Category Archives: holiness

Consumerism: I learned it by watching you

If you were a child of the 80s, or had a child in the 80s, you’ll remember the public service announcements they showed on daytime television, especially Saturday morning. I occasionally use the phrase “that’s one to grow on” when a show is particularly heavy handed in presenting a lesson.

These covered a lot of topics, with many of them about the dangers of drugs. Drugs were a big deal in the 80s, and the best way to keep kids away from drugs was to make short films that told kids in no uncertain terms that drugs were bad and that bad people do them. You don’t want a fried-egg brain, do you?

I’ve forgotten most of them, but a few have become part of pop folklore. For instance, the one about the dad who confronts his son after finding drugs in his room.

This came to mind as I was thinking about habitus the other day.  What is habitus? It’s habits. But why not say habits? Because latin makes it sound more profound, of course.  More than that, it’s not just habits as we usually think of them, things we happen to do.  Like putting my keys on the desk by the door when I get home, or forgetting to close the cabinet doors when I get a plate.

More, it’s really formational habits that shape us in a particular way. Like practicing a sport builds muscle memory so that when we play we respond without going through an intellectual process. The brain is slow, after all, and by the time it sorts through the various options and issues, everyone is on the other side of the field.

It’s the same way with morality and spirituality. In the moment, we respond. And our response reflects who we have been up to that point, what feeds into our values and priorities. Our habitus is reflected in our habits, priorities, use of time.

Why was I thinking about habitus the other day? I was reading a great book by Alan Kreider called The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, one of the best books I’ve read all year. In it, he talks about the habitus of the early Christians, how their intentional practices and rhetoric oriented them to respond with patience in the midst of a lot of chaos. That patience defined every aspect of personal and church life, allowing Christians to grow and spread in unimaginable ways.

That changed when Constantine came into power, and Kreider argues impatience became cemented into Christian habitus through the writings of Augustine. Things needed doing, heretics needed resisting, the state needed converting, and there’s no time to wait.

Impatience defines so much of Christian ministry even to our era, where everything is measured in the short term and immediate success of limited tenure ministers, who will move onward and upward as they are able. Buildings get bigger, bulletins get flashier, budgets get bloatier, numbers of all sorts of things and people (and people are often basically things) are counted and massaged.

The challenge for churches becomes a budgetary bloom, where people are called to give and give and give. This then is the primary expression of spiritual service. When money becomes center, and money is used to expand property or improve facilities or hire staff–none of which are bad things–it becomes an expression of a core spiritual discipline.

Then people who want to contribute to the life of the church develop ideals about how this can happen and how to live out their own lifestyle of displayed plenty.

Money brings nice things.  Those who have money get treated better and have more influence.

The odd thing is, as we build in this consumer mentality within church life, it coincides with a frustration about consumerism.

An impatient and consuming church contributes to an impatient and consuming society.

Which is me saying, it’s no use railing against consumerism in society until church growth models themselves stop being consumeristic themselves, consuming people, resources, time spent on frivolous activities.

Where did they learn it from?  Not from Jesus.  From impatience and societal displays of success that were intended to provoke awe and envy and competition.  And the more competition there is, the more people will be willing to shop around for the best product and value. They look for that which is celebrated by those who lead the churches.

Not all churches are like this, but those who aren’t, those pastors who aren’t, feel a constant tug to just give in, because that way is the way to honor and success in the church world.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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Lent

Let me admit something that isn’t very popular in my theological circles. I struggle with Lent. I get Lent. I respect it. But I struggle with it. A big reason why is for most of my life I’ve had to give things up for the rest of the year. Giving things up isn’t new. It’s just October or any given Tuesday or the third week of any month, or any other random season of my life.

That’s not me being unthankful, as I am truly and entirely thankful for the many blessings God has given me. Rather, it’s being honest about the regular experiences of loss and letting go embedded in much of my experience of life so far. Lent is a great discipline, but I wonder if it is appropriate for those who live in such uncertainty and loss. As Ignatius of Antioch put it, “Every wound is not healed with the same remedy.” Yet so often we generalize an experience and a remedy as appropriate for everyone.

Loss and letting go define my experience of Christianity. I’ve learned to trust and hope along the way, so I don’t see these as absolute negatives, just a sense that my liturgical journey with Christ never quite matches the Christian calendar.

I’m not alone in this, of course. Maybe that’s why low-church traditions don’t emphasize Lent, because they are often arising from communities of struggle and loss. I’m not saying anything conclusive here, just wondering out loud.

