Monday, November 10, 2008
Years ago my wife and I had a long, good talk about intimacy. Specifically we talked about whether our intimacy level as husband and wife was limited by the extent that our direction or goals in life differed. Essentially, we agreed that it was. I keep thinking about this regarding God. If God had no particular goals for the world or for me; no real agenda for what I became, what I love, what I trust, what I hate, what I do from day to day--absent, say, really harming someone--then getting a blanket of forgiveness for any particular offenses in the past or future would pretty much complete, our 'reconciliation'. I'm okay, he's okay, we're okay--reconciliation done.
But God does have a very definite goal for me--and not just me. He has a dream for the whole world and heaven as well, and he is passionate about it, willing to go through the crucifiction for it. He has a clear direction and he is very, very active--every moment, around the world--in bringing his dream to pass, training and working with those who become his children and co-workers in his great dream.
So, I agree, "Be reconciled to God!" But I'm convinced that's going to mean more than just receiving his forgiveness for past and future wrongs. It's going to mean learning to love what he loves, learning to work with him for his dream and making it our own, giving up our alternative plans and dreams that don't fit in. It's going to require following his lead. In a nutshell, it's going to require a process of becoming, or discipleship. Because we all, God willing, are going to continue to live and act in this world, affecting everyone around us in various degrees, towards various ends. So is God. The question is, are we working with him, towards his goals, or not. Jesus put it this way: "If you're not working with me, you're working against me. Either you're helping me gather things together, or you're scattering them further apart." Let's learn to be part of the Solution, and learn to stop being part of the problem. Also, let's know that this is what it means to be reconciled to this God who is in motion--receiving his forgiveness, absolutely, within the context of learning to move and act with him, from his Son who knows all about his Father's intentions and plans and ways of acting.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
On that front, some of the online Christian Classics, particularly Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living, has been really helping me, along with listening and reading the Message, as well as a more typical bible.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I may spend a long time with that last sentence: "Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out." This priority (and the plan to implement it) was one of the first and most striking differences between every bible study or small group (or worship service) I've been a part of and working the steps with John. In my previous bible studies or small groups (several of which I was leading) the weakest point was the follow-up and follow through on the 'doing' of what we learned. By definition, perhaps, the focus of a bible study is information intake. Sunday service was often the same in evangelical circles. We were always on to the next topic next week, regardless of how well or how poorly any or all of us had really implemented and made a habit of what we learned last week. The process of follow up or follow through was spotty to non-existent. It was left largely to the individual. 52 isn't that many 'truths' to learn in a year. It seems like an inhuman amount of new habits to form without intelligent and community-supported follow up and follow through.
We will be spiritually safe in our use of the Bible if we follow a simple rule: Read it with a submissive attitude. Read with a readiness to surrender all you are—all your plans, opinions, possessions, positions. Study as intelligently as possible, with all available means, but never study merely to find the truth and especially not just to prove something wrong. Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out!
By contrast, I've thoroughly enjoyed how John and I, though we began working the steps at the same time, are not currently on the same step, because our goal has not been to get through the steps either quickly or in lock step, but to let each step do its work thoroughly and completely in each of us, each of us working individually with support from God and each other to make each step fruitful in our actual lives, which is a similar but unique experience and work for each of us. Also, because of the size of our group (2), we don't have to limit our conversation to a certain topic (e.g., "Tonight we're discussing step 9."). We have the time to be person focused, purpose focused, process focused, rather than topic focused. I've heard for years in Church circles "I'm educated way beyond the level of my obedience." I think Church as we've known it is pretty much designed for that outcome, hence it's prevalence. Should we do anything about that, or just accept it?
Many Christians assume that communal attempts to focus on implementation of truth become inevitably legalistic and judgmental. I wonder. AA seems to let the communication and discovery of truth be subordinate to (be a servant of) the implementation of truth, and they seem to be (in)famous for being full of people more welcoming and full of grace than most churches--and more honest at the same time.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
This passage from her classic work, Interior Castle, underscores the necessity of what AA would much later call steps 4, 10 and 11, and offers some wisdom on their relative importance. Both self examination and more 'vertical' prayers and meditations are necessary in making all the rooms of our "interior castle"—Teresa's image of the multi-tiered and compartmentalized human soul—into a beautiful and functional home for the true King.
Mark well . . . that self-knowledge is indispensable, even for those whom
God takes to dwell in the same mansion with Himself. Nothing else, however
elevated, perfects the soul which must never seek to forget its own nothingness.
Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be
lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the
soul should [often] cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the
grandeur and majesty of its God. It will learn its own baseness better thus than
by self-contemplation, and will be freer . . . [.] Although it is a great grace
from God to practice self-examination, yet ‘too much is as bad as too little,’
as they say; believe me, by God’s help, we shall advance more by contemplating
the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of
earth that we are.
