Canadians vote for liberal or socialist political candidates – especially in urban areas and most are virulently opposed to a legislated conservative morality. Many Canadians view American politics as being controlled or at least strongly influenced by the Evangelical power base. It is perceived as swaying the White House and imposing its morality on the country. Most Canadian provinces would be “blue states.” All major cities return liberal members of Parliament.

Third, there is very little tolerance or space in the Canadian media market for a right wing voice. Except for occasional public voices from the USA (which are widely ridiculed) and perhaps some voices from western Canada (Alberta) there are no strong conservative voices speaking to the culture. The government has only recently allowed religiously based stations to exist and even then they are often required to give equal space to “opposing viewpoints.” Our first religious television station (VisionTV) established by a coalition of Christian business people and broadcasters has become a vehicle for a multi-faith, multicultural religious outlet.

Fourth, to most Christians living in Canada, the days of Christendom are very tangibly over. There has been a change in mindset of those who would plant churches. As the number of nominal Christians without a church shrinks, and as the number of unchurched who once were catechumens of Christianity grows extinct, the success of traditional church plants is threatened. We can no longer merely compete for the leftovers of Christendom or try to find the church model that has just one more innovation. Church planters in Canada have needed to become missionaries, and plant churches cross culturally, across the barriers to people who have no knowledge about Jesus and no language to discuss Christian concepts. The church in Canada can no longer draw on people familiar with the premises of Christianity. There are almost none of those people left. Our culture has produced offspring who are not only unchurched but also unversed in the cultural canon of Christendom.

Fifth, on the micro level, Hills Church located in an almost exclusively Jewish neighbourhood. Ninety percent of the people living here are cultural Jews and there is strong “anti-missionary” sentiment. Jewish people (or Muslims or Sikhs or Hindus) will not attend church as “seekers.” To add to the complexity of this overpowering multicultural environment is the cost of land, the unwillingness of municipalities to zone for worship uses and the competition for existing worship land and space by many other faith traditions.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Attractional Versus. Missional Debate

I was looking through my notes tonight and found this discussion about the nature of many of our traditional or institutional churches. They function in a "come to us" mindset whereas a missional mindset is about going into all the world and making disciples. Alan Hirsch blogged about it on The Forgotten Ways site.

Some comments by Alan Hirsch.
I think the use of the term attractional is a tad ambiguous, but because I am partly responsible for introducing it into the broader conversation I have to stick with it. What I am trying to get at in using the term attractional is what I call the missionary mode or primary posture of the church in relation to its context. An attractional church is one whose primary stance towards those it seeks to reach is couched in the expectation of a come-to-us mentality. And this expectation as it plays out in the US, Europe, Australia, etc. was basically formed in a time in history where the church had a central position in the culture and people naturally came to church to be cared for, to hear the gospel, and to participate in the community life.

The problem is that adopting such a mode is at the cost of fundamentally altering our understanding of ourselves as a ‘sent’ people. (Incidentally, the word missio, from which we get our word mission, comes from the Latin word meaning sent.) And this is further exacerbated by the fact that we live in what historians and theologians rightly call a post-Christendom era. In other words, an attractional church can work in a Christendom context, but in a missionary context it actually undermines our efforts to reach people meaningfully with the Gospel of Jesus. It is literally out-moded! A ‘sent people’ no matter how you configure it implies a going of sorts. And when combined with the other primary theological metaphor in the bible of how god reaches the nations, namely the Incarnation, it clashes head-on with the primary expectation built into attractional forms of church. Hence the conflict–they are basically two different conceptions of church vying for our loyalty in our day.

But another ambiguity can be explained by saying that while a more missionally defined church moves from a come-to-us mentality to a go-to-them mentality, nonetheless all expressions of church should be attractive. That is, we should always be culturally compelling. Don’t mistake not being attractional for not being attractive.