This isn’t a new struggle for me. Every year I find myself wrestling with the same thoughts. In 2007, I made a curious choice to give up giving up things for Lent. The previous five years had involved me giving up almost everything that made for a normal life in our day and age, so I decided to give up giving up things. And that, oddly enough, was the year that the light switch came on and the bounty of God began a radical rebuilding process in my life, a wave I am in many ways still riding. Not without struggles and certainly not without a radical call to live in faith all the while. Life is still quite tenuous. But there was a fundamental change that happened that went counter to the previous 25 years. I didn’t give up on God in 2007, I gave up assuming that God demanded a life of loss for me. That I had to give up at every turn. He sparked new life into my journey, giving me a testimony that I share in a lot of my classes.

I’m indeed honestly wondering about the role of Lent, even as I read very heartfelt essays on the importance and value of Lent. I believe those who write them. Maybe I’m wrong about it all. Maybe it’s just my low-church tradition revealing itself behind my attempts at sophisticated theological posturing.

This year, I got to wondering about Lent as is my wont, and wondered if the idea of “Lend” might be more liturgically appropriate. Not giving up things to give up things, but instead to give of my time, my energy, my efforts to help those around me. It’s a proactive orientation rather than a self-reflective task. That’s more a discipline I need in my life, as I easily become jealous and hoarding of my now sparse time. It seems that an exocentric reflection fits the pattern of Christ’s gift for us on the cross, not taking or demanding of us but offering himself for us and our salvation. We have been given life itself. And even in times of uncertainly and feeling overwhelmed I can trust in this more than I can ever trust in what I have or don’t have or can’t have.

I yearn for fullness of life, not yet more frustration and discouragement and loss. That’s my liturgical place these days and for as long as I can remember. But life is there and life given so that I can participate in and with the life of others around me. That’s a calling.

Anyhow, as I was thinking about my struggle on this topic I remembered I wrote something on this about six years ago. It’s nice when I find someone putting my vague angst into helpful words. Even if it’s me. Here’s what I had to say then and still affirm today:
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The Spirit of Holiness intro

Doc Holliday: What did you ever want?
Wyatt Earp: Just to live a normal life.
Doc Holliday: There’s no normal life, Wyatt, it’s just life.
Get on with it.
Wyatt Earp: Don’t know how.

A few lines from near the end of the movie Tombstone, a curious choice for a post about holiness, I know. index Yet… as I start looking more at Everett Lewis Cattell’s little book The Spirit of Holiness, that’s the quote that came to mind.

Cattell was a missionary in India during the middle decades of last century.  His time in India pulled him out of denominational boundaries–as missionary work often does–to engage people with the message of Christ, finding co-workers from various backgrounds and traditions.  This introduction to theological diversity pushed him to explore Scripture more, to look at the fundamental truths rather than commonly accepted shibboleths.

In light of this, and his continued wrestling with the work of God in his own life and work, he sought to understand the depths of the spiritual life, to find what holiness really is.
We often see holiness as the impossible dream, or the ever present judge of our seemingly persistent inadequacies. Holiness is often tied to a particular place, building, grove, profession.

We other holiness to be something apart from us, something against us. Or we institutionalize and domesticate holiness, making it a synonym for a particularly rigid religiosity. Stern expressions, textured robes, incense rising, words ponderously intoned.

The Spirit is none of those things. God was not, we might rephrase the line from 1 Kings, in the robes, God was not in the altar, God was not in the legalism, God was not in the blue blazer and tan slacks. The Spirit moves like the wind, water flowing, fire blazing. God is not contained by a temple or building or boundaries, as if people were lord of the Lord.

The Spirit is revealed as the Holy Spirit, and so holiness is tied to this work of the Spirit.
Which brings me back to that quote from the famous theologian Doc Holliday, “There’s no normal life. It’s just life. Get on with it.”

In his introduction, his setup to all that follows that reflects his long exploration, Everett CattellCattell writes, “I am impressed from study that life in the Spirit is hard to express, just because it is life.”

The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of life. Holiness is life in full, a whole life, being fully alive in a way that resonates with the creator of all of life. This is a celebratory life, a hope-filled life, a life of patience, and kindness, and generosity. It is the life of God expressed in and through us in the unique ways God has made us.

How do we find language for this? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we can’t reign it in or define it down to encapsulate it onto an easily memorized mantra. The work of holiness is the experience of being enlivened, becoming in full.

