Tag Archives: Rabbi Time

Seriously. Watch Your Tongue

Last night we had what we call “Rabbi Time.” It is an attempt to learn in a fashion that Jesus seemed to use. It is dialogical. It is full of questions. It allowed good minds to develop and strengthened our tools for mission. We centered around the word “identity” – how the world uses that word/concept/reality, the politics of it, the fracturing of it and our version of its formation — if we even want to use the word. I’m not ready to write about all we were thinking. It was a lot.

What is on my mind this morning is how serious it was. Rabbi Time was not without laughter, but people focused on important things: they did not feel the need to be ironic, when they laughed it was from joy or recognition, there were tears, too. I need to be with serious people like that. I think I feel about the people together for Rabbi Time like Paul felt when he wrote to the Philippians: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:3-6) Having serious partners in whom one is confident is irreplaceable. Knowing that they are going to stick with God as God sticks with them is life giving.

I was also at the Brethren in Christ Conference over the weekend. It was also full of serious partners. I came away inspired; revved up and eager to give the best I’ve got to serve Jesus. We BIC, as a people, are securely focused on our mission. That is a very good thing – and we are succeeding in it in significant ways. If the conference was about anything, it was about telling encouraging stories about our mission. But I was disturbed to keep running into a strange jocularity among our leaders that undermined how serious we are. They seem to share a common sense of self-deprecating humor (or maybe low self-esteem) that leaks out into others-deprecating. The banter between two of the leaders on the platform at one point in the confrence was a good example of what ended up coloring a lot of the deep things we were talking about. At one point one of them spoke about our Manual of Doctrine and Government (the plan for how we operate as a family) and he said something like, “I’m sure you have this by your bedside for nighttime reading” in a mocking way, as if no one would ever take us that seriously. It was like John Stewart on the Daily Show, only it did not point at something that needed taking down. It was humor ruling, not serving. I thought we were being taught to be ashamed if we were too serious about the BIC. Since I know none of my leaders intended to do that, I am inspired to watch my tongue. I can only imagine how many times I have given unintended messages that undermined what I was shooting for.

A similar thing happened during Rabbi Time. Someone pointed out something about Circle of Hope and said something like, “It seems like it is of the Holy Spirit, but I would not want to call it that.” It was as if they were afraid they would be mocked, so before they spoke they did a pre-emptive attack on what might shame them. Such things have me ruminating on being serious. I think I need to be less ashamed of Jesus and his work in me (and us), and more ashamed that I would make him less than he is, even doubting for others that I was witnessing his Spirit at work before they had a chance to doubt it!  

The world will tear us down and mock us enough, let’s not help it. It is important to be able to laugh at oneself, let’s not lose that capability. But even our humor should build up. If we mock one another, our community or ourselves, we could make someone ashamed to take us and our Lord seriously. I need to watch my tongue. Seriously.

What Holds this Church Together?

I’ve come to love the “how” questions. But for whole segments of the population, I answer them rather poorly. The other night at “rabbi time” one of my favorite people (Jeff not only thinks and sings well, he plays the accordion!) asked one of my favorite questions about the church. “How does it hold together?” I didn’t get all of the back story, but I think he’s seen a few places fall apart. It took him a while to join in, since he was skeptical about Circle of Hope’s staying power! It does not seem to have enough mechanisms for survival; it just kind of is.

My answer received a funny response that I have been pondering since. “Every time you talk about this, you use the words relational, love, incarnational, but I end up not knowing a lot more.” (I felt a bit like Jimmy Carter being humored by Ronald Reagan). That reply echoed a much more incoherent protest by a blogger who objected to the chart I was explaining on the Circle of Hope blog a week ago. (Just how did you come across that blog, Courtney?).

So I thought I would try again.

Most of what I think is better summed up by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “[Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
        Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of [people] in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

What holds us together? Here are five applications of the scripture we are trying to make, with just one example each that demonstrate how we are trying. (Want to comment with more?)

1) We assume people are not infants (or at least are not destined to be so). They are gifted and relevant. Jesus is in them to bring fullness and unity.

We expect our Cell Leaders to work out our agreements and follow our very general plan. We do not tell them what to do each week; they are not given a curriculum.

