Saturday, April 30, 2011

History of Conflicts

Today I was given a link to a web page that uses Google Earth and a timeline to give a visual illustartion of all the conflicts the world has experienced since 4000BC! It is impressive and very alarming. It would be interesting to determine from the timeline how many years were truly peaceful years, if there were any.

Go to Conflict History to see this incredible, powerful and alarming tool When you follow the hyperlink you will come to the years I have been alive, not too peaceful!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Literal vs. Figurative

One reason some churches are considered liberal is their view of the Bible. Did everything (EVERYTHING) historically happen in the Bible? Who decides?

Now we know that Jesus spoke in parables. A parable is a story that speaks a truth, a spiritual and moral truth. The story of the prodigal son did not literally happen, it was story told by Jesus to get the listener to ask: “What?” The excellence of Jesus’ parables is that we can put ourselves into the story and discover a truth about ourselves.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Did God literally create the earth in 6 days? (Abraham Heschel would say that God created on the seventh day too, on that day He created rest, Sabbath) Or is there another truth we miss in this story? From this story we see a God that creates and shapes a world into existence. He creates in a specific order. He separates the chaotic from the ordered. He creates the plants and the animals and places them in just the right place. And then He creates humans and places them in the middle of this perfect, and orderly creation. And He hangs out with us. Our God is not a distant god that creates on accident, or makes mistakes. Our God is near, and desires a relationship with us.

I wrestle with the narrative of David and Goliath. Did this battle really happen? Or is there another truth that we miss from the story? We all face battles. From this story we are told that David faced the lion, the bear and the champion Goliath and won those battles. Did he do it alone? For me the story says that when you are in a battle and the odds are against you, God hears your cries.

I do not have a checklist close at hand to decide if a passage is literal or figurative. There are passages I hold as I literal and there are passages I hold as figurative. Both types speak truth. Does that make me a liberal? I praise God that he has given me the freedom, liberty to explore those amazing stories and to allow me to place myself into His continuing narrative.

Johnny Cash, he was such a BA

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Are You a Liberal?

“Are you going to that liberal church?” This was a question asked of someone attending our church plant. When I heard this I was unsure if I should be upset or not.

What constitutes a person, an organization or a church as being liberal? Why do we automatically think negatively when someone calls us liberal?

Liberal is defined as being favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. It is also defined as being open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.

Conservative is defined as being disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

Being liberal or conservative does not make one a democrat or a republican. Both parties, and those outside these parties, demonstrate liberal and conservative thoughts and hopes.

When I think of liberals I think of people who were instrumental in making change. These individuals saw injustices and responded. I think of individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, the founding fathers, maybe even Jesus.

Another interesting idea about being liberal is the reference to the word free. Consider the word liberty. If it were not the views of individuals willing to make change happen, we may not be enjoying the freedom, liberty we enjoy today.

So how do I respond to being called a liberal, or leading a liberal church?

Watch for posts as I explore this idea further.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Power of Story

I love NPR Radio, call me a liberal, and I heard this amazing story today. I am also a lover of narrative and the importance of allowing each of us, past and present, the ability to tell our stories. We are part of a mosaic tapestry that becomes more and more beautiful as each of us contribute to the overall story. It is amazing that The Creator would weave our stories into His grand story.

To listen to the story go here

Jake Halpern teaches journalism at Yale University.

President Obama's birth certificate, the one that his campaign released in 2008, is one seriously boring document. It tells us almost nothing about his actual birth — other than the bare-bones details. I assumed all certificates were like this until one day, a few weeks ago, when my dad discovered his father's birth certificate — which was issued in Poland, 107 years ago.

The document is packed with juicy details — I won't go so far as to say it's a swashbuckling tale of adventure — but, in terms of story development, it's way better than Obama's. It mentions, for example, the name of the presiding midwife — a woman named Chaje Rader from the town of Hutar. It also provides the name of the guy who performed the circumcision — Mr. Benzion Klein — and it even indicates that Klein was the town's butcher. This makes sense. I mean, you wouldn't want the town's blacksmith doing the deed — would you? The document notes that Grandpa was an illegitimate child. There is even a part of the document offering the name of the godparents who witness the birth.

