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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Collision of Theology and Ideology

One of the great joys I have in my journey with God is to be a part of this things called the United Methodist Church. While there are others out there who see it as the most troubling of denominations, thanks Tony Jones, I find the amazing complexity and diversity that can gather under the banner of United Methodist. It is true this complex diversity comes with some challenges and some downright ugly times in the life of the church. Reality check, whenever human beings are entangled with the works of a Holy God, things are going to get messy.

Nonetheless, here I find myself in a denomination where many are focused on making sure the way they see God will be the dominate view.This has caused me to wonder if the tension at hand is about theology as has been put forward, or if it has more to do with ideology. At first blush contrasting the two might seem like an exercise in splitting hairs. There is much in common between the two, however I think there is a vast difference.

Over the past few years I have decided to go from being vocal about any of the positions available to spending more time listening to all. Through this process I have found some things that might be helpful to highlight. The following are the common points I have heard from many in the conversations:

  • God of love. No matter what angle is being taken to which discussion point I have heard people talking about how loving God is. Further I hear in the conversation that God has unending love for humanity.
  • God of grace. Through it all I hear folks not only taking about the grace of God but they are excited about the access we as humanity we have to the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Like with the love of God, I find across the board the grace of God is available to all humanity.
  • Celebration of community. Another common thread to in the conversation is the importance of the community of God, the church. In the complex diversity I have not found voices ready to abandon the community, rather voices longing for the community to be whole.
  • Justice. In all the listening I have yet to find a voice claiming God's support of injustice. It seems apparent to those I have listened to the Scriptures call for the people of God to be Holy and walking in justice.
  • Christ Centered. The pursuit of a Christlike life is what I have heard in all the narratives as I have slowed down enough to listen. There is an earnest effort underway to embody the way of Jesus by all. 
There were other common points, however these were the ones that were the most prevalent. It is important to get clear each of these common points were carried out differently by different people. Yet at the heart of the different actions there is a common quest at the center. This difference in action and core is the place where theology and ideology meet. Contrary to what I have heard many suggest there is actually a very small theological difference in this glorious mystery called the United Methodist Church. There is however, a significant difference in ideology. This is not new to the Church, not just the UMC. Since the day Christ empowered humanity to carry out the community of God, there has been a clash of ideology. Whether it was when Peter had the vision in Acts 10, or the debate about circumcision in Acts 15. We find over and over in the Scriptures people who remain focused on God, and the ways God is at work in the lives of humanity, yet they embody this in different ways. Still here in 2012 there is a prevailing thought in the UMC that we need to all think, act and believe exactly the same way. As I am fond of telling my congregation, when a group of people think, act and believe exactly the same claiming God at the center and on their side it is called a cult not the church of Jesus Christ. Even the people Jesus called around him during his earthly pilgrimage were very different people. Jesus called together a vast diversity that thought differently, acted differently and even believed differently. Yet at the center was not getting one ideology to win over the others, it was the pursuit of embodying the community of God here on earth as we ready for the return of Christ setting all things are God designed. 

So church, UMC and others, the time for repentance has come. For far too long we have chased ideology more than we have chased God. For far too long we have tried to get the rest of the world to see things the way we see them instead of seeking the face of God above all other things. Many of  the things that divide us   are things that are not of the highest level of importance. Is there injustice in the world, you bet, just remember yours is not the only way to address it. Is the Church of Jesus Christ broken, absolutely, again remember there is more than one way to get us back to focusing on Jesus. Anytime we think our way is the only way of following God we have lost sight of our theology and settled for ideology. May we be a people who focus more on God and the ways God is in relationship with all creation, than on how we think this ought to look.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sex, Money and Power in The Church

Last week mercifully the General Conference on the United Methodist Church finished its two week meeting. For those who are not familiar with General Conference it is a gathering held every four years for the United Methodist Church. The design is to be a time of worship and community where the delegates define the parameters by which we will live together as Followers of Jesus in the United Methodist tradition. What actually happens, well that is a different story all together.

In my short time with the United Methodist I have followed a handful of General Conference sessions. Each time I have heard with great passion that the world is watching. First, I am not sure that much of society really cares about what we as Methodists decide, could be due to our irrelevance for too long. Second I wonder if the people making the passionate claim of the world watching have processed that in light of the words they are speaking. As I have reflected and prayed about the happenings of General Conference, I wondered what is it the world would see as the people gathered?

