Monday, July 26, 2010

Y'all Be Holy

This week Faith Community began a series of explorations of 1 Peter 1.15-16, "15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"

We discovered "holy" means 1. set apart, 2. morally pure and 3. shining (rarely.) Holy can be recognized by distinctives. Hebrews were marked as God's distinct people by circumcision, Kosher rules and Sabbath keeping. No matter where in time or space they were, they were recognizable. Numbers 6 describes the Nazarite -- a Hebrew set apart from even other Hebrews and recognizable because they would not consume grape products or come in contact with dead bodies. To be holy (set apart) is recognizable.

Holy also means morally pure. Holy desire, holy love all are expressed in purity, undiluted or without other mixed attributes.

But our biggest discovery was that Peter's call was to the church, not the individual. Every "you" in verses 13-23 is plural. In West Virginia we would say, "Y'all be holy..." God calls the body to be holy. This holiness expresses itself in the life and interactions of the group of believers. All the statements and injunctions are for the group, not the individual.

Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God. We are being built TOGETHER into the dwelling place of God [collectively.]

This emphasis differs greatly from the personal piety paradigm preached in my childhood. Everything was about the individual and his/her separation from the world, the flesh and the devil. Individuals were called to be holy. We needed to be distinct in our actions, attitudes, adornments and amusements.

So how does a group express holiness? How does the group reflect the holiness of our God? Such an understanding of communal holiness brings freedom and constraint at the same time. Freedom from the bondage of legalistic, externalism imposed on the individual. Constraint to live out what it might mean to reflect a holy God through set apart community.

The first community called to be holy as God was holy consisted of the children of Abraham. The circumcision marked a man for life as one of the set apart people. Paul says, we need to have a circumcision of our hearts. The second marker was the Kosher law. Lastly was Sabbath-keeping.

In this pericope Peter connects holiness or purification with love (verse 22.) We will unpack that verse in a later post. But we can say now that love is the distinguishing mark of the New Testament community. Jesus himself declared, "By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13.35.) He said we could reflect the nature of our Heavenly Father in that we can "be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" in a discussion of how God loves everyone, even those who count themselves His enemy. (Matthew 5.48.)

Love can only be developed in community. That is why the hermit holiness movement transformed into the monastic holiness movement. You need people to interact with in order to love. Love means nothing in the vacuum of solitude. God in His original design of humanity reminds us, "it is not good for man to be alone."

So the command to be holy would be meaningless to an individual. Love requires community to be expressed, exercised and expanded.

How sad that today the message of the Gospel, the very nature of our Lord is discredited by the unloving relations of the community of faith. Presbyterians and Wesleyans argue the extent of the atonement. Catholics and Baptists fight over the timing and mode of baptism. Division rather than unifying love marks Christendom. Even in local congregations, hostility, gossip, slander, distrust and brokenness mark the gather of the people of God.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday 2010

Trinity Sunday marks a shift of emphasis in the Christian calendar. Advent through Pentecost traces the life of Jesus. Today begins a season of reflecting on the teaching of Jesus and the Church. One foundational teaching of the once-for-all-times-delivered-to the-saints Faith is the Trinity -- One God in three distinct, co-eternal and co-existent Persons.

Trinity is not an explicit teaching of Scripture. No one verse clearly states, "There is ONE God that exists as THREE distinct, co-equal, co-existent Persons: Father, Son and Spirit." The Church, however, formulated such clear statements as the Apostles', Nicean and Athanasian Creeds to describe the God of the Bible. The Church reflected on God's clear revelation and many passages can only be understood by the Trinity.

Trinity is hinted at from the beginning of God's self-revelation. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. (Genesis 1.26)

But Trinity becomes clear only with the Christ event. The classic passage found in the Gospels is the baptism of Jesus (God the Son.) Luke 3.21-22 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

Here in one moment and one place we see the Holy Spirit descending onto Jesus (the Son) and the Father declaring, "This is my Son..."

At the end of His earthly ministry Jesus commands that while we are going, discipling, we baptize "them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28.19.)

One suggested reading for this year's Trinity Sunday is Romans 5.1-11. In it we see the Trinity intertwined in the discussion of the resultant benefits of being justified by faith. Each of the Three Persons are working as One to bring joy to the believer.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen years ago today, I started my day standing on a wooden folding chair hanging clear Christmas lights on a tent pole with one hand and eating a Junior's cream-filled powdered donut with the other.

This morning I started my day taking out garbage and finishing some dishes I left from last night's supper.

And in between I have had the best time of my life.

You see, May 28 is the day my love became my wife. We were so young and idealistic. We were so poor. We were so in love. We decorated the church ourselves, planned the reception and I even wrote the service/sermon.

