During my tenure as a coordinator of Christian education, I heard a lot from people about their hunger to know the Bible, so I hired professors from a nearby seminary and offered regular courses on the Old and New Testaments. People told me the descriptions sounded like just what they needed, but that was usually the last I saw of them. The classes were small and sporadically attended…. Yet every quarter, people asked for more Bible courses. They said they wanted more; they were not getting enough. So I offered more Bible and still no one came.
Finally I got the message. “Bible” was a code word for “God.” People were not hungry for information about the Bible; they were hungry for an experience of God, which the Bible seemed to offer them.
The above quote was so insightful and helpful to me. At my church, we’ve spent years hearing people talk about wanting more “meat” or wanting to be “fed” more. When they say that, they often are thinking they need to feel cognitively challenged and stretched by information about the Bible or Theology.
Last night, my church had their Ash Wednesday service. I had the honor of helping lead the liturgy by offering the greeting and opening introduction/ explanation. Unlike most times we gather, the kids stayed in the service so I was asked to make sure my opening words were at least somewhat comprehensive to children.
This turned out to be one of the most helpful exercises for me. I ended up spending more time thinking through these brief opening words than I normally do and crafting each line as intentionally as possible. And so, for the heck of it, I thought I’d throw this up on the blog for anyone who was struggling with explaining Lent and/or Ash Wednesday to their young ones, and also to get your thoughts on how best to communicate this to kids. Here’s what I said:
(Lent: Two things hold us back)
Tonight kicks off the Church season of Lent. Most all of us live our lives wanting to be better people than we are right now. But if we’re honest, there are two things that can get in the way of that sometimes and make us frustrated as we try and become the people we want to be. Continue reading →
Today is Ash Wednesday. In just under two months from today we’ll come to the highest point in the Christian Church calendar, Easter. That is where we’ll celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and how God’s perfect world broke into the present and our greatest enemies–sin and death–were conquered and shown to have no more dominion over us and the rest of the world. It’s meant to be the most effusive, overflowing, even ridiculous time of joy.
And yet, when we look at Jesus’ Resurrection, we see that before it ever took place, there was Death. And before that, there was an entire lifetime of loneliness, pain, suffering weakness, and isolation. We see that it was a life surrounded by evil forces and whispers that haunt and hurt Jesus and the people he loved.
And so, our early Church Mothers and Father thought it would be wise to have this time before Easter to prepare, so we might end up celebrating during Easter all the more.
Resurrection was itself a statement against our two greatest enemies: Sin and Death. And so to participate in Resurrection, we take the time of Lent to meditate and press into those things to which Resurrection was the response. We do this not out of morbidity, but out of anticipation.
I grew up in a church tradition that did not take seriously the Christian Church Calendar. Even as I went to college and moved into communities that took some level of tradition more seriously (which was usually limited to quoting Puritans and Reformers in sermons), the Church Calendar wasn’t that big of a deal. It was seen as something sort-of cool that could be incorporated into the already established life of the Church; a buffet from which leaders could pick and choose some aspects that might be helpful in organizing some sermon series or songs. But it certainly wasn’t seen as something that a church should actually incorporate itself into, or build it’s own rhythm around.
I’ve had the privilege of having this paradigm rocked the past several years at my church, and have fallen in love with the Church calendar. It influences much of the rhythm and timbre of my everyday life–both ecclesial and otherwise. I find such life in living within a stream of thought that was not simply created within the past generation by baptizing modern Western American cultural ideas.
I love finding myself as embedded within the cloud of witnesses that have gone before me as possible–even those I may disagree with passionately and fundamentally. Because, at the end of the day, they are my family, and families have traditions. Sure, you can be “that guy” that does his own thing and doesn’t participate in the family rhythms, but where’s the life in that?
If someone asks me what is the use of going to church, what good does it do me, what do I get out of it, how do I answer these questions?
It is as though someone asks me what the use is of getting married, what good does it do me. If I answered such questions by saying, “Well, it is very useful to get married! You have someone to do the housework, the shopping, cook the meals, etc.,” it would clearly be a false view of marriage. No woman wants to be merely a housekeeper, kept because of her utility!