My thoughts are tragic in some ways. The casual observer could think the church is all about sex, money and power. Hours were spend in formal and informal settings on the battle around these three things. I do mean battle, as there were sides chosen, a game plan put forward, and a hope there would be winners and losers. There were impassioned speeches saying that unless the church changes the way it relates to people living a homosexual lifestyle we are not being faithful to Jesus. At the same time there are those who say if we change the way the church relates to homosexuals we are not being faithful. What if neither side of the issue is being faithful? Jesus never directly addresses homosexuality, however Jesus does address matters of sex. He has a call for purity, never fully defining what that means. The focus for Jesus is not the sexual relationships, rather it is the purity in our relationship with God and letting that guide all of our earthly relationships.

Nonetheless, from the outside looking in, it might be seen that winning the battle about sex is more important than letting Jesus lead our lives. I wonder what it would be like for the watching world to see Jesus before they see the argument about sexuality? I wonder what would happen if the watching world could see a people who were madly in love with Jesus Christ and still did not agree how that gets lived out?

Sex was not the only hotly debated issue of General Conference. There was a whole lot of discussion about money. Where it comes from and who gets to spend it on what. Just like any other multi-national business the church was seen to be arguing over money that is not theirs, it all belongs to God, while the people of most need are ignored. I wonder about all the money spend on the battle mentioned above regarding sexuality. There were millions of dollars spent to print material, have  people present at the write times and to make sure people knew the right way to vote. More of God's money spent on a church squabble. What would happen if the same people who spent all the propaganda money matched it dollar for dollar with fighting malaria? Or taking on the challenges of indigenous people around the world being displaced for economic gain of a few? No, the question is which agency of an inward turned institution would get the money.

So we have covered sex and money, now we move to the root of it all, power. As I tuned in the the slow motion train wreck called General Conference what I witnessed was the battle for power. Who would be the ones who controlled what happened in the church. There were the voting blocks where people we demanded to vote the same, not because it was best for the Church of Jesus Christ, but so those who hold the power could maintain that power. No matter how many times it was proclaimed to the contrary, it was a two week turf war with the extremes looking to claim more ground from the other. Again the losers were not the people present at the meeting, rather the people in the churches across the world and more importantly, the people who desperately need the church to be about the work and mission that is Jesus Christ while we are busy claiming power.

So as the world is watching I think they could see how broken the church is. They could see the focus on sex, money and power. However, this is not what the church really looks like. There are extremes on either end of the spectrum. As is often the case the extremes get the most press and air time. Also no surprise the two extremes tend to talk passed each other in an effort to win the debate. If I had to put a percentage on this I would say each end of the spectrum is 10-15 percent of the church. That means there is 70-80 percent of the church that lives somewhere in the middle trying to keep the focus on being the church of Jesus Christ.

So how do we move past the extremes being the voice of the church? How do we get passed the issues of sex, money and power no longer controlling the efforts of the church? Where is the middle ground? Here is an idea that may seem radical or undesirable to some. What if the extreme ends of the church simple went their own way to have their own denominations? I have become convinced there is no middle ground where the two extremes will sit together in harmony and unity. If the extremes would go do their thing, server God as best they feel they can around their special interests, the rest of us could be about the work of Jesus free of all the rhetoric and propaganda. It is hard enough to journey together as the community of the church, but it might be a little more possible if the extremes allowed for a middle majority to have room to move. This is not about power to the majority or any of that. Simply, I think most people are more interested in following Jesus above the issues of sex, money and power. There are a majority of people who look to live in the state of grace that keeps in proper alignment personal holiness and social holiness. There are a majority of people who want to see scriptural holiness lead to more than arguments about who loves Jesus more.

There is no doubt the world is watching. Further the watching world is only seeing a church that fights over its own self interest. I wonder what might happen if a watching world looked at the church and saw the very face of Jesus? What would  happen if the watching world looked at the church and saw the followers of Jesus focus on life more than being right or winning the battle?

So, perhaps it is time for some to go their way and follow Jesus as best they can in other expressions. Perhaps the path of most integrity is to stop trying to get the other extreme to follow Jesus the way we want them to, and get about the business of following Jesus as best we can where God has placed us. I hope, pray and dream of a church that is not so focused on sex, money and power. I hope and dream of a church that is focused on connecting people with Jesus Christ, even when that means we sacrifice ourselves. I believe this dream and hope can be a reality and I invite others to join the prayer and journey.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reflections On Marriage (13 Years Later)

Today marks 13 years of the marriage journey with Sarah. Along the way we have made our way through a lot. Some challenging times like the death of my dad, and many joy filled times like the birth of our children. As I look back over the years there are a few things I have found to be key to our marriage. On this anniversary day I thought I would share them with you all.

