Category Archives: ministry

Imaging Theology

What do you see when you think about pursuing God?

I remember the professor in my first theology at Wheaton asking a similar question.  He asked what image of God do we find most appealing: lord, king, savior, and so on, drawing from different expressions of God in the Bible. I answered, “King,” reflecting my sense of calling at the time to go questing in search of light, wisdom, pursuing obedience. I was reading a lot of Stephen Lawhead back then too and I found his King Arthur trilogy particularly inspiring.  So, I liked the royal attributes of God and the associated chivalry of the Christian life. At least as I understood it.

A lot was uncertain in life, then, and I wanted to make sense of it, and make sense of it in a way that brought meaning and hope in the midst of overwhelming and impossible struggles. Clinging to the stories of great adventures, purpose, meaning, helping me navigate the great swath of senselessness  and yearning that had characterized my life up to that point.  Life almost kept working out, doors just about opened, opportunities mostly resolved. I was drawn just far enough to keep on, always defeated enough to prevent satisfaction.   It had to mean something, because I knew there was something more drawing me onward.

It was chivalry of Quest not battle. I knew there was truth and falsehood, good and evil, heroes and villains. But I didn’t want to conquer others or really even debate them.

I saw Christ as King, and myself as a dogged, if imperfect, servant.  So now, when I think about what my image of theology was in my earlier years, this one probably fits, though I wouldn’t have understood the question the same way then.

It’s not very sophisticated. It is quite earnest. And it was an image that kept me going through uncertainty and a myriad of distractions. I identified with Galahad and his search for the grail, so maybe this one is even more particular.

It probably didn’t help I read books like The Interpretation of the New Testament with its mentions of champions, and entering the lists, and suchlikes. Made it feel like a struggle worth fighting for. Though not initially in theology.

That was an image that sparked my interest in law school–fight for justice–through my senior year and onwards. Only after continued reflection on that direction did I make left turn into seminary, as the Quest kept driving me. The image stayed, mostly, the same. AA service. A sacrifice. A goal. A noble path.

A Quest.

Theology was about doing, performing, accomplishing, advancing, discovering and transforming.

I saw the grail. But I couldn’t take hold of it during my seminary years.

Toward the end of that season, I was feeling burned out by church politics and dysfunctions.  I was enthralled by the depth and hope in my study of theology and Scripture.  What I was seeing as the possibilities in and with God was finding expression in ministry but kept running against a wall of something that I couldn’t address or even name.  Every time the grail would near it would dissipate. I was nearing exhaustion in the Quest and went to the Getty museum to find some restoration.

I wandered through the halls, letting my thoughts wander amidst the art and scenery. Not seeking anything, just wanting a break from the usual.

Then I saw this small painting by Caspar David Friedrich:

It was like a cool pool of water on a hot day.  I dove into it.  Stood there for a while taking it in before moving on to continue my museum wandering. The painting stuck with me, tugging at me well after I got home. This was it, I realized.  What? I asked myself.  I don’t know, I replied.

I have a lot of conversations like this with myself.  The thoughts morph into a prayer of sorts, asking for wisdom.

It came to me after a while. Be, don’t do.  God is asking me to be with him, not do for him.  To rest in him, to walk with him, to seek him, not perform or accomplish. Being, not doing. The image clarified a driving whisper in my soul to enter into prayer, restoration, amid nature. I found myself drawn away from the city and the busyness of social expectations. I visited the mountains and found the same melody played by wind and trees and raven calls.  A theologian is one who prays truly, Evagrios once wrote.  And that was the call that came through that painting.  It was my new image of theology that replaced the quest.

So, I moved to the mountains beginning an extended season of theological refocusing, a neo-monastic approach to life and theology that was alternately breaking and exhilarating, renewing and frustrating, all of it exposing my self to my self, no longer offering distractions to avoid dealing with the inner chaos. The wave crashed over me, carried away a great deal of clutter, leaving me emptier and free.  A walk in an extended dusk, sun always on the horizon, never setting, risking being for the sake of being.

The light switch turned on in 2007.  I felt drawn back to the world, back into a form of busyness without chaos. Doors perpetually closed began to swing open, paths revealed themselves, opportunities awakened.  Yet the theological task was not fully illuminated.  I was being called to go, but to where?  To what? The old assumptions of the Quest tried to marshal their forces, but that wasn’t the image I had anymore.  It was more of a Way, a journey, a walk into the mists.  The images were also now more my own. As I thought about how I conceived this new season a picture from a hike came to mind:

I walked along this dirt road fairly regularly during my time in the mountains, with it also often one of my jogging trails.  Forests have moods and on this foggy day it was a somber place, wet and still.  I couldn’t see too far, but kept walking, knowing there was beauty at every step.

I went off trail, to places I hadn’t gone before, trusting in what I did know to orient my journey.  I didn’t have a goal besides the journey itself, entering into the mystery with expectation.  This is the image of theology I had through my PhD studies, and one that in part continues to call to me.

More recent imaging of theology in the next post.

 

 

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I don’t believe in men in ministry

There’s a curious little story in the book of Acts about a man who wanted to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit.  Simon was his name.  Later, he was given the title of Simon the magician: Simon Magus.

A lot of stories and traditions have built up around him, with the early church seeing him as the earliest, and greatest of heretics, distorting the Apostolic faith and presenting a Gospel that was not of Jesus.  simon_magus

Read the passage for yourself: Acts 8:9-24

Three wise men, Magi, visit Jesus giving gifts. This unwise man in Acts, Magus, doesn’t reject Jesus but wanted to co-opt him.  He wants to take the gift and use it for his own fame. He was powerful, he was popular, he filled stadiums and people bought his books.  Jesus was a method for him to keep this up.  That there was power, a Spirit, was even better.  Let’s buy this power, he thought, get the authority through a transaction, and get even more popular.

Peter, filled with the Spirit, replied to Simon: “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

“This” ministry, is the ministry of God, the ministry of the Kingdom: Father, Son, Holy Spirit in the unified work of redemption and re-creation.  Simon had a ministry, but not “this” ministry.