I do not know whether I have put this clearly; self-knowledge is of such
consequence that I would not have you careless of it, [because] though you may
be lifted to heaven in prayer, while on earth nothing is more needful than
humility [emphasis added]. Therefore, I repeat, not only a good way, but the
best of all ways, is to endeavor to enter [the work in the soul through prayer
and meditation] first by the room where humility is practiced [i.e., the room of
self-knowledge], which is far better than at once rushing on to the
In a process of apprenticeship and change, it is necessary to look at and even meditate on (think about) both our own ways as well as those of the Master we are seeking to emulate. The beginning of our transformation will be weighted more to the former, while we will eventually focus more and more on the latter. Eventually I imagine we become so one with Christ that these twin tasks become quite fluid, like the way we subtly and even unthinkingly checking our speed and how much gas is in the tank, and adjust the AC, the steering wheel, the brakes and accelerator, even change gears, all while keeping our eyes down the road where we are headed, even though, when we began driving, we had to pay much more attention to our own actions with the car, than where we were going. Accurately assessing one's own life and Christ's are both wonderful gifts from God, and are both essential to the task at hand, but as Teresa has said, "we shall advance more" in the long run by contemplating Jesus—he is our chief subject—than by assessing ourselves alone. Let us examine ourselves initially and regularly, but all the while learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our trust.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I suggest doing the steps with another person, preferably someone who has done them with good results. Since neither John nor I have worked the steps before, I frequently talk to other friends of mine who have worked the steps through AA or Al-Anon, to get their input. Remember, the steps aren't a race. I'll be posting the version of the steps I've ended up with in my head, having adjusted them slightly for the goal of growth in Christ, soon.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Sound daunting? It is!! (even if our brother Law slightly overstated the call) In fact, without the help of God, the Way of Christ is impossible. But Christianity is about coming to do our actual life with and through Christ and his power, in the way he knows it should be done for the good of all. It's about learning how to let God, through his annointed leader, actually run things. The time has come. The government of God (through it's King) is near. Change your plans, your direction, and trust this good news. Receive the governing of God through Christ. Enter it. Follow Christ. Learn to live in this Way. These are the invitations of the New Testament. If you want to say "Yes" to this, and you want a prayer to pray, pray the Lord's prayer, then follow it through with something like the steps: Learn to stop letting sin reign in your body; instead, learn to let Christ heal and reign through every part of you. How can we do this without honestly taking an inventory of ourselves and our patterns of action, and then seeking the help of God and other followers? I love the steps because they are about actually identifying where sin has reigned in us and seeking God's help for that to stop (and they've helped me see that come to pass in my life).
[T]hat religion or devotion which is to govern the ordinary actions of our life is to be found in almost every verse of Scripture. Our blessed Saviour and His Apostles are wholly taken up in doctrines that relate to common life. They call us to renounce the world, and differ in every temper and way of life, from the spirit and the way of the world: to renounce all its goods, to fear none of its evils, to reject its joys, and have no value for its happiness: to be as new-born babes, that are born into a new state of things: to live as pilgrims in spiritual watching, in holy fear, and heavenly aspiring after another life: to take up our daily cross, to deny ourselves, to profess the blessedness of mourning, to seek the blessedness of poverty of spirit: to forsake the pride and vanity of riches, to take no thought for the morrow, to live in the profoundest state of humility, to rejoice in worldly sufferings: to reject the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life: to bear injuries, to forgive and bless our enemies, and to love mankind as God loveth them: to give up our whole hearts and affections to God, and strive to enter through the strait gate into a life of eternal glory.
This is the common devotion which our blessed Saviour taught, in order to make it the common life of all Christians. Is it not therefore exceeding strange that people should place so much piety in the attendance upon public worship, concerning which there is not one precept of our Lord's to be found, and yet neglect these common duties of our ordinary life, which are commanded in every page of the Gospel?
Lord, let your government come; let your will be done on earth, just like it is in heaven.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
But the steps are still helping me . . . and I figured I'd post an observation or two while they're fresh. I've noticed that the steps are really habits, specifically, they're habits that facilitate progressive humility, trust in God, and general improvement of character. Just look through the steps, and it's not hard to realize that these are not things that someone just does, never to repeat, normal ebbs and flows notwithstanding. If you do them even once sincerely, they give you benefits that are hard to walk away from. That seems only fair play for AA's to fight fire with fire. The Big Book says something to the effect of alcohol abuse being only the symptom: it is merely the vehicle that alcoholics use to run away from the pressures of life. The steps are the solution because they teach a person how to successfully deal with life: by humbly taking our place with God, taking advantage of his many benefits. "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Similar to alcohol, one experience of God can lead to another.
It's hard for me to say enough how much God is ready and willing to recreate a willing human being (even one that is extremely screwed up) into someone akin to Jesus. The issue isn't God's power or willingness on this point, it's ours, which the original AA's were desperate and fortunate enough to discover.
As for my current step 'location', I have made some of my amends of step 9, and still have work to do. In fact, I've got my biggest 'amends' yet to schedule once vacation is over. I pray it goes well. And I find myself doing steps 10, 11 and 12 as well already, though without any prompting.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Alright! The mother of all series! Very much looking forward to this one, Scot. Just to be explicit about something that is implied in all of your points: God’s great power or abilities (which he uses for good), especially relative to others. Especially the Isaiah passage (who says to Zion, “Your God reigns”, emphasis mine) says to me that the chief power in the world is their God. I realize this is implied, but given people’s general tendency to trust other power sources (money, governments, persuasive people, etc.), I think it’s worth being explicit: No one, no thing has more power on the earth than God (specifically Jesus). The fact that saying it might be controversial even among Christians proves the point. It also happens that in many, many circumstances, one’s conclusions about who the most powerful person in the room is will dominate one’s course of action. If the earth is a ‘room’ where God has little power, our ethics will show it.
