Monthly Archives: October 2009

Amen

Sometime last year I read Elie Wiesel’s autobiography about the first five decades of his life. It was a great read by one of the best Theological thinkers of our time. Wiesel is a theological poet, who has the ability to inspire awe and tears like no other writer, mostly because he has lived his share of both.

A recurring theme of Wiesel’s story telling is the Jewish prayer the Kaddish. It’s a prayer they would say for a host of different reasons, but it mainly became known as a prayer for mourning (which is why Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, mentions it so often).

But in Jesus’ day it was known as a prayer Rabbi’s would say often, many times as they opened or closed a Sabbath teaching. And chances are you are more familiar with the Kaddish than you think. You just call it something else.

The Lord’s Prayer.

When Jesus disciples ask him to teach them to pray, Jesus isn’t reinventing the wheel. He takes the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer handed down to him by his ancestors, and passes it on. With some significant changes.

Scot Mcknight points out these changes in one chapter of his great book called The Jesus Creed, but I only want to talk about one here.

Jesus removes the amen.

Now that may sound like it’s not a big deal to us, but I want you to imagine what it would do to our concepts of being the people of God if we followed this. The danger of saying Amen is that, if we let it, it can subconsciously insinuate that our part is over.

The Lord’s prayer is a revolutionary prayer. We are, after all, asking that God’s Kingdom come to earth. That things would be on earth as they are in Heaven, a place where there is no death, oppression, systematic injustices, tsunamis, or Yankee fans. When we pray that prayer we are asking a whole lot. And it, in turn, asks a whole lot of us.

I like the way McKnight says this, “Prayer does not stop with the ‘Amen.’ It rises to its feet and walks off, with our built-up yearning turned into action…The Lord’s Prayer is not intercession. It is enlistment.”

For me, our re-addition of Amen sums up a lot. It helps make sense of the civil religion that we see all around us today. We have learned how to compartmentalize our lives into neat, little, divided sections. And for an hour a week we are followers of Jesus, we believe the most revolutionary things, we love our enemies, turn the other cheek. For that hour we live in an Upside Down Kingdom.

And then we say Amen.

But what if Jesus removed this phrase intentionally? What if the idea Jesus had was for us to talk to God, get his vision for what the world could be like, and then go out and put skin on it?

It makes sense that Jesus closes out his Lord’s Prayer by instructing his disciples to forgive others, to be generous, not to worry about tomorrow, not to judge others. He is in other words teaching us what Kingdom praying people live like.

In Jesus name…

Wheel of Fortune

There is a dangerous theology that is quite popular right now. It basically says that if you give to God than God will give more back to you. This way of thinking about God can reduce him into that cosmic E-trade in the sky. This theology tends to be preached by people who are asking you to give to their particular ministry/church/program so that you can be rewarded by God.

This idea has been around since Job’s friend. It’s called the Health and Wealth Gospel, and it couldn’t be more dangerous.

But the reason it is dangerous is because is partially true.

Before you start to think that I am drinking the Olsteen Kool-aid let me clarify what I mean by that.

Leslie and I just got back from a 3 day conference called Generous Giving. It was my third conference to be at within 14 days (I’m conferenced out) but I am so glad that I went. We got to hang out with Ruth Haley Barton, Chip Ingram and Fernando Ortega. We listened to Barton talk about generosity as a spiritual discipline that God uses to instill faith and deep joy in Jesus-followers, or Ingram talk about generosity as a first step toward incarnational living.

But the best part of all was the testimonies of the people doing it. One after another we heard from people who had given sacrificially. Like this one guy who had given over $100,000,000 in his life. He could have lived in a palace, but he chose to live off a very modest income to give to people who didn’t have as much.

We heard from person after person who had given sacrificially and the common denominator was a deep joy.

And here’s where the Health and Wealth gospel misses out.

See the partial truth of this preaching is that God does want us to give generously. But not for the sake of tricking him into giving us more.