Having a ministry is still very common.  A lot of debates develop over who can and who cannot be part of such a ministryMen with power and authority make and enforce rules who can be in or who is out.  Born of the right status, right gender, with the right privilege, with the right education, with the right culture or custom or… name your limitation.

The pattern of ministry, often in the name of Jesus, restricts as much as it has empowered.  This is your role.  This is your place. This is your identity in Jesus.  The this of such limitations is not the expression of the ministry Peter was talking about.  The ministry Peter was talking about was the ministry of the Spirit.

That’s why I don’t believe in men in ministry.  Men have all sorts of reasons to get into or stay in ministry.  Did you know that clergy is #8 on the most popular jobs for a narcissist? That means for better or worse, the role of a minister offers the bounty a narcissist seeks.

That’s not to say all men, or ministers, are in ministry because they are narcissists or for other misplaced reasons. Not at all!  But there’s a difference between those who are in it for the right reasons and those who are in it for the wrong reasons.

That difference is the Holy Spirit.

It’s what Peter had, and it’s what Peter wouldn’t give to Simon, because Simon wanted to make Jesus a tool.

It’s what made Peter different in Acts as compared with the Gospels.  The Peter who betrayed Jesus in the face of shame became the Peter who confessed Jesus in the face of death.

The Paul who persecuted Christians became among the greatest teachers of Christians.

The man who was an outsider, Cornelius, became the insider. This man who the leaders otherwise rejected–a Gentile!–was invited in the church by the Spirit because the Spirit gave a gift to him that the leaders could not deny.

I don’t believe in men in ministry because men are untrustworthy, given to insecurities or grandiose self-praise, they make rules and patterns, enforcing their own voice while dismissing others.  They categorize and use the systems of society to determine the shape of the body of Christ.

I do believe in the Spirit in ministry.  Which makes it important to determine how the Spirit works, where the Spirit works, in whom the Spirit works.  If someone is aligned with the Spirit, they may or may not be in public or vocational ministry, that is not for me to determine. They will be involved in the ministry of Christ in some way, as that is the way the Spirit works.

If the Spirit gives gifts, it is not our part to deny or reject or diminish such gifts. It is our part, as the body, to celebrate these gifts, to whoever they are given.

Priscilla_martyr_of_RomeWhich is why, in Acts 18, we find Priscilla correcting Apollos, a gifted man taught by a woman who had the gift of the Spirit. She corrected him and set him on a course of his own Spirit led ministry.

We have Mary, the first in the NT to be filled with the Spirit, the first in the NT to communicate Christ to the world, giving birth literally, a move of the Spirit in the ministry of a woman.

Jesus talked about the Spirit, the living water, with the Samaritan woman at the well. She  had at least 3 religious strikes against her: Samaritan, divorced multiple times, woman.

She then tells her whole village about Jesus. As John puts it, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”

We have the first witnesses of the resurrection, women, speaking of the life of Jesus to those who did not yet see or believe or understand.

God chooses women to be in ministry whether this is allowed by our systems or not.  God sometimes chooses men to be in ministry as well.

The real issue isn’t men in ministry or women in ministry. If a man or a woman pursues ministry for their own selves, they are not part of the ministry of Christ.  If the Holy Spirit is working, in a man or in a woman, then that is the ministry of Christ.

It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit I believe in.

It’s not the woman or the man who makes a ministry this ministry that Peter was talking about.  It’s the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit works, there is Christ, and where Christ works, there is the Kingdom, and where the Kingdom is, there is the new life in and with God.

To be aligned with this Kingdom, one must be aligned with this ministry, the ministry of the Spirit who gives gifts to women and men to participate together in a shared community of Christ, participating with Christ in this messianic mission of transformation.

Not all churches, not all ministries, are aligned with this mission.  We must, like Priscilla did with Apollos, explain to them “the way of God more adequately.

 

Posted in ministry, speaking, spirituality, teaching, theology | 29 Comments

mission accomplished

From a student paper:

Contemporary Christian Theology seems like such an academic topic, I was a sophomore, and my faith was incredibly new. I walked in, looked at the class, and saw I was way in over my head. But, as this class ended up teaching me, as well as the blog, I was completely in the right place allowing the spirit to work through me. Words like eschatology, Christology, and pneumatology were words that I never thought I’d grasp, but what I came to learn was that these concepts were ideas already stemmed within in me and were things that I had views on . It was amazing to hear different denominations’ viewpoints as well as speak on Catholicism as I haven’t really have not had the opportunity to share it in biblical studies and Christian theology classes before. Perhaps what I most understood through this class was the idea that theology isn’t about knowing everything, it is about using your life, understanding each other’s views, and knowing that at the end of the day, like everything, it is about Christ.

The class is Contemporary Christian Theology, a gen ed I teach at APU. I’m not sure I would have phrased it like this, but this does come close to my goal. And that I’m teaching students who are not going into further theology studies or ministries is even better. I translated academic theology in a way that helped. That’s something. Maybe not everything, but it’s something.

We’ll see where God leads in my pursuit of communicating all of this. My contract with APU was only for a year, and they are looking for someone with different background for next year (and the permanent position). So after this next semester? Do you need a theologian? Maybe it’s not only academia that needs more theologians… Maybe that’s part of the problem in a lot of respects.

For now, and for this season of life, I’m learning a lot in this present foray of academia (the positives and the negatives) and it is encouraging to know I’m helping others learn as well. What will the next season hold during this time of continued wilderness?

I await the Promised Land, keep walking forward, find strength and hope in the face of discouraging news, find renewal and encouragement in hearing very positive affirmation from others. I’m tired, to be honest, but the cloud hasn’t rested yet, so I, we as a family, seek what God has in store, further up and further in.

To live is Christ.