The Most Important Earthly Relationship
Our lives are filled with relationships of various forms and intensity. The family relationships we have we are born into. The work relationships we share we do not always choose. Many other relationships are outside of our control. The relationship with our spouse is a relationship we choose, unless you are in a culture of arranged marriage. This choice is not simply about who we will share life with, This is not a choice about our sex life. This is a choice which shows who is our most important earthly relationship. There should be no other relationship of earth more important than the relationship to our spouse. This includes, our parents, our children, our friends, etc.. A  key to marriage is not only remembering this to be true but having all your practice of life reflect this truth.

Forgiveness Required
I cannot tell you the number of boneheaded things I have done during the course of our marriage. The joy is, neither can Sarah. There is not a scorecard being kept of boneheaded actions. However when I mess up I know there needs to be a seeking of forgiveness, and when our spouses mess up we must be ready to offer forgiveness. Some actions are more difficult to forgive than others, still the must be forgiveness for a marriage to flourish. Part of forgiveness is not keeping a record of the times each other has messed up.

Marrying Up
People far smarter than I am have studied marriages over the long haul. One of the most common thoughts among long-term marriages is the idea that people had married up. Not only the thought of marrying up, but conducted their lives and treated their spouses accordingly. I am so blessed that God placed Sarah and I together, and I have to acknowledge that I do not deserve such a blessing as being married to her. The times when I forget this are the times we have rough patches in our marriage. When we view and treat our spouse as an undeserved gift from God it changes our relationship for the better.

God Fusion
Marriage is not always easy. I do not know how people who do have God at the center of their lives and marriage pull it off. I am not talking about merely having God as companion in a life and marriage, I am talking about having a life and marriage that is fused with God. Fusion is the process of two things coming together to make one. Our lives must be fused with God to experience all that God has for us. To find comfort, joy, and love we must have our lives become one with God. The same is true of our marriages. We must take our fused lives and and fuse them with God. Once fusion takes place something new is created that is greater than the sum of the parts. Marriages often struggle because we refuse to lose ourselves in God and the other person for fear of losing who we are. A key to a deep and fulfilling marriage is allowing ourselves to be fused to our spouse and with God.

Having Fun
Not much explanation needed. For any relationship to thrive we need to have fun with those we are in relationship with.

Great marriages do not just happen, they take effort. The effort is not always difficult, still there needs to be effort put in to develop a marriage of great value. This is more than the occasional trip away, or attending a conference here and there. Those things are important and should be done. It is the daily work which is most important and bears the most fruit. We must be willing to put in the effort.

Enjoy Time Together
Last, enjoy time together on a regular basis. Call it date night or what every you want. Relationships take regular time invested.

There is so much more that goes into a great marriage but these are some keys I have learned over the 13 years I have journeyed with Sarah and have been blessed. May they be a blessing to you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hope Becomes Reality

The journey is complete, from the entry to the city, to the cross and now the resurrection. No longer is death the final answer. For centuries people waited for the Messiah to come and bring about redemption. In that time people had many designs and hopes of what the Messiah would be and how the redemption would come. Jesus was clear how it would work, the would arrest him, beat him, crucify him. He would be dead and buried and on the third day he would be raised from the dead. Great News friends it is the third day, Jesus is alive!!!

God has done the work of bringing the promise to reality. Now we must do our part and realize that which we have hoped for is at our finger tips. We hope for many things, yet all that is hoped for can be found in the same place, the empty tomb. Whatever we think is lacking in our lives can be found in the resurrected Jesus. The hope we have becomes reality in Jesus. It is important to remember a relationship with Jesus will change what we hope for in life. Because of the resurrection things once thought important will not seem so important now. Grudges long held can be washed away. The past which binds us is broken and freedom is found.

A simple prayer for you the reader today, May you know the love God has for you. May you know God has set us free through Jesus. May you know God is for real because the tomb is empty. My your hope become reality as you hand your life over to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Silent Day

The journey from Palm Sunday to Easter morning is filled with all kinds of scenes. Across the Gospel accounts we find several events that occupy the final week of Jesus earthly ministry. Interestingly there is a one day that we have absolutely nothing from, Saturday. The scriptures go right from Friday night and the burial of Jesus to the accounts of the resurrection. Why the silence?

