Evangelical Monk Blog

Ramblings on living a Christan life

Month: July, 2012

Godly Men – 1

What’s the one thing most men hate to admit? I posed that question to the people gathered at our monthly worship service. One of the young ladies shouted it out – men can’t admit they’re wrong! Ah, think of the last time we were in the car together, and that direction thing came up. We won’t admit we were wrong; rather, we will come up with a dozen reasons on why we were right to think the way we did!

We had just heard the band play the Audio Adrenaline song, Man of God, and we were reflecting on the lines “sometimes I’m a liar, sometimes I’m a fake, and sometimes I’m a hypocrite that everyone hates,” and we noted that if we can’t admit we’re wrong, make that being a hypocrite most if not all of the time.

We talked about why that is. Maybe it is because we little boys are raised to consider ourselves successful, if and when, we get that really great job, or we marry the pretty lady we saw at the coffee shop, our kids come along, and such other indicators of living the good life – whatever they may be.

Now, at the age of what some call us, senior advisors, successful may be more about having a marriage that has survived the years, having children who haven’t been in a car accident, gotten messed up with drugs or alcohol, or haven’t gotten pregnant or gotten someone pregnant, or finally having our kids finish high school and finish college without destroying the savings account.

Makes you wonder, is it our time and culture? We rush around so much, our technology makes it so easy to try to do so much more, but it seems there isn’t enough time in a day, a week or the year to do all that we believe we must be doing. A recent study suggested men’s attitudes are changing from that driving need to succeed to family time. Then again, women’s attitudes are shifting away from family to that of driving toward success. Makes you think.

Then again, maybe there is something inside of us that pushes us to be “successful” people.

Do you know the story of the 72? Jesus had sent out the disciples 2 in a group and gave them authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and such things. Luke 10. When they returned, they were filled with joy and remarked how even the demons knew the name of Jesus. Part of me is thinking, they were jumping up and down with excitement over all that power they had – maybe bragging about kicking all that demon rearend all over the place.

Jesus’ response is pretty telling. He tells them not to rejoice over such power that came from Him in the first place, rather, “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 NIV

to be continued…..


Racism in America

“Be like Mario!” One of my friends posted a message on Facebook decrying the continued existence of racism in America. About the same time, another friend posted a note as well on racism. I see where both of them are heading but somehow both are a little short of the mark.

The first post was calling for us to be like Mario who sort of represents all races and nationalities but unfortunately the post ended up with the idea that Mario collects coins like Jews and jumps high like black people. Now knowing my friend very well, I am convinced she is not speaking, intentionally, in a racist manner. Yet, the way we see people and come to conclusions about them seems to be so ingrained that we don’t even recognize them.

My other friend raised the question of why do we have all there celebrations recognizing other races – Asian American Month, Black History Month and such thing, but fail to raise up Caucasians as well. Great question, but maybe aiming a little low. Wiping out racism isn’t about making everybody equal nor is it about ensuring everybody gets the same level of recognition.

Paul tells us, “All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ.” Colossians 3:11, The Message. As well, we have the well known freedom manifesto of Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ESV

Yet we remain people of difference – no one of us is the same whether it be the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes, our height or lack thereof, whether we use forks and knives or chopsticks, and because of those differences, each of us gets to bring something to the table that may not be there otherwise. Paul also tells us about what it means to be part of the family.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. 2 Conrinthians 12:25-26 The Message.

So let us become people who celebrate with the other “parts” as to their differences, and come together as brothers and sisters who share in all things – collecting those coins for our brothers and sisters in need, jumping high because Jesus wanted some of us to have that gift for His use down the road but always seeing some how the differences in some way, Christ knows, can be in support of the Body.

Maybe it is about seeing the differences but not “seeing” the differences at the same time. Maybe we can read about Phillip and the Ethopian eunuch and the Good Samaritan and talk about how that works.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Fighting Wolves

“Which wolf wins? The one you feed.” This bit of wisdom was from a little story that has made the rounds over the internet for some time and was the subject of last week’s sermon. After the sermon, someone asked “what?” Then I will stop feeding that evil wolf.

The story goes a young one asked the wise chief about evil and was told a story of the 2 wolves living inside – one evil and one good. There is obviously a tension and a battle, so the young one wanted to know who won.

But, if someone claims we can just stop feeding the evil wolf, the answer must be, grasshopper, wonderful thought, but very hard, if not impossible, to do.

