Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Emerging? church










It was only a couple of years ago that I first heard the terms "The Emerging Church" or the "Emergent Church." To be honest, I still have only a vague notion of what these terms mean. However, I have received scads & scads of comments, both pro & con as to what they represent.

One general principle that has guided me for a long time now, is to always, always, always try to look at an issue, book, person in CONTEXT...which seems to be something that most people DO NOT do. And one thing that I have learned is that the majority of the time, any given person will come at an issue with pre-conceived notions that they seem to be unaware of. (They also seem to rely on solid "Hear-say" for a good deal of their information that they then spout as "The Truth.")

I mention all of that, because I am actually trying to come to my own conclusions on this matter. I'm reserving any "Total" judgments, because I have yet to find most issues so black & white.

In the mean time, here ARE some things that I have noticed:

#1. Most of the flack that anyone even remotely associated with the term "Emergent" gets, seems to come from Dispensationalist and Reformed/Calvinist folks. I'm not sure why that is, but I picked up on that right away. (I got some theories, but I'll keep them to myself for now.)

#2. Most of the people I have talked to who freak out about the dangers of this movement know almost nothing about it other than what they have seen on YouTube, the internet, or heard from a very opinionated pastor. (Lots of gossip & fear mongering, very little actual reading of any literature in it's proper context.)

#3. From what I have been able to gather at this time, this whole movement is so big and broad that trying to give it an easy definition is simply sloppy scholarship and/or laziness. It's like trying to define Europeans, the Protestant Reformation, or "Asian" food in a paragraph.


Thus far, I have seen some people who are very faithful to Jesus, historical orthodoxy and the Bible, but they really, really want to reach out in new ways to this younger generation who is turned off by what they see in Americanized Christianity.

I have also come across some others who treat the Bible as a "Neat & useful" little book that can make people feel better about themselves. One of these guys doesn't care much for creeds or statements of faith...he just wants to use the whole Bible as his summation. (Which is fine & dandy until you get to Numbers & Leviticus. After that, you tend to drift off to sleep a bit.) This fellow also likes to refer to the Holy Spirit as a "She." (Which is a debate for another time. Personally, I think he just does it to get a rise out of people...which makes him look like he is starved for attention.)



ANYWAY, I did come across a few videos that I think help illustrate just how broad this whole discussion is. This first one is of Dan Kimball. He works at a church out in Southern California. He likes Rock-a-Billy and surfing. So he can't be all bad. It's a long video, but worth it.

Dan Kimball // The Emerging Church from Todd Rhoades on Vimeo.

Now honestly, I have no idea how anyone could be upset with him or his ideas. He respects and honors the truth of scripture. He desperately wants people to follow the resurrected Jesus. What more do you want?


Then we have another fellow named Doug Pagitt. I actually went to school with him. I don't know his story, but I know that he went through some type of "Challenge/Crisis of Faith" after his time at a local mega-church. I haven't read any of his stuff yet. The videos are rather vague, but I'll let them speak for themselves.







And now for Tony Jones. From what I can tell...at this point, is that if Dan Kimball is on the more conservative edge of the moment, then Tony is on the opposite edge. I'll let him do his own thing now.




Last but not least, here is a PBS mini-documentary that I think does a very good job being even handed.




So there you have it. A gigantic movement with some great stuff in it, and some really dumb stuff in it...kinda like the way the church has always been.

Any thoughts?

Peace

Joe

Everything's Broken



The upside of being a little sick is that you get to sit around and relax. The downside is that you still don't feel well enough to enjoy the relaxing. So be it. (I think I must have ate something that didn't agree with me.)


So anyway, I was up last night talking to a friend who seems to have more than his fair share of stress being dumped on him. Among other things, he is beginning to come to terms with certain behaviors that are deeply engrained in him, but are not exactly "God Honoring."

Coming face to face with our imperfections is generally very painful, yet they are very necessary. If you don't address them honestly with God, then you aren't letting God do the work that he wants to do in your life. For myself, my biggest issues seem to be my own willfulness & selfishness. Just like Genesis 3, I still want to be my own god.


