Thursday, February 5, 2009

Its Been Around the Block...more then a time or two.

Anger is everywhere.

I see it when I am in line buying groceries. I hear it on the radio. I saw it on American Idol last night. I am witnessing it right now as I type- some professor is talking about how stupid his students are and I am sure they are. But his tone reveals his anger and frustration about the class I assume he just got through with.

Anger is everywhere. And the truth is... I see it in me.

I believe there is only two types of anger in the world- I'll call them righteous and normal anger. The anger I see everyday is commonplace, its normal. Jesus talks about this anger and associates phrases like "liable to judgment" or "liable to the fires of hell". Jesus even declares that God does not want your gifts of worship unless the rift caused by the anger between you and another is reconciled, made right. So if the general cultural flow is a world full of anger Jesus is calling us to be counter cultural. That we live lives absent of normal anger and when we do screw-up (and we will- often) we quickly seek reconciliation.

My last thought has to do with this other not so common anger. Righteous anger.

The reality is God hates sin and He hates it when people are oppressed. There are things in our world, in our city, in our communities that should anger us.

Think of the last time you saw someone totally lose it, the last time you witnessed some one who was completely pissed-off. Crazy amounts of passion and energy.

Now think of that being used towards something real, something selfless, something that truly matters.

That's the type of anger I want to be known for.

God, most of my anger is selfish. It has to do with me wanting things my way. Help me stop that. Replace that selfish desire with the desires of Your heart. Give me your eyes so that I can be angry about something that matters to Your Kingdom.
In the power of Jesus name, Amen

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No Joke… the Path to Life is Narrow Part I

As Jesus launches into the Sermon on the Mount Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1) points out that Jesus is talking about his disciples, the twelve. If we revisit the “blessings”, we see a living example of Jesus’ words. I wonder if Jesus pointed to the Twelve as he spoke these opening words?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
As we look at the 12 disciples we see that they are poor in every way. They have left their homes, their careers, their religious allegiance and their chance of security in this world. Bonhoeffer points out the stark contrast between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus’ disciples. Pharisees and other religious leaders enjoyed power, position, and were firmly planted on this earth. Not so of Jesus followers- but it is them, not the high religious leaders, that are the receivers of the kingdom of heaven. “And in that poverty they are the heirs of the kingdom. They have their treasure in secret; they find it on the cross. And they have the promise that they will one day visibly enjoy the glory of the kingdom, which in principle is already realized in the utter poverty of the cross.” (2)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
If Jesus is indeed talking about the twelve then they are the ones mourning. But why? What type of mourning is true of those who follow Jesus? Bonhoeffer concludes that Christ followers mourn for the lost world around them. You see, the disciple lives in the knowledge of the Kingdom and sees his few neighbor pursuing a life that leads to destruction. “He means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate oneself to its standards. Such men mourn for the world, for its guilt, its fate and its fortune.” (3) No one will truly love his or her neighbor like followers of Jesus will and it is out of this love that mourning for the lost comes. The promise from Jesus is that they will be comforted. They will not be defeated by this sorrow because in Jesus we are lifted up, lifted up by the One who bore the sorrows of the world upon Himself on the cross.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
I know we have wrestled a little with what exactly this means and I think we have brought some good understanding to the table. I am afraid that I have “sugar coated” this idea of being meek. If Bonheoffer’s teaching on what it means to be meek is true, I think we will begin to see just how radical this message is beginning to get. This idea of the meek is Christians have no inherent right to protect themselves in this world, “nor do they claim such right, for they are meek, they renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus Christ. When reproached, they hold their peace; when treated with violence they endure patiently; when men drive them from their presence, they yield their ground… They are determined to leave their rights to God alone… Their right is in the will of their Lord- that and nothing more.” (4) Our pride or selfishness says “no way” I can’t live that way. But look at the life of the apostles and look at the life of Jesus- didn’t they live this way? Jesus declares that their blessing is the inheritance of the earth. Very interesting – it is the meek, the powerless, and the disenfranchised that the earth belongs to. Do you see the great contrast? Those who now own the earth- the powerful and those who have violently possessed it will lose it. The incredible thing is that here and now the meek are beginning their possession of the land. “The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha (cross), where the meek One died, and from thence it will spread. “(5) What a radical call… an impossible call for anyone who is not desperately dependent upon the cross of Jesus.

Next post will finish out the intro to Jesus message. I want to close letting you know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived what he preached. He was a pastor in Germany during WWII and was committed to the Kingdom. He could have stayed in the US where he studied but left in order to love and serve his own people. He continued to teach and write even after he was ordered not too. His faithfulness to the Kingdom cost him his life when he was hung by the Nazis in 1945 shortly before the war ended.

God, may we be as faithful as those who have come before us. Help us to find our identity and residency in Your Kingdom and not our own or someone else’s.