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Acknowledgments

Since only a small number of people will ever look at my dissertation (hopefully a much larger number look at the Fortress Press published version), I am posting here my Acknowledgment section that is at the beginning of the dissertation.  A way of more publicly to say thanks to the people involved in the process:

Acknowledgments

At the beginning is the end. The end of a long process of reading, writing, talking formally and informally with so many others. Along this way, I have had so many people who have influenced me in my thinking, in my faith, in my perseverance, pointing me towards a way of hope. Many of those I am not in regular contact with anymore and yet I would not be at this point if not for their influence. Thank you to my teachers at Wheaton for giving me the tools to explore theology and history, expanding not only my knowledge but also expanding my world, exposing me to the possibilities that Faith makes possible and giving me examples of how this can be worked out in the past and in the present. Thank you, dear friends who have walked a long or a little ways with me along the road. I value your friendship likely more than I ever expressed.

Others have had a more direct involvement in this process. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen stands out in this regard. He was a significant influence during my MDiv studies and years later when I was at another crossroads of vocation he invited me to apply to study with him at Fuller for a PhD. His graciousness throughout has been inestimable, and more than this, a graciousness mixed with a sharp eye towards stretching, training, and sharpening me. In many ways his mentoring took the shape of what follows, he spurred me on and gave space for my participation, always encouraging and with a sincere excitement about my progress. His sense of humor mixed with a depth of insight and mastery of so many topics serves as a continuing example of the kind of scholar I seek to be. While I do not quote his own works extensively throughout this present work, his stamp of influence is profound throughout, in major and minor ways. He is my Doktorvater and my friend.

Along with Dr. Kärkkäinen, I wish to offer thanks to The Center for Advanced Theological Studies. The fellowships provided throughout my PhD studies allowed me to begin and press onwards in these studies, a task that was well beyond my means except for their generous support and validation each year. More than financial help, those in CATS have served as wonderful mentors, exemplifying the best theological education can offer, truly combining a substantive integration of faith and learning, never interested in an isolating ivory tower, modeling how a life of study can also be a life of faith.

Dr. James Bradley bears special mention in this regard as he helped shepherd me through a minor in church history. This subject is a love of mine and Dr. Bradley exemplifies why I love this field so much. His constant graciousness and his pursuit of academic rigor is likewise a model to me as I press onwards in my vocation and my faith. I want to also thank Dr. Bill Dyrness who was my second reader and whose class on Theology and Beauty helped to wonderfully initiate my PhD studies. Jürgen Moltmann also deserves personal appreciation. He was gracious in responding to notes and in encouraging my theological studies. He continued to be gracious in opening up his home for a few sessions of conversations in 2011. His openness to me was a great encouragement and is a great model.  He truly lives out what he writes.

My parents supported me through the ups and the downs, believing in me when I was confident about God’s work in my life, and believing in me when I wandered a while through a wilderness. They taught me to follow Jesus from my earliest days and have continued to be not only my family but my also my friends and a key part of my spiritual community. They are my mentors in life, in pressing onwards, in seeking after God in the good times and in the struggles, able to talk over the deep things of Scripture or theology, laugh together in considering the absurdities of life and celebrate together in the triumphs. I owe them much more than I can possibly say.

Amy has been my dearest friend, my constant encourager, my love of my life. She is a faithful follower of Christ, and I love being a team with her in this journey. I treasure her wisdom, her passion, her heart, the way she radiates the fullness of Christ, the way she hopes with me and for me, constantly pointing me towards God’s work. She is also much better at grammar than I am and helped me sort out many issues in what follows, fixing all manner of punctuation and being willing to tell me when something just plain didn’t make sense, as well as encouraging me when she read something that she loved. In big and small ways, her assistance is invaluable and I treasure beginning a new phase of life with her, our first that doesn’t involve PhD studies. We made it, my love.

This work is about the church. And while it may be wonderful to see transformative ecclesiology taking shape sooner rather than later, the reality is that any transformation of the church is like turning a cargo ship. It doesn’t happen quickly. With that in mind, I realize that what follows is an expression of hope for future generations. Along the way of writing this, one particular member of this future came into my life, my daughter Vianne, who was born very early in the morning on Easter, 2012. I continue to see the task of theology in all its forms as a way of helping provide for her a way forward in her own faith and hope and participation with Christ. She is a constant delight and a wonderful gift from God. I dedicate this dissertation to her, with hope and with expectation that she will see the wonders and promises of Christ become ever more present during the course of her life.

San Dimas, Maundy Thursday 2013                     Patrick Oden

Posted in academia, dissertation musings, ministry, missional, theology, Vianne, writing | 12 Comments

Acts 14:8-20

Last evening, I preached at the PazNaz Saturday Service. The passage this weekend was Acts 14:8-20. I spoke from more of an outline/cues than a text, as I’m trying to get better at speaking like this. I said more than what’s in the notes, including some extra points and a bit of personal touches/honesty.

Here’s my notes:Acts 14:8-20

The Story of God in Contrast to other Stories.

Luke is establishing the story of the followers of Jesus as the continuing story of the story of God.

We can’t attach our own story to this story, we have to listen to the story God is telling so that we interpret everything right.

Perspectives in Lystra:
Characters—Putting ourselves in each characters shoes to observe the passage from different perspectives.

A. The healed man – asked for alms, and got his legs.
Types of needs – healing, jobs, protection, financial
Types of salvation

The man needed healing, and that’s he got. Let’s not overlook this.
God is a God who heals. Who provides. Let’s not get distracted by all the wrong ways of responding to this moment and forget the power of the God we serve. We get so distracted by being nervous about being wrong, that we forget that God is a God of salvation who is reaching out to us.

When God works that’s a testimony. For us and for others. It’s a testimony for us because God working helps us think about how God will continue to work.
But how do we interpret this work?

Story of God — Exodus (Red Sea) — Exodus 14 Pharoah had the signs of the plagues, but then dismissed them and attacked Israel.

This story echoes Acts 3, establishing Paul as approved by God, with Barnabas.