The assumption under that way of viewing the Scriptures is that getting more is the best that could happen to you. And so they teach generosity for the purposes of eventually hoarding. But the truth is that when some people give stuff away they stay broke.

I’m reading about the Medieval world right now. And one of the most surprising things is how they generally thought about possessions. They had a metaphor for fortune that showed how fickle they viewed it.

It was the wheel of Fortune.

Seriously.

They said that this wheel constantly was turning, and that the fastest way to live a miserable life was to put your hope and trust in what you owned, or your government (this is one reason that Arthur’s legendary table was round). Because they recognized the instability of the things we have come to put the most trust in. They knew sometimes the wheel would move up and create a happy ending, and sometimes it would create a tragedy.

Think about the irony of this. We call these people primitive, yet if they were to have lived through the last two years they would have been trying to explain things to us.

They had a metaphor to explain this deep truth, and we use it to market a game show that teaches the exact opposite.

The wisdom of God does tend to go against common sense often. But never as much as here.
One speaker this weekend said, “Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightning.” Which means if you want to know how well you love, just look at your bank statement, or your day-planner. Are you generous with your life? Is your life oriented around values that you are willing to die for?

So here’s a question: Have you ever known people who embody this? Generous with their money, time, resources? If so, What did their example do to you?

Misc. Happenings and Resurrection

So last week was a hectic pace of being filled and having fun. Rick took about 10 young preachers to a preacher’s retreat with Bob Russell in Louisville. It was a fun time of being with some peers, learning really practical ministry advice from Bob and Rick, touring the Louisville bat factory (it had some ministry application) and bowling (not so much ministry application).

Then a few of us went to a Preacher’s conference at Lipscomb University, which is fast becoming one of my favorite Christian colleges. At the conference a few of us got to sit at the feet of some real Theological heavy-hitters like Tremper Longman and Scot McKnight (author of the Jesus Creed and Blue Parakeet). So after two back-to-back conferences, my brain is tired.

I want to just think about puppies and rainbows for the next few days.
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I really thought the Razorbacks were going to pull off a major upset this weekend. But as a friend said, “St. Timothy of the Philippines finally overcame.” Either we are better than I thought we were, or Florida was having an off weekend. I choose to believe the first one.

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This weekend in church we showed this video of a good friend of mine. His name is Rodney and I wrote about his story here last year.

If anyone exemplifies 1 Corinthians 6:11 it’s Rodney. He’s got a past. But you wouldn’t know it by talking to him, because who Rodney used to be isn’t nearly as exciting as who he is going to be.

Rodney is going to be a great minister. He’s a gifted leader and communicator, and I look forward to hearing him preach to his own congregation one day. With his permission I am posting the video we made of his story here because it’s so powerful.

Stories like Rodney’s life remind me of the real reason I believe in Easter.

As much as we can talk about evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, nothing helps me believe in Jesus as seeing his resurrection power in someone’s life. God is up to something in Rodney’s life that has changed everything for him, and all of us around him can tell.

The Risk of Security

It’s tough to talk about the possibility of dying at the Olive Garden.

Maybe it’s because of the breadsticks, or because everything just seems so nice, it just feels off somehow.

Last week Leslie and I had lunch with the resident missionary couple at RHCC. They are headed to a place in North Africa that I can’t write about here for security reasons, but you need to know they are a fascinating couple.

She is an ethnomusicologist, he is a community development guru. Their plan is that when they leave people will have clean water, better returns on their harvest, and songs, poems and stories about meeting Jesus. Which sounds pretty good to me.

And so it was strange that at the Olive Garden they were talking about what to do in the case of their village, or home being attacked by hostile militants.

In Acts 19, there is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. Paul has gone to Ephesus to tell people about Jesus, which seems innocent enough, but he actually winds up inciting a riot.