I am sure part of the silence is the fact there is nothing to say. Jesus is dead, he is in the tomb and the followers are not sure what they are going to do. There is not much that can be said at that point. I often try to imagine what would have been going through the minds of the followers. They all gave up everything to follow Jesus with the hope that he was in fact the Messiah. He promised that after his death he would rise on the third day but it was only day two. Was Peter rehearsing his denial in the courtyard with great regret? Were the rest of them figuring out how to return to their previous lives? Simply, we do not know because there is only silence about the day in between.

The silence between the start of the promise and the completion of the promise can be the most deafening time we face. Jesus made it real clear how things were going to work. He would be arrested, beaten, crucified and would die. On the third day he would rise. The first part had happened and now the anxious waiting was well underway. In our journeys this happens all the time. God begins to make things different in our lives only to have times when it feels like nothing is happening. Almost as if there are times when God is silent. It is easy to lose heart in these times. During the silence it is easy to think God abandoned the plan and us. Many times we take matters into our own hands instead of waiting one more day. In our human effort we try to complete what only the power of God can accomplish. The results of this effort often lead us to discouragement and anger toward God. If only we could be more comfortable with silence.

Silence is not the absence of God. What we hear as silence is often God speaking in another way. I have a hearing deficiency in my left ear. There are some frequencies that I simply cannot hear that others can no matter how loud the sound is. At the same time there are other frequencies I hear before others because my ear has become more tuned to those sounds. Depending on the frequency I might think there is silence when others hear screaming, or I might hear a murmur when others hear only silence.

It is not that God was silent between the cross and the resurrection, God is simply specking in a different way. Our task is to not be afraid of the silence and seek to hear what God is speaking. Not all, but many people have today as a day off. It will be filled with all kinds of activities to keep us busy through the day. Even if you have to work, I want to encourage us to take some time and listen to the silence. Seek and listen for what God is speaking to you in this in between time. The promise of life is well underway and tomorrow will bring the celebration of life. As for today, struggle in the silence and find God in a new way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Curtain Is Torn

Good Friday, the most somber and dark day of the passion. Gone are the parties of the triumphal enter to the city. Done are the celebrations of the Passover. Now we come face to face with the beautiful brutality of the journey of Jesus through the cross. For the account according to Mark go to, Mark 15:16-41.

There is so much to look at in this passage, and none of it to be overlooked. This morning as I prayed my way through the passage what kept calling my attention was the curtain in the Temple. Jesus spent so much of his ministry with people engaging those who were considered separated from God. The Biblical writers use creative terms, notorious sinners, people of ill repute. Also there is a more direct term, sinners. It seems to me religions works to separate the good people from the bad people, the saints from the sinners. Further there appears to be an intentional system of saying only certain people may enter into the presence of God. This is much like the world Jesus was crucified in.

The writer of Mark is sure to highlight the tearing of the curtain. There is no longer a separation of the Holy and the people. No longer will access be denied excepting only a certain few. God is the God of all people and Jesus death opened the door, or curtain as it were, so that all might once again draw near to God. There was no need for the High Priest to enter the Holy Place for you, we may enter in through Christ alone.

While there are plenty of people who think the have it all together, and that others should be more like them in this thing called the church, I find there are more people who live as though there is still a curtain between us and God. Constantly I am finding people that think their access to God is limited because of their sin, or their life or whatever other reason given. Usually the conversation is one of worthiness, people do not feel worthy of the Holiness of God. In one regard that is correct, we are not worthy on our own. In another regard, the curtain being torn as Jesus dies means that through Jesus we are worthy.

I will go as far to say when we live anything less that the full access to God we are dishonoring the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For us to go around living as though there is a separation is like telling Jesus thanks for dying for me and all but it really didn't matter.

Currently I am coming across more and more people who are discouraged by the circumstances of life. Things are not the way they thought they would be so they begin to mope their way through life. As I read once again about the curtain being torn top to bottom I find there is no reason to mope. We have every reason to give thanks because we have direct access to God. The grace of God is fully available no matter what our life circumstance is. Somewhere along the line we in America began to think everything should be easy and work out just as we want it to. There is no Scriptural evidence to support that claim. What we do have evidence of is a God who meets us right where we are at and loves us in that place. The only barrier between us and God are the ones that we build.

