I had a good discussion yesterday with my pastor covenant group about our discernment process as a church in the wake of the Frank Schaefer trial and controversy. I know that I got a little hot-headed in the debate online so I wanted to offer more circumspect reflections. I believe that each disciple of Jesus Christ not only has the right but actually the duty to contribute to the ongoing living interpretive tradition of our faith. Some Christians think that the Bible doesn’t require any interpretation, but I contend that the way we interpret it is by living it and sharing our testimony with each other. Continue Reading
There’s one thing that makes me madder at God than anything else. It’s actually not when inexplicable tragedies happen or when people who prayed their hearts out lose their loved ones to diseases. Those things suck and are horrible. But what really threatens my faith more than anything is when well-meaning Christians who have devoted themselves to years of fasting and prayer end up making prophetic declarations that are monstrously at odds with the character of the God I have come to know. How does God allow people who have faithfully sought Him in prayer to get things so wrong? And if they aren’t getting it wrong, then why isn’t God showing me what He’s showing to them? Continue Reading
I got concern-trolled on my Jesus juke blog post yesterday by an anonymous commenter who called him/herself a “concerned parishioner.” I think the intent was to make me think it was someone from my church, but people from my church know that I solicit and actually treasure their constructive criticism. I can sometimes be a pretty sarcastic, cynical person, but this person’s sarcasm was dripping like a Niagara Falls of vinegar. And what made me sad was to think of how ineffective this “concerned” parishioner’s communication was and how foolish I must have looked when I have been crazed in a similar way at what I perceived to be the astounding arrogance of other people (whose hearts I did not know).
I’m not trying to throw a pity party, but yesterday was a tough day for me. When I arrived at the venue where I was playing, the sound guy said there was a problem and he wasn’t sure what to do because NPR was interviewing someone next door at the same time as my set so they would have to turn me way down. Then when I got up on stage, there was a problem with the sound that took fifteen minutes to resolve. Because of the delayed start, the stage manager walked around while I was in the middle of a song and told me I was done. I had already managed to mostly clear out a crowd of folk music fans with my strange, low volume
dance music mixed with uber-nerdy poetry. I had thought in my grandiose delusions that this event was going to be a catalyst for a new genre of worship music.
I knew it was coming: the Piper tweet, this time quoting Job in response to the Oklahoma tornado. As the dean of the neo-Calvinist movement, John Piper likes to push the envelope with his commentary on God’s role in natural disasters. He did it about a year ago when tornadoes hit the midwest. In 2007 after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, he wrote that he and his daughter discussed how God must have done it so the people of Minneapolis would fear Him because our sin against God is “an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge.” Piper would say that he’s just being Biblical and that it shouldn’t be surprising that speaking Biblically would make people feel uncomfortable. So how do we talk about God’s role in tragedies?
I preached this past weekend on two songs that seem to be vying for the attention of American Christians: the song of scandal that dominates our 24 hour news cycle, and the song of Pentecost through which the Holy Spirit uses God’s people to testify to His deeds of power. The reason that we can’t hear the song of Pentecost is because we’re so thoroughly immersed in the song of scandal. Think about where your mind was this past week and what you watched and shared on social media. Were you testifying to God’s deeds of power or were you sharing pictures of Umbrella-gate or another scandal? To tune into the song of Pentecost means assuming that we are surrounded by prophets and that each of us has a prophetic vocation. Listen to find out more:
Yesterday, the young clergy leadership forum heard from Bill Mefford, the GBCS point person for immigration reform and other controversial causes. Bill shared with us that he actually spent most of his career as a local pastor to people in the rural midwest and Texas who would disagree with most of the things he’s advocating now. He said the most solid foundation for being able to speak prophetic Biblical truths in your congregation is for people to know that you love them. They can’t get that from the generic benevolence of a handshake and a warm smile. They need to be pursued and valued. Continue Reading
I am attending the young clergy leadership forum (#yclf on twitter) with the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) in Washington, DC. This is the agency that lobbies the federal government on behalf of the United Methodist Church according to the agenda set forth every four years by our General Conference. I decided I would blog about my experience in a series called “Jesus inside the beltway.” The first question it seems important to ask is why they exist. Continue Reading
I’m about to leave on a youth retreat so I don’t have time for a full post on this, but Brian Zahnd’s Friday night and Sunday sermons from last weekend blew my mind. He is the pastor of non-denominational Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO and a leader in the exciting movement among evangelical churches to embrace the sacramental and spiritual practices of the ancient church. In his Friday sermon “Ring them bells,” he talks about the way that church bells used to serve as the city’s call to prayer before they became passe to churches seeking to be “relevant” and modern. The church bell is a metaphor for a public Christianity that is prayerful and prophetic rather than entrenched in worldly political power. Then in his Sunday sermon “The Mount of Beatitudes,” Zahnd talks about the Beatitudes, closing with a fascinating account of how every single beatitude is in play among those gathered around Jesus as he was being crucified. Zahnd says, “The kingdom of God will only come through little reenactments of Calvary.” I have a lot more to say but I don’t have time so go listen. Peace.
Last week, I had some very strange encounters with God that I interpreted with too much confidence too quickly, since it was the first time I had received experiences of this kind. I wrote a really long strange blog post that was initially intended to be a low-key meditation on the way that American Christians often confuse the fear of the Lord with the fear that has to do with punishment. I will be sharing bite-sized pieces from that strange outpouring in the future. I also wrote some strange, cryptic things on both facebook and twitter about Jesus’ return and things of that nature that made some people uncomfortable. One of my facebook friends wrote that I should “get the plans for my boat together” (like Noah), which was a good-natured way to help me laugh at myself and come back down to Earth. This weekend I will be preaching on how Jesus gives us a vision, using a story from Mark 8:22-26 when Jesus heals a blind man in two stages. The first time, the blind man receives partial vision; Jesus has to repeat the process for him to gain full sight. God used two scriptures yesterday to help me gain greater clarity in His vision for me: Paul’s encounter in Corinth in Acts 18 and John the Baptist’s interaction with the crowd in Luke 3. Continue Reading