July 29, 2014

Let Me Tell You a Story (or, You Just Never Know...)

This isn't a blog post I want to write. I don't want to bring any additional pain to the family members involved, but the situation surrounding convicted child molester Greg Kelley and his supporters in Leander, Texas, makes this a necessary story to tell.


Back when I was in High School, there was a girl that could easily be described as the nicest girl in school, and stunningly beautiful, to boot. I don't remember anyone that disliked her, and her family was held in high regard by everyone. She had a brother a couple of years younger than us, whom I never met, but he had a nice sister and a nice family, so he had to be a nice guy, too.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago to see a link to a news story on a local message board concerning him. It turns out that he had just hanged himself in jail after being arrested for possession of child pornography and the rape of over 56 children which he had videotaped. I would have never imagined that he would have been the guy from my school to have done such a thing (and I even knew a guy from school that murdered a couple a few years after graduating.) The FBI is still seeking information regarding his victims.

What does this have to do with the people of Leander, Texas that are holding rallies and vigils to support Greg Kelley? The fact that You Just Never Know... If he weren't guilty, then why would he admit his guilt in a plea bargain? You all think you know this guy so well, but you really don't. None of you live inside his head, and you have no idea what thoughts might be in there.

I get standing by a friend, and that's an admirable thing. But, to come out and say that the very young victims are lying about this is abominable. You can support your friend in a way that doesn't ridicule the victim in such a public manner.  What is especially disgusting is that a local church and its pastor are sponsoring events to support this convicted child molester.

I'd like to ask Pastor Bob Brydon of Generations Church in Leander how he can reconcile his dismissal of the victim's statements with Christ's admonition not to cause little children to stumble? Do you think this nonsense will make them want to be Christians later in life? Your church claims to seek daily guidance of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Brydon, perhaps you should do some deeper soul-searching and seeking of guidance from the Spirit before you jump so whole-heartedly behind Greg Kelley. Have you had a face-to-face, man-to-man talk with him since his conviction and acceptance of a plea deal? I doubt it, knowing the way TDCJ works, but when he gets established in a housing unit, I'd urge you to go and visit him and demand that he tell you the real truth. You might be surprised at what you hear.


This is all a sickening situation, and I urge Greg Kelley's supporters to spend some of their energy in prayer for the victims' healing. Put yourself in their shoes, instead of your friend's. I do understand your disbelief, because it still triggers a disconnect in me when I consider what that boy from my school did. But, Matthew pronounced judgment upon himself, and a jury pronounced judgment on Greg. Some things you just have to accept, no matter how hard it is to believe.


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,
12saying,
            “I WILL PROCLAIM YOUR NAME TO MY BRETHREN,
            IN THE MIDST OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING YOUR PRAISE.”
13And again,
            “I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM.”
            And again,
            “BEHOLD, I AND THE CHILDREN WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN ME.”
      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.

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.



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?

Today.

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.