Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blessed are... #4

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Again there is the value of recognizing a need, seeing a hole that needs to be filled.

Thinking everything is all figured out, complete, finished, means there is no room for improvement (so the unacknowledged hole still remains).

Righteousness is the state approved by God. So, a desire to have his heart and character should be right on the money.

I think this hunger is both for oneself (personal) and for the world (the kingdom of God).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Can't see the forest

for the trees, or maybe the toothpicks, newspapers, turpentine, or other wood by-products.

There are a few major themes in the Bible. Things like redemption,
compassion, peace, justice, just to name a few. The 'forest' if you will.

It seems that over the centuries the church has got really good at
distilling, digging, mining for little nuggets (pardon the mixed metaphor) of truth.

But in so doing, we have forgotten the forest these little nuggets were taken from.

  • Instead of compassion and affirmation, we have emphasized one or another definition of 'holiness' that isn't compassionate.
  • Instead of justice for all, we have focussed on individual freedom, blessings, wealth, power, etc. And justice for all has turned into injustice for those who aren't the privileged few.
  • Instead of God's desire to redeem even the worst, we are ready to consign them all to hell as we tell them: “I told you so, serves you right.”
  • Instead of an active, present sense of the reign of God in this world, we have turned our back on the problems of today's world in order to plan only for eternity.
  • Instead of a land where God's shalom permeates and brings resolution to conflict, we have invented 'just war', the Crusades, colonialism, and other 'Christian' ways of dealing with injustice.

To continue the forestry analogy, we have clear-cut the whole forest, and all we have to show for it is a little pile of dead branches and leaves, and a massive mansion.
Instead of an environment where all creatures can co-exist, we have an obscenely huge home for one of the creatures, and displaced everything else.

Can't see the beautiful, natural forest of compassion because the trees have been turned into instruments of hate, segregation and division.
The few trees that remain are hard to identify as the former glorious forest—but it still is the forest!

Just step back and regain the perspective of the big picture.
If we allow it, the forest will grow back.
God's kingdom is still a place of rest, hope, support, affirmation, encouragement, peace, joy, love, equality and redemption.
We just need to get back to looking at the forest instead of focusing on what we can make of the trees.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blessed are... #3

Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
Meek doesn't particularly mean weak, it means teachable, gentle, humble, patient. It can have a sense of passivity, but I believe it is the idea of recognizing a higher authority that Jesus has in mind.

Not arrogant, not closed to further understanding, not overly confident in oneself.

They will take over the earth. Now that is as unexpected as any of Christ's upside-down teachings. Those who don't fight will win the battles.

The teachable will live to see things improve. They will see (and be) the kingdom of God infiltrating, permeating, changing life here on earth. As Jesus says a few verses later (5:13, 14), his followers are to be salt and light. Those who are open and humble will be his presence on earth, bringing out the God-flavors and God-colors (The Message) in this earth.

So why do many Christians think they have already arrived and should be teaching others, while not being open to being taught? The best attitude for a teacher is to be ready to change his mind, to have the same openness of mind that he would expect his learners to have.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Someone else's musings

We cannot say what we believe. We only do what we believe.” (emphasis mine)  Todd Littleton, commenting on Peter Rollins' post where he says:
Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

(I found this while surfing Jon @ who follows Daniel who posted this. Are you lost yet?)

I don't think any commentary is necessary. 

Blessed are... #2

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
Mourning points to pain, grief, something missing.

Again it infers that we know something isn't right, that everything is not OK.

The result of this mourning is comfort—the hole will be filled.

Not recognizing or caring about the void means that it will still be there, though it may not be noticed or identified.

So don't feel sad because you notice things need improving--sadness is the first step towards  a brighter day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blessed are... #1

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Those who recognize that they are needy, that something is missing.
Those who are dissatisfied.
Those who are helpless.
Will be partners in the eternal plan of God to make the world the wonderful place he always planned on.
The kingdom isn't just a hope for the future, it is very much for right now.
It's better to be poor than rich when it comes to a recognition of your need of God. “You brag, 'I'm rich, I've got it made, I need nothing from anyone,' oblivious that in fact you're a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” (Revelation 3:17)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blessed are... (Intro)

The beatitudes are right at the beginning of what we call Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7). A parallel passage is Luke 6: 20–49.
Jesus doesn't give us a lot of theology. He seems more interested in example, and illustration. My good friend Ron figures that is probably quite significant in itself. (Even more interesting, according to Ron is the fact that he never asked his disciples to affirm any statement of faith, or make them conform to any particular doctrinal position.)

So, this sermon must be quite important.
It must hit on the most important things that Jesus taught.
And it probably starts with a bang—the beatitudes.

As I have been mulling over these pithy and pointed projectiles of practical precepts, I realize that they were aimed (not so subtly) at the 'excessive confidence' of the Pharisees. Those guys who had it figured out so completely that they had nothing more to do than to teach everyone else. Sound like any person or institution that you have come across? Each beatitude encourages humility, an awareness of need, a lack of arrogance.

For that reason, I think these few verses have a lot to say to us, we who are trying to bring God's Good News to our world.
As an introduction to Jesus' teaching about the kingdom (the dream, revolution, mission, party, network or dance of God), they lay a foundation for everything else he as to say.

