Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'It's Time...'

Fredd was a showdog, plain and simple. Being a showdog, he had been babied and fussed over and the result was that, as an adult dog, he had some fairly significant gaps in his development. This was, of course, well before we got him. By the time he came to live with us he was no longer Aramis, the award-winning canine supermodel, or even Aramis, the gigolo... Nope, for us he was just our dog, Fredd, and came to us late in his wonderful life with a load of irreversable baggage. We want to ensure our new dog, Hef (Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, tossed off of Olympus because he was so ugly) doesn't present the same kind of challenges to us as a household, so we’ve been taking him to puppy school. See, there are expectations for a dog that is no longer a puppy...

Paul is exasperated when speaking to the Corinthian church, for many of the same reasons that having a dog can be exasperating. The church has been established for a year a half and yet Paul finds himself not only having to clean up messes that should not be happening, but restricted as to how he can relate to the church in order to help it move forward, beyond mere humanity, into the thing that God desires for her to become...

First off, there's a language barrier. Paul says ‘I could not address you as spiritual people, but as worldly...’ The words Paul longs to use have no real meaning because there is a basic cultural difference between himself and his readers: they are still coming at things from a natural, worldly perspective, rather than an elevated, spiritual one.

It's like trying to teach algebra to students who have not mastered basic operations. When the foundational learnings aren't in place, the insight and experience available to the students through the teacher never gets beyond superficial levels. This is always frustrating for the teacher.

There are also some basic discipleship issues here. When Paul speaks of spiritual people, he uses a word that addresses ‘the aspect of a person who is akin to God and ready to serve as God’s instrument or organ... being higher than man, yet inferior to God... filled with and governed by the Spirit of God... Exposed to the wind”

There is no evidence of this in the Corinthian church.

So when Paul confesses his frustration, he chooses to illustrate it rather vividly. It's not so much that he is saying 'You're all a bunch of babies- grow up!' as it is that he is saying 'You are too big to be breast-feeding. It's kinda yecch! Just sayin...'

There was an expression that was fairly regularly used about ten years ago. It was even part of our present mayor's campaign for election:

It's time

There’s a sense that time has passed and change has taken place but is being resisted. Paul is saying “People, it’s time.”

Time to move forward.
Time to stop making excuses.
Time to quit expecting leaders to spoon-feed.
Time to quit blaming others for disappointments.
Time to release old grudges.
Time to drop the shields.
Time to stop expecting to receive and start exploring how to give.

Yeah, it's time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Only Fools Rush In

Arriving at a belief through a rational thought process and espousing it is different from having a belief and then rationalizing it later.
(a facebook status for January 25)

The challenge for us all is to reasonably engage our faith, isn't it?

Reason and faith do not need to be either/or scenarios, yet we are led to believe that they are diametrically opposed... Some of it has to do with the basic difficulty that we all have believing in things and people that we cannot see, hear, or otherwise experience with one or more of our basic five sense. The reality is that we need a reason to believe- belief doesn’t just happen.

In this letter to the Corinthian church, a church that Paul himself has planted just eighteen months earlier, he writes to a group of Christians that have started to form little unity-threatening factions. These are probably not people who have grown up in Jewish households singing psalms and hearing stories of Moses and Egypt or David and the Philistines. They are probably greeks, having their own rich tradition of philosophy and logic, their own famous teachers like Homer, Plato and Virgil, and their own gods and goddesses. The temple of Aphrodite with its 1000 temple prostitutes is right in the middle of town. The Corinthians are a wild and affluent bunch, favouring a life of lasciviousness and justifying it all by worshiping a goddess that is into that kinda thing. The Christians in town are carrying a bit of baggage with them, and their baggage is slowing them down, so Paul sends them a letter meant to redirect them a bit... to share around some of the wisdom afforded him by God. In it, he explores many themes in chunks. One such theme is this idea of

Wisdom: Knowlege of what is true, coupled with just judgement as to action

We’re okay with the
knowledge bit... we have a pretty good handle on the difference between truth and falsity (except for all of the lies that get hurled into our consciousness from hell, designed to cause us to doubt our worth, devalue our gifts and devise ways to approximate joy by embracing worship counterfeits that distract us from the voice of God:
  1. entertainments
  2. possessions
  3. some relationships...
Where it breaks down for us is the just judgement as to action bit...We struggle with perspective here because God’s picture of things is from outside of the physical realm while still encompassing it and understanding it; outside of unrighteousness and the calamity of our fallenness while still factoring it in and offering grace and hope.

Jesus is
our ziggurat,
our Jacob’s ladder,
our Mercury space craft,
our stairway to heaven...