Comment from Alan’s readers:

Comment # 1
This has become a hot button for me - and all because I read The shaping of Things to Come. I believe that churches need to avoid the danger of “Attractionalism” - the belief that creating an appealing church service and programs will attract unbelievers to come to church. The majority of members in attractional churches have abandoned personal responsibility for showing and sharing the truth of the gospel. Instead, they expect the church services and the paid professionals to accomplish the evangelistic ministry of the church. This abdication of personal responsibility to join Jesus in His mission, coupled with churches that design church services to attract unbelievers to church, are significant obstacles to missional activity.

Comment # 2
As Ed Stetzer states, “attraction is not enough.”
In American Christianity there is a growing tendency among churches to believe that if they change the worship service to be more appealing or attractive to the unchurched, then unbelievers will start coming to church. Making changes because you believe it will get unbelievers to go to church is at the core of attractionalism. To truly be missionaries in their neighborhoods, Christians must not focus on attracting people to church. Instead, efforts must focus on incarnationally displaying the gospel to everyone everywhere.

Comment # 3
I agree in principal with the argument against attractional etc. However, I don’t think the case has been made convincingly enough with regards to deconstructing how post-modern culture operates. The culture I live in Australia still revolves around attractionality in all forms of life.
Our kids go to schools in the local community, along with hundreds of others. People belong to a raft of different interest groups in our community and congregate together in order to pursue these interests. People join sports clubs, pay huge fees, conform to uniform and behaviour standards.
We congregate in stadiums in our masses to watch sports or entertainment.
The case against attractional fails to overcome the reality of how people [in the West]live their lives. We happily GO to things, we happily BELONG and CONFORM to codes.
Or work habits mean that we have to go and conform. This is an everyday experience for most of us. Attractional does not run against the grain of modern culture. We are surrounded by advertising, pummelled by marketing, and harrassed by telesales people. We are surrounded by an attractional world vying for our attention and our dollars.
Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with it all, it does show that the notion of what the post-modern world is for emerging ecclesiologists, is purely romantic.

My Comments
In responding to the assertion that “attractional” is part of our culture and that non-Christians willingly allow themselves to be attracted to events, we need to ask the question: “What are they being attracted to?” Concerts and sports events are entertainment. That is what is fundamentally wrong with the attractional model. It seeks to attract people so that they are entertained. It is a consumerist model. “Come and see the great church we have so that you can be entertained by it for one hour a week!” I’m not sure that this is what Jesus had in mind.

I’m not sure He ever tried to attract a crowd. He at times tried to send people away. They came because He had something they desired. But when the cost of discipleship was emphasized and when it came time for the cross, the crowds dispersed. I think the main danger of the attractional church is that it is almost by definition linked with marketing the Gospel (doing whatever it takes to get people to come and try out your services) instead of preaching the Gospel which is always linked to the cross and the call to die to self.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Practicing the Presence of God

I remember how influenced I was when I first read Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God.” It was close to 20 years ago and I still refer to the concept in my messages and in my personal devotions. I came across them again while reading “Exiles” by Michael Frost and thought I would post them here – both for your reference and for mine. A website has been established that has collected some of Brother Lawrence’s letters has been set up here.

Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1610 in Herimenil, Lorraine, a Duchy of France. At mid-life he entered a newly established monastery in Paris (called the Order of the Dicalced [barefoot] Carmelites) where he became the cook for the community which grew to over one hundred members.

A gentle man of joyful spirit, Brother Lawrence shunned attention and the limelight. It was not until after his death in 1691 that a few of his letters were collected. Joseph de Beaufort, counsel to the Paris archbishop, first published the letters in a small pamphlet. The following year, in a second publication which he titled, 'The Practice of the Presence of God', de Beaufort included, as introductory material, the content of four conversations he had with Brother Lawrence. 
In this small book, through letters and conversations, Brother Lawrence simply and beautifully explains how to continually walk with God - not from the head but from the heart.

Practicing the presence of God is to be done continually – especially in public where the wonderful aroma of Jesus can be sensed. Brother Lawrence’s practice involved five simple skills that lead to a deep awareness of God’s presence. They are simple to explain but not always simple to master.

