Monday, February 3, 2014

Articles of Religion Revisited-- Part 4: The Bible

Article IV—The Holy Bible
We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation.

Approaching the Bible has long been a delicate and essential activity of those who are in pursuit of God. Essential in that it is impossible to fully understand God, our ourselves without the Scriptures. At the same time it is delicate because of the great harm that has been done in the name of the Bible as well as the challenge of interpretation. We might recall the times when the preacher makes fervent claims being sure to add, "According to the Bible...." For some those words bring comfort, while for others they strike fear and anxiety to the core of their being.

For many years now it seems there has been two options, we either embrace the scripture from to a near literal point, or we minimize the message shared to the point of near irrelevance. Like most things there has to be a middle ground. Some places a middle ground is supported, however it seems with the Bible the middle ground is considered only a holding point until we gravitate to the appropriate ideology. Still the middle ground appears to be the most appropriate place to reside.

Let's be clear, the Bible, Old and New Testaments, contains all truth needed for all of humanity. This includes truth needed for salvation as well as for the ways to live as people of the Kingdom of God. The struggle comes in that we, humanity, do not have the ability to mine all of the truths from the Bible accurately or completely. Without the Bible we are lost as a people, however we cannot think that we understand all the Bible has to tell us. God as found in the Scriptures is some much larger than what our minds can discern or define. The end result is we often make claims about life and how to live it that are biblical in connection and in nature that might not be the complete picture of the bible.

The Bible contains all that we need, and nothing that is needed for life and salvation is found outside of the Scriptures. Too often we add to the scriptures the ideas we wish were there so we could live as we desire. In doing this we make ourselves higher than God, and create a limit to God. An issue with doing this is that we cannot possibly limit God. Or said another way, when we allow our desires to be greater than the desires God has for us we enter into idolatry. The Bible, and the way we interpret and apply it, can easily become the very thing it teaches us to stay away from, an idol. 

In it all, the Bible is the primary source of life for those who follow after Jesus Christ. It sets the boundaries of our lives and calls us to fulfilled Kingdom living. We must be on the lifelong quest to be in relationship with the Bible in such a way that our God is constantly expanding rather than shrinking. We must also be willing to subordinate our desires and ideology so that we can find all of God as possible in the words and pages of Scripture. The key is not to be rigidly fundamental, nor is it to be dismissive of the Bible's authority. Rather there is a middle way that has us in a dynamic relationship with the Scriptures as learners above all else.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Articles of Religion Revisited-- Part 3 The Holy Spirit

So here we go with the third installment of a journey through the Articles of Religion once again. Today we complete our look at the Trinity by looking at The Holy Spirit.

Article III—The Holy Spirit
We believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from and is one in being with the Father and the Son. The Spirit convinces the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, and leads people through faithful response to the gospel into the fellowship of the Church. The Holy Spirit, comforts, sustains and empowers the faithful and guides them into all truth.

The first struggle I had with this article was not directly about theology or understanding. It was found in attempting to update the language some to be more balanced from a gender standpoint. My struggle was not in working to be more balanced, the challenge was to do so while not reducing the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Using pronouns such as he or she, do not help reach for balance, however, they can reduce our ready understanding of the Spirit as more an it.

With that said, the Holy Spirit is certainly not an it, rather a person, the very person that is God. With humanity as the ongoing presence of God as promised by Jesus during his ministry, the Holy Spirit is God's continuing work in us and in the world. You know that little voice that can encourage or convict? You know those situations when you "just have a feeling"? That quite possibly could be the work of the Holy Spirit.

If we view God as the creator of all things, and Jesus as the light of the world, then the Holy Spirit is the power of God made manifest. One of the last conversations Jesus has with the disciples is found in Acts 1:8 where the followers are reminded that they will receive power to be Jesus' witnesses when they receive the Holy Spirit. Shortly after that on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit comes upon the disciples and the world is never the same.

Over the centuries much has been made of the Holy Spirit. Of that understanding, as with all understandings, there are some elements of truth and some elements of invention. Bottom line, for this writer, the Holy Spirit is God revealed to us in an ongoing relationship offering us power to witness, gifts for service, conviction for holy living, and comfort through the trial.

Strangely, most followers of Jesus can all too often live as though the Spirit is not real, or active. We can live as Francis Chan stated it, with a Forgotten God. The person of the Spirit is with us, ready to be our advocate, and ready to led us to greater connection with God. The question is of our willingness to connect.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Articles of Religion Revisited Part 2: Jesus Christ

Thanks to all those who took a few moments to read through the first part of this series. I pray that the journey through the Articles of Religion are providing direction and passion for being a Follower of Jesus. I know I have already had my journey strengthened. Here we go with the second installment:

Article II—Jesus Christ
We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. As ministering Servant he lived, suffered and died on the cross. He was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he shall return. He is eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and by him all people will be judged.