Jesus is
and no man comes to God without passing through him.

Jesus is
God’s just judgement to action
and this makes no sense to our natural and cultural reason.

Paraphrasing Paul's thoughts as written to the church in Corinth, E J Smith says:
Jesus is the way God sent his wisdom to us.

In Christ,
forgiveness is offered to even the most notorious of sinners;
grace is offered to even the most faithless of the fallen;
hope and peace are offered to even the most desperate of the tormented.

This kind of just judgement to action is exactly the kind of thing that makes no sense to minds developed within the aftermath of Eden- that great tragedy that tore the holy from the common so that it has become increasingly common to be holy. It makes no sense- this good news is too good to be true, so humankind has created religious structures that allow us to have some boundaries, enabling us to intellectually and emotionally fathom the boundlessness of the love and grace of God by restricting access to it- in short, by making it more difficult to receive these things than God ever intended when he sent Jesus to die for us all and bring new life.

Paul addresses this in a letter written to a different church plant a decade later when he challenges his readers in the Colossian church to '
see to it that no one holds [them] captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the forces of this world rather than on Christ.' The same things seem to happen wherever people are involved, whether ten years or two thousand years later.

So what’s the simple message- the uncluttered word of God's wisdom?
  1. God loves us
  2. We all have sinned and sin separates us from God
  3. but Jesus came to die for us in our sin
  4. so what we need to do is accept this work of Grace

This is the message of the cross and if I am a fool for believing it then so be it. My own solitary hopelessness is just the beginning of my reasons to believe.

Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you
Take my hand, take my whole life too
Cause I can't help falling in love with you.

*click here for podcast

Monday, January 24, 2011

When the Saints Go Marching Out

According to the L.A. Times in August 7, 1992, a 48 year old Illinois inmate named Jesse Loden, serving a 30 year sentence for attempted murder and other crimes, filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections claiming that his 1st Amendment freedom had been restricted because he was not permitted to worship in the nude. Other sources elaborated that Loden had wanted to cover his cell door for a few minutes each day so that he could pray in the nude, which he claimed was a requirement of his Technicians of the Sacred religion, described as "neo-African, voodoo-chanting."
"I'm not really sure why I have to be naked," Loden told reporters. "It brings me closer to God.")

We are living in times marked not only by moral ambiguity, but also with spiritual yearning. (Don Posterski)

Life is a spiritual journey. Many get lost along the way, having been told that all roads lead to glory and that one’s right to choose a road of his liking is sacred. Whereas the part about the choice IS sacred, we must never just shrug our shoulders and default to the notion that all roads are... that’s just not true.

The Corinthian letters are especially suited to give guidance to men and women in today’s religiously troubled times. (Walter A Elwell/ Robert W Yarbrough)

Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is one of his most readable. However, the reason for its readability is that the Corinthian church was having trouble shaking off the residue of the past lives of its congregants. Crazy Corinth was known all throughout the Roman world as Sin City- it was recognized for its decadence and permissiveness. At the centre of town was the temple of Venus, (goddess of love) which employed more than a thousand temple prostitutes to ‘collect offerings from the people.’

So Paul, charged by God, had decided to plant a church there on his second missionary journey (circa AD 50-51) The letter we have as 1st Corinthians is probably a composite of two of his letters to this struggling church. In its opening lines, Paul speaks of God’s work within the church and the town that surrounds it, past, present, and future...

1.2-3Sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy...’ We are reminded of what Jesus has done for us AND how we have been called to respond to this with personal purity and holiness.

1.4...because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus...’ In spite of the things that are not as they could be in the Corinthian church, thanks is offered to God for the grace that has been given and is evident.

1.5,7in EVERY way... not lacking... enriched... gifts and graces’ Here’s the word for the church in Corinth and for us today: You have everything you need to do the task to which God is calling you. Every spiritual gift needed to see God’s redemption dream realized in this moment is right here. (12.4-11)

God has richly furnished his church to do and be his work.
But there is little point in all these furnishings if we do not pursue their intended use.

God is at the beginning, middle and end of it all.
God calls us at the beginning to live through the middle with the end in mind.

His end: The realization of God’s redemption dream for the whole world. He calls us daily as saints to be a ‘Future Faith Church’ to go marching out. He has called us, recognizing that we can falter and reminding us that he will be faithful in providing us with all that we need in order to see his future faithfully realized in our lives.

When the Saints go marching out, the world will change forever.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

transfer of ownership

For Christmas, a friend of mine gave me a book on a band that I've been a fan of for over 30 years, and in it I read some pop trivia that I had not yet heard. Funny how you can be paying attention to somebody's career for 30 years and still miss something as significant as their heroin addiction. Not funny at all, actually.