What I am driving at is this: If you read in between the lines, a story of sorts emerges. A guy is born in a small town where no doctor is available — just a midwife to do the delivery and a butcher to cut the foreskin. Some old codger, the gray-haired godparent, shuffles over to the house in the heat of summer and bears witness to the whole thing. Then some municipal official intercedes and announces, matter-of-factly, that the baby is illegitimate. It's interesting: The birth certificate says that Grandpa's parents were actually married, by a religious figure, a rabbi. Yet the marriage wasn't recognized by the state — and this was often the case for marriages in Eastern Europe conducted by a rabbi. This is an indication that Grandpa, his family, and his people weren't really integrated into mainstream society; and helps explain why, 21 years later, Grandpa immigrated to America.

Grandpa left Poland under a false identity with someone else's passport. This was, presumably, the only way out. We're not sure why, and he's not alive to offer an explanation. But here is the interesting part: He brought his real birth certificate with him, tucked away, hidden in some deep, inner pocket. If anyone had gotten suspicious and searched him they would have discovered his ruse and Grandpa might not have made it to America. So why did he do it? Why'd he take the risk?

He did it because his birth certificate contained the story of his life — it was a very, very condensed autobiography — it told the tale of who he was, where he came from, what life was like there, and why he left. And tonight at Passover my family will take a moment — as it always does — to remember Grandpa's exodus.

Birth certificates nowadays serve a strictly bureaucratic purpose; but if we learn anything valuable from scrutinizing the president's certificate, it ought to be that its brevity, its lack of detail, its sheer boringness, represents a lost opportunity to know more about what life was like at the very moment that this man was born. This is truly the first chapter in his story and, sadly, from a literary and historical perspective, it's a very poor read.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Triumphal Entry

Last night as a community we talked about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus on the Sunday before he was put to death. We looked at all four passages in the Gospel that point to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. One thing we discovered is that many are not very familiar with this passage. We felt that maybe why some were unfamiliar with the passage is that on Holy Week our eyes are focused on the cross, not the entry.

This is an amazing passage but it is a difficult passage to put our minds around. It is not a simple message to preach, although it is often preached simply.

Consider the Hero to Zero message. This one goes that on that Sunday the crowd showed up to watch Jesus parade into Jerusalem with his disciples. The crowds were excited to see this miracle worker. They had heard that Jesus had healed the leper, gave sight to the blind and just recently raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowd lines the street and as Jesus passes by they lay their cloaks on the street and wave palm fronds and cheer. But by the time Thursday night or Friday morning arrives the crowd turns on Jesus and demands that Pontius Pilate crucify him.

But I do not think this passage is that simple.

First let’s consider the donkey and/or colt that Jesus rode into town on. Jesus sends some of the boys (none of the Gospels name who he sends) ahead to get a donkey that has never been rode. They will find this animal tied up. In Matthew’s story there is a mommy donkey and a baby donkey (long complex story!). How did Jesus know there would a donkey tied up? How did he know the owner would be willing to give him away? Was it prearranged?

We are told that this ride into Jerusalem fulfills a prophecy made my Zechariah, 500 hundred years prior to Jesus’ birth. This was a tough time for the Jewish people. There is no Jewish king. They have become a province to Persia under King Dairus’ rule. There was this longed for hope for a new king, the messiah, the savior of the Jewish people.

Zechariah promises that times will get better for the Jews. “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This passage talks of a victorious king returning from battle to his people. Matthew quotes this passage but omits “righteous and victorious.” Why? Maybe the battle hasn’t been won, yet.

But we do see Jesus lowly, humbly entering the city on a donkey. This is a statement of peace. He is not entering Jerusalem on a chariot or on the back of a horse or in a tank. He is not coming into Jerusalem with his army carrying guns or knives or weapons of mass destruction.

Image the scene, imagine the people, imagine the smells, imagine the sounds. The crowd following Jesus is pumped up! But the city, those on the inside, is concerned. Matthew says that the city is stirred. Being stirred has a feeling of turmoil, like waiting on an expectant storm brewing on the horizon. It brings to mind a tornado in the Midwest. Or maybe like the earthquake warning heard 30 seconds before the big one hit in Japan.

So this peaceful entry of Jesus is welcomed by one crowd and feared greatly by another.