Personally, when I talk about the sinful nature of humanity I try to avoid the use of the terms "Good & Bad." When I do something stupid & sinful, I already feel bad. I don't need it pounded into me about what a bad person I am. That might work for some, but all it does in reinforce the worst in me.

More importantly, when I think it terms of "Good & Bad," the whole concept of "Works" comes creeping in. I mean, people can be really bad or really good. They can be pretty good, and then turn around and be really, really bad. In Shane Claiborne's book, "The Irresistible Revolution," he tells the story of a bunch of Philadelphia's local mafia boys dropping off bicycles for poor children at a church. It was a "Good" thing to do, but it hardly changes the fact that those guys were/are criminals.

The biggest reason I don't like the terms "Good & Bad" is because it really and truly gives people the wrong impression of our state of existence, and our relationship to God. It's never about being good enough for God because you can't be good enough for God. You can't earn your salvation.

It's about being HOLY! That's the only way that you can stand in the presence of God and survive. You are either holy or you are not...like being pregnant. And the sad fact of the matter is that we are not holy because we sin. We are not "Good & Bad." We are BROKEN!


Years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song titled "Everything is Broken."

"Broken bottles, broken plates.
Broken switches, broken gates.
Broken dishes, broken parts.
Streets are filled with broken hearts.
Broken words never meant to be spoken.
Every thing is broken.

Seem like every time you stop and turn around,
something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters, broken saws.
Broken buckles, broken laws.
Broken bodies, broken bones.
Broken voices on broken phones.
Take a deep breath, feel like you're chokin.'
Everything is broken."

Kinda sums up our state of being, I think.


I am a broken bottle...a broken bucket. I can't carry water, or much else for that matter. Neither can I glue myself back together. No amount of being good enough is going to change that. I need to remind myself of this circumstance every single day if I wish to embrace reality. I need to remind myself that I need a massive salvation from a massive savior, because there is no way that I can remedy this situation on my own. I'm not good or bad. I was born to sin. I am broken.


On the bright side of things, God appears to be fully aware of this situation. It wold also appear that he is simply waiting for an acknowledgment on my/our part that we need him to repair us.

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps. 34:18)

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, oh God, you will not despise." (Ps. 51:17)

"The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love." (Ps. 147:11)

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3)


Again, I think that it's all just an acknowledgment of reality. Humans can't fix themselves. We never could, and we never will. God isn't dumb on this point, be we certainly seem to be. To repent is simply to come face to face with the fact that we are not what we should be, and to return to where we were supposed to be all a long. Jesus did everything necessary to have the relationship with the Father that we need. I need to remind myself of that every day.

I am broken. But he still thinks that I'm beautiful.








Peace

Joe

P.S. I've you would like to see a video of Dylan performing his song "Everything is Broken," just click on this link. It's from some boot-leg concert in Japan I think.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Stupid "Christians"





There is a guy from my church, Living Waters. He has a real heart for the people of Nepal & Tibet. He spends most of the year over there ministering to those folks. He is slowly, but surely, working his way into living over there for the rest of his life. (Such is the burden that the Holy Spirit has lain upon his heart.) He loves those people, and he wants them to know Jesus.

His name is Bobby, and he has some amazing stories to tell. We live in relative comfort and ease, here in the West. More often than not, we miss the obvious spiritual warfare that is going on all around us. Bobby gets to see it up close and personal. Like I said, he has some amazing stories to tell.


Unfortunately, Bobby has been going about it all wrong. Bobby has been telling the people of Nepal & Tibet all of the wrong stuff. Telling them a little about Jesus is nice, but it certainly isn't enough. Jesus is just kind of a starting place for what really matters. If you don't believe me, take a look for yourself.



Thank you, Bryan Fischer, for those words of wisdom.

BTW: I stumbled across this video thanks to a new blog I follow. http://www.jesusneedsnewpr.net/


All this time, both Bobby & I believed that what we, as Believers, were supposed to be telling people about was Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us on the cross. We thought that we were supposed to tell them about the Grace that God has extended through this voluntary sacrifice that Jesus made. We figured that if people could see how much God loves them, wants to forgive & cleanse them, and wants all people to repent and become his children, that this was enough.