Even the Exodus speaks loudly about this ‘power’ issue to the whole world, to the extent pharoah and Egypt were perceived as the world’s greatest power. Foundational to trusting God instead of other things is believing he is able to help, more able than other things we could trust. (BTW, I’m looking forward to the book Salvation Belongs to Our God, for this reason)
My point being that God's power, and specifically Jesus' power, to help people on the earth is part of the gospel itself, and a critical part at that. If he did not have power to help, we would not bother coming to him; we'd go to someone or something else. We just don't--and shouldn't--trust things or people that can't deliver. Even people we hate, if we think they have power to do something, we are inclined to listen to what they say, perhaps do their will. Trusting God's gospel about Jesus is, in substantial part, coming to believe that he has the ability to come through in the ways we need. We need to know he has power on the earth to help.
For me, knowing Jesus has power, saying to myself "Jesus is Lord" puts my soul at ease. So many "what ifs" become quieted within me. More on that to come.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
As I've been working the steps (slightly modified), and talking to various friends and church folks about them, I've noticed a common reaction, typically non-verbal, which I guess can best be summarized as 'perplexed'. After I confirm I don't even like alcohol and don't have any 'bad' addictions, the question on their faces seems to be: "Why would a Christian without an overt addiction problem do the steps?"
Obviously, some of these questions stem from an ignorance about the steps and what they're really designed to do--but that's for another post. Another reason for the perplexity is a general idea of what we think God is hoping to accomplish in the world through Jesus, and we don't see how the steps figure into that. In a nutshell, if Christianity is--at its core--about 'getting saved (from hell)', why go through the steps absent a typical-kind of addiction problem? And from that standpoint, I'd have to agree; the steps would be tangential at best to Christianity, though extremely practical for living well.
But what if God's goal and hope in sending Jesus is not just to save us from the ultimate consequences of our sin, but from "our sin" itself? What if his goal is to get his way on earth more like he does in heaven; to make human rebels into happily cooperative family; to overthrow the functional leadership of self, money and all that causes evil? What if re-creating people into the character of Jesus is the goal, and honest, maybe even desperate, communities of people are the best raw materials? What if a gospel 'response' is about saying 'yes' to God's leadership through Christ, then learning how to actually live that 'yes' out with God and other folks on the same Path?
I want to throw out the thought that to the extent that one becomes gripped by a gospel of the latter kind, by the thought that how we learn to live is the only kind of worship that matters, the AA program in general will start looking like one of the most logical ways an individual and group could respond to what God has in mind and what he offers. (For me, becoming really centered on the latter instead of the former was a process that took several years.) Ironically, in this effort of transformation, one becomes especially thankful for God's amazing forgiveness for falling short, because that forgiveness is put into a dynamic context and pursuit of a very high goal, issuing from the very heart of God: re-creation in the likeness of his Son, letting God reign on earth, through Jesus, just like he does in heaven.
More on why the steps are so appropriate and functional as a response to the gospel, and on my own experience with them, later.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
To continue where I left off, I started working the 12 steps with my friend John as a 'workout' towards transformation, towards Christlikeness, towards functionally entering God's reign through Jesus. (A hint re: future posts: the steps aren't really about drinking.) I'm not done with them yet (or, better, they're not done with me); and I don't know if that will ever happen, though I'm excited to go through the 12th step soon, which I'll talk about more later. As many who have worked the steps know, they're not a checklist to be 'completed' and left for the next thing; they become a way of living with different goals, different motivations and different means of handling each day.
I really can't adequately say how grateful I am to God and his people for this little program of transformation and healing, though I hope my life will show it for years to come. The next several posts will be attempts to share some of my own experience with the steps, and also some larger reasons why the wider Church might want to listen to these humble "suggestions" offered and practiced by broken people around the world who wanted real change for themselves, and often found that and so much more. For those interested in the so-called 'new monasticism' dawning in the evangelical church, don't forget to listen to the wisdom of the enormous fellowship of 'drunk' monks, quietly and anonymously working around the world, among and as some of our society's most broken people.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
- Workout Plan with Workout Partners. Our first and foremost shared activity will be some sort of spiritual "workout" plan with two or three other people. A workout can be virtually any plan--a set of spiritual and not-so-spiritual disciplines--chosen by the workout group. It's not rocket science, but neither is it too common, for a group of professing Christians to look honestly at Jesus and ponder, "What practices would lead me toward becoming like him?" A group of 2-4 folks just have to prayerfully ask that question and see what seems good to the Holy Spirit and to them, and then do it. A few points on this practice: ~ There is no official workout of the church; there are virtually an unlimited number of good options (some are already using a modified version of the 12 steps, or the Daily Office, for example). ~ Each group can determine the appropriate length of the workout plan ("until we've all finished the 12th step", or "for six months", etc.). ~ As each group comes to a close, we encourage each person to begin again the process of finding workout partners and a workout. ~ We recommend that each workout group plan on meeting or talking together at least once a week to give each person a couple of partners in their process of being Jesus' disciple. ~ Everyone should take time, before beginning a workout with a group, to think and pray about whether they are really ready to give the time required for a workout and to be in relationship with the partners, and what, in a broader sense, they think being Christ's disciple will require; ~ Finally, we encourage that every other weekly meeting of the workout partners be at one of the small groups:
- Small Groups. A few venues, meeting every other week, will be created where a few workout groups can all get together for a more typical small group meeting, where everyone can eat together with communion, sing together, pray for each other, and talk about what's going on. In this way, people can get exposure to some of the workouts that others are doing and get some meaningful connection with people within and outside of their workout group. One of the elders will facilitate each small group.