The other day I was talking with someone else about her journey out of a nicotine addiction. She had begun smoking again when her marriage broke down, and was now striving to break the hold of it for the second time. Her experience was interesting to me in that her smoking habit had begun again in secret as a coping thing. She had worked very hard to keep the truth of her tobacco use from her friends and her children because she feared their disapproval, and had seen the addiction progress much quicker than it originally had when she had been smoking to fit in with her friends as a teenager.

Thing is, addictions are private matters at first- they begin with dabbling in something, progress through regular involvement to dependency and ultimately slavery. The privacy factor is part of what makes it possible for a person to become addicted to something, I think. The dabbling and regular involvements are well-kept secrets, so that long before the time when a person's dependency has begun to interfere with his or her relationships, work, and other involvements/ responsibilities, there is a definite problem. Part of the problem- part of the slavery- has to do with the need to keep the story from going public. The grip of the disease tightens as the victim struggles to keep the problem hidden.

There are groups that exist to offer support and accountability to those who identify the hold that this or that addiction has upon their own lives. 12-Step programs afford the recovering addict with a structured, highly organized approach to systematically to break the hold of the addiction and cope with life outside its grip.

In one sense of the word, churches could be seen as support groups for recovering 'sin addicts.'

Redemption is a word often used to refer to the freeing of slaves. In the biblical sense, it denotes a transfer of ownership from a mighty master to the incomparable God. Jeremiah, a prophet of Israel commonly referred to as the weeping prophet, speaks of the Lord redeeming his people from the hand of those stronger than they. It's important to note that whereas the slave master is, indeed, mighty, this might does not compare with that of one called Lord. Whether we are talking politics and economics or applying homiletics, one called Lord is on an entirely different level than one who simply masters slaves.

But we mustn't be fools. Addiction to sin- in whatever expression it may take in the lives of people- is a big deal. It is mighty. It enslaves. We’re challenged by Jeremiah's word redeem to embrace the incomparableness of God and accept his Lordship, not to scoff at the spiritual calamity that befalls us on a daily basis. Thinking that sin is no big deal usually just leads to more sinning. However, we are to recognize that there is greater hope in God than there is hopelessness in the slave masters of this realm.

Lest we forget this, the Apostle Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with an exciting exploration into the incomparableness of God. This past Sunday I rambled through this massive passage allowing very little room to explore any one theme in depth. In truth, this passage probably contains the conceptual outline for six sunday morning talks. For what it's worth, here's the executive summary...

1.3 Blessing: The blessings promised are largely Spiritual in nature and in context. There is no promise here of health or riches. We are not to think of God, his Kingdom, nor his Lordship in purely natural terms. Spiritual blessings are incomparable to natural ones.

1.4-6 God's will and our destiny: Can destiny be contingent upon our will? Definitely. Destiny is a deal requiring two consenting parties. God has made provision for all to both participate in his work and enter into his rest, but the full realization of God’s dream for our lives requires our willing involvement. God will not take us where we don’t want to go. His desire for the world is too great for us to envision, but whereas his will is incomparable with ours, it is essentially compatible. God desires partnership, but it is incomparable to any partnership that we might experience with other human beings.

1.7, 14 Redemption: is a buying back- purchasing one’s freedom to choose a life. This is accomplished in Jesus’ sacrifice. He is hope. In him is the hope of being able to truly accept God's offer of Lordship/ partnership in his work. Otherwise our sin addiction keeps getting in the way. God's intervention in Jesus Christ can only be provided by him since his holiness and worth are incomparable to that of any human being.

1.9-11 Mystery of God: What does God want? Relationship with us. “To know and to be known” by his crowned of Creation: Us. Knowing the Creator of the Universe and being known by him is incomparable to any other natural human relationship.

1.12-13 Belief and Trust: The engagement of our will with the will of God. Up until this point, all of the work has been God's. However, the believing and the trusting requires faith and it is only by faith that we have hope of accepting ‘the demand imposed upon the believer that he shall realize in this life that of the world to come.‘ (H. Chadwick) God requires that of us which no one else has the right to require.

1.14 The Guarantee: The greek word translated here as guarantee also has, in its nuance, the promise of an engagement ring... The Holy Spirit’s presence in our life (that deep spiritual connection that we simplify for the theology of our children as ‘having Jesus come live in your heart’) is a right-now taste of the mind-blowing intimacy we will enjoy with God in fullness later...

All of this is just some of what makes God incomparable and relationship with God worth proclaiming.