1. Seek God’s Presence – guarding your heart with care to retain purity.
Brother Lawrence understood that it is impossible to seek God’s presence while also seeking after sinful human desires. So in order to experience the presence of God we must regularly confess our sin and recognize that His presence is available in spite of it. In order for us to fully experience this presence, we need to be ruthlessly honest about our sinfulness, keeping short accounts with God, while being sharply aware of the constant availability of God’s tender and unearned grace and mercy.

2. See God’s Presence – keep the soul’s gaze fixed on God by faith.
This step is about cultivating a capacity to see God’s presence shining through even the most mundane or profane of life’s activities. This sacralizing of the everyday allows us to see that God doesn’t live in church buildings or cathedrals but he can be seen in every element of the world. We are thus freed to see God in distinctly nonreligious categories and to help not-yet-Christians to connect to a God who can be encountered even if they have never been to church.

3. Live God’s Presence – do all for the love of God.
The practice of Christian spirituality does not demand isolation or retreat. All of our everyday activities hold the potential to become what Brother Lawrence called “little acts of communion with God.” Every single activity of our lives is a chance to glorify God – it charges all our activities with glory. Sanctification isn’t based on the actual activities we perform, but on our preparedness to do them for God rather than for ourselves. For him, performing the ordinary task of cooking, was as wondrous and beautiful an opportunity to experience God as was prayer or the Eucharist. He said: “We must never tire of doing little things for the love of God, who considers not the magnitude of the work, but the love.” So our daily lives, whether as lawyers or labourers, doctors or domestic workers, CEO’s or secretaries, ministers or mechanics, are opportunities to serve God.

4. Speak in the Presence of God – offer short prayers to God.
Brother Lawrence offered these suggestions: “To those who set out upon this practice, let me suggest a few words, such as “My God I am wholly Yours,” or “O God of love, I love You with all my heart,” or, “Lord, make my heart even as Your own,” or other such words as love prompts at the moment. Before beginning any task I would say to God with childlike trust: “My God since You are with me and since I must apply myself to these duties by Your order, I beg You to give me the grace to remain with You and keep You company. Even better, my Lord, work with me, accept my efforts and take possession of all my affections.” Moreover as I worked, I would continue to hold familiar conversation, offering to Him my little acts of service and entreating the unfailing assistance of His grace.”

5. Treasure God’s Presence – value the presence of God more than anything.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
When we value the presence of God more than anything, we will set our minds and our hearts on pursuing this one thing above all else. But our primary motivation for pursuing God is not our own pleasure but because that is what God wants more than anything else! It is God who desires our attention and who derives such pleasure from it. It is God who initiates relationship and intimacy and desires it in the most regular and everyday activities of our lives.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Commands of Jesus 3

In speaking of the commands of Jesus, the temptation for many (me included) is to try to remember to obey as many of the commands as possible so that we can live an obedient life. The problem with that is that we begin to measure our salvation and our effectiveness and our status in the Kingdom by how well we do at keeping the commands. We begin to live a performance based life trying to earn the favour of God. We think "If I can only stop doing these things and start doing those things I will be in a better place with God. By doing that we only replace one set of rules for another.

The whole point about obedience is not obeying a set of rules but listening to and obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Even Jesus lived this way. He said He did nothing but what He saw His Father doing. The commands function as a mirror reflection who we are and what we are like. They are signposts pointing us in the right direction. They are not the path or the destination. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the path and the destination. The real goal is to be found as sons and daughters who delight in the Father and Who delights in them.

A guy named Robert Ricciardelliw wrote this little piece on "Our Identity As Sons" that I came across a few months ago and found again a couple of days ago. It is a nice compliment to the commands of Jesus.