Actually the people who started a riot were the ones who had a vested interest in the dominant religion of the day. They were silversmiths and craftsmen who made shrines for Artemis. They worked for the system and the system worked for them. And they certainly didn’t need some punk Christian coming in and saying that those idols were just decorative, powerless trinkets.

So they gathered a group of people, got ‘em all riled up and for two hours these people shouted, “Great is Artemis, God of the Ephesians.”

Now before you write this story off as some weird, ancient religion you need to know something else.

The name for Artemis is based on the root Greek word for Safety or health.

Artemis sounds like some ancient religion, but the truth is she is worshipped by millions everyday.

And standing juxtaposed against this mob chanting for safety, but acting dangerously, is this guy named Paul, who wants to go into the assembly that has basically gathered just to kill him. Everyone else is out of their mind wanting security, but Paul is willing to risk everything.

Because Paul doesn’t worship Artemis.

I have noticed over the past few months something about human nature, including my own. The one thing that will reduce us to our basest instinct is this desire to be secure or healthy. Watch any news channel these days, when we talk about security or health, people automatically can become belligerent, rude and sometimes hateful.

Almost, at times, like a riot.

Which makes me think back to my two new missionary friends. I thank God for bringing people like them into my life. Not just for the great work that they are going to do in North Africa, but for what they remind me of.

They remind me of the story that I belong to. And that’s important, because If I watch any news station for an extended amount of time they have a way of telling a story that makes me think I am in immediate danger from something (swine flu, terrorist attacks, bad economy) or someone.

But that’s not really my story. So maybe that’s why these new friends are so refreshing.

These are two bright, young adults who could do a lot with their lives. But instead of trying to insulate themselves from danger they are taking a calculated risk, to better the world for the glory of God.

They are taking their place in the long line of followers of Jesus who have gone against the dominant impulses of our culture for self-preservation for the sake of something bigger than themselves.

Because the way of Jesus isn’t the way of Artemis.

Because the real risk of security is that you might be worshipping a god who is no god at all.

It’s time to stop rioting.

How To Throw a Party

So this Saturday I went to the new Cowboys Stadium to see my Razorbacks beat the pants off of Texas A&M in the largest stadium known to man. People were cheering like we had won the national championship, at one point I hugged several total strangers. There was a drunk, fraternity guy in front of us we nicknamed Captain Affection, because he kissed several people, hugged everyone, and I think was eventually kicked out of the stadium. I thought the game was going to be the highlight of my week.

But I was wrong.

I will never forget yesterday’s church service. Even if I tried I don’t think it’s possible.

Sometimes the power of Scripture is lost because we have developed these creative hermeneutical loopholes that make the Bible about another world. We exegete and explain away passages that don’t fit what we are comfortable with. Especially with stories about God’s goodness.

Yesterday Atchley preached on the Prodigal Son. And his main point was that as scandalous as the Father accepting the son back was, people could have probably accepted it. It was after all the Father’s son coming home. But what was truly scandalous about this story is the way that the Father accepted the son back.

He threw a party.

This Father, who’d just taken a serious hit toward his net worth, dipped into the savings once more for his youngest son and threw a party. And not just any party. It was one for the entire family, for all the servants, and the entire village. The Father fed everyone, there was music and dancing (pay attention to those words) and for a moment everything was right in the world.

And so yesterday, RHCC did more than just tell this story. We practiced it.

We passed out 4,000 noisemaking, party favors. Had the Jr. High students re-teach us how to dance to the Happy Song, and bought cake for everyone. For an hour after the assemblies you could see people eating cake and hear those annoying birthday party noisemakers.

And it sounded like gospel noises.

I think this is perhaps the main thing that our Western churches are missing. We are anemic from lack of partying. We have bought into the idea that partying is a secular thing, and have made our churches just as somber and serious as we know how. So we read the Prodigal Son as if was about something other than the unbridled joy of God’s reconciling love. We leave the partying to the people who really don’t have that much to party about.