So, I don't know if you need to get your scissors out, or if you have the strength in your hands, but it is time to tear the curtains we have made between us and God. Through the death of Jesus God removed the curtain from that side of things, now it is our turn. This will mean the confession of sin, repentance, and setting our lives on a new course. The death of Jesus while gruesome and painful to think about, is not the end of the story. The curtain was not torn so that we could focus on the death in our midst. All of it is to put to death that which keeps us from God. Then we are given the resurrection so that we may live, not mope.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Struggle of How Versus What

Today in the journey to the cross things begin to take on a whole new dimension. Jesus gathers with the disciples in the upper room, probably more than just the twelve. During their time in the upper room they are celebrating the Passover. This is the celebration of God leading the people out of Egypt and slavery and moving them toward the promise of God and freedom. For a read of the passage go to Mark 14:12-26.

Let me start by saying we often take the celebration of Holy Communion too lightly. More accurately, I have often found myself not fully connecting with what is going on in the act of Communion. Growing up it was something we did in church monthly, and once I traveled in another tradition it was only occasionally that we celebrated the Lord's Supper. Still whenever I celebrated the meal, it seemed to be lacking something for me. By the time I started seminary and my vocation in the church, I really did not place much value in the time of Holy Communion. I defiantly did not understand why people got so worked up about the whole thing.

Sad to say I have participated in what has been not so affectionately called the worship wars. This has been the ongoing struggle between the classic forms of worship in the church and emerging forms. There has been a lot of press about the music in the conflict however there is another casualty, Holy Communion. Debates about the appropriate ways to celebrate communion surfaced. There were all kinds of arguments for and against certain styles, from sanitary issues, to wastefulness, and I even heard claim that taking communion in the wrong style will offend God. Should communion be taken at an altar rail, in the pews, or as an individual interaction. Should there be bread cubes, wafers, or a whole loaf of bread. Is it appropriate to have little cups for wine or juice. Should it be wine or juice. Should there be a common cup, should we drink from the cup or only dip the bread symbol.

As happens anytime there is more focus on the how than the what in the church we have tragically missed the point. I do not think God really cares how we go about celebrating Communion. Meaning, it is of little consequence to Jesus if we use wafers, or bread, little cups or a common cup. If we are at a rail together, in pews or processing in line. The style of the meal matters not. What matters is what is happening in our relationship with God. On that night when Jesus gathered with the disciples in the upper room the focus was not on the way he broke the bread it was focused on what it means for us that he broke the bread.

So what is happening when we celebrate Holy Communion? We are connecting with one of the anchor points in our journey. Through the sharing of communion we are connecting with Christ and remembering the sacrifice made on our behalf. We are also remembering that Christ is there with us in that very moment. Holy Communion is a time when we have opportunity to ask that most Wesleyan of questions, "How is it with my soul?" Through the act of Communion the grace of God is made tangible for us. This grace has the capacity to reconcile a wayward soul or strengthen the soul of one who is earnestly seeking to follow God.

How we understand all that to take place is secondary. I know some will not agree with that statement, there is not much I can do about that. The primary action of Holy Communion is the connection between humanity and God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I hope you will have opportunity today to celebrate Holy Communion. I hope you will have an opportunity to ask the question, how is it with your soul. My prayer is that as you share in the bread and the fruit of the vine, you will find rest for your souls, strength for the journey and hope for the future of promise.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Distance Between Sunday and Friday

Day four of Holy Week has dawned and another day of our journey is upon us. As I have journeyed this week I find myself getting increasingly focused on the range of emotions this week represents. I have also become very aware of the different people we encounter in the journey through scriptures in this final week of Jesus earthly life. Today I am thinking about Judas, and in the Gospel of Mark we find this short account: "Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over." (Mark 14:10-11). 

This last week in church one of our worship leaders shared a prayer that stopped me dead in my tracks, She lifted to God, "we are so good a worshiping you and praising you on Sunday Lord, but by Friday it is our voice that mocks you." For me it was one of those moments when all the random thoughts in my mind, all the details of a worship service, heck the whole world seemed to come to a halt and there I was with God owning up to the fact that I am Judas.