"Our Identity As Sons"
Much of the body of Christ is caught up in an identity crisis. A worldview of God, absent of the full revelation of who we are. Without the full revelation of who we are, we live our lives as spiritual orphans, rather then manifesting the presence of God in our lives. Do we see God as a loving and just Father, or do we see Him as only a master of an earthly orphanage, ready to crack the whip when we mess up? A loving and just Father will discipline us, because of His love and tremendous plans for us. A true son knows that they are dependent on the Lord, and goes throughout the day acknowledging need and direction from their Heavenly Father. Those that have an orphaned mentality, rely on their own ways and only seem to turn to Him when condemnation overwhelms them.

Living By the Love of Law

Living by loving the law as a foundation of theology, produces orphans. By following the rules, they strive for praise, approval, and the acceptance of man, which breeds insecurity and lack of peace. An orphan will have a selfish desire for personal achievement as they seek to impress God and others. Many times they will have no motivation at all to live a life of service in His Kingdom. 

Orphans feel that they must be holy in order to earn God's love and acceptance, which mostly produces feelings of shame and guilt. Their self-image is in their own value, and perceived comparisons with others. This is the foundation that the enemy uses to birth false comforts. They will often find comfort in addictions, counterfeit affections, compulsions, escapism, business, and the tremendously popular "hyper-religious activities". 

Living By the Law of Love

A son will live a word-principled life, while loving God and loving those around them. They find great joy and peace in the approval of their Heavenly Father. They are secure in God's love and justified by grace. Sons will live a life of service, that is motivated by a deep love and gratitude for being unconditionally loved and accepted by their Heavenly Father. They desire to be holy and do not want anything to hinder their intimate relationship with God.

A son feels loved and affirmed, because they know they are of tremendous value to their Father. Not because of what they do, but because of who they are in Him. Their desire for obedience in a word-principled lifestyle, is out of pleasure and delight in their Savior, rather then a sense of duty or trying to earn God's favor.

A son finds comfort in knowing the Father--being known and loved by Him and resting in His presence and love. They will seek out intimate moments and a time of divine downloads from the Father, so that all activity is God-ordained and all steps are ordered by Him. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jesus Goes to Church

I know I should just post a link to an article that I like but this one I liked so much I decided to copy the whole thing here. This comes via a link from the post I did on "My Imaginary Friend" and the "atheist" posts about "Jim and Casper Go to Church" and the Drew Marshall church visits. This is a spoof of the Jim and Casper book and I thought it was hilarious. It is found on the Jesus Manifesto blog. Enjoy!

Book Review: Tim & Jesus Go to Church
Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : March 25, 2008

The book would make for a great sitcom: a pastor roadtrip across the United States, critiquing several churches along the way. Henderson believes that evangelism requires listening to “the good, the bad and the ugly about Christianity in order to be a better minister.” So he invited Jesus, the Son of God and supposed “founder” of Christianity, to observe how modern American Christians are doing with the movement he started. Their travels took them to an urban outreach church, an Emergent church, a new monastic community, a liberal mainline church, and to an evangelical megachurch.

In the book, Tim and Jesus discuss everything from preaching to music to location. Every step of the way, Jesus asks, “Why do these churches have such different ideas on what it means to follow me?” As a reader, I was drawn into the dialog and experiences. In a way, the book offers very few easy answers. But it does show that while each of the churches has an honest approach to following the way of Jesus (except maybe one Church), each community can learn much more from the way of the master. Because the book revolves around the five communities that Tim and Jesus visit, I thought it to be appropriate to share the highlights of their experiences of each. In particular, Jesus has a lot to say:

City Light International Street Mission
Tim and Jesus fist visit City Light International Street Mission, a small urban Pentecostal community in Nashville. The book is generous in their description. You could tell that both Jesus and Tim were weirded-out by the raw emotionalism and “pentecostal bells and whistles” of the worship service. But they were soft in their criticisms.
At one point in this section of the book, Tim states: “You could tell that the Mission doesn’t have the funding to reach out to these folks…but they do it anyways…that is commendable.” (22)
Jesus affirmed their heart for the poor: “When they serve these friends of mine, it is like they are serving me.” (22)
But their experience wasn’t entirely positive. At one point during the very loud and frenzied worship service, the pastor started prophesying that a “new move of the Spirit” would visit the church and spark a new revival for the healing of the nations. At the end of the prophecy, Jesus stood up and said: “I have already told you. The Kingdom of God is among you. Stop looking for signs and wonders, and follow the gentle leading of my Spirit.” Afterwards, Jesus got rebuked…and one elder attempted to “deliver” Jesus from a “spirit of rebellion.” (45-47)