Soren Kierkegaard spoke about our trivial parties well:

“Last night I went to a party. Everyone admired my wit and
sophistication. All agreed that I was most entertaining. And
I returned to my apartment, closed the door, held a gun in
my hands and thought about ending my life.”

I want you to think about this. Most of the time in our world, parties have a hedonistic bent to them. That is to say, we party just to celebrate ourselves. So we party about the most meaningless things. I have seen grown men cry from joy because a man ran down the field with a ball made from pigskin, and celebrate something that will not matter in one week (this doesn’t apply to the Razorbacks, that was obviously quite important).

There’s a reason that a huge chunk of Jesus parables are about banquets, or weddings, the party scenes of his day. It’s because the Scriptures are trying to paint a hope for this world that is so big, so tremendous that it’s a heresy not to party.

Because what that Father did for the Prodigal Son, God is going to do for every single molecule of creation.

God is reconciling all things to Himself.

So we eat cake to celebrate the time drawing near where no one will be hungry. We make noise to celebrate the time when justice will roll forward like roaring waters. We dance because the Shalom, our “this-world made new” hope is coming. We party, to practice.

And with each movement toward drawing all things back to Himself, Heaven celebrates.

So our churches need to stop slaving. It’s time to join the party.

Re-Incarnation

I have come to understand that one of the missing pieces of Christian Theology is Re-Incarnation. But before you begin to think I’ve converted to hippie, let me back up and explain what I mean.

Over the past few weeks I have noticed that one of the repeated themes of Christian history, especially after the third century, was debate over the nature of the incarnation. That is, we became adept at arguing over what exactly happened in Bethlehem.

Now there was a ton of different nuances to this discussion, much of the time debates revolved around single Greek words. Some people got upset if a word was used to describe the incarnation that wasn’t used in Scripture. It seems like Creeds were drawn up weekly to defend or define Jesus’ nature. Groups split often, and there was more drama than in the Jackson 5.

All over the Incarnation.

A couple of weeks ago in Nashville, a story ran in the local news about a family named the Hazelips. The tag line for this story was, “Imagine living the perfect life in the suburbs, with a big house, green grass, and a pool. But one Nashville couple still felt empty, so they packed up and moved to one of the highest drug ridden areas of the city.”

They left their upper-middle class life, and moved into the projects. Which is not normally the direction people choose with their lives. You rarely hear a C.E.O. saying the next step after a house in the Hamptons is to finally get that apartment in the projects.

But this family did it. They saw it as a part of following Jesus. And now because of this strange move, the kids of this neighborhood have ice cream on Thursday afternoon’s and movies on Friday nights. The Hazelips have helped some of the adults overcome their addictions.

All because someone chose to move in a downward direction.

One of my good friends made a point recently. He said that much of the time our theology is gnostic. But he doesn’t mean that the way you might think. Gnosticism is the belief that the material is bad, and the spiritual, or non-material is good. It was one of the first heresies. And my friend’s point is not that we necessarily believe that, but that we practice that.

A lot of the time our theology is talked about but not lived out.

It is discussed but not embodied.

Which is what I think part of the problem was with Christian’s trying to describe the incarnation. It had become abstract, a theory. When in fact it was the one part of our Theology that was the most concrete of all. In other words God had put on skin, not theory.

God had laid down his divine prerogatives, he had in the words of Paul, emptied Himself.

And we tried to describe this all while fighting for more power, more influence than the other guys.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognize that I am in debt to these earlier Christians for wrestling with some pretty tough stuff on describing the birth of Jesus. I am thankful that they had these harder conversations. But this seems to be the one area of Christianity that demands more than just talk.

Because the beauty of the Incarnation is that it didn’t just happen. It happens.

Everytime a follower of Jesus chooses the path of descent. Everytime someone chooses to serve vs. fighting to be served.

That’s re-incarnation. It’s following Jesus in the hardest move of all.

And it can still change the world.

Just ask the Hazelips.