A few general things that fit each of the beatitudes:
--they all start with 'Blessed are'. A blessing is more than a good feeling, it is an impartation.
--each of the positive behaviors/attitudes/character qualities results in something specific.
--there is at least a degree of the opposite of each beatitude also being true. Those who recognize their hunger will be filled. Those who think they are full will end up hungry. The parallel passage in Luke emphasizes this with the 'Blesseds' and the 'Woes'.
--notice how each one is an affront to the person who thinks he has already arrived.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Jesus talked a lot about 'kingdom'. The kingdom of heaven is like... Gospel of the kingdom... Thy kingdom come... The kingdom of heaven is at hand... Seek first the kingdom of God...
Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary expands the Greek word to: “ properly royalty, that is, (abstractly) rule, or (concretely) a realm (literally or figuratively): - kingdom, + reign.

In Jesus' time, the idea of kingdom was relevant and easily understandable, although the image wasn't always a positive one. The Jews had a history of some good, benevolent kings, and some despots. In the time of Christ, the Jews were under the rulership of Rome, and well understood the concept.

However, as Jesus said, his kingdom was not of this world. His rulership would gain power and influence as his subjects put themselves under it, and promoted the lifestyle of their chosen king.

In our present experience, the idea of 'kingdom' lacks the potential excitement it would have brought to Jesus' hearers. Most kings in our memory are either powerless figureheads, or dictators.

So in “The secret message of Jesus” Brian McLaren suggests some other images that might better picture the wonder and power of what Jesus was announcing.

  • The dream of God. It has always been God's intent that his creation enjoys all he has given us. After all, Dr. Martin Luther King was only echoing the heart of God when he said: “I have a dream.” 
  •  The revolution of God. Restoring life to its intended fullness will require some drastic changes. But it will be a revolution of love, not violence.  
  • The mission of God. This thought echoes the concept of the church being 'missional'. Actively involed in the various works of Jesus. 
  • The party of God. Not as in a political party, but a birthday party.
  • The network of God. The place we can all connect, be a community.
  • The dance of God. The dynamic rhythm, movement, cooperation of us along with God.

I like these pictures. They still point to God, to his reign, but add depth and breadth, color and texture, taste and smell.

As we start looking at the Beatitudes, keep some of these pictures in mind.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What kind of church are you a part of?

 I've heard this story before, you may have as well.  But it's worth another listen.

Our apologies

There is no better way to pass this along than to repeat it verbatim:
(Stolen directly from Nathan Colquhoun's blog Based on a True StoryRead the first part of the post for background.)

Forgive us, friend: It’s been forever since our last confession.
Where to start? We’ve really come off as self-righteous fools, haven’t we? Good intentions or not, we’ve made mistakes and we want to clear the air.
About the Crusades, we’re sorry. ‘Holy War’ is a contradiction in terms. And over 200 years of fighting is an absolute disgrace.
In memory of those who we murdered, burned at the stake and excommunicated because we disagreed with or disapproved of their ideas or ideology, we are sorry. We let ideas in our head become more important than people, the irony haunts us.
In regards to the televangelists, fundamentalists, self-help salesmen, prosperity preachers and all ‘round religious nuts who have claimed to come in the name of Jesus – we apologize. This clearly is not our best foot forward.
To the gays, lesbians and trans-gendered: We have confused human rights and faith. We’ve unlovingly forced our convictions onto your freedom. Words cannot describe how ashamed we are.
To the Aboriginal people of Canada: We are guilty of remaining silent during your greatest times of need. Please forgive us.
To the children abused by church leaders whom they should have been able to trust: We are deeply grieved by this travesty. Please know that God weeps with you. Forgive us.
To the poor: We apologize for being so distracted and consumed with our own security and comfort that we’ve often ignored your cries for help. We’re also sorry that we’ve categorized you as charity cases and not valued you as humans.
To those have been fighting for the planet: At best we’ve been shamefully absent, and at our worst we’ve even been the antagonists. One of God’s very first instructions to us was to take care of the earth. We should know better. We are truly sorry.
We are sorry for coming off as elitists.
We are sorry for our unloving protests.
We are sorry for reducing sacred art and music to bumper-stickers and hollow jingles.
We are sorry for all the guilting, shaming and scare tactics.
We are sorry for not being the church that Jesus set us out to be.
Our sincerest apologies.
We are so sorry.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kingdom living

I'm musing on the Sermon on the Mount again.

I'll blame it on Brian McLaren, as I'm reading his 'The secret message of Jesus'. I've started some potential musings on the Beatitudes, but want to comment on the 'secrecy' of giving, praying, and fasting in Matthew 6.
“But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter.” Matt 6:3,4 Good News Bible.
“But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.” Matt 6:6 Good News Bible
“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it.” Matt 6:16 The Message

I've talked more than once about CARTS, the ministry I help with on Friday nights. As I again think about what Jesus said about giving in secret, not blowing your own horn, not making a production out of it, I wonder if that is what I am doing.
Oh, I have other reasons for talking about it as well—like encouraging people to actually start living out the Gospel, not just talking about it.
But it still makes me think.