- Worship service. Our final shared practice is our worship service. This will be a service not significantly different from many evangelical/charismatic congregations, though we may be more urban in our music, give more time for testimonials, talk more about the process of discipleship, and be more plural in our teachers. On the teaching front, it is the express goal of those currently involved in teaching to bring others into the work as gifting and character allow.
As I mentioned, we're going to attempt to make the above practices a priority in the order listed. The main reason being that we think our chief job is make mature disciples of Jesus (and become such ourselves). We need more Christ-like people and families downtown. We have had many converts, but see few "little Christs." Like many of the monastic orders or even like many educational theorists, we don't think that a typical worship service, as the express or implied chief communal practice, is going to result in significant progress toward this end, though it can be helpful toward that end as a lower-tier activity. Each person must respond to the call of discipleship and take intentional, if not aggressive steps if they intend to actually be a disciple of Jesus who makes progress in the effort. At the weekly service and elsewhere, we will routinely announce Christ's invitation to be his apprentice and how we at Bow Down are structuring our response with workouts in micro-communities with the Holy Spirit. Responsibility must be taken by each disciple for what they are becoming, and the process must be undertaken together and with God's direct help.
In a nutshell, after asking what practices would lead us toward "Christ fully formed within", we have come up with the above plan of action. Your comments and feedback (even the "You're crazy and a heretic!" variety) are welcome.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
You can opine here anytime! I'll take your comment above all as a double compliment: 1) that my post was interesting enough to read through and comment thoroughly upon, and 2) you must believe my attention span to be above average. :)
Really, thanks for interacting with some really good stuff (how's that for an educated vocabulary?). This was my favorite quote: "The pedagogy of the early third century Eastern theologian, Gregory Nazianzen, was, 'let us teach dogmatically today and discuss tomorrow.' I'm with you on not dismissing lecture altogether (which you'll see in the next post). I just lectured a little last night, as a matter of fact. (Though, I wonder if Gregory would substitute a reading assignment for a dogmatic lecture if his entire church had access to what we have access to . . . just a thought.) For me, the issue of teaching is at least significantly one of emphasis within all our formational practices, and what we're hoping to accomplish when we teach. That will affect how we teach and many other things. I think teaching is important. That said, the sermon/lecture has become the evangelical sacrament in many, many circles (faith comes by hearing, and that of the word of God), sometimes an end in itself, rather than one of many tools to assist in the making of mature disciples.
Relatedly, having a "head pastor" has become the chief necessary ingredient in Evangelical ecclesiology. To quote or at least paraphrase John Wimber, "The modern era has been a blessing in many, many ways, but it hasn't done much for our pneumatology." Similarly, it's also created distinct and easily recognizable problems in our ecclesiology and our soteriology especially. These all affect what churches pursue in the world and in their own people, and how. For example, I don't think that you should be saddled with the burden of a 'holier-than-other-Christians' title in order to be given space in your community to use your gifts and training with passion and as often God inspires within broad communal boundaries. Why can't there be multiple people whom the community has recognized as having a particular gift to teach? These folks can work together and sharpen each other and the community. Can't they, in turn, train and involve others in their discipline and work, all within one community? Certainly. And when it comes to decision making in the body, the Quakers, some monastic orders, and even AA have, in my view, embodied a more biblically sound practice and government, namely, a "pneumocratic" body of brothers in which the members discuss and discern together, looking for consensus, not mere 'majority vote' on what God is doing in a particular situation. Of course, some voices will carry more weight than others, which is appropriate, but the Spirit can also speak through the most unexpected sources, and many will recognize his voice when they hear it, no matter the messenger. There is more here, but you get the idea.
Though, clearly, modernism has not and does not stop God from accomplishing wonderful things in the most modern (and lecture oriented!) churches, many times over. To not see this is a mistake.
But the splinters remain for me, both from experience and from what I see God doing (and how) in the scriptures. BTW, my favorite take on a functional approach to church decision making is stated nicely in a brief study by the Center for Parish Development, called "Gathered Together to Seek and to Do God's Will."
Hope you all are doing well. I'll roll out the next post soon.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
- I've grown up in the evangelical church and never left. My mother took us to Southern Baptist churches growing up, I went to a Lutheran grade-school, a non-denom evangelical middle school & highschool (bible class every day, chapel once a week), attended and led small groups & then college ministry at a Vineyard in college & law school. Since then I've been a part of two evangelical church plants. (My point: I've heard a moderately high amount of teaching in the evangelical format, and even given my share of it.)
- As far as non-religious schooling goes, I've had about as much as I can get without changing fields of study. I have a B.S. in Business, a law degree and a master's in tax law. I've also been working as an adjunct professor at a local Christian university for two years. My classes, two per semester, have approximately 30 students each. (So I've also heard a relatively high amount of teaching in the academic format, and even given my share of it.)