As I write this we are on the doorstep of Christmas. In a little over 24 hours the congregation I serve will be gathering for our Christmas Eve celebrations. The idea of Christmas has become some many things to so many people. It is possible that folks who gather for worship on Christmas Eve will be a part of what the Huffington Post shares is up to half of Americans that see Christmas as a non-religious holiday.
Meaning that for half of the people around you what is seen at Christmas is more about trees, shopping, family and time off from work than it is about Jesus.

The implications of this reach further than Christmas Eve services. Especially in light of revisiting the Articles of Religion. It seems that in the late fifties through the early eighties the descriptions offered in the Articles of Religion regarding Jesus were considered offensive to some. Even in the life of the established church, the understanding of Jesus offered was considered dated, non-enlightened, or even harmful by some. These views are still present in the church today, and furthered by the clergy of the church.

Here we are in the year 2013 and the issue is not whether folks see the description of Jesus as dated, or offensive, or wrong. Fact is most people don't even care. In their minds Jesus has become irrelevant. It would be easy to blame "the church" for the state of Jesus in our culture. It might be equally as easy to blame a society that has seem to erode the importance of Jesus in day to day life. The reality is that responsibility belongs not to the church or to society, rather to individuals. 

Over the past couple of days I have been wrestling with Jesus. I do not have to look too hard to find people telling me who Jesus is. Some would say that Jesus is the advocate for the poor and oppressed. Others would say that Jesus is the one who judges the sins of society. I am amazed at the number of people who are quick to declare how Jesus would act, talk and be among humanity. At the same time what I find convicting in my own soul is how I struggle to embody the life of Jesus. All too often I am willing to settle for talking about how I think Jesus should be portrayed rather than doing the hard work of conforming my life to look like the life Jesus lived and calls me to live.

I wonder if people no longer see Jesus as relevant, even at Christmas, because I live my life in a way that renders Jesus irrelevant? What would happen if I began to live my life in such a way that people could see Jesus as truly God and truly human, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. Don't you just love the why that is phrased, divine and human natures perfectly and inseparably united.

What might happen if I lived my life in such a way that others would see and know a Jesus that,  is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit? Or if people could understand Jesus as one who is a  ministering Servant he lived, suffered and died on the cross. He was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he shall return?

Is it possible for me to live my relationship with Jesus in such a way that the people around me will not read, He is eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and by him all people will be judged, with fear but as an invitation to wholeness and full living?

My struggle with Jesus is not that the church is failing Jesus, or that society has lost its way. My struggle with Jesus is that all too often I make many things more important than Jesus. I am working toward the day that people can read the words of Article 2 of the Articles of Religion and experience it in my life. I am called and am working toward being a person that helps the world around us, and the church, see Jesus as not only relevant, but as the life which gives life to all things. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Articles of Religion Revisited Part 1: God

For the better part of my life I have been a part of the United Methodist Church. Through that journey I have seen some interesting things take place and have witnessed trends that are less than encouraging. It seems we  in the church are good at reproducing rhetoric, division, hurt and decline. What many have struggled with is reproducing Followers of Jesus Christ. We have often chosen ideology over incarnation and morality claims over ministry with. In it all I see the church at a decisive crossroads.
What I actually have found is a church that is no longer familiar to me and one that I wonder if I have a place in.

So part of this pondering has brought me to the point of revisiting the base tenets of the Church I call home, and have labored to see be a Church God can use to develop disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Over the next several weeks I will be looking at each of the Articles of Faith offered to the UMC from the Evangelical United Brethren. Each one will be adapted from the UMC Book of Discipline.

So, let us begin; Article 1-- God  "We believe in the one true, holy and living God, Eternal Spirit, who is Creator, Sovereign and Preserver of all things visible and invisible; Infinite in power, wisdom, justice, goodness and love, and rules with gracious regard for the well-being and salvation of all people, to the glory of the name of God. We believe the one God is self-revealed as the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, distinct but inseparable, eternally one in essence and power."

This seems like a good starting point, not only because it is labeled number one but because this is the foundation of all that follows. In the beginning God... begins the text of our relationship with God. Before there was form and order to the cosmos, before there was plants, animals and people, there has been God. The God who creates all things. However, creation was not the end of the relationship, God continues to be an active part of creation.