Many ask, “How should we be holy?” “There is no separate holiness,” might be the best answer, “it’s just life. Get on with it.”

 

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Holiness and the Holy Spirit

Pursuing holiness without regard to the work and approach of the Holy Spirit leads to either legalism or abandoning the effort altogether.

Indeed, this is a big reason why I pursued the field of theology. I had trouble with holiness and I had trouble with those who talked about holiness.

I knew a lot of people who sacrificed to God, offering this or that, going here or there, doing and doing, then getting exhausted or exhausting others.

I didn’t know a lot of people who were efficiently obedient, walking with God in the midst of storms and success.

ColumbaWhen I wrote my first book, It’s a Dance, the publisher of Barclay Press who had accepted my book suggested I add an additional chapter to the book.  The book itself talks about the Holy Spirit and uses elements drawn from the Gibbs and Bolger book Emerging Churches.

What do (or did) those churches emphasize?  Focusing on Jesus, breaking boundaries between sacred and secular, drawing towards community, welcoming strangers, giving to others, participating, creativity, shared leadership, and worship that draws from the past and present for depth of expression.

These are, I argue, works of the Holy Spirit, so the book is about how the Holy Spirit transforms us into being a people in a community who live in these sorts of ways.  It’s not so much a celebration of the (then) emerging churches as much using those cues to talk about elements Scripture emphasizes.

My publisher Dan suggested a new chapter, one not in the list Gibbs and Bolger put together.  Talk about holiness, he said.  For a second, I was wary about adding more to their framework.  But, I quickly realized two things. First, a suggestion by a publisher to a first time author should be taking very seriously. Second, more importantly, he was exactly right.  Holiness is certainly a work of the Holy Spirit.  It’s in the name, after all.

That’s more of a New Testament title, as a matter of fact, but the themes of the Spirit run all through Scripture.  Holiness is obedience to God’s work and life. I almost wrote “conformity” but that’s a naughty word these days, offputting and reminiscent of the worst elements of religion.  Conformity implies uniformity.  Only that’s not what holiness is about.  Holiness in light of God is about being fully alive, fully whole, finding meaning and purpose and focus in the discipline of walking wholly in God’s creative order.

God is holy.  That’s not saying he’s a legalist or a rule-crushed frump.  God is who God is.  What’s your name, Moses asks.  “I am,” God replies. God is who God is, true to himself.

The Spirit of holiness is God, and God’s work in holiness is drawing all people back to the fullness of life as individuals within a community.  How are we truly ourselves in the context of others being truly themselves?  What does it mean to be true to myself and true to God?

That’s the question of holiness. And we can’t attach outside rules or obligations or styles of music or clothing to our answers.  God is holy. To be holy is to be true to God.

What does God care about? What is God doing in our contexts?  How has God made me? Who has God put in my life and where has he called me to be?  41mUtqqOTmL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

What would God have me do this day?  Who am I to love? How am I to hope? Where shall I place my faith?  The holy life is a dance of answering these questions.

Why do I bring this all up? Dan, my first publisher, wrote me a couple months ago and asked if I would be interested in a new book they’re publishing.  It’s right up your alley, he said (in so many words).  It’s called the Spirit of Holiness, by Everett L. Cattell.

It’s not a newly written book, published originally in 1963.  It is a newly edited and released book, however, and I’m glad for that.  I never heard of it before, and it’s indeed right up my alley (or “in my wheelhouse” as middle-aged celebrities are saying these days).

As a way of getting back into blogging and as a way of sorting through thoughts about The Spirit and Holiness, I’m going to make my way through this book over the next little while.

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Being Freed to Liberate Others

If we compare the two ways of knowing, it is easy to see that modern men and women need at least a balance between the vita activa and the vita contemplative, the active and the contemplative life, if they are not to atrophy spiritually.

The pragmatic way of grasping things has very obvious limits, and beyond these limits the destruction of life begins. This does not apply only to our dealings with other people. It is true of our dealings with the natural environment too.

But the meditative way of understanding seems to be even more important when it is applied to our dealings with our own selves. People take flight into relationships, into social action and into political praxis, because they cannot endure what they themselves are.

They have ‘fallen out’ with themselves. So they cannot stand being alone. To be alone is torture. Silence is unendurable. Solitude is felt to be ‘social death’. Every disappointment becomes a torment which has to be avoided at all costs.