- FWIW, in the academic setting I generally got great marks as a student and as a teacher (at least in the academic setting, you get formally evaluated on these things). Whether as a small group leader, college minister, professor, etc., I really have cared about what people who were part of these groups were taking away from them. Though questions about teaching have been in my mind for decades, doing the teaching/leading work myself kicked them into high gear as I attempted to help people learn and see something, and even be shaped differently.
- The current church plant that I'm a part of is coming out of a parachurch ministry in downtown West Palm Beach--Urban Youth Impact ("UYI"). It's largest program is an after-school tutoring program, but it also does a variety of evangelical outreaches, bible studies and community service projects on a regular basis, and has been in the community for over a decade. Like most strongly evangelical organizations, UYI's outreaches were typically designed to get conversions--getting kids to say a prayer so that they can go to heaven instead of hell whenever death inevitably comes. UYI has gotten several thousands of these conversions over the years, which they sought to "follow up" with bible studies and the like. But here is the fact: UYI can only point to a handful of people who show substantial change toward Christlikeness out of the thousands who have "converted."
So what? Well, obviously I've not studied learning theory (yet), and have no formal education training. My experience is only as a congregant, a disciple of Jesus, a 'secular' student, and as a church leader and professor. But each of these undertakings have been wonderfully helpful and also left some splinters in my mind about the learning process, specifically as it applies to our apprenticeship to Jesus. Here are some splinters, again, in no particular order, that I haven't yet fully dug out (the next post will be the tangible structures that the current church plant is adopting that these splinters helped shape):
- In all the above experiences (and as a parent), I've seen lots of ways one can teach, and lots of ways one can learn. Some ways of teaching are less effective (i.e., less likely to change the hearers intellectually or more thoroughly) than others. The evangelical church tends to emphasize, even revere, the least effective form of teaching of which I'm aware--uninterrupted lecture by the same person.
- Jesus, speaking to the apostles, whose 'teaching' responsibilities were only going to increase, told them not to let anyone call them "Teacher" or "Father", and gave essentially two reasons: There was only One worthy of such titles, and they, the apostles, were all equals with anyone they'd be 'teaching'. I have no doubts that changing the title to "pastor" or some other term designed to honor and distinguish a servant from the other brothers somehow remedies what Jesus was trying to prevent here.
- Relatedly, being given the task and gift of teaching by God is different from letting people put a title on you. Gifts give energy and life to the giver and the recipient. But few things in life are heavier than a religious title, whether for the individual or the individual's family. Do your leaders a favor: call them by their first names, and think of them that way.
- The longer one stays in academia, listening to experts give lectures, the less one feels qualified to do anything. One has to actually do something themselves and see it work to build confidence with the subject matter.
- Parents whose goal is maturity don't primarily teach by lecture; talking is just step one.
- I don't think we're making as many disciples of Jesus as we think we are.
- While I realize that "not many" should aspire to biblical teaching (for the harsher judgment and the general challenges of the tongue), didn't the early churches enjoy a plethora of teachers (how could Corinth play favorites if they'd only ever heard one guy; how could Timothy know if a potential elder is "able to teach" if the candidate has never done it; if the Jerusalem church "devoted themselves to the apostleS' teaching, that church had at least a dozen teachers, not even counting James, Jesus' brother, and some other folks who likely also taught; if "two or at the most three" prophets would speak per gathering in Corinth, do we really think it was the same two or three every gathering, etc., etc.)
- Guest speakers in my class have a big advantage in being effective just by having a different voice and face and personality than my own.
- Prioritizing "new births" over "Christ fully formed within" will play itself out in actual living results.
- Students tend to retain a lot more if WE discuss, than if I lecture.
- I learn a lot by prepping to teach. I learn even more if I ask the students good questions and listen to their answers and questions.
- No amount of lecture (or even discussion) can make up for a student who doesn't really want to learn what I'm teaching.
- Creating learners is more helpful than teaching, and there is a difference between the two.
- A truth discovered sticks and shapes several times better than a truth heard.
- Seeing and doing something in action (apprenticeship) is so much better than classroom "learning", it's hard to even compare them, but apprenticeship is much slower and requires a lot more "teachers", and a lot more work by the student.
- Would the apostles be horrified by our near permanent "delegation" of the teaching to one person per church, with lecture being the typical method?
- As Dallas Willard has suggested, are we getting the results we now have not despite our efforts but at least partially because of them?
As I said, next post will be the structures our new church plant is adopting, which have been shaped in part by these splinters.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
[I]t's fairly defensible that the "end" God has in mind is fully formed, fully functional Christ-likeness, writ-large. If that's where we're headed (or where God would like to lead us), what shared, corporate practices are likely to lead us there? I know you're a fan of [spiritual disciplines], so there's much positive to be said here. On the negative (bath water) side, though, I think that delegating the vast bulk of the teaching to one "expert" person on a near permanent basis, and, secondly, having our teaching be almost exclusively without dialog are likely to help the very young in the faith for a while, but will actually hinder the maturing process after the infancy/child stages. Why aren't pastors typically multiplying themselves out of a job asap? Don't our biblical examples tend toward that kind of multiplication? Our "ecclesiology" is currently best designed to produce babies (converts) and minister to those babies in the faith. It is difficult to argue from typical church practice (centered on lectures, usually by one "expert") that we are geared toward maturity. Our priorities of practice, our ways of doing teaching, etc.--bathwater. Not necessarily bad, but definitely best used for babies.I hope I'm being clear that I'm not opposed to teaching. I do, though, from a biblical and practical perspective, question how we do it, how we (generally fail to) train others to do it, and how both of the above tends to produce spectators of the faith rather than ambassadors of it. So, are there any biblically faithful alternatives to our typical "plan"? What and how so? Is an alternative approach really necessary at all? I'll be posting on an alternative we're working on at UYI very soon.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
- What teachings, thoughts, beliefs are "essential" to Christianity?