B. The crowd
What is the story they know?

Olympian deities roaming the earth – Ovid

Types of hopes – gods, work, money, health

Types of devotion – transactional, religious, financial, influence

Types of leaders—CEO, priest, king—we want to put our identity in the one who saves us.
Most enthusiastic and most fickle—they support you until you disappoint them, then their passion is still as great, in the other direction.

New Atheists—disappointment with God turns to antipathy with God.

Desperation is a dangerous drive, it drives us into the arms of supposed heroes and often against God, who we only judge based on how well he is meeting our needs.

Fickle servants for a fickle god—they acted in the way their worship formed them.

Looking for incarnations, mistaking the servants for the master

Don’t trust in Egypt – (Isaiah 30) fickle masters make fickle people, blowing with the wind

(Exodus Golden Calf—Egypt) – Exodus 32

C. The Jewish leaders

Devoted to God—jealous for God—heresy hunters

Takes advantage of ignorance

We know these people, people so sure about their interpretation of God that they won’t allow any other expression, and often drive away healing and salvation in doing so.

What could they do for the lame man? They could be right. How does that help anyone?

And they weren’t even right! Being right with God comes with power, with hope, with thanksgiving, not destruction and stoning.

(Korah) – Numbers 12, 16 (Moses did not need to avenge himself)

D. Paul and Barnabas

Parallel with Peter (Acts 3:8)
serving God according to God’s story. First came healing, then preaching, then stoning?

The speech. A very succinct summary of the story told in the early chapters of Genesis (see also Romans 1)

The power of God
The testimony of God
God the creator – in charge of all—rejected the deities
God the provider
God the patient restorer—asserting God’s promises

The humility of serving God – testify to God’s power, not our own abilities.

Doing right does not mean all goes right and things going wrong does not mean we did wrong
Models for ministry, turn a misunderstanding into a moment for preaching

Reminders of Moses – as a Leader and the Creation/salvation narrative.

We can’t take Jesus out of his context, out of the context of the story of Scripture, because then we start attaching to him our own perceptions of the kind of Messiah we think we need.
Acts 14:21-22 “going through considerable suffering”. Speaking from experience!

What kind of hopes to do we have? What kind of savior are we looking for? What kind of story are we a part of. We must get deeper into God’s story so that we know who we are.

***Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13**

Let us go forth an live in God’s story and celebrate the story that he is bringing to fulfillment in this world.

Posted in church, ministry, notes, speaking, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Triumphant Entry and Turning over the Tables

Here’s the outline/text of the sermon I preached last night on Mark 11:1-11, 15-19. It served more as a guide than as a script, but it’s full enough that I think it’s worth posting here.

The Book of Mark is about what? The Kingdom.

The Kingdom…. But what kind of kingdom? We are told of the Messiah, but what kind of Messiah is this?

The Messiah is the promised bringer of the promised Kingdom.

But so often instead we’re so intent about finding the Messiah that we want, we miss the Messiah that we need. And coming to terms with the Messiah we need is about more than reading the right books, having the right religious statements. It’s even more than about reading our Bible or doing good works. Because the Pharisees did that, did that better than any one of us.

And the disciples did that too, indeed they spent day and night with Jesus, and you know what, up to now, up to our passage, they missed understanding the Messiah they needed because they were so intent on getting the Messiah they wanted, a Messiah who would make them important and put them in places of honor, and help make Israel important again in the world.

They wanted a restoration of the kingdom like David had enacted, and they thought that the Messiah was going to do exactly that. As the earliest followers of Jesus they thought they were in a good place for all the rewards that come with having networked right and early with the key guy.

They had an answer about the kind of Kingdom they wanted and they had an answer about the kind of Messiah who would bring that Kingdom. We have the same answers. We have a kingdom in mind and we have a Messiah in mind. What kind of kingdom? What kind of Messiah?

The whole book is about answering these questions, so we could survey the whole book, but let’s look at the last 2 chapters — 9 and 10 — before we get into our passage.

We have the transfiguration (9:2-13), what does this say about the Kingdom? It’s real and it is cosmic.

We have the demon possessed boy (9:14-29) (note how this ends in v.29, and keep that verse in mind). Jesus frees this boy from the possession, taking away the barriers that have blocked him from experiencing true freedom.

On the other hand, those who make it more difficult for others to get it, to find freedom, are judged. Be ruthless about what is required, right? Get rid of that which gets in the way and get rid of those who get in the way. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out, right? Give someone water to drink and you’re giving Christ water. If someone gives you water, helping you on your way, they are giving it to Jesus, because as we progress in this real Kingdom, we are progressing right along with the Messiah who makes it possible.

In Mark 9:30-35, Jesus talks about his death and resurrection, but the disciples don’t get it. They miss the point, they miss this whole core message of their Lord, and then spend the rest of the trip talking about who was the greatest.

What does Jesus say in response? He sits them down and says the least are the greatest. What?! He picks up a child, whose name we aren’t given, leaving him nameless to us. This nameless child becomes the model of the mission of the Messiah.

Chapter 9 ends with a more conceptual teaching as the disciples sort out what this kingdom is all about. They want to control the power, but Jesus says whoever is following the Kingdom is part of it, equal to the rest. There’s no power play in the Kingdom, after all. Those who get it, are part of it.

And get rid of anything that gets in the way of getting it, and living it out. If the salt is filled with dirt, it’s worthless. Don’t let it get ruined. Get your way into the Kingdom, and let go of anything that causes barriers to you or others.

But, again, what kind of Kingdom is this? What kind of Messiah is initiating this Kingdom? How do we recognize it? What should we look for?

Chapter Ten carries us forward in answering these key questions. Verses 10:1-12 is about divorce and marriage. The emphasis here is on maintaining the bond of unity, not forsaking the old for someone new, not trying to trade up for some supposed better model. Be faithful, that’s part of the Kingdom, we learn. And be faithful to each other, because in a marriage it’s not about one person carrying the burden while the other gets to do whatever he or she wants. Remember what Jesus said about causing someone to trip? Don’t trip your partner by pushing them down or away.