There is only one supreme reason for getting married—for love’s sake, for the other’s sake, for mutual love, self- giving, a longing for intimate communion, and sharing of everything.
So in Christian worship, we worship God for God’s sake; we come to Christ for Christ’s sake, motivated by love. An awareness of God’s holy love for us, revealed in Jesus Christ, awakens in us a longing for intimate communion—to know the love of the Father and to participate in the life and ministry of Christ.
Worship in the Bible is always presented to us as flowing from an awareness of who God is and what he has done: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . . . I have loved you and redeemed you . . . I will be your God and you will be my people. Therefore, this is how you will worship me.”
As we have seen, worship in the Bible is an ordinance of grace, a covenantal form of response to the God of grace, prescribed by God himself. This is supremely true of the New Testament understanding of worship, as the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and his mission from the Father to the world, in a life of wonderful communion.
Donald Miller put up another post sort of talking more about his church attendance thoughts, this time talking about how the doctrine of the “priesthood of believers” means he does sacraments on his own and whenever he wants because God has given us all “agency” in this world to do that kind of stuff. He longs that pastors would empower their people to feel free to do these sort of things as well.
I made my thoughts clear last week about how wrong I think he is on this stuff (especially so with the sacraments. He even says he does baptisms for other people even though he himself has never been baptized). I won’t rehash that here. I did want to bring up one thing I noticed in his other posts that was more explicit in this last post. He writes:
To be fair, I’m wired a bit differently. I’m creative and I’m a risk taker. I realize a mistake I often make in my writing is assuming people are wired the way I’m wired. They aren’t. Most people are looking to “do it right” and play by the rules. This saves them from the trouble I often find myself in.
I can’t get past the the feeling here that Miller is saying that “most people” (read: “those that go to church”) at least primarily go to church because they want to “do it right” and “play by the rules”; that not going to church is an act of freedom, while those that still go are bound by something Miller thinks he has freed himself from. It’s not that he necessarily thinks he’s “better” than others, but I fear he makes a dangerous division within the Body of Christ between himself and “most people”. Continue reading →
Yeah, that’s my family (I’m in the front left). This was one Easter Sunday in the 90’s in Dallas, Texas, at a time and place where (I promise) it was absolutely appropriate to dress like that for Easter (except the glasses, of course). I look at this picture a lot, and not just to chuckle. I find it so oddly and powerfully symbolic of what life in the Bible Belt was like.
You see, my family was deeply wounded by “Church folk” throughout my childhood. Just as in the picture, people in the Church would live their Christian lives dressed up and looking good, all while wearing masks, disguising who they really were. When things were hard at home, people at church had no categories to process it. After all, to be a Christian is to be cleansed by Jesus and walk in new life, right? Failures, sins, and brokenness were seen as signs of some disobedience – some place where you weren’t “okay.”
Most all of us know by now about the Great Debate that happened a couple of weeks ago between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on whether or not Creationism is a viable model for human origins. If you’ve followed this blog for an real period of time, you know it’s no secret that I do not think it’s a viable model, and I’ve been quite vocal about that in this space.
So I felt the frustration when Ken Ham was treated like the stand-in for every Christian that wants to take the Bible seriously. I felt better when smart Christians responded well. I chuckled at those that poked fun of him and other Creationists, debunked their logic, or discredited the historical stream in which he finds himself. I gave into the private mocking.
I was then really encouraged when I read this report in Christianity Today that shows that Americans are not as divided on this issue as some polls make it seem. I was overjoyed with knowing that more Christians than ever were leaving the Ken Hams of the world in the dust of irrelevance, their budgets and voices shrinking in the distance.
As the discourse went on, I began to thinking to myself: I think we’re winning! But then yesterday, I felt like I woke from a fog and thought: Wait. Who are we fighting? Continue reading →
Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, started a little kerfuffle last week when he wrote about how he doesn’t really go to church any more. He doesn’t learn much about God through sermons, and he doesn’t connect with God through songs. Church just doesn’t connect with him in any way and doesn’t fit within his own learning style, which is far more participatory. He says the Church is all around us and in believers so he feels free to “have church” in the way(s) that most connect him to God and others.