I am not sure there is another person in the Scriptures who gets a worse wrap than Judas. There is no shortage of people in Scripture to not like or even to despise, yet when it comes to Judas there is usually a special place in our hearts for him. That place we reserve for Judas is often not a real good place. Here we have someone who journeyed with Jesus for the better part of three years. Judas participated in the most intense and perfect seminary experience ever offered. If there was a person who should know the very heart of God, it would be Judas and any of the other twelve. Still, given the opportunity Judas sells out on Jesus. As a result there are many through the centuries who have hated on Judas because he should have known.

It is important to be careful in how harsh we are with Judas. If we are bold enough to take a good look at our lives we might realize we could just as easily be Judas. I have been attempting to follow Jesus for the better part of 30 years, and I know there are times when I find my only company in following is that of Judas. Sure I spend Sunday worshiping God with all my heart, yet through the week I find ways to drift from Sunday's passion. Before long I find myself more readily complaining about Jesus than following him.

Now there is a big difference between complaining and turning Jesus into the religious leaders. However that distance is not as great as I would like it to be. Like Judas, I find there are ways I wish Jesus would act differently. When that does not happen I find ways to get what I want, even if it means betraying what I know to be good and true of Jesus. When my willingness to forsake Jesus is high I do not have to look real hard to find someone who is delighted to hear and see that I am so willing to turn my back on the One I have followed for so long.

This short passage in Mark may seem like a simple transition giving a historical detail. Obviously I think it is much more. These two little verses present for us an example of the distance that often exists between Sunday and Friday. When we follow Jesus there is a strong sense of I ought to know better. Still we often fail to do better than we know. All of this is true. What is also true is Jesus knows all this about us and continues to shower us with extravagant grace and love. While the distance between Sunday and Friday might be great, it is not greater than the love God has for us and the desire God has for us to place our lives in the hands of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Determining Extravagance

As we continue on the journey through Holy Week we now find Jesus in the little village of Bethany. This village is located just outside of Jerusalem and is home to Lazarus and his sisters. Jesus has joined with Simon the Leper for dinner. To read the full account according to Mark go to Mark 14:1-9.

Jesus is eating dinner at the house of a person that he should not be at, or at least according to all the religious leaders and human created religious traditions. The fact that Simon's identity is that of the Leper gives a clue that he has a past that is less than acceptable to the religious establishment. To further complicate the issue a woman approaches Jesus. In the other Gospel accounts the woman is a woman of ill repute. So Jesus is in a house he shouldn't be in and a woman he should not have contact with him pour perfume all over him. This is too much for those gathered, who by the way were the disciples and some of the religious leaders.

The claim levied against the woman in Jesus direction is that she has wasted that which is very expensive. Interestingly the issue is not the company Jesus is keeping, rather it is the extravagant gift lavished upon Jesus. Right away the practical voices erupt to point out all the practical things that could have been done with the value of the perfume rather than dump it on Jesus' head. No attention is paid to the sacrifice this woman has made. There is no recognition of this woman more than likely putting her livelihood at risk, certainly her security in terms of earthly things was being poured out on Jesus. Nope, the focus is the waste and so they rebuke the woman, not just rebuke her but do so harshly.

At this point Jesus enters the conversation with what are some of the most misused and confusing words he shares. "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. You will not always have me." Jesus is calling the bluff of the complainers. The concern for the poor was not new and has not seemed to go away, yet all of a sudden these people, who could do something about the poor, are concerned about this act of extravagance offered by this woman. The people who were suppose to best understand the extravagance of God seem to miss it. It is save to assume those complaining about the actions would not have sold the perfume for giving to the poor, rather they would have horded up the value as a sign of their own extravagance. While those gathered try to make this about finances and serving others, reality is the issue at hand is the state of our hearts and determining what is extravagant.

What is the most extravagant thing you have ever done for another person? Now the harder question, what was the motivation behind that offering? Offering extravagance is not often the issue, rather it is right motivation and right offering. The woman in the passage is not trying to gain anything, her motivation is to shower, literally, Jesus with the extravagance of her heart. In this simple act she is offering to Jesus her life, her security, and her future. Any of the material things of the world Jesus had at his disposal. If he needed to be anointed with perfume before burial, he could have cared for that. The issue was the extravagant love this woman had for Jesus, a level of love which put everything on the line.

It seems to me the most extravagant thing we can offer to another person is our very life. When we offer or being to another person, not so we might gain, simply because of love, we are showing the greatest form of extravagance. There are many gifts we can purchase and give to other people. Stores are filled with items for us to purchase and offer to someone as a sign of our care, affection and love, still a store cannot sell us the most extravagant thing.