Verses 13-16
are about children again. The least among them, they’re excluded. Jesus says to include these least, because that is what the kingdom is like. It belongs to the least of these, to children and to people whose humility and inclusion is like children. It belongs to the powerless, the excluded. Yeah, that’s a strange Kingdom. But that’s the Kingdom that Jesus tells us about.

That’s not the Kingdom the rich young ruler wanted or expected. We read about his story in the next verses. Jesus told him what was necessary. This young man didn’t want that Kingdom or this Messiah, so he walked away. He wanted the Kingdom he wanted according to his own definitions. Jesus said, “go and sell what you have.” The young man just went.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Which is another way of asking “Who do you say that I am?”

With the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus is still asking this question, but more importantly he is also giving us answers. What do you want me to do for you? The people want a triumphant king.

Who do you say that I am? The Messiah, they say, a religious and political leader.

Passage—Read 11:1-15

A bit on Triumphant Entries, Caesar, Alexander, Titus

Jesus showed that he is the Messiah, then he shows what kind of Messiah he is, what kind of Kingdom is declaring.

Some details worth noting.

Followers were not random people. These were people who already believed.

Colt – a gesture of his claim to the throne of Israel. Horses tended to be foreign and exotic. The donkey meant he wouldn’t walk, he would ride. Not as a foreign power copying foreign trends, but as a Jewish King with Jewish habits. The colt, some think, ensures that it had not been ridden before, so Jesus isn’t stepping into anyone’s shoes or following anyone’s pattern. He’s a new King, making his way into the city fresh. Want some confirmation of this? Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Clothes being laid before him and on the donkey – 2 kings 9:13

They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

Branches – 2 Maccabees 10:1-8

Judas Maccabeus and his followers, under the leadership of the Lord, recaptured the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. They tore down the altars which foreigners had set up in the marketplace and destroyed the other places of worship that had been built. They purified the Temple and built a new altar. Then, with new fire started by striking flint, they offered sacrifice for the first time in two years, burned incense, lighted the lamps, and set out the sacred loaves.

After they had done all this, they lay face down on the ground and prayed that the Lord would never again let such disasters strike them. They begged him to be merciful when he punished them for future sins and not hand them over any more to barbaric, pagan Gentiles. They rededicated the Temple on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev, the same day of the same month on which the Temple had been desecrated by the Gentiles.6 The happy celebration lasted eight days, like the Festival of Shelters, and the people remembered how only a short time before, they had spent the Festival of Shelters wandering like wild animals in the mountains and living in caves.But now, carrying green palm branches and sticks decorated with ivy, they paraded around, singing grateful praises to him who had brought about the purification of his own Temple.

Hosanna: means “God save us”
Psalm 118:19-29

Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The LORD has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 LORD, save us!
LORD, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

God save us from what? God save us for what? These are key questions.

This wasn’t an expression of humility by Jesus. This was him saying that he had the answers and authority. Jesus embracing, setting this up, being surrounded by his followers was a significantly bold statement of who he was. Jesus is declaring himself to be King, to be Messiah. Not a Roman King. Not a Greek King. A Jewish King following very clear Jewish prophecies about who he was as King.

Jesus then went to the Temple, because at the end of a triumphant entry one gets a triumphant welcome at the place of triumphant power. But it was late, Jesus looked around at the Temple, and the Temple was not ready for him. The Temple was not ready to embrace the kind of Messiah he was nor the kind of Kingdom he was bringing. The Temple, up to the time of Jesus the most visible symbol of God and his reign on earth was expressing a different kind of authority. And apparently he did not like what he saw. So he left, but he came back the next day.

And when he came back the next day, we learn what this Messiah of this Kingdom, thought of the Kingdom as it was being expressed in the Temple.
Read 11:15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Jesus has two aspects in his ministry that we see. He confronts established powers and he includes the excluded, liberating the latter from being oppressed and liberating the former from oppressing.

That’s the kind of Messiah he is
. This present passage is a case of him confronting the powers, saying that the established power structures in the Temple are getting in the way of the purpose that God intends.

Note that while we may think of this in terms of being against consumerism, buying and selling, it really isn’t that. The buying and sacrificing of animals is in the Law, in the OT. (Lev 5:7; 12:6-8) People were to bring a lamb or sheep, the poor could bring a dove or pigeon. So if Jesus didn’t come to overturn the Law but fulfill it, what’s this about?

The actions of Jesus go deeper than this, and are attacking the power structures that gain and maintain their power through the use and misuse of religious power, choosing who is in and who is out, who succeeds and who fails. It is a prophetic protest against a broader kind of corruption, one that is declaring its own particular kind of Kingdom, and thus declaring a particular kind of salvation, one that enables Temple leaders to be powerful and wealthy. It’s not the Temple salesmen Jesus is after, it is the Temple power structure, and thus the religious aristocracy. He’s undermining the power of the religious leaders by both attacking a core area of their concern and by focusing the Temple on an area they do not control, that of prayer.

Remember the passage from Maccabees, about their cleaning the Temple from impurities and idolatry. Remember that when we think of what Jesus did. He’s saying to the Temple, you’re getting it wrong and I’m going to clean you out.

He quotes Scripture while doing so. Let me read those phrases in their context.
Isaiah 56:7-8

These [the outsiders] I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
8 The Sovereign LORD declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”

And Jeremiah 7:8-11

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

The Kingdom is not about transaction, it is about freedom. But, the starting point of freedom does not begin with us getting what we want and doing whatever we want. The starting point of freedom begins with us being freed, first of all, from ourselves, from our attempts to dominate, to compete, to compartmentalize our spiritual and social lives in a nicely wrapped transaction approach to life.

We too often make transaction the substance of our identity: do this, get that. We want a Messiah that fits into this model. Life makes sense to us when he does.

Jesus pushes back against that. Gouge out the eye, cut off the hand, turn over the tables.