But the people who throw themselves into practical life because they cannot come to terms with themselves simply become a burden for other people. Social praxis and political involvement are not a remedy for the weakness of our own personalities.

Men and women who want to act on behalf of other people without having deepened their own understanding of themselves, without having built up their own capacity for sensitive loving, and without having found freedom towards themselves, will find nothing in themselves that they can give to anyone else.

Even presupposing good will and the lack of evil intentions, all they will be able to pass on is the infection of their own egoism, the aggression generated by their own anxieties, and the prejudices of their own ideology.

Anyone who wants to fill up his own hollowness by helping other people will simply spread the same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe. They are much more influenced by what the other is, and his way of speaking and behaving.

Only the person who has found his own self can give himself. What else can he give? It is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in himself can liberate others and share their suffering.

~Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life

Posted in holiness, Moltmann, theology, Transformative Church | 2 Comments

“Name it, claim it”: Theology as prophetic insight

What is prophecy? A popular understanding sees it as telling about the future, doom or glory, with a prophet more like fortune teller. Indeed, that’s what a lot of “prophecy” that’s out there in popular Christian circles is really modeled after, it’s a way of giving people a cue to the, or their, future so as to 1) make money 2) give the speaker some level of power 3) tickle the fancy of wayward hearts. Which isn’t to say that everyone who is interested in prophetic movements are bad, more often than not they’re desperate. And desperate people eager to hear a word from God in their difficulties fall prey to those who leech off desperation.
Holy-Prophet-Moses
I’m also not rejecting prophetic movements or people in general. I have Pentecostal influences and still see myself in that tradition in many ways. I’ve had people give me helpful counsel, reminders of God’s call, insight into how God is working, and I’ve appreciated that in deep ways. I think there are people out there who really are sensitive to the work of the Spirit and speak words of truth in contexts where the words are important. Such words aren’t just limited to future-telling. Prophecy is a speaking of God, words concerning God, utterances of God’s interests and values. In this way, in Christian tradition, we say that the primary prophet about God is God himself, who reveals himself to people, initiating the conversation.

As I continue my musings from the message notes of last week’s sermon, here’s what comes next:

God’s Unique Name (Exodus 3)

  • God is the “I AM” who is present with his people in their suffering. Thus it is the “I AM” God how has sent Moses to Pharaoh. And now Moses will go as YHWH’s representative and he will be “like God to Pharaoh” (Ex 7:1)

So, we can see the task of prophecy and the task of theology here in God’s introduction. God describes himself. He describes himself as one who is paying attention. He describes himself as attentive to the current issues. He describes himself as being willing to engage the situation. Have hope.

He also tells Moses his name. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
jk_prophet
Names are important. In naming something we identify its purpose, meaning, and situate a form of control. Calling someone by name is both endearing and influential, when we hear our name we turn and respond. The ability to use a name, then becomes a source of subsequent power. Bothering me? I know a guy I can call. We use names to create contexts of interaction and, often, bartering. Names imply domains, both in the internet and more broadly. So many gods, all have their names, all have their areas of specialty. Want thunder? Thor. Wisdom? Athena. Flavor for your food? Huixtocihuatl. Trouble with water? Suijin. Need to write? Seshat. Name him, claim him. Name her, claim her.

The Jewish God gives not so much a name as a statement. What is his domain? “I am”. What is his speciality? “I am”. Who is responsible. He is. For everything in essence, but not in a generalized way, in a distinct, purposeful, willful way. Who is this God that gives such a name? Not a god you want to cross. Not a god who is going to put up with distortions or being subverted. That’s what the prophets are about in many ways, God feels slighted and God feels like his people have taken advantage of him, dismissed him, played around with others, while the ones in charge use the name of God to institute perversion or oppression or corruption. The Name claims it all, and judgment is the result. When we name God, God claims us. God calls us to live in light of his claim.

Prophecy then is a telling about God in light of the fact God is particular about his name, his ways, his priorities, his values. He reveals himself and it is not up to us to distort the revelation. However, what the prophets do is relate God’s revelation to contexts, addressing situations, addressing ideas and concerns. Moses asks what he is to say. God tells him. Moses tells Pharaoh and all the people. Prophecy is not an easy task, and it is not a task to be treated lightly.

It is the task of theology. We speak of God. Deeply and thoroughly as we can.

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Letter to Thyatira

We are very “just the facts” sort of people, we want facts, and figures, and statements that give us intellectual content. That’s how we have been taught to approach religion.  We have worship, sure, that part that is supposed to get to our heart.  But then we get to the head stuff.