(1) Cost of Discipleship- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(2) Ibid, 108.
(3) Ibid, 108.
(4) Ibid, 110.
(5) Ibid, 110.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jesus- A True Prophet

If you were to ask around you would find that people from many different backgrounds or religions (Muslims to Buddhist) would say that Jesus the man was a great prophet. Christians often respond by adding that He was more then a prophet, he was/is God in the flesh. This is indeed true but in emphasizing his divinity (being God) we may under appreciate Jesus the prophet. Understanding Jesus as a Jewish prophet helps bring clarity and perspective to His teachings. Let us take a quick look at Jewish history and the role of the prophet.

Priest and prophets have been used by God in very different ways. "Priest were responsible for the regular, ongoing, day to day and year to year religious life of Judaism- the key words being regularity and its cousin regulations."(1) Priest came from the family line of Aaron (Moses brother). Moses was known as a prophet- a person who hears from God and passes on Gods message to His people. The danger of the priest is being caught up in the regulations of religious life. At times Israel would find themselves just going through the motions. Their relationship to God was on cruise control- might look good on the outside but nothing really going on within the heart. Does this sound familiar? It's easy to do. When this would happen God would raise up a prophet- someone who would bluntly tell what God thought of their lives. (Clear example is Isaiah 1:11.13-14,16-17).

Prophets and priest contrasted in many ways as well. "Priests of necessity had credentials: they created and upheld order, and it was essential that their ordination be orderly- complete with ordination ceremonies and special religious clothing." (2) "Prophets arose without formal credentials or clothing... As you'd expect, since their purpose was to disrupt the status quo. their life and rhetoric were necessarily unruly, disturbing, and sometimes shocking. For example, the prophet Hosea scandalized polite society by marrying a prostitute. The prophet Ezekiel staged a long public protest in the nude." (3) This is just a few examples of the prophets public demonstrations we read within the pages of the Old Testament.

Within Jewish culture Jesus would not have been viewed as a priest- He lacked the credentials. But He was a true prophet- coming out of nowhere (Nazareth) with a culture shocking and radical message. And as for disturbing public demonstrations let us not forget Jesus turning over tables piled high with money and using a whip to drive people out of the temple. If that's not a public demonstration against religious greed I don't know what is.

As we dive deeper into the Sermon on the Mount let us hear a message that speaks against the religious statues quo, words that penetrate beyond the outside and straight to the heart, words of authentic transformation, and words from the mouth of a prophet, the prophet Jesus.

(1) The Secret Message of Jesus- Brian McLaren pg 20.
(2) Ibid, 21.
(3) Ibid, 22

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gaining Perspective

Before we take a journey into the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 we must first make a pit stop to gain a little cultural perspective. We want to place ourselves in the shoes of the Jewish people who first heard these words of a new rabbi called Jesus. I in no way claim to be an expert on first century Jewish culture but have stumbled upon scholars in this area and it is through their knowledge that we will hopefully gain some perspective. This will be one of several cultural pit stops we will make along our journey into the teaching of Jesus.

Pit Stop Number One

In order to understand the radical teaching of Jesus we must look at the first century teachings that were floating around. Without understanding these teachings we could not see why what Jesus taught was in fact radical. Most Jewish people at this time would have fallen into one of four main philosophies. So here they are:

Zealots- This group felt that the reason the Jews were under Roman control is because God’s people were being passive and cowardly. If they would rise up and lead a violent revolution against the Romans, God would bring victory to the Jews.

Herodians- Appropriately named after Herod, this group were supporters of Herod. They viewed the Zealots, as stupid and wrong, claiming that victory against the Romans was not possible. If you can’t beat them join them, cooperate, and play the game. A group we see in the Bible that falls into this group would be the Sadducees.

Essenes- This group viewed the previous two groups as unenlightened. Their stance was that the only way to be close to God was to leave the pagan culture altogether and create an alterative community out in the desert.

Pharisees- Maybe the most popular of the four groups as we see Jesus interact with this group often in scripture. Their goal was to become purer. They believe that if they would summit themselves to the letter of the law and separated themselves from the sinners then God would liberate them from the Romans. They claimed that their captivity was the fault of the notorious sinners like the prostitutes, tax collectors and drunks.

As Jesus traveled and shared the message of the Kingdom of God many Jews would listen to his teachings trying to figure out which of these four groups Jesus represented. It did not take long for many to realize Jesus spoke of a different way, the way of the Kingdom of God…. and not just a kingdom coming in the future…. But one that was here and now.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Experiment in Kingdom Living

We are going to be doing a little bit of an experiment over the next few months within the context of a small group. As a group we have identified a desire to work through the teachings and Way of Jesus by using the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Our hope is not just to look at it for the purpose of understanding and knowledge but rather as a group push, challenge, pray, and encourage each other in true authentic Kingdom Living. Thus it is an experiment because we don't know what will happen and chances are high we could fail and be no more involved in the Kingdom then we are at this present time. Which, speaking only of myself, is not that involved.

Each week I will post some background info, thoughts, and questions on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5-7. Though many of you will not be directly involved in our home group I encourage you to enjoy from the outside looking in as we experience life together. I encourage your thoughts and questions along the way.

God may you use stuff like blogs and food and friends to reveal the Way of the Kingdom to us. May you give us the courage to live for You and not ourselves. May we see Your Kingdom come here one earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dickson Street 2am

I'm a family man. I have a beautiful wife and daughter and a son on the way. I would assume that most family guys don't spend their Friday nights hopping from club to bar to karaoke till 2am. I sure don't... well not until last weekend.