And those of us who are claiming this Messiah as our Messiah and this Kingdom as our Kingdom, sometimes experience Jesus as the Messiah who overturns the tables in our own life. Because the Temple, this Temple [point to self], is now the Temple of the Holy Spirit, in us, and we are not to be part of the transactional, power seeking, dominating Kingdom. This house [point to chest], this house [point around to others and repeat], is to be a house of prayer. Are we seeking power and dominance and influence? Do we operate with the assumption of transaction to get what we want? Or do we humble ourselves and listen and follow the Spirit?

Are we trying to assert a different Messiah of a different kind of Kingdom? Sometimes, like with the temple, we may even look very religious and good.

Or are we people of humility and people of prayer who will let go of anything that binds or confuses or prevents us from seeing Jesus as he reveals himself to be? Throwing out the spirits of the world, those false ways of trying to secure meaning or purpose or identity, like with the demon-possessed boy, are driving out through prayer. That’s why the Temple, [point to self] temple, has to be a house of prayer.

When I was at Wheaton, I got my tables overturned. It’s a much longer story, but basically comes down to the fact that life was really falling apart for me in most every way. I became pretty severely depressed my junior year and found light by discovering some deeper truths in Scripture, church history. I really started readding Wesley, fasting, praying, studying at a good college. I thought I was on my way, thinking I needed to sharpen my spiritual life? But the more I did the more went wrong. Why I asked, and I didn’t get it. Because even though I said I was for Christ and His Kingdom, in my heart, in my deepest self, what I wanted was answers to my frustrations, dating, money, success. I was, basically, trying to make a transaction with God. And I got my tables overturned. I had a crisis of faith for a long time because I thought I was doing everything right but everything kept getting worse and worse. Only now I realize that I had a crisis of faith because my faith wasn’t in the Messiah who was and is, but the Messiah who I thought I wanted.

Jesus overturned my tables so that I could realized the Messiah I needed, and become the person, finally, he created me to be. This didn’t just happen at Wheaton. This happened for most of the ten years after Wheaton. I was a mixed bag, doing and thinking a lot of right ways, but mixing in far too much transactional theology. Not intentionally, but it was there. I thought if I did the right things I would get the right things. But I did so much of what was right, but everything kept going wrong. I realize now that much of this was Jesus overturning my tables. I was mixed, because it wasn’t that I was malicious or deceptive. All along I would have said I want Christ to be all and all in me. But, underlying those statements were some wrong assumptions. I had a crisis of faith because my faith was in the wrong kind of Messiah.

This isn’t to say, not at all, that all our problems are caused by Jesus trying to put us right, of overturning the tables. That’s the brilliance of these various passages put together. Sometimes we are sick and need to be healed, sometimes we are being attacked by evil and need to be freed from that, sometimes we are thirsty and need a glass of water, sometimes we are among the excluded, like the little children, and need to be included. The Kingdom is about real freedom, and freedom for some, for so many, means being encouraged and empowered and renewed for this participation.

But others, and the disciples and the religious leaders and the Temple patterns are a model of this, are arguing who is the greatest, and maneuvering for positions of power or going through transactions to trade their wealth or influence for more power. These are the sorts of people who get their tables overturned. Not because the tables are themselves inherently wrong, but because they are in the way of understanding the truth of the Kingdom for what it is. Those people, so many of us, get our tables overturned precisely because we’re trying to do what we think are the right things, in all the right ways, to get noticed and get involved, but in doing so we’re pursuing—often unconsciously—the wrong Messiah and thus the wrong Kingdom.

Sometimes we are in need of both healing and getting our tables overturned.

We like to think of ourselves as the people along the street waving our branches at the Messiah, but so many of us, and I include myself in this, are also the people in the Temple, selling our wares, trying out our sacrifices.

And to us Jesus says, “Stop. I want you, not your performance. I want you, not your transactions. I want you to pray, to listen, to be transformed. I want you to see, see the Messiah for who he is and see the Kingdom for what it is.”

One way or another we will see the Kingdom for what it is, if we are blind in our eyes, Jesus will heal us.

If we are blind in our understanding, Jesus will teach us. If we are blind in our actions, Jesus will stop us and point us the right direction, the direction of real freedom.

If we are seeking the Kingdom, truly open to the Messiah for who he is, we might be healed from our suffering or we might get our tables overturned.

It’s the same work of the same Messiah for the same purpose, to lead us all, however and wherever we’re coming from, into the presence of the King, to be the kind of people who really get, who really live out, this reality of the Kingdom in ways that help others live it out. We are freed and in this freedom we can help others find freedom in Christ.

Who asks, “What do you want me to do for you? Who do you say that I am? We answer this in our actions, with our whole life. Jesus shows us his answer. Are we ready to let go and serve this kind of Messiah? In this kind of Kingdom?

Who do you say Jesus is? What do you want of him?

Be careful, because Jesus will answer you. Because he is the Messiah.

And he may lift you up or he may turn over your tables.

Either way, keep holding on because Christ and his Kingdom is the way of peace and hope and life.

Posted in church, holiness, Jesus, ministry, missional, Scripture, speaking, theology | 2 Comments

Marriage, Singleness, and Sin part 4

Okay, I know. Way, way too academicy recently. So, here’s where I take all that preparatory stuff and finally–finally–get to the point.

Singleness is not a higher calling than marriage. That’s not really a dramatic thing to say anymore. There’s very few people who celebrate that supposed “gift of singleness” after all.

At the same time, and what needs to be said a whole lot more, is that marriage is not a higher calling than singleness.

Neither is better. However, both can be worse. They’re equal callings but they’re different callings. Callings is a terribly religious/Christianese sort of word, isn’t it? I’m not going to use that anymore.

Marriage and singleness each offer their own expression of identity. They are about who we are as individuals and who we are among others and who we are before and with God.

Both suffer if we make either way all about us. If I make marriage all about satisfying my own interests and needs, I’m in trouble with God first of all. If I make singleness all about satisfying my own needs and interests, I’m in trouble with God first of all. We’re not allowed to be selfish either in marriage or in singleness.