The head stuff is separated from the heart stuff.  We’re not supposed to think about worship and we are supposed to think about the content of Scripture.  How can we bullet point each passage?  How can we make it clear the right things to believe and the wrong things to believe.

Revelation isn’t like that.  It’s not about what to believe, sorting it out like a puzzle. It’s meant to provoke an emotional response that affects our commitments and actions. Are we with God or are we against God?

Do you know  Modern Art?  It’s infuriating because it’s not about anything, not portraying anything, but that was the point. It wasn’t about making a copy of something in the real world, it was intended to bypass that intellectual part of ourselves, to hit our emotions.

That’s what movies do? Right?  If you boil a movie down to its essence, just the bare plot, you often are left with a much weaker impression.

Or, if you spend so much time on details, you likewise can lose the point, trying to figure out the symbolism of everything.  Then arguments develop as people disagree, and people who aren’t interested in such detailed examination move on.

That’s why most of us don’t like movie critics.  There’s symbolism in movies and it helps to know some details, but if we get caught up in the details we lose the sense of the emotion.

CS Lewis once noted a similar thing about love. What is love?  Well, it’s a complex chemical interaction in our brain that evokes a sensory response when around particular people or things.  We can get into the scientific or philosophical nature of love.  Go on for hours.  But who would stay for that? No, love is an experience that in the experience defies analysis.

I suggest that’s how we should approach Revelation.  There weren’t movies or television shows in these centuries. What they were was story tellers and they were masters of the craft. We have letters and we have histories, which are useful, but the goal of apocalyptic literature was something different, it was using the context of the time to evoke an emotional response, and in that response get us to go beyond mere intellectual analysis, which often leaves us agreeing but not really changing.

Revelation is intended to lead us towards transformation, to take hold of our mind, but also our heart and soul, to get a holistic response from us that actually leads us to become more in tune with what God is doing and what God will do.  It’s like what we see with Nathan and King David: 2 Samuel 12:1-6

We’re meant to get the message but get the message with an emotional response that is driven by the imagery and allusions, the references to other parts of Scripture and contextual connections the readers would know.

So, our goal should be to get to know the allusions and the context, but not get so caught up in the details we lose the message. We should be emotional about this, God is trying to stir up some kind of passion, a passion that would lead the audience to turn from their ways and turn towards God.

READ PASSAGE:  Revelation 2:18-29

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:

The core issue in Revelation, like with Genesis, is who is in charge?   Now in Genesis we had images of Creation, as nature was the way people saw who was in charge.>thyatira-clean

Here, the nations and empires had created cults, the gods were expressed through statues, the guilds in this city were themselves centers of both craft and idolatry.  Caesar was often worshiped in other cities, but here we have Apollo, who was often represented on coins and statues.  Thyatira was known for its metal working artisans who were initially supported for their ability to make weapons and armor, then broadened their appeal.

Christ is depicted as being in charge, and using the imagery that put Christ in the place of Apollo, that reflected elements of metal working—furnaces and products, images those in the city would see this in both an emotional and contextual way.  Jesus, the real God, is in charge of all the materials, he is the one who has the ability to judge and condemn.

“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.

They’re on the right track. They seem to have the right priorities for the most part. Love, faith, patient endurance (which suggests hope).  Faith, hope and love.  1 COR 13:13.  These are the things that matter, the things that will last forever.  And they’re putting it into practice with service.  They’re getting a lot right.  And they’re getting better.

But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication.

1 Kings 16:29-31

Jezebel was famous for leading astray because of religious syncretism. Religious justification for the wrong direction and wrong identity. Who is in charge?  Who decides what is right and what is wrong? Syncretism mixes the messages, saying God is in charge of some things, other gods are in charge of other things, and we’re able to decide who is in charge and what we get to do.

That’s the core issue in Genesis too.  Remember the temptation, the serpent told Eve that God was trying to keep something from them, that if she ate the fruit, Adam and Eve would have complete knowledge, complete insight, they could do what they wanted, they didn’t need a relationship with God, and in fact God was keeping them from their fullness.

That continues to be a religious argument. It’s not justifying based on giving into our worst selves, its appealing to our pride, to our sense of supposed religious maturity.

We think we can get away with more because we’re better.  And we end up following people who lead us astray, who mimic spiritual maturity but in fact are false prophets.

But what about eating food sacrificed to idols?