The Livingroom
Next, Tim and Jesus visited The Livingroom, an Emergent-style church in Chicago. Tim thoroughly enjoyed himself, but Jesus fell asleep during the music portion of the gathering. He said: “It was so atmospheric. What is it with urban hipsters and their mellow music? At least the music at City Light was joyous…and City Light even had a song of lament.” (68)
During their visit, the pastor gave a sermon about social justice…and how the Gospel was more about what you do than what you say…and that what you say isn’t really that important if you show love. Afterwards, Tim and Jesus got into a deep conversation about whether or not they agreed. Tim tended to agree with the statement, but Jesus disagreed: “I was sitting there listening to this pastor tell his flock how I wasn’t very interested in preaching and proclaiming the Gospel. That upset me. Can’t he read? Doesn’t he notice how much RED there is in the Gospels?”

Humility House
Humility House is one of a growing number of “new monastic” communities. Located in a poor part of Denver, Humility House practices hospitality, care for the poor, and engages in the occasional protest. There community is made up of about 12 members–8 of them living in the house.
Tim felt that the community was warm and inviting, but didn’t “get” what it was they were hoping to accomplish: “I affirm their community and that they help a few people out from time to time, but this isn’t the sort of model that most Christians can follow. And it could put off a lot of seekers.”
Jesus disagreed: “These are my kind of hippies. These sorts of radicals really connect with an important part of my message. But they never seem to stick around for very long. How many of my brothers and sister hippies are still going strong from the movement they named after me in the 70s and 80s?” Later on, Jesus writes: “I wish they wouldn’t always be so dang serious. There is a time for simplicity. But there is also a time for drink and song.”

Trinity United Methodist Church
Tim and Jesus connected with the mainline church the least. This was the shortest section of the book. They visited Trinity United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Tim felt bored the whole time. Jesus tried to mingle with folks in the foyer after the service, but no one seemed to be interested in him…just the idea of him.

Lakewater Community Church
Finally, Jesus and Tim visited Lakewater Community Church in Dallas, Texas. Lakewater has 30,000 members and proclaims a soft-message of prosperity and hope. Tim had lots to stay about the techniques this church used to draw in lots of seekers. But Jesus didn’t like his visit much. He writes that “the leaders of this church reminded me of the folks who crucified me.”
After the service, Jesus was able to make an appointment with the pastor. But the meeting was cut short. The pastor didn’t believe that Jesus was the REAL Jesus. After all, this Jesus was much too shabbily dressed to be the REAL Jesus. On his way out, Jesus shook out his sandals on the step as he and Tim made their way back to California.

Closing Thoughts
The book was pretty well written, though I could tell from Jesus’ sections that he hadn’t written a book before. His insights were the most insightful, but I found I could relate with Tim’s perspective more easily. Clearly, the two men had their favorite communities, and a couple that they didn’t like. But there are so many communities out there that you can’t really get a sense of what sort of church either would say is the “ideal church.” But I suppose that is the point. We’re not supposed to be discontent with out communities as we strive for the ideal. Instead, we are called to be as faithful to Jesus as we can in the sorts of communities that we find ourselves in.
This was a work of satire. No such book exists. And while Jesus doesn’t take road-trips to visit churches, I would like to assume that he is present, in some way, at all sorts of Churches. Are we listening to what he has to say?

The Commands of Jesus 2

Here it is - my list.