- How (and by whom) are such "essentials" to be determined?
- How are people's beliefs to be determined for purpose of measuring them against the orthodox ones that are selected?
Along these lines, here are the guts of my comments at Scot McKnight's blog about this:
I fear that [these lists] represent what I hate to see (but frequently do) in discussions of “orthodoxy”–we don’t use Jesus’ life, ministry and teachings as the plumb line, we use some favorite [or historical] interpreter(s) of him, which leads to deeper divisions in Christ’s body, just as it did in Corinth and continues to do today. . . These lists of beliefs are, therefore, better used as history of past battles over particular pieces of reality than as wholistically accurate pictures of orthodoxy. Let’s not measure men by lists. Let’s measure men by the Man. The lists, at best, present a very partial picture of orthodoxy. Whereas, the best wholistic picture we have of who God really is and wants to say and do is in Jesus’ teachings and actions. And of course, there are very good scriptural reasons to believe that God will use Jesus own life and teachings as the means of measuring everything that needs measuring. . . . We . . . may not like that putting Jesus at the center messes with our theology and puts more mystery in the whole issue of orthodoxy than we’d like, but let’s at least be express about the plumb line and let the cornerstone be the cornerstone if we’re going to measure who “lines up.” . . . Where on these lists, for example, is the belief that love of God and neighbor are the most important guides to life? Isn’t it at least a little disconcerting that the very teaching that Jesus said was the most important of the entire revelation before him isn’t mentioned in these lists of “essentials”?
What I'm getting at is that one would not likely get the same list of "essential" teachings by studying primarily the teachings of Jesus himself; in fact, some of the teachings that were thematic for Jesus and even the apostles are not considered "essential" to teaching Christianity rightly. I'm thinking, as I mentioned in the comment, of the command that Jesus said summed up all the law and prophets--loving God with every facet of our existence and our neighbors (and enemies) to boot. It is difficult to argue that this was not "essential" according to Jesus' own thinking, or even the thinking of Paul or John or Peter, if their letters are to be believed. One could argue pretty easily based on a casual reading of the New Testament that teaching this "love" is even primary in the faith. And there are others, such as the teaching that one's conduct shows what one truly believes.
So, I'm wondering, first, what would a list of 'essential teachings' look like if we based our list on what appeared to be Jesus' own "essential" teachings and actions (and secondarily those from the rest of the NT). That would be interesting and maybe helpful. But I'm wondering even more, what if we made Jesus himself--his life, his "walk" and his teachings--as our standard for evaluating how far or close a given person or group is to "orthodox Christianity"? Isn't he the plumb line, the cornerstone? Isn't he the walking and talking definition of orthodox Christianity?
If we use him as the Standard instead of a partial list of teachings for determining orthodox Christians, we'd get at least a few benefits:
- We'd find that he's the only one being perfectly orthodox in his thinking and acting, which will give us all a more graceful tone when evaluating someone else's "orthodoxy" (which not coincidentally will make us more obedient to one of Jesus' own teachings).
- We'd be more appropriately and equally concerned with a person's actions as we'd be with their stated "beliefs" when evaluating what they actually believe (which again, Jesus seemed to think was a good way to think about such things).
- We'd be more concerned about our own deviation from the Standard than other people's (yet more obedience to Jesus' teachings).
- We'd realize that Christianity is more of a Path, more of a growing (or fading) relationship to a Person, than a checklist of right beliefs that can be verbally affirmed and checked off. More important than a snapshot of beliefs is the direction one is heading and whom one is trusting to proceed with life.
- We'd encourage and make more 'learners of Jesus' than 'affirmers of lists'.
- We'd be less likely to end up with whole groups of supposedly "orthodox Christians" who are content, even entrenched, to act in direct opposition to several of Jesus' teachings.
- We'd be using the Standard that God himself will use to judge us all.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
So, some friends and I (more on that later) are taking some version of the following 12 steps together, slightly modified from the current steps of AA, as a structured response to what God is offering us all through Jesus. The bold words highlight what's different from AA's current version; they're not for emphasis. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the point is not the steps, they're just suggestions, hopefully wise ones. "The goal is Jesus, the means is Jesus."
- We admitted that something was wrong, in us and in the world at large, and that we were powerless to fix it.
- Came to believe that Jesus has ultimate power, goodness, and wisdom, yet is available to all.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Jesus, God's choice of king.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character and become like Jesus himself.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings and to give us His Spirit.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Looking at Jesus, we continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through several helpful practices to improve our conscious and cooperative contact with God.
- Having witnessed Jesus' work personally, we shared him with others, and tried to practice Jesus' ways in all our affairs.