1 Corinthians 10:14-23

Not all things are permissible

In Thyatira, we learn about religious justification for going astray. A prophetess was teaching the people that, apparently, God didn’t mind their behaviors.

Missing the mark can involve going too short or too far.

Too much devotion can lead us astray. If we’re devoted to wrong gods, wrong prophets, wrong ministers. We can put our stock in someone’s seeming spiritual or earthly authority and be led far away from who God is calling us to be in every area of our life.

Too little respect for the limits God has set, saying that one part of our life can be left out of this religious stuff.

Putting stock in the wrong person, letting our identity be shaped by prophets instead of by the Spirit.

What’s the sin here in Thyatira?  Well, the audience knew, no doubt, who and what John was talking about, but we don’t.  Maybe sexual immorality—and there certainly was a lot of that in both the culture and the religions of the day.  We also, however, have echoes of Old Testament prophets.  When the people of Israel worshiped false gods they weren’t just choosing a different way to worship, they were committing adultery with them, they were having an affair.

That’s the imagery here too.  The Christians were being led into behaviors and practices that were adulterous.  They were excusing it based on some kind of prophetic ideal.

This means that we can become fornicators with anything that leads us away from finding our identity in Christ.  Life matters, every part of life matters, that’s what John is saying here, there’s no getting away from Christ, there’s no compartments in which life and religion are separate.ThyatiraMap2

For some, it means sexual activity, excusing immorality because the culture does it, it’s not a big deal, it’s just the body.  For others, there are other ways of fornication, and we continue to hear false prophets leading good Christians astray.  Money, food, power, relationships, things that are good in their place but can easily dominate our attention and lead us away from seeing Christ as lord. The trouble with idolatry is it puts up a false lord for us to worship.

Like with our society, work was tied very closely to identity for the Thyatrians.  What we do is who we are?

We can find our identity and excuses in work, or relationships, or money, or cars, or education, or music, or so many other things. Which isn’t to say those are bad but they become bad when we make them lords of our life.

But Christ demands that all parts of our lives are put under his lordship.

We’re to find our meaning and identity in and through Christ, and when we do that this lordship is involved in all parts of our life.

Our bodies matter and what we do with them.  Our time matters and what we do with it.  Our actions matter and what we do with them.  What we eat, drink, value.  These things matter and we can’t excuse our actions saying they don’t affect our faith. They do!  Even if we don’t want to admit it, they do.

Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead.

This teaching seems to suggest it was appealing to people’s religious pride.  That there were deeper teachings that the “enlightened” people knew and so they justified their behavior from a false sense of spiritual maturity.  We see this a lot even today.  People indulge their passions for wealth, or sex, or power, or whatever and justify it by saying its part of God’s plan, a result of some faith.

But John argues that this is missing the point and leading people not only into error but real adultery with these things. Adultery. We’re having an affair with wealth, power, sin.  And we’re betraying God.

And God is letting it happen for a while, and seeing who betrays him.  There is still a chance for repentance, so there’s hope, hope for all of us, but the time is coming in which God is going to assert his power. That Son of God with bronze boots and eyes blazing fire is watching.

And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

Psalm 7:9

God is in charge.  God cares not only about our thoughts, what we believe, but also our actions and motives and everything about us. We make religion into intellectual consent, we can get lost. God makes the lordship of Christ about everything, like in Genesis, so too here.  Adam and Eve had an opportunity and they had a temptation. Were they going to find paradise with God, or were they going to give into the deceit and try to indulge what they wanted, thinking they could determine for themselves right and wrong. They ate the fruit.  This prophetess in Thyatira was eating the fruit.  Others in the church were eating the fruit.

Do we eat the fruit?  That is the challenge for us even still.

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come.

The warning here is pretty clear. The people who have stayed out of this problem, need to keep doing what they are doing. Hold on, keep at it, John is saying. The temptation is to make the issue a crusade or to over-compensate.

Church history is filled with this, someone doing something wrong, so everyone focusing their attention on it, and forgetting to do what they were called to do. Or someone doing something wrong, so everyone reacts by making their own behavior more severe.thyratira

The holiness movement had this response, over-compensating in so many cases and losing the emphasis that Wesley put on a holistic participation in this world. The worry, for instance, about how early Liberals were both rejecting the resurrection and emphasizing social works, caused people to reject social works and service thinking that it was some kind of package.

We tend to see movements or leaders as packages, either entirely right in every case or entirely wrong.