Neither of us had any idea that the people of Nepal & Tibet...or for that matter, people EVERYWHERE also needed to become a part of "MainstreamA merican Culture." I had no idea that being a part of middle class America was evidence of true faith. Obviously I missed that when reading through the Gospels. Then again, maybe Paul touched on it in one of his Epistles. (I tend to read the Gospels more than the rest of the N.T., so I could have easily overlooked that.)


I only know a handful of Indigenous People...a couple of Lakota & Ojibwe folks. I know a decent amount about American history. All this time, I was pretty sure that the main reason for poverty on reservations was due to a perpetual shafting by the federal government, a rather nasty history of abuse, lies and neglect by the general population against indigenous folks, and very few economic opportunities on the various reservations. (Honestly, how would you like it if there were a "Bureau of Swedish Affairs" that told you and your Granny what you could build on the land they had lived on for ages & ages?)


To be fair, with in a short drive from my home are the Mystic Lake & Prairie Island casinos. Both are on Dakota reservations. Due largely to these casinos, the populations of these reservations have become rather wealthy & affluent. In fact, many are considerably better off than the white suburbanites that surround them. They have achieved the "American Dream," and then some. Yet, oddly enough, most of them are not "Christians." Then again, maybe they are, according to Mr. Fischer.


Now listen, I'm not going to make excuses for any other faith that stands as an alternative to the Gospel of Christ. When Jesus said that he was "The way, the truth and the life," he meant it! But that also means that there is no excuse for the "Americanized Christianity" that we see in our mainstream culture.

I would argue that if Jesus walked through the average American mall, he would not see the blessings of Christianity. What he WOULD see is rampant, pagan idolatry. He would see many folks who say that they are called by his name, bowing down to the one-eyed god on the little pyramid on our dollar bills. He would see people going to the temple of Best Buy to offer sacrifices to the god of technology. He would see altars made of comfortable cushions in the shapes of recliners for worshippers to pay homage to the gods of entertainment.



Now, am I saying that affluence or a life of not having to worry about where your next meal is coming from a bad thing??? Absolutely not! I would wish that every person could attaint a life without "Want." But neither myself, nor anyone else, should be fooled into thinking that this is a result OF, or a condition FOR, following Jesus. Jesus had no interest what so ever in a persons "Class Status" when it came to being a disciple. It IS pretty obvious that Jesus/God paid, and still pays, particular attention to the poor, though.

Actually, it could easily be argued that being poor makes it simpler to follow Jesus. The bible points out over & over again that wealth can easily distract from a daily need FOR and dependence ON God. Something in human nature blinds us so easily to that need, and the quickest one always seems to be money.


One of the things that makes me break out in hives and itch all over very quickly is our propensity to create God in our own image. The American church is extremely good at this. Rather than letting Christ confront and impact the culture at large, we have allowed the church to be co-opted by the culture. At present, most Americans seem to think that being a Christian and being an American are one and the same. (This is a "Christian" country after all.) And we do all of this at our own peril.

Any Believer in any country had better keep their eyes open. God created us in his image. To turn around and re-create him to fit any given situation is deadly. To reduce the God of the bible to some icon to be used like some measuring stick for acceptance, or good luck charm, is a very convenient idolatry. Christ will have no part of this, and judgment will surely follow.

Jesus is NOT an American, and you shouldn't try to force his gospel into an American mold. Neither is Jesus Canadian, Japanese or Russian. He isn't Nepalese of Tibetan either. (Which my friend, Bobby, understands very well.)

Jesus is the visible image of God. Do NOT try and reduce him. If you do, you might as well just get a little bobble-head of him, and stick him in your car.

Peace

Joe



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Students



I got a letter today from a former student. She is off in Boot Camp now, running around getting stinky and blowing things up. I have quite a few former students who are off in the military now.