The gospel, according to Jesus, is about accepting, trusting, the leadership and provision of God right now. Importantly, this government of God is led by his son, the 'christ'-ened king of heaven and earth, Jesus. Even though God could have sent the representative of his government to judge and toss all the human rebels and just start a 'new heaven and earth' from scratch--one in which the two dimensions were united under his leadership, he opted instead to offer amnesty to anyone that wanted give up their own doomed agendas for life and get on board with the king, Jesus, and the 'new creation out of the old' agenda of his government. To accomplish this, God sent Jesus to do certain things (to be discussed later) and with basically two invitations: the gospel ("good news") of the government of God and the invitation to become Jesus' 'disciple'. To me, these are the same invitation. Why? Because Jesus is the king of the government of God; apprenticeship to him, the king, is to give up your own agendas and ways (repent) and to trust instead that God is working through Jesus as God's own chosen leader for people (trust that the kingdom of God is at hand). Different language, same outcome when the 'discipler' is also the 'king'.
This king showed up teaching, healing, and generally undoing Satan's leadership (instead of, say, executing a just and terrible judgment on a world largely run amuck--this difference actually disappointed some). His goal is still to produce a 'new heaven and earth' that is united and holy and good--completely untouched by contrary leadership and its effects. But in order to include us in this new creation project, the cross was necessary. Thanks to his substitutionary death, all humans can actually be welcomed into this great plan God has for (new) creation instead of being thrown out as part of the problem. We can, thanks to Jesus bearing the cross and death, be given amnesty and become part of God's solution, part of re-creation of the world. He rescued us so that we could be his co-operative subjects and family.
But an important caveat: We have to decide now if we want to enter and receive the government of God personified by Christ's own leadership. "Why call [him] 'lord' and do nothing that [he] says?" Is that what biblical or even practical 'trust' is? Is that what it means to "receive" and "enter" the government of God--to stay hostile to what the king of that government says to do? No one who continues a life of rebellion against God's leading, against his annointed leader's priorities, has any part, certainly no inheritance, in the kingdom of God. "The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and trust this good news!", or, another way Jesus put the exact same choice, "Follow me." To "receive" him is to receive his right and qualifications to lead; to trust him is to do what he says; to love him is to obey him. Those who do the will of God will live forever. Eternal life is to know God, and Jesus whom he has sent, but the one who says, "I know him" but lives contrary to him does not know him.
SO, if the invitation is not to "receive a free gift" of eternal life but to receive Jesus and his government (which has life within) . . . man! Does that change things in church world!! How do we invite people into that--into what Jesus was inviting them into!? Perhaps more importantly, for those of us that want to receive ourselves what God is offering in Jesus, how do we structure our response? To me, Jesus' invitations are more 'path' invitations and require 'path' responses.
The invitation always structures the response. More on appropriate responses to God's invitation soon.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Here's something I see going on here as well: many evangelicals voted for W because he was one of us; we had an idea of where he was coming from, how he made his decisions, and we felt confident about someone who made decisions that way. Many such people, myself included, don't trust that reasoning as much now because of several of W's actual decisions, such as his initial decision to go to war (ignoring the advice of C. Powell, who should have had the most clout of any cabinet member in any such discussion), and his support for various torture techniques (the end justifies the means?), and other decisions, even the deficit. I personally was also discouraged by his hamstringing of the bankruptcy code which is a much-needed form of institutional mercy that this country picked up from our Judeo-Christian heritage. At any rate, for various reasons based largely on the actual decisions of the President, many evangelicals aren't quick to vote for someone now just because the candidate is evangelical and can talk that talk. That selection method has hesitations now, and there are as many competing methods now as candidates. Now, a candidate's sincere 'evangelicalism' is just one factor among others, which is unfortunate for Huckabee, but likely a good thing for the Republican Party and definitely a good thing for the country. But as a new selection process settles in, there's a little confusion on the right, and fewer easier answers. We're growing as citizens and voters, even though it results, for now, in many traditional conservative mouth pieces, who have preached their various conservative litmus tests for years, having to accept a candidate who's never had much use for such tests. Change is hard, especially for 'conservatives'. It's harder to make decisions with so many factors to consider. It's also part of growing up.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
"Remember, the goal is Jesus; the means is Jesus."
I'm practically surrounded by books at work, but they are the technical, lawyerly kind. The one that was on top of the stack today doesn't even have typical page numbers. I'm not kidding. The pages are "1-7" (for the seventh page of chapter one), and "2-22" (for the twenty-second page of chapter two), etc. Which means I had to actually do math to find the 123rd page of the book. Well, I don't do math, I do Excel. But you get the point. And here's what the 6th through 9th sentences were on the 123rd page of Practice Under the Florida Probate Code:
Trial courts have jurisdiction over the trustees of a trust when the situs of the trust is in Florida, and both statutory requirements and the constitutional minimum contacts requirements have been met. Chereskin v. Branch Banking & Trust Co., 705 So.2d 955 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998). The 1993, 1995, and 2001 legislatures passed important legislation in the area of trust law that significantly changed probate proceedings, relating to certain trusts, and the 2006 Legislature enacted the Florida Trust Code (F.S. Chapter 736), effective July 1, 2007, which created a new body of trust statutes more closely modeled on the Uniform Trust Code. A complete examination of the legislation is beyond the scope of this chapter; the following is a partial summary of the changes.