I still get weepy when I hear "How beautiful the radiant bride..." She looked beautiful -- take my breathe away beautiful. I was so nervous I could not look her in the eye. Until we laughed hysterically when the used white unity candle would not light for several long seconds.

But as wonderful as that May 28th was, this one is even sweeter. Lisa is even more beautiful today, our bond is even more strong, our love is even deeper. We have shared -- sometimes enjoying, sometimes enduring -- life together.

I so understand the sacramental view my RC family has on marriage. Even from my Protestant perspective, I can say it is a means of grace. It is the chief way God has matured my faith and improved my behavior.

She still takes my breathe walking into my view. She still is the focal point of my passion. My greatest accolade is her smiling approval. She still completes me. My greatest pleasure is her embrace. My greatest goal is to be the man she deserves.

Sweet sixteen, Lisa! I love you more!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ascension -- in the Heavenly Realms

Last Thursday marked the anniversary of the ascension of Jesus Christ back into heaven as His earthly ministry was completed. What began in Bethlehem culminated in Galilee. His death and resurrection brought salvation to light for all humanity. Having shown Himself to His followers in various numbers and places over 40 days, He was taken up into the clouds and returned to heaven. That is where He had been since before creation and will be at the ending of time.

Sunday we observed this special day with a sermon: "In the Heavenly Realms." Paul in Ephesians 1 states that God "raised him from the dead and seated him at the right the heavenly realms." This exultation is the boomerang effect of his condensation and humiliation (Philippians.)

Since Paul uses this phrase "in the heavenly realms" here and 4 other places in Ephesians we have a 5 point outline of the real-world, real-time effects of this historic event. Because Christ returned to the Heavenly Realms at the ascension we are BLESSED (1.3), EMPOWERED (1.20), MADE ALIVE (2.6), GRANTED ACCESS (3.10) and PROTECTED (6.12).

Each "in the heavenly realms" could be developed into a sermon of its own, but we glanced at each Sunday. The objective was encouragement and a change in our thinking. These five things are true of us regardless of the circumstances around us. They are secure with Jesus in heaven beyond the corrupting influence of earth. Our living would be different if we defined ourselves by these 5 characteristics -- if Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3.1-3).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fruit in the Harvest

We are seeing fruit from our patient planting, watering and tending here at Faith Community. Among the new life is a revamped worship team. Tim now is the worship planner/leader. Phil stepped up a month ago and now is setting down our beat on the drums. Terry has been freed up by that to sing more lead and play his guitar every song. I am settling into the role of bass-master.

Secondly, Michael has agreed to be our delegate to Power/Conference. This is also a breathe of fresh air in that we received 4 new covenant members this year and our leadership base is growing. I'm sure more developments of these up and coming leaders will deepen our impact and broaden our scope of ministry.

Folks are stepping up to help with yard work, janitorial services and general care for our meeting place. They are taking ownership in "their" church home. It is encouraging to see the served transition into the servants!

Lastly, our faithful few are graciously stepping aside so there is room for folks to fit. I cannot begin to thank these tireless heros for such sacrificial service. Yet I am even more thankful for their generous spirit and encouragement to plug new servants into the work. Not every place would the veterans be so willing and helpful in releasing new folks into their "old jobs."

Faithfulness and fruitfulness are both marks of success in the kingdom. They are the two sides to the ministry coin. Thank God that we are currently experiencing both!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pagan Christianity? -- Part 2

I do agree with the following assertions made by Pagan Christianity. 1. Church NEVER meant building in the New Testament. It always referred to a people. The authors do not show the "pagan" roots of ekklesia, though. It originated in the Greek calling of an assembly of citizens. Why did they leave this pagan connection out? Perhaps it would mean their home assemblies had borrowed something from paganism, too? Hmm....

The church was not then or is now a reference to buildings. It is the called out gathering of believers. There is too much attachment and expense used on buildings. I wish all buildings of worship were multipurpose so ministry could happen all week long. You know community gatherings, support groups, meals, benevolence, job training, afterschool tutoring, and the like. Our communities need so much more than just a once-a-week-song-and-speech gathering!

2. Sunday best is often prideful and discriminatory. I as a pastor of an inner-city mission seldom wear a tie. Our gatherings are literally "come-as-you-are-and-discover-who-you-were-made-to-be events. Over 16 years of service as a pastor I have encountered many who are reluctant to come because they don't have the "right" cloths.