As the many understandings of God are listed in the article I am aware that there is more to the story than I can readily see or perceive. God is the God of all things, those I can see and interact with as well as the things that I cannot see. Often I limit God to my experience and understanding, quite simply this is wrong thinking. There is no limit to God except that which I attempt to impose.

Through it all we find the promise and desire of God revealed. God desires for the well-being and salvation of all people, it could be argued all creation. This means our lives are not a series of random events to which we react to. Rather, our life is a dynamic relationship with God in which our choices have consequences. All the consequences, whether we interpret them as good or bad have one aim, to connect us with the God in the deepest way possible that we may experience salvation here and now, and fully in the culmination of time as we understand it.

Wanting to use everything possible to connect with humanity, God self-reveals in three distinct persons to us. Father, the ultimate in parent that is just, holy, gracious, compassionate and loving. God that creates and rules over all creation. Son, God stepped out of eternity and into our world that we may know what it is to walk as Kingdom people, and to have the offer of grace and salvation offered.
Holy Spirit, the ongoing presence of God in our life and in creation that continues to call us, lead us and convict us toward a life that we have been created to live.

In all of this I wonder what it would be like if we were to seek after God on God's terms rather than our own. This is no easy task as we cannot possibly separate ourselves from ourselves. Still, I am committed to seeking the God in whose image I am made, rather than the God whose image I have made. A God that does not always agree with me and my understanding of the world but challenges me to a holiness and righteousness that is beyond my created ability.

Friday, August 16, 2013

In Keeping With Repentance

So it has been a while since I have written. Perhaps I have been too busy, too lazy or simply had little or nothing of value to write. It could be all or any of these things. No matter. This morning I was struck by a particular passage. You know one of those all stop moments when you were not really expecting it. I was reading through Matthew chapter 3 and thinking I knew what it was saying. Then it happened, I read verse eight and it was like the world stopped for a moment. The NIV shares Matthew 3:8 like this, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." Two words that change this passage greatly are in keeping. John the Baptist is being quoted as speaking these words to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders, or better understood the church people. As a base understanding of John is repentance has taken place. Almost as if John is giving them the benefit of the doubt in regards to their relationship to God. Then this admonishment of verse eight comes. In keeping with repentance. Live a life that is consistent with the life change you have claimed.

The reason this passage stopped me was the challenge it stirred in me. Is my life producing fruit in keeping with the repentance I claim in Jesus Christ? My life is nothing like it was before my encounter with Jesus where I found life after death. Yet, the process of change continues. Over the last few years I have had an increased interest in Gardening. I love the idea of putting in the effort and producing our own food. Not to mention the taste of the food is much better than the mass produced mess from the grocery store. One of the things I have learned is in order to produce what I intend from the garden it takes time and effort and each year the work produces better fruit.

Producing fruit in keeping with repentance means the need to constantly and consistently anchor our lives with Christ. Reading the rest of the chapter John says, please allow a loose translation, being a part of the church will not really produce the fruit alone What matters is living a life that had been transformed for the sake of Jesus Christ. Imagine the horror of finding out you have been religious and faithful as a church member only to find out come cutting time you end up in the fire. This is not about church membership, it is about thinking church membership alone will produce the fruit in keeping with repentance. We are called to live our lives in such a way that the work of repentance made possible through Jesus Christ is evident. That our actions, thoughts and simply our way of being are producing fruit that is a result of having an ever-deepening, head-over-heels in love relationship with Jesus Christ.

Friends in our world to day the church does not have a membership problem, it does not have financial problems. It, we, have a Jesus problem. We talk about Jesus, but we do not live lives that produce fruit in keeping with repentance. It starts with repentance, turning our lives from our own understanding to a life that follows after Jesus Christ with reckless abandon. I believe all the smokescreen challenges we produce in the church would be cleared up if we would humble ourselves, repent and live lives that produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

If you are still reading you might be wondering what gives me the right to say these things. Nothing. I write these words out of being personally convicted by the Holy Spirit. I know I have so much growing to do if my live is going to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. I guess I was hoping I am not alone and could find others who might feel the same way.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Show

After a long break, I thought I would post something today.

