Monthly Archives: August 2007
A little teaser. This is an excerpt from my book project, currently in the pre-submission final revision. It is a piece from a chapter titled “Jesus the Prophet,” and I have just retold Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. (I named her Barbara, for no good reason.)
“I know that the messiah is coming,” she says. She’s dangerously close to the revelation of an explosive truth. “When he comes, he will tell us all things.”
“Lady, you’re looking at him.”
This is what a prophet does. This is what Jesus the Prophet does. He inserts himself into our workaday lives, he invades our space and exposes our heart. He tells us the ugly truth about ourselves, and yet he does so not to shame or punish us, but to open us up, to provoke us and prompt us, to disarm our defenses and turn ourselves, our whole selves, toward him. He dismantles our bland religion and hypothetical spirituality, he tears down our heartless theology and our faithless works. He infiltrates the very core of our existence and proclaims not our betterment or our improvement or our worthiness, but the glory and power of himself.
Jesus the Prophet calls us to stop messing around, to stop living our own private lives in our own private kingdoms, and he makes us reckon with his challenge. He makes us reckon with him.
Through failed relationships, through the seeking of solace in sex and surface spirituality, this person of despised race and downtrodden gender finds redemption …
The Kingdom of God is His kingship, His rule, His authority. When this is once realized, we can go through the New Testament and find passage after passage where this meaning is evident, where the Kingdom is not a realm or a people but God’s reign. Jesus said that we must “receive the kingdom of God” as little children (Mark 10:15). What is received? The Church? Heaven? What is received is God’s rule. In order to enter the future realm of the Kingdom, one must submit himself in perfect trust to God’s rule here and now.– George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom
I have blogged before on the semantics of practical soteriology, and I mentioned then that I am in love with a phrase indicative of “getting saved” that I first encountered in N.T. Wright’s Following Jesus — salvation means embracing the yoke of God’s sovereignty. Replace “embracing” with “accepting” or “submitting to,” if you like, for either would work just as well, but I prefer the term “embrace” because it more accurately connotes a regenerated will and desire to accept and submit.
The main problem I see with fuzzy salvation semantics is that they don’t do the reality of discipleship justice. You can see from my previous post that I don’t think “asking Jesus into one’s heart” makes one any less saved than some other, more precise words of acceptance. But I do admit that the focus of such phrasing isn’t precise enough.
When a person “gets saved,” he …
Getting a hold of Dallas Willard’s instant classic The Divine Conspiracy is worth it for the chapter on the Beatitudes alone. I refreshed myself with it this morning. Fantastic stuff.
It may not come from Conspiracy (I couldn’t find the exact quote in the book), but here’s a Willard quote on the Beatitudes seen at The Boar’s Head Tavern this week:
The Beatitudes cannot be “good news” if they are understood as a set of “how-to’s” for achieving blessedness. They would only amount to a new legalism. They would not serve to throw open the kingdom — anything but. They would impose a new brand of Phariseeism, a new way of closing the door — as well as some very gratifying new possibilities for human engineering of righteousness.
A couple of introductory points:
a) I am talking about the leading of the congregation in worship through music in the context of a worship service or gathering of believers. Every time I mention worship in this context someone tries to remind me that worship is more than music, as if I didn’t know that or didn’t believe it. I do. I firmly do. I just preached on worship a few weeks back in Element’s “Kill Your Idols” series, and while we talked about music a bit, it addressed the total life of Christ-following worship. So . . . save it.
b) I am not a worship leader. I have tried my hand at it a few times eons ago. I am not a musician. I think I can contribute some important thoughts to a casual conversation on the pastoring of worship in the Church, but it is quite likely, due to my lack of hands-on experience and lack of calling, that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Some thoughts on the leading of worship in the churches and some tips for leadership:
1. Worship leaders, ask yourself while choosing songs and arranging a set list (and even choosing musicians), “What is the purpose of this?” You may say it is to bring people into worship of God, but everyone says that. Look at your songs, look at your arrangements, look at the people assisting you. Are they all on board with that purpose?
2. The vast majority of your congregation is not …
Okay, logically speaking, if the first book is about creating Your Best Life Now, how do you do better than that? How do you get better than best? The new book is Become a Better You. Why should anyone buy and believe this one? If I have already achieved my best life — which I assume means it is as good as it gets — is it possible I can still get better?
Do you see yet that this stuff, for all its claims to create success and satisfaction, is just a self-perpetuating cycle that creates dissatisfaction, discontentment? This “being a better you” stuff is self-idolatry; it is the new legalism, because it exalts the ever-”improving” self over satisfaction with Christ.
