Gospel of John-patience for rebels.

May 20, 2011

I have been,  reading the Gospel of John for devotional reading.  Through the first ten chapters, I struggled.  I would read the conversations between the pharisees and Jesus thinking “I would want to kill Jesus, too.  He is being a smart ass.”  Really was having problems sympathizing with Jesus.  I have read John before, but this time through this is where I am at.

Today as I was reading, I was thinking…I like the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Synoptic means, “see the same thing.”  They roughly do.  They tell the story of Jesus with different nuances, but for the most part they are similar.  John is the rebel.  Perhaps, I need to think and read John as the rebellious gospel.  He has a different point of view and perhaps if I embrace that different point of view I could celebrate his eccentricities.

The Bible challenges me and sometimes I read it…it does not sit well.   I push through something, because I trust in the wisdom of the Bible to teach me some deep truth.  So, John is the rebel…I can appreciate that.  It took me half the book before my spirit settled down to quit fighting it.  That is a good lesson for me when I am bit rebellious.  I may have some truth, but people are not familiar with it.  Takes a while for people to grasp what I am saying.  Patience is what rebellious folks need to make changes.


Slavery and Radical Christianity

May 17, 2011

“Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference.” (I Peter 2:18)

This is a scandalous statement.  As 21st century folk, the notion that the Bible says slaves need to accept their lot in life seems wrong-headed.  But, I want to put this in context and then explode it to the 21st century.

  1. Peter says in 2:9 he calls the members of the church a “royal priest hood, a chosen race, God’s own people.”  Then he says, “live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a pretext for evil.”  The church is a royal priesthood, God’s own, a chosen race and imagine who was hearing this…slaves.  He then says, “you are free people, but use that freedom for good.”  That is the precursor to “slaves accept the authority of your masters.”  When somebody is disrespected they may say, “You can’t treat me that way, I am a grown ass man.”  I think Jesus would say, use your maturity for building up not tearing apart.  Use the wisdom of manhood to bring goodness into the world and don’t rely upon the strength to prop oneself up. 
  2. Peter begins this section of his letter to the church with slaves.  This section is called a “household code.”  The rules for the house.  This was a common piece of writing in the ancient world.  Most of the time it was written to men, free men.  It was a way to keep the house in order.  Everybody had to be obedient to the men.  But, this code was written for and to slaves.  It meant in the house/oikos of the church, slaves were members.  They were not property but they were people.  They were a chosen race, God’s own.  Slaves had value in the life of the early church and were equal to the leadership of the church.  There was still patriarchy, but 50 to 70 years into the life of the church they are dismantling the human institutions including patriarchy. 

If we are to live out this notion that even slaves are welcome as equals into the church what does that mean for the 21st century.

  • People with homes and property are God’s own and welcome to the church.
  • Children have a place of value in the church and need to be heard.
  • Women can have leadership as joint heirs.
  • Sexual Orientation does not revoke a person’s being a child of God.
  • Nationality and ethnicity are not factors to being in the chosen race.
  • Disabilities and Special Needs do not limit one being God’s own.

In our world, where one is born and their gender matters a great deal.  In China, people want male children.  In some places in the world being LGBTQ is a sign of shame upon the family and God does not preclude grace from anybody.  For Peter, the role of slaves and wives was important because the suffering they felt at being less than was what Jesus felt upon the earth.  Jesus was not recognized as God.  Slaves were not recognized as humans.  Women as equals to men. 

This gospel of Jesus Christ affirms the humanity of all people.  Imagine if we had such a high view of humanity.  If we viewed people as creations of God not as competitors who are trying to get ours, how might we change our relationships.  Jesus broke through a wall of heaven to get to us on earth.  He risked everything to connect with you and me.  How much are you willing to risk to be like Jesus and connect with those around you. 

  • That neighbor whose dog craps in your lawn. 
  • That crotchety teacher at school.
  • The brother who offended you several Thanksgivings ago.
  • The daughter who made a wrong choice of spouses.
  • The kids with the baggy pants.