2)  The pastors and other leaders are relentless about contrasting the deceitfulness of the philosophies of the age with Jesus. We know we are a “ship of fools” as far as the deluded world is concerned.

You may have noticed that we are not an “emerging church,” we are not “postmodern.” We tend to rail against modernism, too and a couple of weeks ago I took a swipe at Facebook and the immortality of the soul in the space of a few minutes.

3) Dialogue is practiced. Speaking the truth in love is an organizing discipline; not just a personal aspiration.

Our yearly Map-making is an extravagant exercise in taking what people say seriously and encouraging them to say it.

4) We think of ourselves as a body with Jesus as the head, not a mechanism with a set of instructions for “how it works.”

The hardest think to understand is being an organism. Right now we have planted the seeds of another congregation and we are watching to see if it will grow. We also have a congregation in Camden that is stretching out roots. We have methods, but they won’t replace Jesus causing the growth.

5) We assume that we will fall apart if people do not love each other, and promote such dissolution.

Some astute historian told me that such an idea is so 70’s — well, 90’s, too. I think it is central to what Jesus is giving is. As Paul says elsewhere, “Nothing matters but faith working itself out through love.” People come to the leaders quite often with a great idea for mission (and I mean often and great). We send them back to create a mission team. If you can’t team, your idea can’t matter. Sometimes teams don’t have the devotion and want the “church” to take over their idea, we let them die.

My dear friend was in wonder that we do not fall apart. Now that I have sketched out why we don’t, so am I. Jesus must be behind it. On a human level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Mating choices

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.  Philippians 1:20-26

 The other night at Rabbi Time we had a lively discussion about marriage, sex, “dating” — that whole fascinating area. One of the main things God reinforced for me through the discussion was that many of us need a redeemed set of reasons for what we are doing, in general, now that we have turned to follow Jesus. And we need to apply them to marriage, sex and “dating” (unless you kissed it good-bye, of course).

 If one looks in their concordance for “marriage, sex and dating” a few passages can be located — but probably not the verses from Philippians above. Yet I think what Paul writes there might give more direction for how to connect than other passages. Who one marries or considers marrying, how one connects sexually, isn’t another “area” of life that the Bible writers don’t seem to go into too specifically. Sexuality and spirituality are at the very heart of who we are and everything said about anything is applicable. In essence, the Bible writers are giving direction for sexual relationships all the time, and periodically they get specific.

 For instance, Paul is trying to decide whether it is more profitable to live or die (a much weightier subject than, “Who shall I marry?” even, and certainly weightier than, “Shall I go for an orgasm right now?”)! He decides that God will likely spare his life for further mission — if not, that is even better. That is good direction, I say, for how to make all sorts of decisions about intimacy. When we were talking the other night, a few times it seemed necessary to say that, “Who you marry is a missional matter.” Somehow, it seems that most Christians think such wild talk is for missionaries, as if their own purpose didn’t matter so much!

 Is it really so foolish to think that if one were looking for a mate they would want to find a good partner for fulfilling their part of the mission of Jesus to redeem the world? Wouldn’t that be as likely to result in satisfying sex and decent family life as wondering if you were aroused enough to sustain a long-term sex life, or attracted enough to think your relationship would stand the test of time, or whether you were ready enough to make a commitment that would include you staying home at night periodically, or to stop drinking so much, or to compromise some of your perfectionistic expectations?

 There are a lot of variations on how and why we connect. I am hardly trying to sum them all up in one idea, here. But I do want to submit that having a purpose and assuming that someone else would share it with you is pretty sexy. Honestly, I think it is more deeply erotic than mere skin-to-skin or attraction-to-attraction can sustain.

What about hell?: Volf and the Lamb on the Throne

During “Rabbi Time” last Monday, some people wanted to ask one of the unbeliever’s favorite questions. It often goes like this:

“What about hell? Do you think my grandma is going to hell even though she was a good person?”

We started talking about hell. I think some other people were afraid that they had wandered into a church like the one that had abused them! Were we now going to start having coercive diatribes about fire and brimstone all the time?