So, a prophetess has something good to say, and folks follow her wholesale even into the fornication. Then, people might see this error and dismiss everything, even the good. But that’s wrong too.  We need to see through the lens of Christ and Spirit, what is good and bad, fruitful and destructive, not package people as entirely right or wrong.

The issue of “no other burden” comes up in Acts 15:23-29.

To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,

I will give authority over the nations;

to rule them with an iron rod,

as when clay pots are shattered—

even as I also received authority from my Father.

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 2:8-9

Clay pots are shattered when they are not made right or they have been polluted.  Christ here shows who is in charge of determining this.  Christ is in charge, and those who hold onto his identity, his calling, are going to be saved, and not only saved, they are going to be the ones who are given authority to know true right and wrong as well, through God, not apart like Adam and Eve, Ahab and Jezebel, and us today.

To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The one who conquer the trials and temptations on earth will be given heaven.  Phil 3:12-4:1

It matters what we do.  We are called to live our whole lives in light of Christ’s lordship, not look for secret knowledge, or excuse our behavior or influences as not mattering.

There are those who will tempt us through our weaknesses, showing what the world offers.

There are others that will use our own religious devotion, leading us astray by making us feel like we’re part of the in-crowd, not limited, and able to use our freedom for sin.

Christ is Lord of all. Every part of our life.  He is calling us to live lives of love, faith, hope, expressed in our practices, not giving into being swayed by people who are tempting us away from who we are called to be in Christ. Some of those people tempt us through the world, some tempt us through spiritual sounding words and encouragement.

We are called to be conquerors with Christ, holding on to who he calls us to be in every part of our life, patiently enduring the trials and temptations, not veering to the right or to the left.  In the power of the Spirit, we can indeed find this way expressed in our lives.  Let us not listen to false spirits, false gods, false prophets, or anyone that tries to steer us away from God.  Let us hold firm to the fullness of truth in heart and mind and soul.  In this is the way of peace and true victory.

I was invited to preach at the PazNaz Saturday evening service last evening. These were my sermon notes.  I write things out first because I think better through writing, but then I use these notes more as cues, not reading it through just giving me a framework along the way. 

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Resurrection hope

In the experience of Christ, the resurrection gathers all people into the power of the messianic moment even now, as such people live in the light of the Spirit’s in-breaking of history. “Only the love which passionately affirms life understands the relevance of this hope, because it is through that that this love is liberated from the fear of death and the fear of losing its own self.”[1]

Rather than losing one’s own self, thus always anxious about the encroaching identity of others, feeling vulnerable and fragmented, thus easily subverted, the person who lives in the light of the resurrection is secure in their identity as being alive in Christ. The substance of Christ gives substance to each person, securing their future as participants with the open fellowship of God. This security frees people to live with openness in their particular contexts.

“The resurrection hope,” Moltmann writes, “makes people ready to live their lives in love wholly, and to say a full and entire Yes to a life that leads to death. It does not withdraw the human soul from bodily, sensory life; it ensouls this life with unending joy.”[2]

We can say yes to death only in light of resurrection hope, which allows us to no longer fear death nor be determined by false forms of identity that we think might protect us from death.

“In this resurrection dialectic, human beings don’t have to try to cling to their identity through constant unity with themselves, but will empty themselves into non-identity, knowing that from this self-emptying they will be brought back to themselves again for eternity.”[3]

The identity that Christ promises to his people, then, substantiates each particular person as a particular subject in God’s particular mission. They do not lose their identity, becoming a drone in a collective, rather the promise of resurrection is a process of becoming in full who a person was always intended to be.

The hope in God is hope in one’s own future in which identity is secured and blossoms into fullness. The resurrection leads a person past the work of the cross, in which history and the past finds resolution, and into the future where a person can truly be who they are in the community of others who are similarly becoming.

“Communion with Christ,” Moltmann writes, “the new being in Christ, proves to be the way for man to become man. In it, true human nature emerges, and the still hidden and unfulfilled future of human nature can be sought in it.”[1]

The goal of much oppression, to secure one’s own identity and power and position—to secure one’s self in a particular context and project one’s security into the future—invariably leads to death, and thus dissolution of that goal. That was the earliest deception of sin, the taking of the fruit to assert one’s own identity and bypassing God.

Only the way of the cross includes the path to resurrection, and only by participating with the crucified God do we then have a substantive hope for not only salvation from but indeed and more importantly, salvation into.