The fifty commands of Jesus
1. Don’t call Jesus Lord when you don’t obey Him. Lk 6:46, Mt 7:21 Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
2. Build on the rock of obedience to Jesus otherwise you will fall. Mt 7:24-27, Lk 6:47-49. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
3. Worship God alone. Mt 4:10b, Lk 4:8.
 8Jesus answered, It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.
4. Follow Jesus. Mt 4:19, 11:28-30, Mk 1:17, Jn 1:43,12:26, 10:27, 21:22b Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men.
5. Be salt and light to this world. Mt 5:13-16 Mk 9:50, Lk 11:33, 14:34. Jn 3:21.

6. Don’t call your brother a fool. Mt 5:22, 12:36.

7. Practice instant reconciliation. Mt 5:24-25. 
 Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.
8. Do not look with lust at another this is adultery in the heart. Mt 5:27-28.

9. Obey my commandments - John 14:15,21,23 II John 6. Teach disciples to obey these commands - Matthew 28:20
10. Don’t swear an oath. Mt 5:33-37.

11. Do more than expected, go the 2nd mile. Mt 5:38-41.

12. Give to those that ask. Mt 5:42, Lk 6:30, 38.

13. Love, bless and pray for your enemies. Mt 5:43-48, Lk 6:27-29.

14. Quietly do good for God’s praise alone. Mt 6:1-4. When you pray, fast or give do it secretly. Mt 6:5-6.

15. Don’t use vain repetitions when praying. Mt 6:7-8, Mk 12:40.

16. Seek my kingdom - Lk 12:31
17. Pray to God the Father. Mt 6:9, Jn 16:23-24.

18. Don’t be anxious or afraid. Mt 6:25-32, Lk 12:22-30, Jn14:1, 16:33.

19. Store your riches in heaven not on earth. Mt 6:19-21, 33, Lk 12:21, 31-34, Jn 12:25.

20. Judge not that you may not be judged. Mt 7:1-5, Lk 6:37, 41-42, Jn 7:24.

21. Keep asking, seeking and knocking. Mt 6:9-11, 7:7-11, Lk 11:9-13.

22. Treat others as you like to be treated. Mt 7:12, Lk 6:31.

23. Don’t waste time on argumentative people. Mt 7:6.
 Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
24. Forgive others. Mt 6:12, 14-15, 18:21, Mk 11:25-26, Lk 11:9-13.

25. You must be born again- John 3:3, Luke 18:17, Mark 10:15 receive the kingdom of God like a little child
26. Don’t fear people-fear God. Mt 10:28, 16:23, Lk 12:4-5.

27. Confess Christ before men. Mt 10:32-33, Mk 5:19, 8:38, Lk 9:26, 12:8-9.

28. Take up your cross. Mt 10:38-39, 16:24-26, Mk 8:34-37, Lk 9:23-26, 14:26-33.

29. Beware of hypocrisy and greed. Mt 15:6-9, 23:28, Lk 6:41-42, 12:1b, 20:46-47.

30. Privately rebuke a brother and if he repents forgive him. Mt 18:15, Lk 17:3-4

31. Pay your taxes and give to God what is his. Mt 22:21, Mk 12:17, Lk 20:25, 21:4.

32. Love God and others - Walk in love - II John 6. Mt 22:37-40, Mk 12:30-31, Lk 10:27, Jn 15:12, 13:34-35.

33. Keep alert, be ready and watch for the coming of the Lord. Mt 24:44,46, 50-51, Mk 14:62, Lk 12:35-40, 21:27-28.

34. Honour God with all that you have been given. Mt 25:14-31, Lk 18:18.

35. Minister to others as you would to Jesus Himself. Mt 25:34-46.
36. Go into all the world and make disciples and preach good news Preach the Gospel and teach obedience. Mt 28:19, 20, Mk 16:15, Lk 9:60b, Jn 21:15b, 16b, 17b.

37. Repent of your sins. Mk 1:15, Lk 13:3,5, Lk 15:7,10, 18-24.

38. Believe in Jesus Mk 16:16, Lk 9:35, Jn 12:36, 6:29, 20:29, 14:6.
Mk 10:15, Lk 18:17, Mt 9:29.

39. Don’t cause little ones to sin Mark 9:42-47
40. Rejoice when you are persecuted. Lk 6:22-23.

41. Don’t stop others from preaching or doing miracles Mark 9:38-40
42. Sell all that you own – Luke 12:33 – give to the poor Luke 11:41, 18:22
43. Act with compassion and not prejudice towards others. Lk 10:30-37.