If starving the evil wolf is impossible, then maybe the question becomes why even try to fight the evil wolf? Remember the post from Monday? Hauerwas seems to advocate being out of control. We should not take that to mean being out of control like chaotic or bouncing off the walls, rather that when we believe we are in control of our decisions and such, we have to be in a place where we can step back and realize that if we are feeding that evil wolf, the decisions are pretty much already made.

Maybe starving that evil wolf is more about what kind of people we are and the kind of people we are becoming. Maybe it is more about people who can somehow step back and step out in faith that He is the one in control, and that we just have to trust Him to take us those next steps.

One of the Psalms that really rings well with me is 119. Here are a few verses from The Message version:

By your words I can see where I’m going;
they throw a beam of light on my dark path.
I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back
from living by your righteous order.
Everything’s falling apart on me, GOD;
put me together again with your Word.

The verse tells me it is first, by His Word – that is Jesus and the Word given to us, second, that even with all of that all we will get is that beam of light on our paths, and not always and not even very often, a flood lamp with a map, third, that it is a commitment – not to following the rules, remember we can’t do that as we haven’t in the past and there is nothing to suggest we will down the road, rather to following Him where He leads us, and fourth, that real healing comes from the Word (both senses).

What does being out of control look like? We can look at the story of Joseph. Most of us know the story of the dream coat, and how at the time, Joseph was sold to the Midianite merchants (Genesis 37:28). Talk about being in a place where we are totally out of control. My best guess is that most of us would be spending a fair amount of time after that thinking about some really nifty ways to get back at the brothers who did the selling.

Most of us though likely would never get the chance to work a little vengeance. Joseph did, when the famine struck and those same brothers had to travel all the way to Egypt to see if any food could be purchased. When appearing before the official to ask/beg, it turned out in fact to be Joseph. His words are startling, “Don’t be afraid… You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-21).

So as one of my favorite young men would say, but how do we do that? All that can be said, is a hearty I surely don’t know. But maybe turning over that feeling/desire of being in control, and letting God handle the situation is a good place to head toward.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Out of Control

Stanley Hauerwas writes in his memoir, Hannah’s Child, “…following Jesus means you cannot anticipate or ensure results. Learning to live out of control, learning to live without trying to force contingency into conformity because of our desperate need for security, I take to be a resource for discovering alternatives that would otherwise not be present.”

To understand that we are indeed not in control forces us to ask who is in control. Recognizing Jesus requires humility does it not? Do we need to know humility and brokenness in order to come to know Jesus more fully?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Sometimes I Weep

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried – G. K. Chesterton.

Sometimes I weep when I think of all the damage we do to each other, that is our fellow Christians, and of all the damage we do to our image (and really we are reflections of His image as we are truly His image bearers aren’t we).

Why oh why do we think we can do it better? I heard the story of a young lady about to be baptized and she willingly declares her love for Jesus, and people throw roadblocks in her path. Now these aren’t people who want to stop her declaration, just that she needs to do this or that, sign this or that, and such things. But aren’t these are people who should be up there rejoicing with those in Heaven over this event. Yet these people, who claim the name Christian, maybe with all sincerity in their hearts, impose these rules and such on her in order for her to make that declaration.

I have never heard of this rule that we must be clean before we can declare our love for Jesus, or that we have to leave the worldly habits we may have accumulated over the years behind, or leave the people who were good to us behind. I thought coming to Jesus was a beginning of this great journey, an adventure, of being shaped and formed to better reflect that image bearer status we were given in the beginning. That coming to Jesus was like Paul when those scales fell from his eyes, so that he could see the true Story. That this Story isn’t about shedding things but seeing with eyes of grace and love – like Jesus saw us.

Sometimes I weep.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Dirty People

A wonderful young lady I’ve met asked about humbleness – how do we do that?  I’m not sure the answer, I don’t know a lot about that, was a good one.  So in doing some thinking about humility and humbleness, maybe starting off with the idea that we are really dirt people may give us a good beginning perspective.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares, “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”  Later in Matthew, Jesus calls us, “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”  Now those words “lowly in heart” are the same form of the Greek word as “meek” from Matthew 5:5.  What?  Jesus is calling himself meek?  Maybe there is something more to this meek thing.