Jesus helps us determine extravagance, that he would lay down his life for us. There was nothing for him to gain. There was not secret motivation. Simply a love beyond comprehension. Like the love the woman at Simon the Leper's house, the extravagance has nothing to do with the perfume, and every thing to do with offer of a life. Take time today to bask in the extravagance of Christ in our lives. Also take time to lavish that extravagance on other people.

To prepare your heart, I offer this song as a way to focus on who God is and what extravagance is:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesus Junk, The Easter Bunny and Reality

Today brings us to the next step toward the Cross. Yesterday was the celebration of Jesus' entry into the city as the King. Today brings us to the day traditionally thought of as the day Jesus cleansed the temple. For Mark's account of this event please see Mark 11:15-18. Here we find Jesus not real happy with what is happening in the temple courts. The merchandisers are all set up are ready to capitalize on all the people going to make their sacrifice and show their relationship with God. The actions of Jesus can be pretty disturbing until we take a closer look, and then the actions are down right convicting.

In my journey with God I have had all varieties of Christian message t-shirts, trinkets and assorted what I call Jesus junk. If you are a Jesus junk lover and user these thoughts are not offered as a criticism of you, only as an invitation to think and examine. Jesus junk are those things that have quite little slogans about our relationship with God. I shutter to think about the amount of money spent of these items in a given year. I shutter to think about the amount of money I have spent on such things along my journey. This morning as I was praying I got haunted by a thought, what if we didn't need Jesus junk to tell others and ourselves about our relationship with Jesus? What by watching our lives people would see the Love we have for God and experience the grace of Jesus? The Jesus junk t-shirts and sundry items are not bad, but are they the only way people know we have a relationship with Jesus?

Then there is the whole Easter Bunny thing. This weekend I was with my family at a few of our local shopping establishments. There were egg hunts, and all kinds of frenzy about the coming of Easter. I day say the stores were more excited about the coming of Easter than many in our churches. The frenzy was brought to the height when the announcement was made that the Easter Bunny had arrived and all the children should line up and get ready for pictures with the Easter Bunny. I am no fool, at least about this, the reason the stores have events for Easter is not because of their deep love for the amazing work of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I know it is because they have figured out the greatest act of God is a good opportunity to turn a buck. People come to the stores and visit the strategically placed Easter Bunny, and while getting their pictures taken, there is all kinds of other "essentials" available in eyesight.

The reality is Jesus came into such a situation in the Temple. We read Jesus chasing the merchants out with harsh words, you have made it a den of robbers. I wonder how much Jesus weeps over the fact that places looking to make money celebrate Easter with greater excitement than those who don their Jesus junk and proclaim their relationship with God through t-shirts, bumper stickers and other items. Have we created and merchandised Jesus who is good buddies with the Easter Bunny?

As we move through this most Holy Week, I invite you to explore a few things. First, if you are annoyed with me for ranting about Jesus junk, the Easter Bunny and our relationship to God, ask why. Second, ask God to show you where you have missed it. Seek the voice of God to point our the ways we have made Jesus and the Easter Bunny buddies. Third, determine if you were sitting at one of the tables selling in the temple, or if you were one of the ones amazed by the righteous and holy anger of Jesus.

Finally, all of us need to take time to remember the journey of Holy Week is the foundation of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Ask yourself what kind of cleansing is need in your life today that you might experience more of what God wants for you. Then do not get another article of Jesus junk, simply and with great devotion live the calling of Jesus in your life.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When We Don't Like It

There is something to be said for obedience no matter the circumstances. When the call of God comes and we respond in faithfulness there is a closeness in our relationship with God that is rivaled by little else. Being obedient is easy when we like what it is God is calling us to, or what we are called to seems to be easy. This is obedience that should be celebrated. What about when the call is hard, and the task is difficult, and we simply do not really like what God is calling us to?

Following and trusting God especially when it is difficult and we do not like it is when obedience really kicks in. I think of some of the people called in the Scriptures, Moses was reluctant and did not want to transition from the Desert of obscurity to the challenger of Pharaoh. Isaiah was convinced God has someone better to be a prophet confronting the people. Even Jesus himself wrestled with God in the Garden asking if there was another way than for him to die on the cross. In the end of these and other accounts of difficult calls the response is the same, "Not my will but thy will." In his book The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis reminds the reader there are two ways people respond to God, those who say my will be done on earth and those who say thy will be done. If obedience through the hard times was easy everyone would do it. The reality is we are so willing to walk our own path instead of the one God is beckoning us down.