Well, this caused quite the backlash. Hewrote again a couple of days ago in response, but it seems that most people still really disagree with him.
But here’s the problem: Donald Miller is absolutely right in everything he says if he still insists on calling himself an “Evangelical”, or at least using that as his frame of reference.
If you consider yourself an Evangelical in any traditional sense, and you’re looking at Donald Miller’s church practices with dismay, well then welcome to your future–the logical conclusion of your theology and how you’ve practiced church for a few generations now. Continue reading →
For my worship and liturgy class, we had to write up a little thing explaining how we would explain the Sacraments to an everyday person. We were also supposed to throw up some questions that we might still have about them. Here are is mine.
In the beginning of the Bible, we see God create what amounts to a “temple-world”. He wants to dwell in this temple, with his people, and make it his home. He ordains priests to care for it but they fail. So God puts in motion a plan and story to rebuild this world and re-prepare it for his dwelling.
The focal point of this story and our entire faith is Jesus Christ. He is God among us having come dressed in humanity. The Gospel of John says he literally “templed” among us, using our created humanity as something he was pleased to dwell in.
Yesterday I started a brief little series going through some lessons I have learned from my first semester back in seminary. I first talked about how (at least in my mind) cities had to be taken off their pedestal. There are desires and needs of the human soul that can’t be met in cities. We need other types of livable environments as well.
And yet, through this semester I was re-grounded in my belief in the essential importance and centrality of urban settings. Above, you’ll find a video reflection I had to make in which I give my perspective on this question: Why should Christians engage in cities? In it, I speak about some of these dynamics that are in greater detail below. (Sorry for the poor video quality.) Continue reading →
All Saint’s Day has taken on different meanings for different groups of Christians. What seems to stay consistent, though, is that it is a celebration of the victory attained by those faithful Christians who have died. They are no longer pilgrims, as we are, but are the triumphant ones, having finished their race well and been brought into their peace with God. We celebrate Christ’s effectual victory over sin and death and that this has been granted to those that have gone before us.
The hope and encouragement in this holiday is not simply that we “remember” these saints, or meditate on their example. Instead (and this is important), there has been a long-held belief in the Christian Church that we still have a mystical communion and relationship with those saints that have already died. When Christians throughout Church history (and the Bible) have referred to “The Church”, they don’t simply mean those still around today, but all the saints who have ever lived (even in the Old Testament!). We are all the Church.
So we can truly celebrate those that have gone before us because we are truly still connected to them in a very real and vibrant way. Continue reading →
The past week of my life was filled pretty heavily with church stuff. First, my church hosted our denominational meeting for those churches in our church family that are in cities. They talked about new developments in my seminary program, gave updates on the health of current church plants, adopted the 2014 budget, and ordained and commissioned new pastors to serve in churches across the country. It was a day and half filled with theology jokes, family talks, overdue introductions, and post-meeting sessions of cocktails and cigars on the front steps of the church.
Second, as I mentioned last week, my church spent yesterday celebrating it’s maturation from a “church plant” (a church that still relies on other churches for most of its support and leadership) to a full-blown self-sustaining, self-leading church. My parents came in town, the music was loud, the sermon was great, and we had a large block party after the service with a moon bounce, chili cook-off, and homebrew contest (the bourbon barrel stout won, by the way. It was called “The Nord’s Wrath”).
It was great, and it will be a block of days I will not soon forget.
I noticed that I could see the slowly turning fan blades above us in the reflection of his freshly shaven head. His blue eyes and silver goatee turned up to me quickly, recovering from almost choking on his salad.
“What did you say?”
I had just told him that I felt I had a sense of where God wanted my spiritual life to go next. I was a 20 year-old college student, the president of my campus ministry, and I hung out with my pastors all the time. More importantly, though, was the fact that I was crushing really hard on this girl that wouldn’t date me. Only later would I realize that this was a bigger factor in what I said than anything God had said.