July 6, 2014

Slavery and Freedom

I gave the communion talk at my church last Sunday, and wanted to develop some thoughts from it a bit more.

" 11For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,
13And again,
            “I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM.”
            And again,
      14Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. " Hebrews 2:11-15

What does it mean for us to be free of the slavery of the fear of death? We no longer are forced to make decisions based on self-preservation and self-interest. We no longer need to seek out stuff and status in order to relieve that anxiety. We don't have to concern ourselves with living a live that will let us "be remembered"; we'll have our names proclaimed in Heaven. We are finally freed to "love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves." We sacrifice of ourselves to make decisions of others-interest and others-preservation.

But this freedom takes us to an unusual place. Where His death frees us from slavery to the fear of death, we make the decision to honor the ransom paid by His blood, and become His bonded servants.  Rev. 5:9 " And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."

As we become Christ's servants purchased by His blood we are able to fully live into the freedom from the fear of death, allowing us to live in a way not possible in our old lives.


OK, that's the official devotional version, but what does this really mean for us internally?

A friend and I were chatting about my talk after church, and he commented on how frightening this freedom is. That hadn't occurred to me, but I realized how right he was in that assessment. Being free from enslavement to ego-driven choices in a theological sense means that we can also have that same freedom in a psychological sense. We don't have to try and be who we think others want us to be. We're free to be exactly who He has always meant us to be. Indeed, that person who we are meant to be is the one He proclaims in the congregation.

But, simply being yourself can be costly. Sometime who we are isn't always easy to accept fully for others, and vice-versa. This is where we have to continue to grow in Christ. We grow to be more loving, more accepting, more forbearing, more like Him. 

This isn't easy for me. It's easier to work from the 'fear of death' paradigm instead of seeing the people around me as having the same worries and fears that I do. It's easier to expect them to have all their stuff together so that my life can be easier. It's easier to criticize them for having different ideas and opinions. And it's much easier just to cut them off rather than reach out in reconciliation. 

Lots of preachers have spoken on what 'regeneration' in Christ is. Mostly, their definition seems to be 'Good Christian", the kind you see in church every Sunday. But I think it's a lot bigger than that. All too often, 'Good Christian' can be just a mask we wear to give others a good impression. Being freed from the slavery to the fear of death means that masks are no longer necessary. We simply are who we are, working towards becoming more Christ-like in making decisions based on the needs of others, instead of based on ego/self/fear. It's that change that I think is a bigger part of regeneration than making a spectacle of repentance. 

Dear Lord, help us each to realize that the chains of our slavery to the fear of death have been removed, and help to understand the true lightness of taking on your yoke. Amen.

I'll leave you with a beautiful song from Eric Hansen, "Hero In The Dark". Take a few minutes to enjoy its beauty and reflect upon the lyrics.

May 28, 2014

Rain and Renewal

It's five a.m., and in my back yard the chorus of Spring Peeper frogs is deafening. It's a normal sound around here, except in the past few years. My area (and all of Texas) has been in a drought for the past 4-5 years, and the wildlife and their sounds have been affected as much as the plant life. We've gotten just over six inches of rain at my house the past two and a half days, and the critters are loving it.

The storms moved through about three this morning, the sound of the thunder waking me up.

Frogs and toads, happy to feel refreshed, screaming as loud as they can to attract mates.

Yellow crowned night herons wading through the standing water, gulping down the crawfish that have floated up.

Purple finches, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and White-Winged Doves splashing in the water at the edge of the driveway, then zipping out to eat the safflower and thistle seeds I put out for them.

Down near the river, Great Blue Herons will feat on frogs, crawfish, and other critter washing down the bayous.

And bugs will start multiplying. All sorts of them.

And their predators, too, spiders and dragonflies.

Snakes, too.

Best of all, though, the rain brings out our wildflowers and an incredible variety of fungi.

Green returns to the land, and the land cries out, "Come!" Just as our Lord calls out to those who thirst for His presence. "Come, sit and rest with me!"

He feeds us.

And He comforts us.

As the rain renews the land, so Christ renews us. "Behold, I am making all things new."

Hope you all have a blessed day.