This salvation into includes those ultimate goals for which oppressing tends to be concerned—issues of fulfillment, identity formation, security. Because the cross entails the loss of identity, the resurrection is about more than resuscitation of that old identity into becoming a more successful version of the same.

Jesus does not valorize who we were but awakens us to new possibilities in accordance with who we were always meant to be. “For freedom,” Moltmann writes, “is nothing else than being open for the genuine future, letting oneself be determined by the future.” Yet, while the Spirit of resurrection can thus be called the power of the future, the resurrection is not futuram but an advent, a novum of new life, a new way of living.

This new way of living involves participating not in our determinative future but participating in Christ, “from the knowledge and recognition of that historic event of the resurrection of Christ which is the making of history and the key to it.”[3] The cross opens a person up to be a new person, emptying and forsaking, the resurrection is the promise of filling, of new life.

Thus, the resurrection “means recognizing in this event the latency of that eternal life which in the praise of God arises from the negation of the negative, from the raising of the one who was crucified and the exaltation of the one who was forsaken.”[4]

Hope is not static. Hope initiates movement.



This was a couple of  wee excerpts from my dissertation



[1] Moltmann, Coming of God , 66.

[2] Moltmann, Coming of God, 66.

[3] Moltmann, Coming of God, 67.

 

[1] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 196.

[2] Obviously a statement like this would raise objections concerning the historicity of the Garden narrative. Whatever the historical basis, the narrative intent of the story was to assert a particular kind of action/response that is at the root of human alienation from God and self. It is this narrative intent that is my concern.

[3] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 212. Cf. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 229.

[4] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 211.

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Entrusting

The process of embedding a transcendent reality within an imminent context is one of illumination, seeing reality for what it is and, in this, making the truly worthwhile stand in contrast to the wrong and misguided. Such a process for a person, or community, or context is not always easy, or welcomed. The whole problem with alternative identity systems is that they are forming identities, and our identities are who we think ourselves to be and orient us in how we act for ourselves and among others. This is why a person who is being illuminated by the Spirit, and seeks this illumination, needs a safe space in order to become who they are called to be—a space where there is encouragement to walk along the way of Jesus Christ and walk with fellow travelers accompanying them on this journey.

Such a community of people are becoming together who they are called to be in their lives and in a specific context, which it itself as a context and as a space filled with many people, called to redemption in the light of God’s immanent transcendence. As people resonate with this work of the Spirit they are both lifted up towards Christ and situated even more in their place—becoming incarnations of God’s reality with, for, and among a particular location. This is a work of transcendent immanence, participating with the Spirit in the redemption of a context, helping it to realize what it was called to be and helping those within it learning who to be.

This is, to be sure, a profound work, a work that we see most fully realized in the work of Jesus, whose incarnation resonated within his particular context, and then as people were transformed beginning to resonate in many other contexts, reaching all around the world. These pockets of resonance carry on this mission of the Father, which is the mission of Christ, which is the mission of the Spirit, gathering all of space and time into the resonance of God’s redemption and relationship. Put in such terms, it seems incredible that such a mission would be entrusted to people—all of whom are not yet fully who they are called to be themselves and yet are, in the midst of their own becoming, called to participate with God in the liberating work of the church. We are being formed as we are being sent. “It is,” as Jon Huckins puts it, “the only way to fully step into a vocation of Jesus apprenticeship. It is emulating our rabbi.”[1] Part of this emulation, then, is the posture of entrusting.

Just as Adam was intended as a mediator and to represent to it God’s identity and to steward it in submission to God, so to Jesus came among us, in part, to serve as a model and a mediator—for creation in general and for the misguided humanity in particular.[2] This role of mediator and representation was passed on by Jesus to his disciples, not staying among them but leaving and in this leaving, allowing the Spirit to enter into the life of the church with new power and authority. This is not necessarily something the disciples would have chosen on their own, as Jesus was, without a doubt, much more trustworthy in such a mission than they were. Indeed, one might say that entrusting such people—then and now—to such a task is dangerous.

Yet, this is the work of God, calling others to be who they were made to be in the midst of the mission each were called to participate in: being sent into this world for the sake of this world. This is a community task, as it is as persons within a community that we begin to represent God to this world. “God’s mission wasn’t designed to advance with a set of sent individuals. It was designed to advance through a faithful people living as advocates of the missio Dei.”[3]



[1] Jon Huckins, Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community (Kansas City: The House Studio, 2012), 133.

[2] See Huckins, 133.

[3] Huckins, 135.

(an excerpt from my dissertation)

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