While I think that the boot camp experience will do them a world of good, I also hope that they do not get sent off on some stupid & ill-conceived adventure that some politician cooks up.

I don't know why so many students still keep in contact with me. There are quite a few. In fact, some of them are now adults, and I am fortunate enough to call them my friends. Still, I really don't know why they choose to keep in so much contact with me of all people.


I think that being a teenager is hard. The teen years are the shortest period in a person's life. yet they are certainly the most topsy-turvy. You start out as a midget. Then life hands you puberty...with various starts & stops for most. Then comes BODY HAIR!!!!!!!! (And always in the most awkward of places at the worst possible time.) Zits follow with a vengeance shortly there after.

If you are a boy, your teen years are driven by testosterone. The average Junior High boy resembles a puppy; All feet and ears...with shaggy hair. Your voice begins to change at embarrassing times. The girls tower over you for years. You tend to become "Aroused" when the wind blows...and often in front of relatives. ("Aunt Betty!?!? I'm really, really sorry.") You desperately want to be "Cool" in the eyes of your peers. And being cool usually requires you to choose idiocy for a prolonged period of time.

In a few years, the teen boy will make the required attempt to become "Buff." (If not, he will willingly slide into the obscurity of the minor cliques, where various forms of geekiness are given coolness status in their own special way.) Being buff demonstrates to all that you are a suitable mate/date for girls on the same social rung that you are vainly attempting to cling to and climb.

It should be noted that the most convenient way to demonstrate your "Buffness" is to pick on, and torment, other males who are weaker and more vulnerable than you. People who are weaker than you deserve what they get because they are not YOU!

This understanding is a must, and perfectly natural. How else will the species progress if those who are different are not tormented at all times so that you can make your fragile ego feel better for a few fleeting moments?

If you are a girl, your teen years are subjected to all manner of torture that boys unknowingly reinforce. Girls begin to develop earlier than boys do. In Junior High, the teen girl of the species will begin to sprout airbags. At first glance, the boys of the same age will mock the girl for these protrusions. However, with in the first year of this sighting, the boys will soon grow fondly attached to the sight of these new wonders. Soon, the boys will pine with each other for days at the public swimming pool, where such marvels of nature may be gawked at in all manner of inappropriate ways.

The girl may unwittingly learn that her value is to be found in how much pleasure, either actual or mental, she can offer to the boys. As she gets older, the teen girl may come to believe that she is not a separate entity, with a mind of it's own and abilities to match. Instead, the girl may come to believe that it is her destiny to fulfill someone else's desires & wants. As such, girls often choose a poor path thanks to peer pressure. At best, these paths lead to a variety of regrets. At worst...well, never mind.

Anyway, I think you get the idea.


I've worked with some interesting kids. ADHD, Aspergers Syndrome, LD, Emotional Behavior Disorder, kids from very bad families, kids from great families...but they are just goofy kids. I haven't had a weapon pulled on me yet. But you never know. I may get lucky some day. I've also worked with kids who simply defy any proper definition.

I find it odd, but there is not a day that goes by that I do not think about students who have come through my classrooms. I'm not sure what that says about me.


When I think about my former & current students, a story from the Old Testament comes to mind. In fact, it seems that almost anytime I am interacting with a teenager, this story comes to mind. (1 Samuel 15:-16:13)

It has to do with YHWH rejecting Saul as king of Israel. God became fed up with this adult who kept disobeying him. So YHWH decides that he will pick a "Man after my own heart." to be king. He sends Sam the Prophet off to Bethlehem to anoint a new king for Israel from Jesse's family. Long story short, Jesse brings his kids in for Sam to take a look at. Sam lays eyes on Jesse's oldest son and thinks he must be the one. (Eliab, the oldest guy, was impressive and "Buff.") But then YHWH says something very interesting to Sam.

"...YHWH said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)

You can read the rest for yourself. Suffice it to say that God picked a young teenage boy to be king over Israel. (Many scholars think that David was probably a Red Head, too. So he even had that as a disadvantage.) And from the line of that king came Jesus.