44. Invite the poor to eat with you. Lk 14:13-14.

45. Humble yourself & take the lowest position Lk 14:8-11, 18:13-14, Mt 23:12, 19:30.

46. Be baptised Mt 29:19, Mk 16:16

47. Live in Me and live in My love. Jn 8:31-32, Jn 15:4, 9

48. Don’t covet your bother’s blessing Lk 12:13-15, 15:29-30

49. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Mt 5:48, Jn 15:14
50. When you have done all these things, say, we have only done that which was our duty to do - Luke 17:10

The Commands of Jesus 1

I was looking at what it meant to be "missional" and found this list of missional qualities or identifiers. I don't remember where I found it - otherwise I would give you a link for it. but here is the list. (EDIT: It's from the introduction to Dan Kimball's book "They Like Jesus But Not The Church").

1. Being missional means that the church sees itself as being missionaries, rather than having a missions department, and that we see ourselves as missionaries right where we live.
2. Being missional means that we see ourselves as representatives of Jesus “sent” into our communities, and that the church aligns everything it does with the missio dei (mission of God).
3. Being missional means we see the church not as a place we go only on Sunday, but as something we are throughout the week.
4. Being missional means that we understand we don’t merely “bring Jesus” to people but that we realize Jesus is active in culture and we join him in what he is doing.
5. Being missional means we are very much in the world and engaged in culture but are not conforming to the world.
6. Being missional means we serve our communities, and that we build relationships with the people in them, rather than seeing them as evangelistic targets.
7. Being missional means being all the more dependent on Jesus and the Spirit through prayer, the Scriptures, and each other in community.

I went to the Bible to find some Scriptural basis for some of these things and turned to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28.
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

What jumped out at me was that the commission didn't just tell us to go and didn't just tell us to make disciples baptizing them. It also tells us to teach them to obey the commands of Jesus. Obey the commands? What are the commands of Jesus? I suppose I could list a few. Love God, love your neighbour, believe, be born again and go into all the world and help the poor. That just about dried me up. So I went googling for more. I searched for "commands of Jesus" and a whole list of sites popped up. Some link to websites for communities who have committed themselves to living a life where they obey all the commands of Jesus. (In my mind they took a few liberties in interpretation.)

But what I did find was a whole list of commands that Jesus gave in the New Testament. This is Jesus - full of grace and mercy and love - giving commands. So I looked at them and put together my own list of 50. But that's in the next post.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Artist's Commentary

My son Jared finds some interesting art online. I thought I'd share a couple of images with you. They are by a guy named Banskey. Very interesting social commentary. The first one is called
"God Getting Busted."

The next one is called "Feed the World."

The last one is just called "Media."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hospitality 3

Hospitality has been a significant theme for me - even though I don't think I practice it very well at times. I've blogged about it before (here). I really do feel that it is one of the missing dimensions to true church and the lack of it in our society harms us. Brian Brisko at Missional Church Network blogs a number of posts on hospitality. I've quoted a few lines here.

“We always treat guests as angels — just in case.” – Brother Jeremiah

“Hospitality begins at the gate, in the doorway, on the bridges between public and private space. Finding and creating threshold places is important for contemporary expressions of hospitality.” – Christine D. Pohl

“If there is room in the heart, there is room in the house.” – Danish Proverb

“If you have a hospitable disposition, you own the entire treasure chest of hospitality, even if you possess only a single coin. But if you are a hater of humanity and a hater of strangers, even if you are vested with every material possession, the house for you is cramped by the presence of guests.” — Chrysostom

