“In today’s Christianity we take ordinary human suffering and turn it into a Christian example. ‘Everyone has a cross to bear.’ We preach unavoidable human trials into being Christian suffering. How this happens is beyond me! To lose everything and give up everything are not synonymous. To the contrary, the difference between them is infinite. If I happen to lose everything, this is one thing. But if I voluntarily give up everything, choose danger and difficulties, this is something entirely different. When this happens it is impossible to avoid the trial that comes with carrying Jesus’ cross. This is what Christian suffering means, and it is a whole scale deeper than ordinary human adversity.”—Søren Kierkegaard
After almost 9 years of full-time ministry to college students and young adults, I’ve been reflecting on what the most important questions are to ask about the health of the structure of a ministry.*
By that, I simple mean what are the questions someone over a life-stage (youth, college, young adults, etc.) should be asking to evaluate whether or not the structure of a ministry is set up to flourish.
I stumbled upon this brief interview with City Church San Fran’s Fred Harrell about their use of the Lectionary.
While many in our traditional services regularly experience readings from the Lectionary, those in our contemporary service as well as most contemporary churches around they rarely if ever interact with it.
[I]n the early days of the church the use of a lectionary had a lot to do with doing things together. There was a sense that we were all formed by the same story—the same narrative—so going through it together was what Christians defaulted to doing in those early days. We don’t want to be alone in reading the Bible; we’re doing this with lots and lots of other Christians who are experiencing the same thing and on the same page
Question: What is thy only comfort in life & death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
I love this first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. I especially love how it holds the tension of two different thoughts on how Jesus “saves” us:
1. Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, 2. and delivered me from the all the power of the devil.
Seamlessly pulling together two different atonement theories—Jesus dies in our place to absorb the death we deserve (substitutionary atonement) and defeats the power of death that we may be set free (Christus Victor), Heidelberg begins by putting forth a rich view of our indebtedness to Jesus, Savior and Lord of Creation.
We must understand the depths to which Jesus has gone to set us free, and we must wrestle with the meaning of our freedom and the life it propels us towards. Without the first, we may begin to think we have some part in earning our freedom. Without the second, we may not live into the freedom that Jesus paid so dearly for.
Be comforted, in your life and death, that you have a Savior fully capable of dealing with your past, present, and future!
“Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“The Christian community is interested in spirituality because it is interested in living. We give careful attention to spirituality because we know, from long experience, how easy it is to get interested in ideas of God and projects for God and gradually lose interest in God alive, deadening our lives with the ideas and the projects. This happens a lot. Because the ideas and projects have the name of God attached to them, it is easy to assume that we are involved with God. It is the devil’s work to get us worked up thinking and acting for God and then subtly detach us from a relational obedience and adoration of God, substituting our selves, our godlike egos, in the place originally occupied by God.”—Eugene Peterson, from Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places
This is a great article about the church in America.
Fifty years ago, as these three subtle threads were being woven into the American church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., serving as a prophetic voice, said this:
If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
We are now into the second decade of the 21st century and we find ourselves still, for the most part, refusing to sacrifice what we want for what God is asking of us and his Church. Will we have the courage to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed? Will we do the things that cost us so that his Kingdom may advance?
You are the God who feeds and nourishes. You are the God who assures that we have more than enough, and we do not doubt that you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
Even in such an assurance, however, we scramble for more food. After we have filled all our baskets with manna, we seek a surplus— enough education to plan ahead, enough power to protect our supply, enough oil to assure that protection.
And in the midst of that comes your word, that we share bread and feed the hungry, even to the least and so to you. We mostly keep our bread for ourselves, our neighbors, and our friends.
It does not occur to us often, to feed our enemies, to share your bounty with those who threaten us.
We do not often remember to break vicious cycles of hostility by free bread, by free water, by free wine, by free milk. Until we remember that you are the giver of all good gifts, ours to enjoy, ours to share.
Stir us by your spirit beyond fearful accumulation toward outrageous generosity, that giving bread to others makes for peace, that giving drink to others makes for justice, that giving and sharing opens the world and assures abundance for all.
We pray this even as we ponder the gift of your Son whom we ingest as bread and wine, and tasting, find ourselves forgiven and renewed. Feed us till we want no more!