It's difficult to be a teenager. There is a lot of pressure and stress in those short years. A lot of mistakes that you can't erase can happen in that time. You can have some great memories from that time...and I certainly do. But you can also have some no-so-good memories. (I was fortunate not to have too many.) As I said, it's difficult to be a teenager.

When given a chance, I like to point this story out to teens. I think that it is perhaps the most relevant one that they could hear from the Bible for their day to day lives. God doesn't care all that much about the "Buffness," the airbags, the zits, or how cool you appear in the eyes of some 16 yr. old with Ricotta Cheese stuffed between their eras.

But he does care a great deal about the heart.

If I "Like" teens, then God "LOVES" them. He sees his image in them, and so he cares a great deal about them. He wants teens to find their true value by looking to him. I think that if the average teen could see themselves the way that God sees them, they would feel a massive load of stress leave their shoulders. (Maybe some zits would go away too.)

I think that if teens...my students included, could see themselves the way God does, they would "cease their striving." If they could see things God's way, they would see that he loves them JUST as they are, but also loves them so much that he will not leave them AS they are.

If my students, current & former, and ALL teens could see themselves the way that Jesus sees them, they would know how beautiful they really are.

They ARE loved, and they ARE beautiful.
And this is their song.




If any former student should read this, know that you really, really are beautiful...and you are loved by someone who is a much better teacher than I will ever be.

If any former student should read this, know that you will always have my thanks for teaching me more than I could ever teach you.

You are beautiful.

Peace

Joe

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm a Teacher



I'm a teacher. It's who I am. It's what I do. In fact, it's what I was BORN to do.

I love to teach. (Not that I love every class equally, or every student as much as the next.) I love watching minds thinking, growing, developing. It is one of the times when I feel most alive. I love being a teacher.


You have probably heard the "Slam" on teachers; "Those who can, DO. Those who can't, TEACH." People who say that are idiots!

Actually, based on my experience, I would tweek the above statement a bit into, "Those who CAN, teach. Those who CAN'T, Administrate."


South Koreans refer to their teachers as "Nation Builders." Across Asia, teachers are deferred to in almost all situations...and given a place at the head of the table. In Eastern Europe, when a teacher enters a classroom, the students stand at attention until told to sit. They stand at attention before they are dismissed, too. In most of the world, teachers are considered to be extremely important and vital to a society.

In the U.S., we make jokes about them.


Actually, a former student of mine sent me a YouTube clip on teaching a few days ago. It sums up how I feel about teaching rather well...and my opinion of those who put teachers down. (There is some strong language in this clip, so do beware.)



I make a difference!


"Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Prov. 22:6)

Actually, everyone is a teacher in one way or the other. Just like everyone is a role model in one way or the other. It's not a choice. Everything you do has an influence on those around you...especially to your friends & family members. The only choice you have is wether you will be a good influence or a bad influence. Everyone is a teacher in some way.


For those who follow Jesus, everything we do teaches others about Jesus. If you claim his name as your Lord, then what you say and do says a lot about your relationship with him. If you are a very "Religious" person who enjoys being legalistic, then you are telling others that Jesus is a rule book. If you embrace a very narrow theological view point, and demand that others embrace the same with out discussion, debate or mercy, then you are telling others that Jesus is a mathematical formula. If you think that serving the kingdom demands allegiance to a single political party and secular doctrine to please God, then you are teaching others that Jesus is limited and as fallible as those same political parties.

However, if you follow Jesus and then give yourself away in love to others, admit your own imperfections, apologize when you hurts others (Cause you will...even by accident.), and repent when you sin and are willing to show mercy to others when they do too, well, you might be teaching others about the Jesus of the Gospels.


I want to make THAT kind of difference.


To be a good teacher requires that you are also a good student. You never stop learning and growing. You stay curious. You hunger for more knowledge.

To follow Jesus require the same thing.

It makes me realize how much more I have to learn.


I heard Billy Graham say once that his greatest regret in life is that he didn't study the Bible enough. That's something coming from a guy like him. It convicts me. I need to be a better student because I want to be a better teacher.