So, if you think I've been doing anything but 'giving in secret', I apologize.
Not for doing it, but for talking about it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A couple great links

Two recent posts by a rapidly-becoming great friend.  We met about three months ago, and share a lot of thoughts in common.

the inconvenient truth


2010, Faith, Hope...and challenge

 You will be challenged!



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scattered randomness (with a chance of meatballs)

(just in case these deep and wonderful thoughts never have the chance to grow up into full-blown musings.)
  • Two rather similar thoughts from different sources: “I'd rather be a ripple than a splash”, and “It's better to be a candle than a trumpet” (Randy Hein @ The Place Jan 3, 2010).  To me, these both say that it's more important to be a small, consistent, far-reaching influence than a one-time big one.
  • I don't 'go to church', I am the church. Regularly attending Christian meetings with a group of people isn't the point. The point is to be engaged in relationships, acts of service and compassion, etc.
  • We native-born, European-descended, able-bodied males have an incredible place of privilege in our society. Not that we deserve it (we had absolutely nothing to do with any of it), but we tend to unknowingly exert the rights of this privilege in everything from how we enter (and take over) a room, public transit, or a conversation. Observe how true this (and the opposite) is the next time you are in a group of people. Notice who talks louder/more confidently, who takes up more space (sprawling on a bus, for example), or who assumes they should be treated well. (Thanks to my good friend Comrade for this insight.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Out on a limb

I did a fair amount thinking and writing about Advent and Christmas this past month. (You probably noticed!)
Christmas is usually pretty noticeable in my life.
New Years, not so much.
I don't tend to do NYE, to me it's no different than any other night—except that you get to do a mad scramble to find a new calendar.
I don't do resolutions either. In a more lofty frame of mind I would probably say, 'If something is worth doing, you don't have to wait for New Years to start.' On a more realistic level, perhaps it's just that I don't tend to set too many goals.
I don't do year-end analyses of favorite things from the last year either, although I have enjoyed reading quite a few on the blogs I read. I think one of the reasons I do enjoy them is that it provides a quick synopsis of what turns someone's crank, what is important to them.

So, this post isn't really any of the above, but it could be considered a bit of a meditation for From Here On In, or From This Day Forward (or, if you insist) a Challenge for 2010.

I recently posted some thoughts from Matthew 24 and 25.
I've continued to muse about Jesus' story about the man traveling to a far country in Matthew 25: 14-29. As usual, I found Peterson's The Message to add some insight.
As I mentioned in my previous post, this story is part of a 2-chapter sermon by Jesus regarding the end. If you have ever heard preaching or read books about end-time prophecy, this scripture will figure in it somewhere. Of course, there are various ways this passage can be taken, and that is not my purpose here.

I want to note a couple things about this story that hit me.
First, look at the incomplete perception the guy with one talent had of his master. “Sir, I knew that you are a hard person to please. You harvest where you haven't planted and gather where you haven't scattered any seeds.”
He may not have been wrong, but he was missing something very important.
Something that the other two servants must have known quite well.
Their master was gracious, understanding, and very willing to forgive mistakes.
Think about it.

The one guy was too scared to try anything for fear he might actually have less to give back at the end than he started with. He was more worried about punishment than reward.
He figured his safest bet was to hide the money so he at least could give the same amount back when his master returned.

The 2 other servants were much more willing to take risks.
They knew that even if they failed in one attempt to use this capital wisely, they could try again.
They knew their master wasn't going to shame them or condemn them for failure.
They knew he was a kind, generous, forgiving man.

And this freedom paid off for both of them. Over the extended period of their master's absence, they were each able to double the value of their initial bankroll. I also think it shows that the master knew his servants well, and gave his money to those whom he knew would handle it wisely.
The limited discernment of the other guy ended up bringing him the shame and condemnation he thought he was sidestepping through his failsafe plan.

Secondly, the challenge to go out on a limb.
Here are the final verses from The Message:
"The servant given one thousand said, 'Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error.
I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.'
The master was furious. 'That's a terrible way to live! It's criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?
The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.
Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this "play-it-safe" who won't go out on a limb.'”

I believe Jesus is letting us know that:
  • he knows who he is giving his talents and abilities to.
  • he trusts us to use them in worthwhile ways.
  • he wants us to experiment with them, to find new ways of using them, to 'go out on a limb'.
  • if we bury them/hoard them/don't use them to help the 'least of these' (next parable, Matthew 25: 41), we totally miss the point of why he gave them to us. I actually think that only using your skills and gifts within the typically closed setting of a church is tantamount to burying them.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go out on a limb.
Look at yourself.
What are the abilities, skills and interests that you know you have? What are the things about you that set you apart from most people (even if you don't think they are anything special)? What attributes do other people notice about you that they think are unique?
If you are already doing something with that skill, go farther. If things are pretty solid, go out on a limb a bit.
If it is an ability that seems to be buried, dig it out, and develop it.

Remember that the master desires to reward people who utilize what he gave them. That he is loving, gracious and forgiving if (when) we sometimes miss the goal we are aiming at. He encourages us to try again.

His mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

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