This is where these states of calling are the same.

Here’s where they are different:

If you’re married, your identity with God is bound up in your contribution to the life of your spouse, and your family.

If you’re single, your identity with God is bound up in your contribution to others.

This is a tricky bit. Because I’m not saying your identity comes from your spouse, or that your identity comes from others. Rather, our identity can only be grounded in God. But, our identity with God includes contributing to the lives of others. Love God, love your neighbor, thems the rules.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that married people shouldn’t pay attention to others. I am saying, however, that if they pay attention to others more than or in exclusion to their spouse and family, they’re sinning. They’re not right with God.

That’s what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 7.

If you feel your calling is to serve others more broadly, don’t get married. If you can’t focus on others, and spend all your life trying to get married, just get married. Because if you’re single and you’re spending your energy and efforts to find a spouse, and pouring yourself wholly or most fully into the life of a single other person, then you’re not right with God.

So, if you want to be married, great! There’s a way of life God has for us in this path. Your primary contribution is to the emotional and spiritual well-being of this other person. This doesn’t mean you’re to be co-dependent, finding your identity in this other. It means that you’re to help this other person most fully find their identity in and with God, and that person is to help you most fully find your identity in and with God.

If you are single, great! That means you can devote yourself to contributing to the lives of others, free from having to pay attention to the needs of one particular other. Your time is your own, and you are free to go and do all sorts of tasks in all sorts of places. Like Paul did. And because that was his calling (to evangelize and serve others) he saw his state of singleness as a gift. The gift, after all, isn’t being alone, it’s being able to contribute in all kinds of ways to all sorts of people. A single person hsa the gift of time and space, able to use their time for others, and able to spend their time in other places.

Unfortunately for so much of the Protestant churches, and especially in Evangelicalism, these two paths got mixed up. And all sorts of hell, literally, breaks loose.

More on that in the next post, including examples of people who have done each right and examples of people who have done it wrong.

Posted in emerging theology, holiness, ministry, missional, psychology, Scripture, society, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Marriage, Singleness, and Sin part III

Here’s a summary of what I’ve tried to say so far, and if I didn’t say it, here’s what is at the root of what I am planning to say:

  • Sin is about identity, not about the law or rules.

  • Christian conversations about singleness and marriage have tended to emphasize the role and place of sex, with a longtime assumption that the body is lesser or even evil defining what theology has said about these topics.

  • Singleness was seen as a higher calling, when the body is seen as lesser or evil. Because a single person is not, presumably, caving into their physical weaknesses and is pursuing a supposedly higher calling.

  • With the Protestant reformation, all things Catholic were opposed, and this included monasticism. So, marriage was seen as a higher calling, almost from the very beginning, because it contrasted with the Catholic position. This did not necessarily, however, bring with it any new or profound reflections on the role of marriage. Being married was enough of a statement it seems.

  • This means that while Protestants certainly emphasize the place of marriage, they keep up the tradition of not having a lot of depth to what it means to Christian spirituality to be married.

  • Having rejected the spiritual priority of singleness in the Catholic Church, Protestants have, as far as I can tell, absolutely no theology about the role of singleness. It’s not quite a sin, but to be single is, in essence, to be lesser. Something singles know even if they’re not explicitly told this. That’s why the goal of so many singles, and singles groups, is to find someone to marry.

  • The role of theology is to reflect on the practices and on the received teachings in order to find a more coherent understanding of God’s call in our life and to learn how to integrate this call into our lives.

  • In my mind, on the topic of singleness and marriage, theology has almost entirely failed at the above task. There is, really, no coherent theology about marriage and singleness, that I feel reflects what we are supposed to think about this topic. It’s not coherent.

  • Because it’s not coherent, when we try to apply fixes to perceived problems of marriage, singleness, or sex, we run into a huge problem. We only see the symptoms of the deeper problem, but have nothing to really address the underlying issues. When we only see the symptoms, we almost always revert to a very law based position. Marry because its right and God’s plan. Singleness is a curse, a social barrenness which is silently judged. Sex is only allowed in marriage. Thems are the rules.

  • The trouble with the law is that the law has limitations. It either runs out of things to say when new challenges arise. Or, it tries to say too much when new challenges arise. The best, Biblical, example is in the Gospels, where Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath because he healed someone. They built a hedge around the Law, and made all sorts of added rules about what is and what is not specifically allowed within the stated Law. Jesus disputed them. He told them that they didn’t get the underlying goal of the Law, they just cared about the rules. Jesus was right.

  • Marriage was discounted by the Catholic Church, and not allowed to clergy, because it was seen as a lesser state, essentially if not explicitly. The emphasis here is on the sin of the body, the weakness that the flesh demands, something that truly spiritual people are able to overcome. This is wrong.

  • Singleness is discounted in the Protestant Church because it is understood as a lesser state of life–following society’s embrace of status as an indicator of reality. This attitude of prioritizing marriage is, in essence, at the root of consumerism in the church. Don’t let anyone fool you. There’s all kinds of signs that are assumed to be indicators that God loves you more and that having more, doing more, of these things, means you’re more in tune with God. Being married is high on this list. Single people are also suspect because it is assumed they are much more susceptible to sinning–especially sexual sins. The temptations of the flesh are once again a defining part of the theology on marriage.

  • Sin isn’t about the law. That’s missing the point. Marriage and singleness are not issues of sin or holiness. That’s also missing the point. Instead, the Biblical teachings on singleness in the passage from Paul I quoted below, makes singleness and marriage an issue of calling and priorities.

  • In other words, it’s all about identity. It’s finding our identity in ways and thoughts and perspectives that are not grounded in God’s call for our lives. Sin is that which is not God. Sin is an expression of finding meaning in that which is not God. Sin is, in other words, misplaced identity.

  • What is our identity in God? That’s a huge question, but one that does have a distinction when it comes to marriage and singleness.