What we do when we do not like the situation is more revealing of our relationship with God than when we like what is going on. Take for another example Peter. In the relative safety of wander the Galilean countryside he was able to be very obedient and identify with Jesus, but in the courtyard of the high priest we have a different story. Often we are way more harsh to Peter for his disobedience than we should be. Many of us would have followed suit. I do not like to admit that, but to say I would do anything else would be wild speculation. Thankfully, I do not have to stand in the courtyard of the high priest as Jesus faces trail. I do however have to live my life with the ups and downs it brings my way. The question is not what will I do when I like what is happening and where God is calling me. No, the question is what will I do when I am standing in the place of not liking where God is calling me.

Let's see, I have thrown prophets, Apostles and Jesus into this mix, along with C.S. Lewis. So there is little harm in one more. Look at Jonah. God's call was clear. Jonah's disobedience was clear. The story of Jonah has a tragic ending. Jonah's worst fear comes true, the Ninevehites repent. Then instead of celebrating in the work of God done through obedience, Jonah goes to the edge of the city and whines. In the end Jonah is a bitter man not seeing the glory God called him to be a part of. I wonder how often we miss what God is doing and going to do because we are preoccupied with the ways things have been that we like?

I do not find a God in the Scriptures who keeps things as they have always been. This is true of communities and of individuals. Our obedience to God is celebrated and rewarded with greater opportunity for obedience. Usually the greater opportunity requires us to move into territory we would rather not. Rarely are we called from comfort to comfort. More often we are called from comfort to risk. This is the call of God that drips with one simple question, "Who's will is to be done today?"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When The Future Becomes the Past

I had one of those holy crap moments this morning. I looked at the calendar and realized we are almost halfway through February 2012. I am sure to most of you this has not come as surprise as you have by now stopped writing 2011 on things requiring a date, and your calendars are all on February. My shock was because I had been playing the role of the procrastinator for a good part of December. There were several tasks needing attention but I kept delaying them until I returned from a mission trip to Columbia. Because of this projection of activities I thought I had all kinds of time to get to these activities in the future. My realization this morning was the future of December has become the past of February. What was in the windshield is now in the rear view mirror.

It is with more than our schedule that we do this. There are those changes in our life which we know we need to make. This time of year they are called resolutions and if you are like most you have already failed on most of the resolutions you set out before yourself just a few short weeks ago. There was great intention of change, perhaps even a plan, but there was always tomorrow, better known as the day when I will get started. Then we reach today and find we have not gotten started and the intended start date is not longer in front of us but behind us. Rather than simply starting to change our lives we first lament about the ways we missed the opportunity. Rather than deciding today will be the day we do what we know we need to, we often give up because we feel like we missed the opportunity. In fact, that is what happens most often when the future becomes the past, we simply give up for a later attempt.

As I look around at this glorious mystery called the church I find we suffer from a similar affliction. I do not talk to many people who say there is not need for the church to change. To be clear they are out there, you know the people who think things are just fine and if the church dies with them that is fine. However, most people recognize the church needs to go through a season of adaptation if it is going to be a vital and healthy collection of disciples of Jesus Christ. The challenge is not in recognition it is often in action. Someday we will get started with making changes, or I know we need to change it is just that I know it will make people unhappy if we change things. There is my all time favorite, we want new people to come to the church, we just want them to do it on our terms. In other words sometime in the future.

For many a faithful congregation the future has now become the past and the death rattle has begun. The death rattle is the sound someone makes shortly before they die. I am sure there is a deeply medical reasons for the rattle but all I know is when I am sitting with a family as they say goodbye, I know when I hear that sound the time is short. For the better part of 25 years, some argue longer, the church has seen the need to change and adapt to meet the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus Christ in the present age. For the same time frame it has always been couched in a 3-5 year plan, in the future. Yes change takes time, however it cannot happen unless the first steps are taken.

Let us put an end to the procrastination. Personally, if it is time to do more than think or talk about the gym, get started today. If it is time to do more than stare at the closed Bible on the coffee table, do it now. If it is time for the church to adapt, take the first step today. It will take time. Still the future will once again become the past if we do not make a move.