I want to make a difference...where ever I am.

Peace

Joe.

P.S...Naturally. :)



Sunday, February 6, 2011

Being a Light in the Darkness on the Edge of Town.


I've spent this past week at a temporary teaching job. I'll be a "Long-Term" sub for a month or so. The school shall remain nameless, but suffice it to say that it's students are considered to be some of the most difficult in the Minneapolis system...and it's only a Middle School.

I'm working with kids from grade 5 to 8. Apparently, most of them have been tossed out of the regular public schools for various behavioral problems. But a few of them are there because their parent is essentially homeless, with no fixed and stable address. (I say "Parent," not "ParentS" because for the majority, there is no "Dad" around.)

Needless to say, it's been an interesting week.

I've enjoyed myself so far, primarily because it's been an amazing learning experience. The kids are a handful, but I really do like most of them. Some of them are down right sweet. However, the majority of them seem to have a problem with this elusive thing called "Self-Control."

The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of hopelessness in this situation. It doesn't take a genius to see that a very unstable home with no father figure about, poverty, a self-destructive neighborhood environment, a lack of value in the importance of education, and a culture of immediate self-gratification adds up to a ball and chain tied around each leg of a kid.

One of the first things I noticed was that each kid seems to only have the concept of "Self." There is no concept that anyone else is around, and that your actions might have an impact on them.

Think of it like this: I'm standing in an open space. I'm twirling around while I swing my arms. I can do this because I am the only person there. All of a sudden, my arm swinging makes contact with the face of another person's nose. How do I react? Well, I'm offended of course. I mean, what are they doing in the way of my arm swinging?

Now, if they happen to be doing the same thing and hit me in the nose, I'm also offended. I mean, don't they see me here? What are they doing swinging their arms in my space? I'm the one that matters. Don't they get that?!?!?!


I've worked with many, many "At-Risk" students. I've seen the various paths that they can take. Many of them continue down a path that will not end well. (I think that at least 7 of my former students are now teen moms. All most everyone of them is completely stunned that the "Dad" ditched out on them. "But, but...he told me that he loved me!?!?!" SURPRISE!!!!!) Many of them continue to struggle with drugs & booze. Many continue on the path that their parent's foolishly took. I wont lie. It is very sad to watch, and often extremely painful to think about. However, for the most part, the kids that I worked with previously turned out fantastic.


An Aside: I honestly do not know if I am a good teacher or not. I would like to be. But I must honestly say that any successes that any previous student of mine has is simply because they really & truly had that ability all along. One thing that I AM honestly good at is in reading people. Give me some time and I can probably tell you your life story just based on the way I watch you behave. (Call me "The Mentalist.") At any rate, I purposely look for a persons' gifts, talents and abilities...students in particular. Then I spend A LOT of time pointing that out to that student. I may point it out to a kid, but they are the ones that have to decide to use it or not. So the victory really belongs to them.


However, in the instance of this particular school, everyone who works there told me bluntly that the odds are deeply stacked against these kids. In all honesty, the majority of them are not going to have a happy ending. The darkness is virtually overwhelming...and you can actually SEE the darkness.

So...why waste your time?


Yesterday, at my other job, I was talking with another worker about the school. He said that people "Like That" should just be tossed out if they don't want to learn. If they survive, great. If they don't, too bad. That sounds harsh, but to be honest, I often feel like that. Odds are that we all do at times. Just let Social Darwinism do it's thing and cull the herd. (Kind of a Libertarian perspective on the situation.)

Conservatives will talk about the importance of personal responsibility in situations like this. They are correct. But how can a person behave responsibly if something like that has never been modeled for them?

Liberals will talk about the importance of governmental/social intervention. (Get another program going to help "Them" at tax-payer expense.) They are also correct. The government needs to act in these circumstances if it wants productive members of society. But you can throw all the money at someone you want, and if they refuse to accept the help, what can you do?

People talk a lot. Everyone has ideas. More often than not, they are rather simplistic solutions to a very, very complex problem that has been reduced to a mere talking point. I have learned that in situations like this one, there are actually very few answers to be had. From a human perspective, the options are poor at best. And even with some decent answers, the odds are still stacked against you.