3. The chief reason the New Testament gave was assisting others in need, not as an act of worship. The pastor that deals with giving/stewardship in terms of operations and staffing has mixed motives and conflict of interest issues. How many more could be served, evangelized and helped if these funds were directed away from staffing and electric bills for a worship center used only 3 times a week? I think we should support our teacher/pastor. There is direct teaching in the NT for this. I just wish it was not the biggest line item in the ministry budget.

more to come...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pagan Christianity -- Book Review

Lisa and I try to stay current with issues and books and thoughts in the world and Christendom. I recently had someone mention Pagan Christianity to me as something of controversy. My loving wife bought it for me Saturday. I have read half of it as of this writing.

This book supposes that most if not all of modern Christianity is based solely on ancient Greek and Roman paganism. Buildings, worship, ministry and so on are all warpings of the prototype church of the apostles. The authors list and footnote many correlations with the "Ah-ha!" of a film noir sluth. The "revelations" should shake the faith and practice of every person who claims to be a Christian.

My first observation is simple. These are not "Ah-Ha!" revelations. ANYONE who has studied church history is conversant with all these connections. The change in the church in the 300's AD when the faith came out of the forced hiding of an illegal group to a legitimate one was radical and tremendous. The influence of thought and practice has always influenced the way persons act and react regardless of group affiliation. No shockers are to be found in this book. The facts are not in dispute. I do however dispute the authors conclusions based on these historic facts.

Second, it is a logical fallacy to suggest that borrowing or even being influenced by Greek/Roman pagan practice means the church today is pagan. This is analogous to saying that since the Irish eat potatoes (produce borrowed from Native North Americans) Irish culture has been retrofitted to Native American culture. Or that since the Italians use noodles (brought back from China by Marco Polo) Italian cuisine and Chinese cooking taste the same.

There are passages of the Bible that cite pagan poetry (Acts 17), pagan mythological imagery like God splitting the heads of Leviathan (Psalms, Job, Isaiah) and this simply shows the writers were aware of the world around them and not that they believed in polytheism.

Third, the underlying premise of this book is the superiority of the "house church" and its promotion. Both authors attend this type of church and are attempting to create a historic justification for it. They are just as guilty as "pagan" Christianity in reading their philosophy back into the Sacred Text. The descriptions of worship do not proscribe a "house church" practice/form/gathering flow any more than they proscribe the current/ancient liturgy.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Today is Pentecost, the birthday of THE Church. At Faith Community church, we sought a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our community and our worship. God did not disappoint. Our Teaching Time focused on the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19.1-7 (NIV)
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.
Luke 3.1-3, 15-17
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar...the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

The 12 men Paul encountered were Christ-followers. But in the initial years of the Way, the story of Jesus was only transmitted by word-of-mouth. These had only a partial narrative. They knew only of John's baptism of repentance. Paul fills in the gaps in their Gospel by expanding John's teaching of Jesus' baptism -- with the Spirit and fire!

Many today are familiar with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This emphasis on repentance and forgiveness positions us for God's grace distributed as He will and when. The turning away from wrong and seeking forgiveness is a vital first step. It is the end of an ineffective life. But there is more.

We can fall into a cycle of forgiveness and failure (not unlike the book of Judges) if we live only with this understanding of baptism. Much like treating the symptoms of an illness, this has affect. But it is not a path to wholeness.

The baptism of Christ-followers produces something even more amazing than forgiveness. (Just typing that statement causes me to pause. Forgiveness is ABSOLUTELY amazing and wonderful. It is not diminished by what I am about to say.) The baptism with the Holy Spirit (and fire) is likened to threshing, winnowing and gathering wheat.

Threshing breaks up the whole wheat plant. It disconnects the wheat kernel from the stems and leaves. Winnowing throws the broken wheat into the air where natural or man-made breeze carries off the chaff (unusable stems and leaves) allowing the kernels to be gathered.

The baptism of believers in Jesus Christ is a baptism that deals with the causes of sin as well as the symptoms. The Holy Spirit removes what is unusable and concentrates what is usable. Victory, not defeat, becomes the norm. Failure is not impossible, but it is isolated. Wholeness comes. It is a beginning of a useful life.

So what baptism did you receive?

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Life is unreLENTing. The pace never stops. It seldom even slows. It's alot like whitewater rafting. You can't just sit in the boat of your existence. You have to actively participate or you crash into rocks or get flooded or flipped. You cannot be a passenger, you're part of the crew.

I've been rowing so furiously lately, I haven't taken the time to blog. And I am diminished by the lack of reflection.

So for my sake more than yours, I made myself sit down today and practice the discipline of reflection and writing.

It is Lent, the season of reflection and repentance. I need both. I have been short with my wife and children. I have been too demanding of my students. I have let the big-picture focus dim.

kyrie, eleison. xpiste, eleison.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Grant Your distant follower, Your delinquent servant, grace to quicken my obedience and shorten the distance of my Christ-following.