The dialogue made me realize that “hell” is probably a much more relevant topic than I imagine. The idea of hell messes with a lot of people’s idea of God. I think a lot of people  want a “loving” God made in their own image, who loves them as they are because he basically is them — no repercussions for my sin = love. (Of course, I don’t know what everyone wants any more than they do, but that mentality seems prevalent).

Miroslav Volf on judgment

exclusion and embraceBecause of the discomfort I felt in the meeting, I feel like offering some wisdom from my recent most-favorite book, Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf.  In that book he thinks about the apparent dichotomy between the God who loves us enough to die for us and the God who will judge us on the last day. I can’t do justice to his argument in this small space, but I thought I’d give you a good taste.

He is thinking about Revelation 19:11-16, among other parts of that mysterious book.

 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

 Now for a long quote from Volf (my emphases in bold):

 The Anabaptist tradition, consistently the most pacifist tradition in the history of the Christian church, has traditionally had no hesitation about speaking of God’s wrath and judgment, and with good reasons. There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who “eat up my people as they eat bread,” says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put “in great terror” (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better. why not reasoning together? Why not just display “suffering love?” Because the evildoers “are corrupt” and “they do abominable deeds” v.1); they have “gone astray,” they are “perverse” (v. 3). God will judge not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.

 If we accept the stubborn irredeemability of some people, do we not end up with an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of Christian faith? Here the “crucified Messiah” with arms outstretched embracing the “vilest sinner,” there the Rider on the white horse with a sharp sword coming from his mouth to strike down the hopelessly wicked? The patient love of God over against the fury of God’s wrath? Why this polarity? Not because the God of the cross is different from the God of the second coming. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’s setting aright the world of injustice and deception. The polarity is there because some human beings refuse to be “set aright.” Those who take divine suffering (the cross) as a display of divine weakness that condones the violator – draw upon themselves divine anger (the sword) that makes an end to their violence. The violence of the Rider on the white horse, I suggest, the symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God’s suffering love. For the sake of the peace of God’s good creation, we can and must affirm this divine anger and this divine violence, while at the same time holding on to the hope that in the end, even the flag bearer will desert the army that desires to make war against the Lamb.

 Should not a loving God be patient and keep luring the perpetrator into goodness? That is exactly what God does: God suffers the evildoers through history as God has suffered them on the cross. But how patient should God be? The day of reckoning must come, not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury. “How long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood?” cry out the souls under the altar to the Sovereign Lord (Rev. 6:10). We are uncomfortable with the response which calls on the souls “to rest a little longer until the number should be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed!” (v.11) But the response underlines that God’s patience is costly, not simply for God, but for the innocent. Wanting for the evildoers to reform means letting suffering continue….

 Does not the Apocalypse paint a different picture of the end, the one more congruent with its violent imagery of the Rider’s conquest? Is not the last vision dominated by “the throne” (Rev. 22:1) from which earlier “flashes of lightning” and “peals of thunder” were coming (4:5)? Is not the nameless “one seated on the throne” (4:9, 5:1) a perfect projection of the ultimate and incontestable warrior-potentate? If this were so, the Apocalypse would simply mirror the violence of the imperial Rome it had set out to subvert. The most surprising thing about this book is that at the center of the throne, we find the sacrificed Lamb (cf. 5:6, 7:17, 22:1). At the very heart of “the One who sits on the throne” is the cross. The world to come is ruled by the one who on the cross took violence upon himself in order to conquer the enmity and embrace the enemy. The Lamb’s rule is legitimized not by the “sword” but by the “wounds”; the goal of its rule is not to subject but to make people “reign for ever and ever” (22:5). With the Lamb at the center of the throne, the distance between the “throne” and the “subjects” has collapsed in the embrace of the triune God.

I think you can probably think of a hundred practical ways to apply clear, Christian thinking like that. Let me suggest one. Within the church (particularly Circle of Hope, where we encourage such things) there are people who are resistant to truth, love, morality and service. Our patience with them leads to repentance. We must keep the Lamb on our throne. Our persistent embrace is the flash of lightning upon which we rely. The lure of our relational truth-being and truth-telling is crucial to any change the God-opponents might experience. We might long for “apocalypse now” when it comes to the persistent unbelievers and sin-dealers, but we are constrained to leave that to God’s timing. Let’s meet the end in God’s embrace, embracing.

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