So...why waste your time?


When you walk into circumstances like this with your eyes & heart open, you get to see first hand the broken, fallen, sinful nature of humanity in all of it's hideous & depressing glory. You get to see the results of mankind's willful rebellion against God. Genesis 3 is a live & well. We still want to be God. The result is homeless, dysfunctional, self-destructive people with children teetering on the edge. The result is Darkness!

So...why waste your time?


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all thing were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was LIFE, and that life was the light of men. The LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS, but the darkness has not understood it." John 1:1-5

Or a slightly better translation, thanks to Eugene Peterson...in my biased opinion.

"The Life-Light BLAZED out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out...The Word became flesh & blood and moved into our neighborhood."


There are two men who work at that school who I know are Believers. One I am getting to know very well. He refers to the school as "Church." He feels that even though this is a secular setting, his being there for those students is a form of ministry. He is not overt about it, but he does feel that this is his calling from God.

The other man I do not know so well...yet. I don't know his real name. He introduced himself to me as "Mr. Apostle"... with a last name I can't pronounce. I would guess that he is a part of one of those store-front Pentecostal churches that are common in Black neighborhoods. He has a type of school ministry there that is probably completely un-constitutional. (Mixing "Religion" with a pubic school setting.) However, for better or worse, the "Church" is a huge part of the African-American experience. So I don't think the ACLU would touch him for fear of the "Race" card being played against them. (Kind of a nice role reversal for a change.)

Both of these men can see the overwhelming darkness around them. They aren't stupid. They know the odds. Yet, from what I have been able to see, both of them have decided that the odds are not important. The kingdom IS!

I think to come to that conclusion requires a faith & understanding that I am still developing. When you see God's kingdom breaking into this fallen world, it is beyond beautiful. Against all odds, God will do what he pleases. His kingdom WILL come. These men know that their task is NOT to save anyone or change the world. Their task is simply to be faithful sign posts OF the kingdom. God will use them as he sees fit...even in very dark places with everything standing in the way.

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matt. 5:13-16

To follow Jesus into his kingdom means to be a light in a very dark world. It is not for us to save anyone. It is not for us to conquer the world in Jesus name. Jesus doesn't need our help. (If he needed my help, he would be in big, big trouble.) All Jesus asks is that we be faithful to what he is already doing...to be a sign post for his kingdom. Why, because the kingdom IS!

Often times, "Christians" are guilted into doing things for God. I think that guilt is a terrible motivator. Other times, "Christians" do things because they want to be make a difference for the kingdom and be "Great" men & women for God. I think that the heart may be in the right place in these circumstances, but the deeper motivation may very well be misplaced.

Maybe it's just easier if I let this brief video explain what I am trying to say. (I would highly, highly, highly recommend this book.)



God doesn't need us to fix this mess. He is bringing his kingdom all on his own. Our only choice is to come along for the ride or sit on the sidelines. To be a light in dark places, or hide that light under a bowl. To be salt, or to lose our flavor.


The two men that I have watched this week can see God's kingdom crashing into that school. I am beginning to see it too, and I believe that this is why God lead me there for this short period of time. He wants me to see what a radical faith & trust really looks like.

There is much darkness in that neighborhood and that school. There is not a great deal of hope to be seen. But there IS some to be found, never the less. I am seeing that when there is love...the love of & for Jesus, then there is always hope. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear." (1 Jn. 4:18)

Against all odds, there are people out there who will & do walk willingly into the darkness to be a candle. I have a burning urge to watch & learn from those two men at the school, because they teach me about the power, hope & glory of the kingdom. They are not afraid. They have a hope that is firmly fixed on Christ. They have embraced that mess, and it is beautiful.

They make me want to be a more faithful candle.

"The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness,
and the darkness could not put it out"
(John 1:5)


Peace

Joe.

P.S. Yeah, might as well include an appropriate video. Enjoy. :)




Actually, on the way home from worship today I heard another song on the radio that I thought fit rather well with this subject. (Good thing I waited to post until I did one final edit.)