April 27, 2014

Feel It, Don't Think It!

Jesus told us that we're to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And, after two thousand years, we still know less about love than we do outer space.

We imagine that "loving God" is demonstrated by how closely we follow the Bible to the letter. At least the parts of it that help us to feel better than other people who are different than ourselves. We've turned love into a rational, emotionless, thought exercise. I remember a well-known preacher at a singles ministry declaring that love was " a decision to know and meet the needs of another." Sorry, Dave, but while that may or may not be a loving action, it is still not love.

Love is an emotion. It's not a simple decision to 'do' anything or agree with certain opinions. It's a feeling.

In the 20th Century church, we had a lot of problems with feelings, and that spectre hangs over the 21st Century church. And we've gotten cause and effect backwards when it comes to love.

April 18, 2014

In Whose Name?


The day that the veil was parted.

The day He died.

We like to preach about how Jesus gave His life for us, but the reality of the matter is that He just as much gave His life to us.

I don't buy into Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) theory very much. To accept that, I'd have to embrace the logical inconsistency that God gave His life to save us from Himself, from His wrath.

While there is scriptural evidence to support PSA, it's all based on a simplistic surface reading of scripture, and it's not the theory of atonement that anyone in the early church would have accepted or understood.

I think more along the lines of the Christus Victor model, where Christ came to defeat sin and death for us.

So why would I say that He gave His life to us?

Well, we're the ones that killed Him. God didn't strike him down, we did.

April 14, 2014

Holiness Is Not The Goal

It's means to an end, at least according to Peter.

A few days back, I had an exchange with Richard Beck on his blog, and his replies got me to thinking. As is usual for me, it takes a few days of an idea tumbling around my subconscious for it to become something I can express.

His blog post was about the practice of kenosis and the contrast of what this looks like in the lives of people with power and privilege and people who are oppressed and victimized. I commented that is has to start with love, especially in terms of speaking about sins. Richard aptly noted that when we speak of sin, we generally are speaking about the sins of others, rather than our own. However, when we look at our own sin, we should be looking at the sin of not loving others (Rom 13:10 -  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.)

He also noted that we are called to be holy and pure, bringing up 1 Peter 1: 16 & 22. (because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." and Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart) 

For Peter, holiness and purity is connected to our loving others. We make ourselves holy, not so that we are protected from the impurity and contamination of the world and others, but so that we can actually love them. And this moving in love is our work to do, not a result of our purity and sanctification.

In 1Pet. 16:22, we have two different types of love being talked about. Purifying our souls takes us into brotherly (philadelphian) love. The Greek here shows that the brotherly love is a noun that we are placed into. From there, Peter commands us to practice agape love (agap─ôsate), an imperative verb. It is in this practice of agape love towards others that we find ourselves in fulfillment of the law. But what does this look like in our individual lives?

"Speaking the truth in love" gets thrown about in Christian circles a lot. Much of the time, it's used to excuse our offending other people with our ideological statements. But here's the rub: if you don't actually love the person(s) to whom you're referring, you're not really speaking the truth. If we're struggling with some sin in our lives of which we haven't purified ourselves, we're not fully placed into that brotherly love. But, if we look at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), we have to consider that one of the big sins from which we must purify ourselves is the sin of not loving (judging and condemning) others.   

So we tell the rhetorical 'others' to purify themselves in order to get right with God, all the while not realizing that we are defiling ourselves by doing that. Ephesians 4 tells us to "lay aside falsehood" to speak truth to our neighbor. The biggest falsehood we have to lay aside is not loving our neighbor in a real and meaningful way. This means we have to have a real relationship with them. We have to know them, and see them as we see ourselves, as someone who needs God's grace in the same way we need it. 1 Pet. 1:13 tells us to " fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." If we're completely fixed upon that grace, then it's going to be extended to others, expressed in loving relationship. 