All are human and worthy of your love, because Christ died for them.  Am I embarrassed by what the Bible says about slavery?  No!  It tells me that even the one’s who are merely property are children of God.

Pastoral roles

May 16, 2011

Today I have spent a few hours working on getting a new laptop up and going. Hitting a huge snag with establishing new e-mail accounts on outlook. It has been an excrutiating day where I have let a few curse words go as I continue to hit the same problem over and over again.

I have been thinking as a pastor in a small community of faith, I need to have some level of IT skills, because we do not have the resources to solve some of our issues. I need to do that. Issues regarding risk management, finances, financial planning, technology, archietecture, accessiblity, and the list could go on of the knowledge of skills a pastor in a small church needs to possess to function with some efficiency and effectiveness. These are one’s that are before knowledge of scriptures, spiritual development, leadership, preaching, worship, pastoral care, ethics, volunteer management, and those skills a pastor receives training.

I am not complaining, but realize that the skillset is probably beyond the capacity of one person. If it is, then it must rest on a larger staff, lay people committed to the growth of the congregation, or partners outside the community.

The process of discernment lies in the pastor realizing what to pick up and put down. I think, congregations need to be in dialogue with the pastor about that as well.

Spiritual Growth

May 11, 2011

One of the challenges of spiritual growth is to keep it central to life.

To be honest, kids, work, and exercise can creep into the time and space of spiritual growth.  Especially for pastors, our task is to pray but the rest of the world is doing.  We are praying or studying, luxurious things to do.  However, that is what keeps a pastor sharp and in tune with the Spirit.

As a pastor who offices out of the house that is made more complicated, because the busyness of the house intrudes.  When I had an office at a church building, I could use that time and space to pray.  My books were accessible and I would close my door putting up a sign.  “Pastor in prayer or study.”   The task is to find that place and to reclaim that reality that a pastor who studies is doing the work of the church.  A pastor who prays strengthens the church. 

James Landes, a professor at Brite Divinity School, taught a class before he died for first year seminary students.  He drilled into our heads, “You are a human being not a human doer.  Who you are is more important than what you do to the church.”  I try to remember his wisdom, but the  demands of growing a church impinge.  My task is to pray, to read the Bible, shepherd the flock, and listen to where God is leading us on the mission of God.

Beyond civility

January 13, 2011

After the Tuscon tragedy there is call to end the vitriol of our speech. I shared with our church that we are called to love our enemies perfectly. We are called to pray for the best for the shooter. To be a Christian in the United States means that we strive to bring those values of grace, truth, and compassion to the public square.

The shear childish response of people is bothersome to me. To claim it is alright to use hate speech because the other side does is wrong headed. We are not children. We are called to do the right thing, not follow the crowd. I have sat with liberal pastors who have said Bush is evil. I shared “I may disagree with him, but he is not evil. He is a good man, a child of God.”

Calling Obama a Nazi, communist, or socialis represents wrongheadedness as well.

Praying for one’s enemies and loving them so much that you want the best for them is not a part of the fabric of society. Victory and power rule as values, but that is what makes Christianity so at odds with the culture. We are to love those we ought to hate. Whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Bikers, Raider fans, Taliban, Jared Loughner, or Osama Bin Laden.

Three times, I failed. I thought Timothy McVeigh needed to die to assuage the public. It did not heal the United States. After 9/11, I failed to preach love our enemies. I knew that my congregation did not want to hear it. I sold out. I preached peace before the Iraq war, not as liberal, but as a Christian. It was not received well. Today, I pray for Jared Loughner. I pray for Sarah Palin. I pray for the voices on the left taking aim. I pray for all of us. We are a special country and God can use well if we let Him.