I don’t wish to deadhorse stuff around here, but I wanted to highlight a couple of blogospheric compositions related to topics discussed in these parts recently, because I found them extremely touching and poignant, and because I think they cut through the conversational smoke and exalt the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was thankful to have read them, so I am honored to share them.
First, this from a pastor named Scott Eaton in the comment thread of this iMonk post:
Permit me a moment of transparency. As an overweight, 40 year old (in October), graying, unathelic, not so cool pastor who loves Jesus and people and finds his only hope in the gospel, the cross, and grace, your post encouraged me deeply.
Many times I get so discouraged in ministry precisely because I am “not cool.” How stupid is that? Yet, this is the message communicated today. If you are not cool – wearing cool clothes, cool glasses, with cool facial hair, having a cool staff, a cool building, a cool sound system, a cool band, a cool (fill in the blank here) – then you are irrelevant, washed up and ineffective for Christ. It has been enough to make me wonder if, being rather “uncool,” I should continue on in ministry.
But this is foolish and silly. I will not quit the ministry for that reason (I am not that pathetic!). I was called into the ministry by the one who “had no form or majesty that we should look at …
Last Sunday evening during Element’s worship set, in between Third Day’s “God of Wonders” and Matt Redman’s “You Never Let Go,” our band led us to sing that great 20th century hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Man, you should have heard our crowd of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings sing this like they’d never heard it before (and maybe some of them hadn’t). The confession and declaration of the song itself brought tears to my eyes, and singing it corporately was such a wonderful prelude to getting to teach on living a life in expectation of God’s deliverance.
One of my faves, particularly the third verse.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;There is no shadow of turning with Thee;Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
(Refrain)Great is Thy faithfulness!Great is Thy faithfulness!Morning by morning new mercies I see.All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,Sun, moon and stars in their courses aboveJoin with all nature in manifold witnessTo Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endurethThine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!(Refrain)
Words are by Thomas Chisholm; music is by William Runyan
Man, I love the Church.
The book I’m working on currently (tentatively titled The Unvarnished Jesus: 12 Portraits of Jesus As He Was and Is) is largely inspired by my investment in “historical Jesus” studies over the last several years. Scholars like N.T. Wright, Howard Marshall, Craig Blomberg, Ben Witherington, and Scot McKight have refreshed and revolutionized the way I read the Gospels.These studies typically involve historical reviews of previous “quests” for the historical Jesus, and the common consensus is that most quests involve a scholarly look down the deep, dark well of history and result in the looker seeing his own reflection.
But lest we think “Jesus in our own image” is a sin solely owned by so-called “liberal” academics and historians, we should at least acknowledge the Western Church of the modern world is frequently just as guilty. Just because our Jesus looks different doesn’t mean He’s the historical Jesus.
Justin Holcomb has a good post in the Common Grounds archives called Jesus is For Losers:
I am currently reading Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, which investigates the various constructions of Jesus in American history. He argues convincingly that what Americans have seen in Jesus has been a reflection of themselves. I haven’t liked most versions of Jesus that Prothero sees in American cultural history—Enlightened Sage, Manly Redeemer, or Superstar—because they are mainly reflections of American ideals and hopes. While reading American Jesus I also read the Gospel accounts of Jesus and saw another interesting version: Jesus …
One of my favorite Gospel stories is that of Jesus’ encounter with the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. This guy had been hanging out there for nearly 40 years, and every day when the water stirred, he couldn’t get in to get healed because he couldn’t move and the crowds stepped over him, around him, on him to push their own way in. Jesus healed him on the spot.
My fear is that our churches are set up like this. With entertainment-driven self-help seminars passing for worship, we stir the waters dramatically and provide “help” for those capable and strong enough to “get theirs.” File in, get what you need, file out till next time. And I believe our churches are full of people who need to be met where they are, who need a touch from Jesus, but who are coming away lacking because they need an intervention of grace, not an invitation to get bigger, stronger, faster.
How do we identify these people? How do we minister strategically to the hurting and marginalized in our churches, the ones not cool or hip enough, the ones not savvy enough, the ones not “ideal” to our demographic or what-have-you? As we run our churches like businesses, as streamlined and professional as possible, with pastors more akin to CEOs than to shepherds, how do we keep them from slipping through the cracks?In general, how do we gauge the spiritual health of the people in our local church? Strictly through attendance? I hope …
Some prime linkage to get my “negativity” off your palate . . .
Mark Lauterbach has a great gospel meditation on shopping carts. Seriously! Check it out.
A barnburner of a post at Totem to Temple. He names names; prepare yourself. Using some recent headlines from American religious news, he writes strategically, poignantly, bluntly, and prophetically about The Failure of Self-Empowerment Theology.