“Fear is a thief. It will steal our peace of mind and that’s a lot to lose. But it also hijacks relationships, keeping us sealed up in our plastic world with a fragile sense of security. Being a people who fear the stranger, we have drained the life juices out of hospitality. The hospitality we explore here is not the same kind you will learn about from Martha Stewart. Benedictine hospitality is not about sipping tea and making bland talk with people who live next door or work with you. Hospitality is a lively, courageous, and convivial way of living that challenges our compulsion either to turn away or to turn inward and disconnect ourselves from others.” – Homan and Pratt in Radical Hospitality

Hospitality should be understood as a way of life rather than as a task or strategy. It is easy to slip into viewing hospitality as a strategy for reaching migrants and refugees, or for that matter, for reaching postmodern youth or homeless people. But such an approach misunderstands the basic orientation of hospitality. Hospitality is not a means to an end; it is a way of life infused by the gospel. – Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine D. Pohl

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Intention and Kavanah

Our lives are so full. Our world is so busy. We move so fast and so hard and so long. We have become pulled in so many directions – I believe mostly because of the media – that is the prevalence of media messages bombarding us every day: commercialism (buy this, get those, go there, drive that); environmentalism (recycle, go green, reduce your carbon footprint, the polar ice caps are melting); health (cancer, cell phone towers, bottled water); and lions and tigers and bears, Oh my! We are so fragmented that our core suffers. Our core is that place of true identity inside that defines who we are and where we are going. It provides meaning and purpose. It is the place our life story resides – our metanarative – the story that makes sense of all the little parts of our lives and lines up all the diverse, going-every-which-way segments into a meaningful direction.

This core, facing the bombardment of dailyness, gets chipped away and shrivels smaller and smaller until we have to hide it away just to protect it from the demands of the world. The result is that we become not a person but a collection of scattered and fragmented pieces loosely held together by our physical life (our body – i.e. where we are and what we do) instead of held together by the core of who we are – held together by our story. So church (or more importantly our lives lived out of worship) becomes one more fragment to piece together with the rest of our lives.

That’s how I’ve been feeling – fragmented. What is my “core?” That space from which I live my life? It used to be clearer – it is always much clearer when I’m working on a new plan but it gets more and more fuzzy the longer I live in that space. It needs to be continually reinvented and renewed. This core to me is a combination of soul and spirit. The spirit is that which is in connection with God, that is reborn when we truly encounter and surrender to the risen Christ. It is eternal. But our soul is that which processes all that we live in and through here on earth. It is the soul (mind, emotions and will) that needs renewal and regeneration. It is the soul where we must renew the mind and submit our will to God and express our desires or reign in our emotions.

It is somewhere in there that we get fragmented. Our desires become thin and fleeting. Our thinking becomes shallow and overly affected by sound bytes and political correctness. Our will bends to the whims of the spirit of the age.

That’s where kavanah comes in. In the Jewish tradition, intention, kavanah, is an essential part of meaningful action. The term kavanah comes from the Hebrew root meaning to direct, intend, focus. The rabbis were very clear that living a meaningful life involves combining both the actions we do and the intention we bring to those actions. For example, the rabbis stressed that prayer was not just about the act of reading or saying the words of a prayer. If you did not pray with kavanah, actively thinking about the words you were saying, you have not fulfilled your obligation to pray. It describes the centering that happens when we are able to line up all the little pieces of our into that purpose of God. That is living in the moment, being single minded, identifying with Paul who said:

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 3:13b-14

A quote from Martin Buber comments sums it up, "He who does a good deed with complete kavanah, that is, completes an act in such a way that his whole existence is gathered in it and directed in it towards God, he works on the redemption of the world, on its conquest for God.
quoted from the Shaping of Things to Come.

I suppose this also applies to a community. It would also be more effective if an entire worshipping community can gather itself up to advance the Kingdom and do good deeds with Kavanah – that is completing an act in such a way that all of its identity is gathered together towards the same direction and towards God. It would be most effective if all of its life was concentrated in one direction and fundamentally in the direction of honouring God. Doing that with the diverse types of people you have in a congregation would be a significant challenge - and is the fodder for another post.