One writer (Chad Myers) describes it:

The bulk of the passage refers not to the event itself but to the organization, preparation, and planning. The movement described is complex; there is collaboration between the out-of-towners and the local resistance community. The political action is planned to coincide with a time when imperial power is blatant and feelings of resistance are high. The protest tools are low-tech and readily available, and the demonstration design is inclusive and participatory—there is no “audience.” Large numbers serve as security and protection for those who are identified and targeted as leaders.

At Passover, the liberation of slaves is celebrated with a pilgrimage festival to an occupied Jerusalem. Security is high and the situation volatile. In this fraught atmosphere the kingdom movement stages a performance that lampoons the Roman imperial procession. The “king of peace” is not a warrior but a peasant healer who comes riding not a war chariot but a donkey, and crowds fill the streets celebrating an alternative vision. Exciting, dangerous, transformative, participatory, nonviolent!


New Parable

I was reading some of the blogs I follow when I found this interesting parable. It is not a parable that Jesus told. This is a parable that will anger some in a variety of ways. This is a parable that should make us ask questions and seek answers.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the story, how did the autrhor get it all wrong, how did he get it all right, what does it mean to you, how did it make you mad, what questions are you going to get the answers to?

What is the Kingdom of God like, you ask?

A woman lived in rural central California. She was known for her kindness, generosity and love, but she was also fair and just. Her five children were normal kids, but the four youngest were known around town for their rebellious streaks. As a single mom, she did the best she could to establish both love and rules in the house, but four of her kids desired freedom over relationship. So one evening, the four youngest filled their backpacks and ran away.

The mom woke up and, finding four of her children’s beds empty, began to weep. She would not rest until her children returned home or she found them. Being a farm owner, she had plenty of hired hands to help in her search. She put the farm’s business on hold and sent her workers out to search for her lost darlings. She spent every last dime printing pamphlets, recording radio spots and inundating the TV with ads exclaiming her love for her children and her pleas for them to return home into her loving arms. All that she had, was and would be theirs.

Then one day, it happened. One of her runaways returned home. Seeing and hearing her message, his heart melted and he came back. She embraced him, welcoming him home. She turned to her eldest son (the one that never ran away) and asked if he would help find and bring back the others. He set out with a mission and a message. When he found two of the three, he told them of their mom’s love for them and how badly she missed them and her relentless desire for all of them to come home. He also reminded them of the Great Rule, but they refused to come back with him. He never did find the forth lost one.

Years passed and no sign of her kids. Regardless, a great rule had been violated. So she climbed into her pickup truck with a few hired hands and set out to bring her children home. On May 17, she found them.

All three were huddled up near a dumpster, clutching a worn blanket. They saw her truck approach and, too tired to run, they just sat with terror I their eyes. See, while away, they had been told countless lies by countless people that their mom was not a kind woman, that she did not love them and that she was mad-as-hell at them. Added to this were their incredible loneliness, shame and feelings of worthlessness. Living on the street—isolated from love—can do this to anyone, and it certainly did them. Seeing her children and hearing about their condition, the mother reassured them of her love. But despite her undying, never-ending motherly love for her children, she knew that the Great Rule had been violated and she must act accordingly.

They pulled up into the driveway and the truck came to a dusty halt. The hired hands helped the kids climb out of the back of the truck. As the mom walked to the house she looked back one last time at her kids. Motioning to the hired hands, she firmly declared, “Take them away. They violated the Great Rule and did not return to me on their own.”

“But mom….!?”

“Not another word,” she interrupted. “Whether you knew it or not, The Great Rule says that my children shall not run away and that if they do, they are to return on their own within three years. If they do not, I will find them and the Great Punishment must be inflicted. I even sent my oldest son for you, but you did not believe him.”

“Mom, we are sorry. We were scared, hurting and full of shame. We did things we are not proud of and that you would not approve of. Deep inside, when the nights were the quietest, we knew you loved us but we were afraid that you would have nothing to do with us after all we had done.”

With tears in her eyes she slowly replied, “I understand, I see you are truly sorry and I love you. But there is nothing I can do; I am powerless against the Great Rule. Three years have passed, you did not return and the Rule is the Rule.” With that, she turned and walked towards the house where her returning-son stood on the porch, watching.