  • What are the other ways we can establish our identity? We can seek to establish our identity through violence, trying to dominate others forcefully. We can try to establish our identity sexually, by absorbing the identity of others into ourselves or by giving ourselves over to the identity of others. We can find our identity through possessions, money being a tool to give us meaning.

    We can try to establish our identity through food, or drink, or accomplishments, or even through depression or lack. If we use any of these to give us meaning and identity, we fall into sin. Married or not, rich or poor, whatever we are, if these things serve as the basis of our identity, we’re outside the calling of God.

So, what should Christian theology think about marriage or singleness and all the other associated issues? What could serve as the basis of a coherent theology of sexuality, singleness, marriage? I think 1 Corinthians 7 is a good place to start, so I’ll be talking more about that in the next post, and finally–finally!–getting to what I’ve been hoping to say all along.

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Running After those Who Have Run Away

One of the key perspectives Moltmann has helped me consider more thoroughly is that of the perspective of God. We tend to think about theology, and law, and all the other religious concepts from our perspective. Which makes sense because its ours, and so we naturally view the world this way.

But Scripture gives us insight into God’s perspective, and if you get that it’s doing that, you have to re-interpret religious experiences, sin, and everything else from this more complete understanding. That’s what Jesus was about, living among us and exhibiting in words and in actions how God views people, and how God views this whole world. Most people, I think it can be said, didn’t get what Jesus was up to.

I suspect that most people still don’t. I’m not going to say, “I get it” in a way that others don’t, but I am trying to become more and more the sort of person who does get it. Moltmann said, at one point, that “We shouldn’t take an atheist more serious than Christ who died for them.” We shouldn’t take the expressions of religious belief, or lack of them, as being weightier than God. The question isn’t, Moltmann said, what god people might believe in, the question is who God believes in. Who does God believe in? He sent his son to die for all, and more than this, he sent his son to die and be resurrected so that death–of faith, of relationships, of hope, of identity, of meaning, of finances, of contribution–isn’t the end, but even as death, real and literal death, has been overcome, so too has all these other forms of death.

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

We’re pretty good with people who are experiencing problems they didn’t cause. We’re pretty good with accepting people’s faults when they make the claim that they’re seeking God’s forgiveness. But what about people who cause their own problems? What about people who have rejected the faith of their youth. We tend to take their rejection more seriously than the God who continues to believe in them, who continues to seek them.

That’s probably why I really like this story about the Apostle John, told by his own followers, and shared first in writing by Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd century.

I like to share it every so often because it’s a good reminder to me and to others, not to give up even on people who have given up on themselves, on God, or on us.

When he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some ), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, `This one I commit to you in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.

But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.

But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.

He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.

And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, `Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the church, over which you preside, being witness.’

But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, `I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, `He is dead.’ `How and what kind of death?’ `He is dead to God,’ he said; `for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.’

But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, `A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost.

He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, `For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’

The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.

But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, `Why, my son, do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you still have hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.’

And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.

But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Savior, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”

Posted in church, good works, ministry, missional, Moltmann, rebirth to life, spirituality, theology | Leave a comment

stepped off the boat

Back in the beginning of 2003, I had finished my M.Div, was still working at a church, though a church that didn’t want me (you don’t have a future here, an elder said). I had a good ministry, I thought, and I was doing some creative explorations that came out of a burgeoning theology. But I could find no acceptance by those who had the power to bring more security. I could not find an audience or substantive support. I was burning out and fast. I was living in an apartment in Pasadena, a nice apartment, but one that was constantly noisy because the owner was remodeling other units to then raise the rent on all the units.

I was lost. I had no words of hope of my own. I did not know where to turn or who to turn to. But I still tried to pray, to hear from God what I was supposed to do.

On January 15, 2003 I was sitting on the small back porch of this apartment, and I wrote the following in my journal. It came to mind again today, so I’m posting it here:

We walk in a world not our own, possessing yet holding loosely, letting go all that binds, all that hinders the goal. We are the redeemers of time – what is fateful becomes fruitful, what is a fear and foe becomes a tool, a force, a power to be walked on like water.

Yet like water we sink into time, letting our faithlessness cover our heart. We sink, worried, fretful, possessive, greedy, grasping because time is drowning us in its overwhelming force. We must walk on time, above and outside, yet touching it, letting its waves be that which we place our feet upon. It is only through and by faith we become Time-Walkers – eternal beings who transcend yet are connected with this elusive dimension.

I am Peter stepped out of the boat, “Lord, Save me! Time is swallowing me!”

“Have Faith,” is the given response, “Walk forward neither looking to the right or left but at me, in my eyes. That which is lost is gained. That which is behind is yet ahead. That which is despaired is still a hope. Walk. Stand. Move. If you do not have faith, you will not stand.

“Time flows, but I am the one both in and out of time. Do not look to those trapped for assistance but to the one who has a stable hand. I am the one who brings order to disorder, disorder to order, upsetting and twisting around all things so that all things are directed towards me.”

“Lord, I am weary – I have not faith.”

“It is what you do when weary that marks a person of faith. Have faith, even though you have none. Sing and dance. Marvel at the beauty even in the smallest thing. Delight in the senses, taking in all in a fivefold way the encompassing bounty found even in this present sin-stained world. If this is stained, imagine what is possible when it is all cleansed.”

“Lord, I do not know where to walk or what to do.”

“Then stand, and keep standing, like a soldier waiting for orders. Stand and wait. Do what is before you and wait for counsel and guidance.”

“How long must I wait?”

“As long as you must.”

Life got worse. Much worse, really. I got more confused, more lost, more depressed. Then I stepped off the boat.

I’m still waiting, I think, as there’s an immense amount of questions still unanswered. Much of my life is in flux, and I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing this time next year. I don’t know the answers to so many of the standard questions of a normal life.

But, because I stepped off the boat, on this day, here in Germany, I’m walking on water. And I see Jesus.

That’s something. That’s definitely something.

Posted in contemplation, ministry, missional, personal, spirituality, theology, time, writing | 3 Comments