Redeemed how I love to proclaim it. Redeemed by the blood of the lamb.
(Fanny Crosby)

Thursday, December 23, 2010



God with us is a title that we struggle to understand. It can mean so many different things, depending on how we read the word ‘WITH’...

God has joined us, living, breathing, struggling in the natural?

God is amongst us, making his presence known, felt?

God is working to see his redemption dream come to realization and is doing so using Us...

If you google,
‘man with shovel’ you will get 1,180,000 image results in 0.40 seconds.
‘man with hammer’ you’ll get 7,910,00 image results in 0.41 seconds.
‘man with saw’ you’ll get 174,000,00 image results in 0.44 seconds...

There’s no way of googling it, but if you could somehow load in
‘God with man’, the number would presently stand at around 7 billion in this instant.

God with us.

If we take this thinking further, however, recognizing that every ‘image’ on the internet has been uploaded there over the history of the Net, how great would the number of pictures of God With Us be since that moment when he stated emphatically: “This is very good.”

The choice is ours, how actively we mean to be employed by God specifically towards the realization of his redemption dream.

'Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!'

Thursday, December 2, 2010

spiritual pretending

confession time.
i take advantage of darkness to do something i would never think of doing in the light.

in those times when i wake up early in the dark, before the sun comes up even, and am immediately aware of something having gone dreadfully funkified in the kitchen garbage, i will run that garbage out to the dumpster wearing only the boxers and t-shirt that i've been sleeping in... i won't even put on shoes. i do so because i know that no one will see me in the dark.

interesting how taking the garbage out under cover of the darkness perpetuates the illusion of having created no garbage.

'those people are so clean. so... NOT wasteful'

I saw some good intentions at leadership conventions
But intrinsic motivations lead egocentric nations
Someone cried 'over here' and where the mud had cleared
Were names and dates all written- drowned like unwanted kittens

Don't stray from the rhythm
Don't fall out of tune
The good book says that dead flies
Taint the richest perfume

darkness is something that people have used since the beginning of time to cloak their actions- particularly the less-than-honourable ones. those who hold public office or who are otherwise always under the character scrutiny of the public eye often find the pressure of living up to the expectations implied in their callings burdensome and suffocating. over time, many fall into self-justified 'reward' behaviours which are not only unbecoming, but inappropriate and self-destructive. the whole 'holiness by day and hedonism by night' inconsistency has created many a charicatured non-example of how to live life inspiring to man or glorifying to God because this kind of thing always seems to surface. no matter how carefully the esteemed leader, pious preacher or public servant has been at hiding the evidence of his or her folly, eventually garbage day comes, the full dumpster is emptied and the truth is known.

spiritual pretending is one of the things that drove Jesus crazy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

the contrarian way

  • a person with a preference for taking a position opposed to that of the majority (wikipedia)
  • a person who takes an opposing view, especially one who rejects the majority opinion (

Jesus was a contrarian.
his way was and is the contrarian way.

It's no accident the New Testament was written in the simple language of the marketplace rather than classical Greek- which was far more eloquent but way beyond the grasp of the common man.
It was all part of God's plan to make the inaccessible accessible. When Jesus burst onto the stage, he confronted a religious system that saw God as anything but accessible. Spirituality was reserved for the elite- those with pedigree, education, and a commitment to rigid self-discipline. He countered this with a different path, one that farmers, fishermen, carpenters, even little children and sinners could follow. He raised the bar of righteousness but he lowered the bar of entry.
(larry osborne)

what we read in Jesus' words of blessing, woe and enemy love is his contrarian manifesto. he is at work establishing a new order- one that is designed by God to supercede the old, taking the spirit of the law handed down to Moses and turning up the intensity and the implication of it.

he challenges those who follow him to go beyond being a people set apart for God to being a people engaged by God to realize his intended order: LOVE.

Jesus speaks
blessing upon his followers when people hate, exclude, revile and defame them ‘on account of the Son of Man.’ he says his followers should rejoice with dancing when we are attacked.

why? because there is reward someday?
no- Jesus didn’t seem to be much into the whole reward thing. the business of eternal reward seems to be a bonus to sweeten the deal a little.

why then?

why should those who follow him with the desire of participating in the realization of the new kingdom coming dance for joy when people throw stones through their windows or spray paint defamatory remarks or symbols on their houses, cars and churches?

because this kind of friction is an indicator that his followers are still edgy;

that they haven’t started to blend in;
that there is conspicuous difference and that this difference makes others uncomfortable- not because these followers are lording judgement over people or otherwise rubbing others' faces in their own iniquity and selfishness, but because the way of love creates an awkward tension in the loveless... always has.

could it be that love itself is contrarian?