Back on the Journey

January 10, 2011

Somewhere during the last year. I quit writing. I shifted my prayer life. I decided I needed to read the whole Bible from cover to cover. I have read the whole text a couple of times, but felt a need to do it again. That is not for me. I read the text, got things out of it. However, I am not an Interstate traveler, sometimes I like to poke around a bit, see what else is off the road. So, my spiritual formation seemed to suffer. I returned back to Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. It is an old stand by that I have been using for 15 years. It is quaint, outdated, and not hip. It is a compass, when I am lost I return to it to reorient myself. For me that is extremely useful, and I appreciate that.
Isaiah 49:3-4 (NRSV)
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the LORD,
and my reward with my God.”
I think some of the problems of my own spiritual journey is the desire to be effective primarily, successful secondarily. There is a measure that churches have. Baptisms, budgets, and butts in seats. The 3B’s. They are important, because pastors can be real lazy or misguided at times.
But, my journey as a pastor is about developing a relationship with Jesus. If I as a pastor work on my relationship with Jesus then my work becomes more doable. Not easier, but doable. When I work to succeed or be more effective, none of which are bad, but when I say if I measure my faithfulness by success then I fail to meet Jesus. Then God becomes controlled. That does not work. I have worked at wanting to be more useful, but maybe the life of faith is deeper than that…to be bound to Jesus in such a ‘warm’ way that I do not wish to go anywhere else.
This morning I came in from my run, showered still very chilly. I crawled back into bed to warm up. Prayers could wait a bit. I nodded back to sleep and woke to my wife warming my frigid body through snuggling. I chose not leave the bed but to rest in the peace and the warmth of the morning with my wife. To be bound to God in such a way that I never wish to stray nor wish to disappoint. To be loved and to love Christ is the goal. I have heard that a million times, but I finally getting to believe it. It is not about changing the world, but loving the savior. In the cold dark days of my spiritual walk, I long to find that place with the one who loves me best of all.

Why I love this season

December 16, 2010

It is Advent and Christmas.  I love this season.  I love the interplay between darkness and light.  I drive the family to look at lights, and it is a reminder of the power of light.  The main image I like about the season is incarnation:  God becoming flesh. 

God put on human skin. 

Emmanuel-God is with us. 

Literally God is with us. 

God is not distant in heaven.  God is with us. 


I need a God who is with me, not away and distant.

Brennan Manning,  states in the Ragamuffin Gospel “Yes, the gracious God enfleshed in Jesus Christ loves us.”

There are moments when I feel that I let God down.  There are moments when I feel that I am not very lovable.  There are moments when I feel like I failed and that failure is somehow reflects the quality of relationship I have with God.  If I would have been more committed, more serious, more compassionate, more attentive, more (fill in the blank), I would have got the result I wanted or I thought was my right.  Deep down in the places I avoid, the despair, the fears, the resentments, the petty insecurities…God is enfleshed into that.  God does not vomit upon it, but God meets it.  He embraces it.  In that embrace, I am not condemned but made whole.  All that I have tried to hide out fear no longer is worth hiding.  I am healed.

Christmas reminds me that God came not with a sword to settle score, but as a baby.   God tore open heaven and came to the earth.  Not only that, he became one of us.  He became one of us not to punish, but to love us.  Lights, gifts, parties, greetings of Happy Holydays remind me that I am one God’s own.  In the valleys, on the mountain tops, along the plains God is with me.

All that icky insecurity, fear, and resentment…God wishes to embrace.  Will you let him?


September 20, 2010

Working through Joshua today Chapters 12-19.

There is not much there in ways of deep spiritual pools.  The Bible is that way, sometimes it is a list of names and spaces that have no real reference for me.  But as I read this list, I get one thing.  The story of the conquest of Canaan was not clean.  It was messy.  There is this great line between the tribes of Joseph (Remember the coat), Ephraim and Manasseh.  They get upset with the land they are given.

14 The tribe of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, since we are a numerous people, whom all along the Lord has blessed?” 15 And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up to the forest, and clear ground there for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” 16 The tribe of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us; yet all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” 17 Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are indeed a numerous people, and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”

The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989, S. Jos 17:14-18

When the tribes settled, there was still a great amount of mistrust.  There was not this sense of fluidity or unity.  They left Egypt together but arrived seperated.  Tribalism had taken hold in the desert.  This is not an idyllic time, but is a pretty disruptive time for the people. 