Just enough to whet your appetite about those changes, huh?
I'll post on from my "home" reading and who I choose to tag next . . .
Thursday, January 31, 2008
- "But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root [a] of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith (A) and pierced themselves with many pains. 11 Now you, man of God, run from these things; but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, (B) endurance, (C) and gentleness."
- "Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. (AQ) 45 So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. [j] 46 And every day they devoted themselves [to meeting] together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, (AR) 47 praising God and having favor with all the people."
- "But know this: difficult times will come in the last days. (A) 2 For people will be lovers of self, (B) lovers of money"
- "For an overseer, as God's manager, must be blameless, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money"
- "Your life should be free from the love of money."
- "Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant (E) or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, [a] who richly provides us with all things (F) to enjoy. 18 [Instruct them] to do good, to be rich in good works, (G) to be generous, willing to share"
- "But the one who is rich [should boast] in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a flower of the field. (A) 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will wither away while pursuing his activities. (B)"
- "Therefore, it is already a total defeat (F) for you that you have lawsuits against one another. Why not rather put up with injustice? (G) Why not rather be cheated?"
- "And I say this, brothers: the time is limited, (S) so from now on . . . those who buy [should be] as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away. (U) 32 I want you to be without concerns."
- "For we brought nothing into the world, and [a] we can take nothing out. (B) 8 But if we have food and clothing, [b] we will be content with these."
- "You ask and don't receive because you ask wrongly, so that you may spend it on your desires for pleasure. (A) 4 Adulteresses! [a] Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world's friend becomes God's enemy. (B) 5 Or do you think it's without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit He has caused to live in us yearns jealously? (C) [b]"
- "Do not love the world (W) or the things that belong to [d] the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to [e] the world— 16 the lust of the flesh, (X) the lust of the eyes, (Y) and the pride (Z) in one's lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world."
- "If anyone has this world's goods and sees his brother in need but shuts off his compassion from him—how can God's love reside in him?"
- "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich."
- "And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God."
Is it just me, or do even the conservatives read the New Testament a little less literally when it comes to money?
- "No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money."
- "[Jesus] instructed [the apostles] to take nothing for the road except a walking stick: no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts"
- "Don't be afraid, (A) little flock, (B) because your Father delights (C) to give you the kingdom. (D) 33 Sell (E) your possessions and give to the poor. (F) Make money-bags (G) for yourselves that won't grow old, an inexhaustible treasure (H) in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
- "He also said to them, 'When I sent you out without money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?' 'Not a thing,' they said."
- "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings."
- "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him."
- "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! (A) 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.'"
- "Blessed are you who are poor, because the kingdom of God is yours. . . .But woe to you who are rich, because you have received your comfort."
- "As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit."
- "Someone from the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, (Z) tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' 14 'Friend,' [d] He said to him, 'who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?' 15 He then told them, 'Watch out and be on guard (AA) against all greed (AB) because one's life is not in the abundance of his possessions.' "
- He also said to the one who had invited Him, 'When you give a lunch or a dinner, don't invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. 13 On the contrary, when you host a banquet, (L) invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. (M) 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid (N) at the resurrection of the righteous.' "
- "But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (X) 29 If anyone hits you on the cheek, (Y) offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don't hold back your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks from you, and from one who takes away your things, don't ask for them back. . . . If you do [what is] good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? (AB) Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do [what is] good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. (AC) For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil."
I told you not to read it.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
A few highlights from the last several months, that I hope to explore more fully in some upcoming posts:
- On a personal note, I continue to be drawn to the core of Christianity. I love keeping the main thing the main thing. That, of course, begs the question, but more on that later. Suffice it to say for now that Jesus, the kingdom he announced (and leads), the way of living he taught and modeled, the real help he offers in this world and the next--I'm still amazed and pulled by that Core. I love hearing and thinking about what he's really offering us all.
- The (12) steps are back. Well, they never totally went away; I just semi-stalled in doing them. The fact that I was largely doing them on my own may have had a bit to do with that, and the return of traveling partners is part of their resurgence. More on that later.
- Ecclesiology is also on my mind (i.e., how the heck can we be most helpful to each other? i.e., once we collectively accept a 'get Christ fully formed within' goal in place of a 'get your ticket to heaven' goal, does anything stay the same in corporate life !?!, i.e., if . . . you get the idea). Much more to come.
- Relatedly, A new book released by Frank Viola and George Barna called Pagan Christianity? is going to be shaking things up all things 'church' for a while. There's already a lot one can read about it online--it's an explosive book. Personally, I'm not as interested right now in deconstructing typical church patterns and paradigms (the goal of this book) as I am in constructing helpful ones. Regardless, this book is and will continue to be an important piece. More on that later as well.
- I've been deepening my connection to the folks at Urban Youth Impact for some time. The small church, of which I am part, that was recently born out of this 'parachurch' ministry is, right now, trying to follow Jesus into restructuring ourselves around a shared goal of maturity, of "Christ formed fully within." We're also finding some ways to pursue this without constantly leading from the top down. Very exciting.
Anyway, it'll be good for me, I think, to flesh a lot of these things out--and soon. Maybe even more helpful to get feedback. And yes, other than the Pagan Christianity bit, all the above are related.
God's love to you.