The hired hands, still clutching the children by the arms, took them away to the barn…even the fourth child who never heard the eldest son’s message. As directed by the Great Punishment, they entered the barn, tied the children to the posts and began beating them. Next came the kerosene. Then, in the midst of their screams and under the watchful eye of their loving mom, they and the barn were set ablaze.

The loving, kind, full-of-mercy, just and righteous mom, turning from the window overlooking the burning barn, looked at her oldest son and the child who returned to her, wiped the tear from her eye and smiled. She motioned once more to her hired hands and—with the other children still burning and screaming outside—the feast of feasts, the party of parties, began. The mom, her eldest son, her returning-on-his-own child, and even her hired hands lived, feasted, and partied…happily…ever…after.

The End.

Now go, and share this GOOD NEWS of the Kingdom. Praise be to God.

Credit for this parable goes to Jeromy Johnson, you can read the orignal post here

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fifth Week of Lent: Hunger for Self Giving

Yesterday was the 5th Sunday of Lent, Easter is 2 weeks away! The three of us worked through John 12:20-33. Below is the section that I shared.

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

This passage follows Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we will be talking about the triumphal entry passage next week on Palm Sunday. It was the time of the Passover Feast and there are thousands upon thousands of people arriving for the celebration. Jerusalem is busting at the seams. Jews from all over would make pilgrimage to the city for this God ordained holiday.

In the throngs of all these people we are introduced to some Greeks, possibly Hellenistic Jews, and they want to meet this man that came riding into town earlier on a colt. This was the guy that the crowds were excited to see. Who was he? Was he really the Messiah?

Maybe they heard that at a wedding in Cana, Jesus changed water into wine. Not just any wine but really good wine! Maybe they heard about the healing of a man born blind. Maybe they heard about the crippled guy that Jesus healed. Maybe they heard about the feeding of 5,000 people from 5 loaves of bread and 2 freeze dried fish. We are told in John 20 that Jesus did so many miracles that they were not all recorded. No telling how many miracles these Greeks heard about.

But these unnamed Greeks, possibly God-fearing gentiles were asking to see Jesus.

Before this narrative in the bible is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus was dead and buried for four days. Four days ensured that the dead was really dead. You can imagine the excited and awe from the crowd.

John 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!

Maybe it wasn’t just a couple Greeks, maybe it was hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands demanding “We would like to see Jesus.”

Greeks were allowed only in the outer court area at the temple. It was here, in the outer courtyard area that the money changers and the dove salesmen had set up their tables. It was here that Jesus came armed with a whip and an attitude and turned their tables over.

So maybe they heard about the temple cleansing or maybe they were eyewitnesses to the event.

The Greeks and all women were not allowed to enter the inner courtyard area. There was an isolation of the Jews from the gentiles. Outsiders isolated from the insiders.

Is the point of this small passage to show to the reader that those on the outside were acting as insiders? Is the point of this passage to show to the reader that the outsider was soon to be the target audience of the disciples?

We would like to see Jesus.

Jesus came to the Temple to cleanse it. To drive away the money changers. To drive away the sellers of doves. To reveal the injustices being done, all in the name of God.

To the religious leaders this was a man that stood against the established religion. Jesus wasn’t the Messiah a lot of the Jews were expected—there’s no exclusive nationalism in his message. His citizenship is not of this world. And these Greeks want to see him—they hear that he hangs out with pagans and sinners; they hear that his kingdom might just have room for them, those outside Abraham’s offspring.

Who do you see when you look at Jesus? A miracle worker? A savior? God? Man?

I believe there are millions of people that would love to see Jesus. Does the church set up barriers or obstacles keeping the outsider out? These outsiders don’t want the ritual. These outsiders don’t want religion. These outsiders want to see Jesus. They want the relationship.

I hope that tables would be overturned in our own places of worship. That the den of thieves would be cleansed and this place of worship would become the place where God would be pleased to hang out with us.

Why did the Greeks approach Philip? Was it because of his Greek name? More importantly why did Philip hesitate?

Another passage to read according to the liturgical calendar is Psalm 51:1-12, I encourage you to read it as well and pray that God would cleanse us and create in us a pure heart.