In our lives, we may see great achievements in our lives-graduation, home ownership, a new job, retirement, children, personal goals attained, but in the end maybe we need to give ourselves the freedom that sometimes it is messy.  Maybe next time we make it through a day at Disneyland and the family is actually speaking with each other the next morning…that is success.  It is a least as successful as Joshua’s campaign.

Images of Joshua and Moses

September 16, 2010

A couple of weeks ago as I was reading the first five books of the Bible, I thought about the images of Moses.

In South Kansas City, Temple B’nai Jeudah had this magnificent bronze image of Moses towering over the passer’s by with the Torah in his hands.  It was a strong image reminding me that Moses was the law giver.  As I have read those five books of law, the pentateuch, I see that Moses led the Hebrews people in wars against other peoples.  I thought about how we honor people in the modern era.  Napoleon is a leader but he is seen upon a horse.  Wander across Washington DC and old city parks in the US, you will see images of leaders upon horseback.  The military side of the accomplishments are lifted up.  Washington is a General. 

As the story of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is told after Moses, Joshua who leads after Moses is lifted up for his military conquests.  He dwarfs Moses and the Bible makes mention of that.  Maybe, this is somebody trying to squelch the cult of nostalgia.  Maybe it is our disposition towards conquest of others, celebrating the warrior.

Perhaps, as the story is told the power of Judaism is not its victory, but its foundation the Torah.  The tradition of Judaism Moses is a larger figure than Joshua.  As I teach my kids, I need to remind them, show them, and model for them that ultimate success is not found in military or athletic conquest.  I need them to model themselves as Moses more than Joshua.

Religous Freedom and Location

August 23, 2010

I have certain opinions about the Mosque being built in NYC near Ground Zero, and as a religious leader in the United States I have opportunity and perhaps obligation to share those thoughts.  Here they are.

  • Historically: This is not a new concept or controversy.  At Auschwitz there has been conflict between Catholics and Jews about religious imagery at former concentration camp.  Is it right to have crosses at a place where thousands of Jews were killed through genocide and the church was part of those acts?  If as a Christian, I say, “Yes.”  Why?  Do I believe that Catholic and German churches of the 1930-40’s did not represent truly and fully what Christianity believes and lives?  Yes.  How can I make such an audacious claim?  I just do.  What are the differences between Auschwitz and Ground Zero?
  • Legally: I believe that government needs to have limited involvement in telling religious institutions where to build their structures.  Those structures can benefit communities when working in partnership, but too often governments can be antagonistic to local religious institutions.  How many churches have had their ministries changed by government regulations.  The mosque in NYC seems to be following the laws thus local government needs to follow the law.  The United States becomes less safe to live when laws are rewritten or rejected by public whim, that is mob rule.
  • Philosophically: The war on terror was not a war against Islam.  President Bush was very clear that Islam was not the enemy, but radical Islam.  Today, every Muslim seems to be an extremist.  Why the paranoia?  When the towers fell the whole world, excluding the Taliban, was American and that includes 1.5 billion Muslims.  So, why a decade later do we feel the compulsion to exclude.  America is not a Christian country.  America is a country where all are welcome to build a better life whether you come from Western or Eastern Hemisphere of the world.  I am a pastor and I hope for less mosques in the world, because I think the message of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is transformational.  However, it is not the role of governement to make that change.  It is the role of Christians who live lives that display transformation, healing, and hope.  When Christians are reduced to fear then the power of the cross is diminished.  Our leaders lack courage today, so I am drawn to my knees to pray for God to raise new leaders to rise up and speak prophetically to a country fearful, self indulged, and hopeless country.  May we speak grace, serving, and hope…may we embody the best of what it means to be a Christian.
  • Politically: Freedom.  The war on terror is against those folks who deny freedom.  I have great disdain for madrassas, the Taliban, and Saudi Arabia who practice a faith that denies people ways to express their faith.  The rhetoric of the United States is close to harmonizing with these countries, are we not better?
  • Spiritually: That mosque has nothing to do with my life.  There is plenty enough evil where I live.  There are gangs, poverty, homelessness, and broken families…my mission field is here.  So, refocus and work on your own mission field where you life matters…so, I begin practicing what I preach.