Looking back at the beginning of all things, Genesis, we find a repeated phrase, “out of the ground.”  We see, “Now out of the ground the LORD God had formedf every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens.” (2:19, ESV)  We see, “And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (2:9, ESV)  Then of course, we see, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (2:7, ESV).

Is it possible to read these accounts of the beginning, and not realize that Adam, whose name comes from the Hebrew “adamah” or dirt, shares his creation with all of the creatures and plants of the earth?  We humans are not from above; we are neither given angelic or other heavenly status.  Rather, we are earthly things, dirt people, coming from and returning to the earth.

Maybe we were given dominion over the plants and animals, but that dominion has to be limited as all of the animals and plants were provided to us and for us as a gift.  Now this is not a rant about being green or such things, rather, how can we not come to better understand humbleness, humility and meekness when we realize that we indeed share a common beginning as dirt people.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Behavior Modification 2

So, what is the question?  In part one, in the Dinteman reference, he said “discipleship is only meaningful and possible because it is an answer to who God is and what God is doing.”  How do we become disciples?

Let’s take a look at an old story I’m not sure many of us are all that familiar with.  We all likely have heard of King David – the man after God’s own heart, and how he transformed Israel into a great kingdom of power and wealth.  What we may not know, other than that Goliath story, is that David was hunted for many years by the king before him, Saul (not to be confused with the Saul who became Paul in the New Testament).  Saul was relentless and David lived in the desert, hid in a cave, and this went on for years.  David had to leave the country for a time and hid with his enemies to escape Saul’s rage and intense focus on ridding him of David.

Now you can read the whole story in 1 Samuel 18 to the end of that book.  Then we come to 2 Samuel 1 and David learns Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in a battle with the Amalekites.  Now likely you or I would be jumping up and down with joy and wiping our brows saying phew God is good.

Not David, he “and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them.  They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan.” 2 Samuel 1:11-12 (NIV).  The Contemporary English Version makes it plain – David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow.

Now the text does not make it absolutely clear, but there is enough about David to come to the conclusion he saw Saul not as some crazy man with a singular focus on wiping him out, but maybe David actually saw him as someone in great need of grace.  Maybe David saw him through God’s eyes.

Maybe we can come to a place where we can step back from our anger and hurt, and maybe see that person as someone who may be battling some demons of his/her own.  Maybe we can see a little bit as to why that person acts/acted the way they did – not that we have to say okay then or its alright, just that we try to be in a place where we see through their eyes for a moment.  Then maybe we can listen to Jesus and begin to make that prayer for our enemies (Matthew 5:44)

Maybe we can sort of put on the mind of Christ – hmmm, thinking that is what that being transformed is all about.  Worth thinking about some.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

My House is Messy!

I’ve been part of a unique and intentional community for the past several months. We call it a youth group but that is really misleading in so many ways as the ages range from 10 to 80. More on all of that shortly. For now ….

We work in circles – that is no teacher or lecturing but asking questions and talking about it (and the youth don’t have video games, movies and toys to amuse them yet they keep coming back!). Here’s one from not too long ago – how should a person keep his house?

The smaller group I was in pretty much agreed – keep your house neat. When we started talking about how to do all of that the discussion got a little more interesting. One of our regulars said can’t do it – my house is always messy!  She told us her house was small and with 4 people (2 teens!!!) it was simply impossible to keep it neat most of the time (and her Mom cleaned houses for a living).

So my thinking is that that whole thing about sin management fits right there.  No matter how hard my friend (and my room is not always that neat either) tries, her house is never going to be super neat and orderly and knowing my friend, she will work and work at it a long time and then her sister walks in and tosses stuff here and there.

So I wonder, if its truth that no matter how hard I try, it isn’t going to happen, do I just give it all up trying?  I mean my friend keeps on keeping on with straightening up things, but she is learning to live with a little messiness.  Is that something I need to do with the sin in my life?

I’m not all that sure myself – I mean its not like I should or can simply ignore the messiness (sin) and just keep on going.  Isn’t this life about eliminating sin from my walk?  Maybe then again, trying to focus on wiping the sin out isn’t really my mission.  Didn’t Jesus take care of that and through the Holy Spirit take on the responsibility for my heart?  Maybe I need to start looking at Jesus more and learning to live life like He did (not replicate but sort of like Peter, and John and James from Matthew 4:19 – “Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men.  At once they left their nets and followed him”).  Check out this great little story.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Behavior Modification – 1

A dear brother in Christ has been suffering for some time in a community of faith characterized more by law than by grace. Sometimes I wonder how do we avoid such a thing when it seems like, despite our rhetoric to the contrary, we insist on following all these rules. We claim the Word sets out all these standards for living, but why are we so hardline about translating all of this into a set of rules, something that makes logical and cultural sense and satisfies (in a worldly way) like the day we felt that urge for baptism?