As we proceed in our passage we feel that Jesus is not just responding to Philip and Andrew but we feel that maybe Jesus is talking to the disciples and to the Greeks that asked to see Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up[g] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Fervent Charity

This morning I was asked to give my thoughts on the King James version of 1 Peter 4:8 "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."

I always look beyond the world of Christian brothers and sisters and consider this and other passages as a challenge to serve others outside the church walls. It should be a given that the church will come alongside others in need in the church community (club?). It is unfortunate that sometimes the church drops the ball and misses opportunities to serve those in their own community/tribe. Think about it, if we can’t take care of our own, how are we going to be a light to others?

Quick word study. The word for fervent in Greek is ekten, and it also means out-stretched or earnest. I love all three definitions! This is an adverb that demands action. This action requires a stretching, probably to the breaking point. How much are we required to give and serve? To the breaking point! Is this the breaking point Jesus was challenging the Rich Young Ruler?

The word for charity, in this passage is agape. Interesting! We know that agape is love in the Greek, an unconditional love. Agape love looks for nothing in return. No return on investment. No recognition for a job well done. No awards, or plaques, or cash bonus.

We are clearly instructed to love others. 1 Peter is talking to the community of followers of Christ. But I feel we need to also combine that with the teachings of Jesus: to love and serve our neighbor, regardless of the lifestyle, social status, race, religion, sexual preferences, etc. to the breaking point. And we need to love and serve those that are in need: the widow, the orphan, the foreigner (illegal alien?), the sick and infirmed, and the prisoner.

Finally it is this agape, unconditional love, charity that is going to cover a multitude of sins. That’s interesting too! So my love for another will cover their sins?

Before you are quick to say that Jesus is the one and only that covers our sins, consider the stretcher bearers carrying the invalid to Peter’s house (Mark 2). They couldn’t get in so they tore a hole through the ceiling and lowered the man down to Jesus, right in the middle of Peter’s living room. I think Jesus laughed hysterically at the scene, as dry wall and popcorn ceiling fell on him and everyone in the room. I also imagine Peter being pretty ticked off by the scene as he considered the cost to repair his ceiling.

Jesus looks at the invalid and then to the four guys staring through the giant hole in the ceiling. And what did Jesus say? When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Seems to me that a multitude of sins are being covered by the fervent love and charity of others!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Meet Me in Eternity

A few years back I was introduced to a young man. This young man was tough. He carried an edge about himself that made him seem unapproachable and closed off. But through the introduction he had no choice but to talk to me. And what I discovered was that this young man had a soul that I wanted to know better.

Unfortunately this was my one only interaction with him. Shortly after our initial meeting, he passed away. It was a violent passing. Part of his tough exterior was often met with confrontation. Some of it I am sure he instigated. And I am sure there were other times he was challenged by someone wanting to prove their toughness. His life was filled with many evils and bad decisions. But I never got to challenge the soul of the young man I met.

I did attend his memorial service. His former junior high youth pastor did his memorial service, even though the young man had not attended church, or a youth gathering since junior high. Even in junior high his attendance was rare, skating and girls were a higher calling.

I spoke with the youth pastor about the young man and their connection. The youth pastor said it had been over 10 years since they crossed paths. He remembers the young man as a tough junior higher that fought often and picked on the church kids. He was difficult to handle and had to be disciplined frequently.

He continued to share that one Wednesday evening the young man, then a junior higher, was touched in a meaningful way. On that evening this tough, rowdy young man prayed the prayer: allowing Jesus to live in his heart and to guide and lead him. The youth pastor, being a good Baptist, felt it necessary to baptize all the junior higher students that made the decision to follow Jesus. They were baptized that same night.

During the memorial service the youth pastor shared with the family and friends in attendance the decision that young man made so many years ago. The youth pastor shared that there is a hope for life after this. And to ensure that life continues after death requires a voluntarily surrender of self to Jesus; a life allowing Jesus to guide and lead; a life affirming and believing that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

I am grateful that I don’t have to do the judging. It is not up to me to determine the eternal state of someone’s soul. Our God is a grace filled God. He calls us His children whom He loves. He desires a relationship with all of us. I am praying that when the young man and I meet the on the other side I can finally get to know the young man I met and his incredible soul.