Made me remember a great "B" movie from when I was a kid. If you haven't seen the cheesy gangland movie "The Warriors," go out and treat yourself.



Thursday, February 3, 2011

Introducing a new blog


So there is this devilishly handsome fellow (On the right.) minding his own business, doing his homework & such. Unfortunately, his roommate (On the left.) is a freak who likes to put on Arab headdresses and crawl around the townhouse, planting bottle-rocket bombs in unsuspecting people's closets.

One of them only listened to "Contemporary Christian" music...except for the occasional song by Kansas. The other felt that most CCM was little more than vomit being printed onto vinyl, with a "Sparrow" or "Myrrh" label being glued to it. So the second guy was really into The Who, Neil Young, and anything "New Wave."

One of them tended to be fairly "Anal-Retentive." (Many tomes of theology were devoured while sitting on the porcelain throne.) The other guy tended to say what ever came into his jello-like substance of a brain...regardless of how inappropriate it might be.

One guy tended to be fairly serious most of the time. The other guy tended to think that anything at all was funny, including his own hernia.

And yet a friendship developed...and actually survived. (Go figure.)


Yes, I'm revisiting the joys of college...along
with the weird things that roommates do.


Introducing my friend Scott. http://111art.blogspot.com/ In my biased opinion, he just happens to be a brilliant artist. Obviously, as a result of my amazing charm, brilliance and wisdom, Scott has finally joined the dark side and become a blogger.

He would like others to get a chance to see the stuff he creates, and I think that you should see it too. In fact, I think that you should become a follower of his blog. (Mine too, if you haven't yet, you "Free Loader!") This will help Scott to feel better about himself because his ego is a very delicate thing, indeed.


But in all seriousness:
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Prov. 17:17
"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Prov. 18:24
"Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." Prov. 27:6

Scott has been my friend for ages now. Probably the oldest consistent friend that I have. We met purely by accident. He came to my home church back when we were teens. The whole congregation had stood up to sing a song, and when it was time to sit back down again, I set a hymnal in the up-right position for him to sit on. (Such a prankster was I.)

Years later, my first day of Bethel college, a whole bunch of us were on a bus headed to the State Fair. This skinny guy a few seats a head of me turns around to look at me. He stares for a moment and then says, "HEY, you made me sit on a hymnal in your church!" And all these years later, I am still playing jokes on him.


God is full of surprises. Scott & I come from VERY different backgrounds. About the only two things we have in common is the fact that we are both "Honkeys," and that we grew up in the southern suburbs on Minneapolis. So honestly, I don't understand how we ever became friends....but we did.

The thing about a lasting friendship is that it is ultimately built of shared trials. Out of that struggle comes a trust & bond. (I know his dirty, little secrets, and he knows mine. HA!)

Actually, there is a third item that we share in common. I think it is the most important one.

The most important commonality that he & I share is a love for Jesus.


Scott came to faith in a manner different than mine, but no less real. I have watched him follow Jesus into his kingdom. He has taught me a great deal. I have watched him suffer for his love of Jesus...and I do mean suffer. This world has often been vary unfair to Scott. But his faith is still solid. In fact, I would argue that his faith is stronger now than it has ever been. I learn a great deal about the kingdom when I watch Scott.

Scott seems to have an innate understanding that this world is a temporary thing. This life is a "Chasing after the wind." Scott knows what ultimately matters...and that would be Jesus and his kingdom.

Someday that kingdom will be here in full. I am of the opinion that in the New Heaven & Earth, Scott will paint many, many, many murals for his king all over the New Jerusalem. It will be a very beautiful city, indeed.

Hopefully, that wont be for a few more years at least.

Peace

Joe

P.S. In honor of Scott's love for the band "Kansas," I present you with the following. Enjoy.



P.S.S. This is actual footage of Scott & I from a Bethel talent show back in the 50's. It's been a while, so I can't remember who was who.



Oh, what the heck, here's another. (Sorry, no video.)