Another brilliant theologian I have read, Scot McKnight (who is joining the faculty at Northern Theological Seminary – shameless plug great seminary that I attended with some awesome professors and now one more). He suggested the answer to this question may be right from the start – what question do we ask? When we read the Word, do we ask is this message one about how we are to be saved? Or is it really, who is this Jesus?

I spoke about this idea and there remains this pushback, what does all this really mean? I suppose one way of looking at all of this is to come to a place where we start to understand being a Christian isn’t about what we do but it is about who we become. And again I suppose those questions are springing up – what does that mean? Another academic, in looking at the Anabaptist tradition – surprising not dissimilar to the problems facing Lutherans! – puts it this way:

Stephan Dinteman points out the tendency in Anabaptism to adopt
a behavior-based discipleship. Discipleship is one-sided – it’s
all about us. Dinteman outlines the problem as follows: This
approach to the Anabaptist vision resulted in generations of
students and church leaders learning behavioural aspects of the
Christian faith without learning equally well that discipleship
is only meaningful and possible because it is an answer to who
God is and what God is doing

But here is the really hard part of all this. When I was speaking about this, a wise and perceptive member of our community asked how do we get there? I wish I knew! I wish I had the magic formula to getting there. But here goes, maybe some thoughts – or ramblings to be more precise.

1. Living. I know, isn’t there a quicker way? Sadly, not.

2. Really getting to the place of understanding it is about who we are becoming by and through the work of Jesus and not us. Paul clues us in when he talks about the conflict raging between the sinful nature and the Spirit, and concludes, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are NOT under law.” Galatians 5:18 (NIV) And Paul informs those crazy Corinthians, “we… are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

Because a sweetie I know told me these are too long, part 2 soon!

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

A Bit of Honey Anyone?

For some of us growing up maybe with the color of our skin somewhat different than those around us or our eyes had a shape that slanted more than most, we were taught a silly little ditty – sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

But those of us on the receiving end of those words knew better, that the little incantation against the pain was really meaningless. Words could and did sting and worse than those sticks and stones, the sting from words did not fade away into a yellowish bruise but sometimes could last days and weeks at a time.

That words, and more broadly language, are powerful, if not defining, should not be underestimated – particularly for those who profess Christ as Lord. As noted by missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, to learn about a culture, first learn its language.

For believers the beginning of the book of Genesis should be sufficient to dispel any notion that words are not indeed formative. As God created, He did not simply will into being Heaven and earth, he did not merely wave His mighty hand to separate the land from the water or create the Sun and the Moon. The text informs us God spoke. “Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light.” (Gen 1:3), “And God said, Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters… And it was so.” (Gen 1:6) and so on for each of the six days of creation. A key verse reads “And God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… So God created humankind in his image.” (Gen1:26-27). This verse informs us that we likewise have the power of formation through our use of language (more on those thoughts for another day).

God informs Jeremiah, in 15:19, “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.” (ESV). Reading this verse in the context of the Genesis story tells us that God was not merely advising Jeremiah that he would be God’s prophet, but that the words he could use would have a power beyond his understanding.

I’m not suggesting we engage in “Godspeak” as such language seems, to me, to be some of the worst kinds of worthless words. But we can check our words; actually we are in need to check our words. James 3:5-6, “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.” (The Message)

We must be in prayer, and we must be in process of formation of an attitude, a way of living, which allows us to speak with grace, not anger, for our words will create, if not life then huge walls.

Is anyone hungry? In a remarkable vision, the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel was told to eat a very particular item. In the 3rd chapter of his text, we read: ” 1The LORD said, “Ezekiel, son of man, after you eat this scroll, go speak to the people of Israel.” 2-3 He handed me the scroll and said, “Eat this and fill up on it.” So I ate the scroll,and it tasted sweet as honey.” (CEV)

Maybe we are in need to not only hear the Word, but taking it in to form us and emerge from us as words from His mouth. To do all of this also presumes we be in community, does it not? Words without community likewise seem to be worthless.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.