Open-ended declarations against the sins of unnamed (and largely unknown to our hearts) 'sinners' don't express the grace and love which our our own work of purification brings us into. And we're just compounding our own sins when we do that. When we're in an actual loving relationship with someone, we can speak that truth without causing offense and worldly sorrow and pain. In a real, loving relationship, that truth will bring about the godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

What it boils down to, is that we can't simply decry the sins of an entire group of people, especially if we don't actually know and love someone in that group. If we feel that the sin is important enough for us to declare to them, then we need to avoid sinning ourselves by taking the time and doing the work to know and love that person. That's a big part of our own purification. It requires humble kenosis (emptying ourselves) on our part. 

Emptying ourselves of the Pharisee's pride.

Emptying ourselves of our false image of ourselves.

The true love of being a loving and humble servant to others.

Knowing ourselves and our need for Christ, and who we truly are in Him.

That's the goal of holiness.

April 11, 2014

Theologies and Psychologies

A while back, I made a comment on one of Zach Hoag's blog posts, and a phrase I wrote resonated with him: "Theologies reveal psychologies."  Now, depending on your experience, you could understand it, agree with it, or think it's completely off-base. Since I said it, I obviously agree with it, but I think I should develop it into a deeper and more complete line of thought.

First off, we need to realize that it's a two-way street. Not only do our theologies reveal our psychologies, theologies also influence psychologies, and I'll readily admit that my story demonstrates both. Let's look at both points.

March 10, 2014

Koinonia, Kenosis, and Charis in The Lord's Supper

On Sunday, I gave the communion and offering prayers, as well as short talks for each. I got some very nice feedback from the talks, so I want to flesh the ideas out a bit here.

I used Philippians for my texts, highlighting the depth of some Greek words that translate into English words that convey a more limited sense than the Greek words do. I think these words and concepts translate well onto the Lord's Supper and the offering, even though Philippians never speaks directly to observance of the Eucharist. From Philippians, I highlighted three Greek words, koinonia, kenosis, and charis; fellowship, emptying, and grace in English.

February 27, 2014

On Extending Grace

Last night, I encountered something that once would have made me angry, but now it just makes me really sad. It was during a Bible study, and the discussion was on why "Love the sinner, hate the sin" isn't what we should be practicing as Christians. The explanation was great (and from a perspective that I hadn't yet considered), but during the discussion, the proposed Arizona law allowing religious principles as an affirmative defense for discrimination by a business came up. What I heard sounded a lot like "Those sinners are attacking us! We have to be judgmental to protect ourselves!" to me. A need for a new volley of arrows in the Great American Culture War.

Now, typically, my response would be to start angrily railing about them being bigoted hypocrites. But since the Holy Spirit has started softening my heart, and scrubbing the crustiness off of my soul, I was just saddened. The only response I had was about the contradiction of being asked to practice love and practice hate by the same cliche. I wanted to write last night, but couldn't manage to do anything until this morning.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin." I have yet to meet anyone that can effectively keep the 'sinner/sin' paradigm in a proper perspective. If we can't properly keep sinner separate from sin, then as we try to practice love and hate at the same time, both love and hate will wind up being directed at the wrong object.

January 27, 2014

Embracing My Irrelevance

I'm irrelevant.

Not young enough to be handsome anymore.
Not old enough to be considered wise.
Not credentialed enough to be considered learned.

Churches talk about being 'relevant', but all they're doing is declaring who gets to be 
relevant' to them.

Relevance is something that is bestowed by the Other; a gift given to those deemed 'worthy', 'beautiful', 'smart', or 'iconoclastic'. And if you don't fit into those groups, or pander to the relevance givers, you get ignored. Completely.

I know I'm not relevant, and I never will be. Heck, I doubt anyone will actually bother to read this. Most of the hits I get last about five seconds; just long enough to get put into the "tl;dr" category.

January 17, 2014

I Can't Stop Running

My 49th birthday is approaching rapidly. My body tells me every morning that it's not happy to go along with the program of getting up and moving around anymore.

By all rights I should be settling down into a role of advocating for a return to the good old days, with that old time religion. You know, the one where they preach the "Gospel®". The one where you just follow the tried-and-tested Formula™ (Sinner's Prayer, Repent and be Baptized, Get Slain in the Spirit, etc.) and you get your official "Get Out Of Hell Free" card.


Cheap religion, cheap grace, cheap salvation... until it's time to tithe. Then you'd better dig deep.