Dickson Street is the night life district for most 20-35 year olds in Northwest Arkansas. Many walk over from U of A anywhere from 8 to 10 and then stubble back to their dorm rooms a little after 2am(why 2? Last call).

Dickson Street is amazing- smoky, crowded, loud and full of life. Hope you like to stand and hope you don't mind getting a little beer on the shoes.

So why am I so amazed by this?

Because I was among a demographic of people that are virtually absent from my church and churches across America. This is the group we can't seem to attract or we can't seem to connect with. So Dickson Street had my full attention.

The cool thing about the night was who I was with- my dear friend Steve a Dickson Street native, not to mention Dickson St. Idol 06. Being with Steve allowed me to be on the inside. Plus Steve know everyone- club owners, DJ's, bartenders. Everywhere we turned Steve was introducing me to people.

On are way to our first stop we past two guys holding signs. "God hates immodesty" and another with something about damnation is coming. I wanted to say some wise crack about their lack of Biblical interpretation and understanding but held my breath.

Our first stop was a dance club off the road a ways (lucky it was too early for the dance crowd, so I avoided embarrassment). Here we meet Sara the club owner. Sara was probably in her mid to late twenties and was running the basement bar when we descended the stairs. She immediately recognized Steve and called us over to the bar. After some formal introductions she offered Steve and I a beer- on the house! A sip into our beers Sara was shocked to find out I am a pastor and a Baptist at that! She decided to abandon her post at the bar to sit with us and chat more. Before long we found ourselves talking about quantum physics and its connection to a greater power. Sara is very spiritual, open to many different religions and calls herself a Christian.

From there we headed over to Brewskies- a bar with 30 or more beers on tap and many more in the bottle. Brewskies is always packed on the weekends. I have no clue how any of the waitresses keep every ones tabs straight. It was here I meet up with a few old rugby friends and we also had a interesting conversation with the bartender- a little brunette who played Rugby at a school we played yearly back in the day. She wanted us to friend her on Facebook. Here at Brewskies strangers became friends and the chance of running into them on a Friday night on Dickson St. is not too far out.

At around midnight karaoke starts to pickup, this makes sense because someone who would never sing in public might with a few drinks in them. This place is Steve's home. I think it is safe to say that Steve is a legend here. After all he was Dickson Idol 06 and people don't forget that. It was here where Steve and I began a conversation about how in the world can the church love and reach this crowd.

As the drunken slurring of lyrics rang through the club I sat and asked God what's the deal here? And He said "Who will love them? Who will be gentle but bold with the Truth of me and my story?"

No glorious plans were revealed to us but I could not help think that Steve himself is closer to the answer then I am. Being present and in relationship is where Steve is. In order to be in relationship you first have to be present and in order to be present you first have to be on Dickson Street at inconvenient hours.

Well, I think it is about time be inconvenienced. Don't you?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Professonal in Missing the Point

I am often amazed at my own nearsightedness.

I love to talk about the Kingdom and I think that we should but I can be talking about it and in that same moment miss it unfolding before my eyes. Let me share how.

We had an opportunity this summer to go to Nashville and serve the city in a way that demonstrated the hands and feet of Jesus. Our group of adults and youth served in two ways over the the course of the week: Nashville Beautification (picking-up trash) and the Nashville Rescue Mission. The Rescue Mission is a remarkable place where the Kingdom of God is at work in the redemption of lives. It was encouraging to see people dedicate their entire lives to the poor and homeless of Nashville. It was an incredible picture of what humility and sacrifice could and maybe should look like for us Americans.

So our job while there was to go to the basement and help organize and clean their warehouse. We worked hard and accomplished a lot. When we were nearing our time to leave I found myself hungry. I could not get this hunger out of my mind and begin to talk about it with some others who apparently were hungry too. Before long we were talking about going somewhere to eat and as we loaded in the bus and began to head back I had my eyes wide open looking for somewhere delicious within walking distance. I spotted Taco Co. and it was only a 10 minute walk from our dorms. We unloaded and quickly made our way to dine on delectable tacos and fajitas. We left Taco Co. stuffed and we didn't even have to wait till dinner time.

A day went by and we picked up more trash.

The next night we were gathered for a time of worship and God in His incredible grace decided he was going to not let me miss the reality of me missing it the day before.

God had given me a moment, even if only in the smallest way, to feel, experience the desire for food- while in a rescue mission. I could have remained in that place for a while and wrestled with the reality that some go days with this hunger. I could have experience the rich blessing of God as I ate that night and even the blessing of having money to buy a taco.

How often do we miss it? How often our we too busy or insensitive to hear the voice of God?

I am grateful that God let me catch this one because who knows how many times a day I miss it and never know.

Jesus, May you help us to be ever so sensitve to the moving Your Spirit. May we slow down. May we be fully present in the here and now and may you use us to bring here Kingdom here. We need your love, your grace, you forgiveness. Please allow our lives to declare Your name.

In what ways have you missed it?