-Walter Brueggemann, from Prayers for a Privileged People
“Intentional Christian worship will always put us in the way of God’s nourishing grace through the particularly charged practices of the sacraments: the Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.”—James KA Smith, from Desiring the Kingdom
“The way of the Messiah, while difficult, is not complicated: he entrusted himself to a faithful Creator and set out on the road from Nazareth to Jerusalem where, as he well knew, violent opposition and execution awaited him. He continued to do good in the midst of enmity and suffering. He himself is the very form and content of the good. He does the good that we must do. We are called to do the good in him and through him.”—Douglas Harink, from 1 & 2 Peter
“The new natural, that which runs with the grain of the new creation and is yet as old as creation itself, is blessing.
By repaying evil and abuse with blessing we participate already in God’s economy of blessing.”—Douglas Harink, from 1st & 2nd Peter
It’s difficult to forget Christ and his cross when we proclaim his death in the breaking of bread at the climax of every week’s worship. When the Sign seals the Word, the church becomes a communion of martyrs ready to bear the cross because they have consumed the cross.
This past Sunday, I got to teach an inter generational class of about 200 people at HPPC, ranging from 5th graders through senior adults. It was a lot of fun and the opening of a 4 week series on the book of Proverbs, so I felt like I should go with Proverbs 1. Below are my main points, and I list them because I think they’re important for Christ-followers to remember as they read the book of Proverbs!
1. Proverbs are not detached pieces of advice, but they are instruction for wise living within covenant relationship to God. If we miss this, we could vastly distort the intention of the Proverbs and make them about us, not about God’s glory and will in the world.
2. The “fear of the Lord” (v.7) is essential for understanding the Proverbs and for wise living, and the fear of the Lord means to defer to God’s reign in the world and in our lives.
3. The Proverbs set before us 2 paths: wise obedience or sinful disobedience. Because we lack the fear of the Lord, we often live in disobedience even though we know what wisdom is. The Proverbs reveal that obedience is found in humble submission to the Lord, and the pride (rejection of the fear of the Lord) is the root of our disobedience.
4. In Proverbs 1 sin and wisdom can both entice us, but we are only allowed to pursue sin. We are not yet allowed to pursue wisdom. It’s only when wisdom gets a hold of us and we have the fear of the Lord that the rest of Proverbs calls us to pursue wise living (see chapter 2 and beyond). In this, we see the Gospel shining even in Proverbs 1. We cannot follow Jesus until Jesus sets us free from our sin.
“When the covenant of grace is separated from election, it ceases to be a covenant of grace and becomes a covenant of works. Election implies that God grants man freely and out of grace the salvation which man has forfeited and which he can never again achieve in his own strength. But if this salvation is not the sheer gift of grace but in some way depends upon the conduct of men, then the covenant of grace is converted to a covenant of works.”—Herman Bavinck
Before going on my first Living Water (LWI) trip three years ago, I didn’t have a clue about the process of drilling a water well, but I soon learned that it wasn’t nearly as complicated or overwhelming as I had initially thought. The drilling process is fascinating, not the least because of how much it reminds me of our spiritual lives. There’s something deep in the ground, beneath layers of obfuscation that will only be accessed through intentionality and hard work. The initial access generally requires something those “on the ground” can’t provide or afford, such as a drill. However, once that life source has been appropriately mined, it continues to satisfy through regular work - the work of seeking the water through an accessible hand pump.
God has done something for us through Jesus that we had no power to do ourselves—redeemed us for relationship with him. We respond to God’s love through the regular work of Christian disciplines and community, and he continues to nourish us.
If you thought this was going to be a pitch for joining me on a well-drilling trip to Guatemala in September (9/28 - 10/5), you’re right! But it’s far more than that. We go to drill wells to provide tangible relief in places where dirty water is literally killing people. And yet we all need the spiritual relief that Jesus provides. I pray that you experience that today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your lives.
*This article was originally in the main body of an email sent to young adults at HPPC on June 19th, 2013. For more information about our LWI (video) trip to Guatemala this fall, send me an email.
“What we are witnessing in the resurrection stories—which, obviously, are quite unlike any other stories before or since and therefore invite the skepticism they have received as much in the ancient as in the modern world—is the birth of a new creation. The power that has tyrannized the old created has been broken, defeated, overthrown. God’s kingdom is now launched, and launched in power and glory, on earth as in heaven.”—NT Wright, Simply Jesus
This is a very thought-provoking post, and I mostly agree with it. I think the question of how to affirm the value of sex without resorting to fear mongering is incredibly important.
What strikes me the most, as one with a history in psychological studies, is the conversation about permanence and purity violations. It’s fascinating how we label things and how it effects our emotions and self-perception.
I do not know Richard Beck, so this post is not an affirmation of anything and everything he teaches, but I am intrigued by this article’s ideas.