““Why this frenzy of sacrifices?” God’s asking. “Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices,  rams and plump grain-fed calves? Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats? When you come before me, whoever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that—all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. “Come. Sit down. Let’s argue this out.” This is God’s Message: “If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool. If you’ll willingly obey, you’ll feast like kings. But if you’re willful and stubborn, you’ll die like dogs.” That’s right. God says so.”  --Isaiah 1:11-20 (The Message)

Have you ever gone through all the right motions, done all the right things, and still not gotten the results you were hoping for? My guess is this happens to many of us on a regular basis. Whether it is at work, school, with family, at church or with God, we do all the things we think to be right and it seems we continue to come up short. In our relationship with God this is very easy to have happen. We invest our time in making sure we read our Bible. We make sure to be at church almost every Sunday. We make sure we do the right things in the worship service. We might even rearrange our schedules once in a while to do something that seems like something God would appreciate. We do almost anything hoping that it will please God, and make God happy with us.
            Israel in the days of Isaiah was very active in fulfilling all the regulations of God. They brought their sacrifices, observed all the religious holidays and festivals. They were good church folks. Yet as we read from Isaiah 1, God does not seem very pleased with them. They are doing all the right things but there seems to be a problem. The issue restated later in Isaiah a little differently, “The Lord says, “These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.” (Isaiah 29:13) In his ministry Jesus would quote this passage when referring to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. The issue is the people were doing all the external things of worshiping God without any impact on their hearts.
            This has made me wonder how God views worship as it takes places in churches today. Do we put on all the trappings of the show without having our hearts available to God? Do we simply put on a good show hoping that it will please God? The troubling words of Isaiah 1 should haunt us in appropriate ways. God does not desire a good show on Sunday morning where we make sure all the pieces are perfectly in place. God desires that our hearts would be available and stirred to the point where we live as people who have been infected by the grace and love of God. That we would be known as followers of Jesus because we work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless and go to bat for the defenseless. With all respect to Altar Guilds everywhere, I am not sure the importance is on whether the right colored paraments are presented.
            It seems that our relationship with God is not seen best in the ceremony and celebration, the observance of the festivals and Holy Days. To understand the relationship someone has with God through Jesus Christ the best place to look is their heart, and the ways in which a person lives their life. Do we seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God as Micah calls us to, or do we simply want to make sure we have a good show?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Acceptable Idols?

It says more about me than anything else the amount of time I spend thinking and praying about the state of the church in the United States today. Sad as it may be, a good amount of my time is spent consulting with God through prayer and thought about how the Body of Christ can once again get focused on the making of disciples once again. Along the way I have had more conversations than I can count with clergy, lay persons, and those outside of the church to try and find some direction. Through the conversations I have heard all kinds of reasons for the situation of the church today, economy, hypocrisy, theological liberalism, theological fundamentalism, not to mention the changes of our culture and values of the world around us.

Does it seem strange to anyone else that we in the church are very good at looking outward to find answers  to our problems but we try to function intensely in turned?

The long list of reasons given for the state of many churches, let's remember one blogger could never represent all of anything, matter, however none of them and all of them are the root of the issue. All kinds of spit and polish can be put to it, however the core of our issue is we place other things ahead of Jesus Christ in our communities. There is this wonderful Old Testament word for placing things ahead of God in our lives, idolatry. No matter what it is, no matter how good it is for our lives, whenever we place something in higher value than God in our lives we are in an idolatrous relationship.

Now in most cases we are not talking about idolatry like in the hard core biblical examples. There is not collection of gold for the creation of a calf to worship. In many cases the idol is more of what we consider an acceptable idol, or shall we call it a tolerated idol. Funny thing, idolatry is a lot like being pregnant, there is no such thing as being kind of pregnant. There is not such thing as a little idolatry. Much less things that are acceptable idols.

Take a few moments and think about the things that are more important to you than the relationship you have with God through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Is your financial security more important? Is your personal comfort? The new car, job or house? How about the things and stuff of faith like the Bible, the church building, the way of doing church? It is especially dangerous when  our idols are so draped in God that we can get confused. We cannot have a full relationship with God without the Holy Scriptures, however we must not elevate the scriptures above God. It is extremely useful for the people that make up the church to have a space for worship, mission and ministry but is the physical space more important than the God who calls and loves us? Are we so tied to our ways of doing things that we miss what God is doing in our midst?

No one is exempt from idolatry. It seems that we all have things in our lives that become acceptable idols. At the same time we all have the same Good News available, we can lay down our false gods and return the One True God to the rightful place in our lives. When the people of the church begin to do this, to return the focus, direction and hopes of their lives to God above all things, all the reasons given for the struggles of the church will melt away. As a people we have been called to order our lives in certain ways. Jesus Christ is the first and foremost. This includes the call of Christ to go and make disciples. This includes the idea that to gain we must lose everything.

Friends, the time has come to refocus our lives, and put away all the idols, including and especially the acceptable ones.