Why Wait?

During Small Group this week, I had an insight into one of those old, thorny theological questions that have been buried in the back of my mind over the years.

Why didn't Jesus come and save humanity right after the Fall?  Why wait so long?  Why come so late?

I still don't have an answer to the question.  But I saw something in Scripture that might help.

In John 2, Jesus turns some water into really great wine at a wedding feast in the town of Cana.  And he waits to do this miracle until the middle of the feast, when the wine has already run out and stress levels are starting to rise.

Why didn't Jesus turn some water into wine at the beginning of the feast?

I mean, he is God, right?  He must have known that they were going to run out of wine.  I mean, he had to make another 180 gallons.  That's a huge shortfall.

If he had turned the water into wine at the beginning of the feast, everyone could have enjoyed the good wine first (and broken out the cheap stuff later), as was the custom.

Why did he wait?

Maybe if we could answer that question in John 2, we could answer the same question when it comes up in Genesis 3.

What do you think?

Welcoming Brian

My friend, Scott, was surprised to find Brian hanging out with one of our Small Groups.  Scott has over a decade of experience in InterVarsity Small Groups and he saw something at FIU that he'd never seen.

The students at FIU warmly accepted Brian into their community.  Brian provides unique insights to their study of Scripture.  He's funny.  He somehow manages to show up every week with food to share.  But Brian's not a student.

Brian is homeless.

And Brian is a part of the university.  In an urban center, the university isn't just made up of faculty and students.  Our Small Groups won't be made up solely of single, child-less people aged 18-23 enrolled full-time.

Brian is one of many guys who use the computers in the computer lab on campus.  He spends more time on campus than some of our students.  And he loves Jesus.

Should we turn him away? 

No way!  He's respectful of the student leaders, contributes helpfully and did I mention that he loves Jesus?  He's one of us.

There's a mispalacement of the "Them" and "Us" mentality that runs devastatingly through the Bible.  And the Israelites are usually the ones sitting in the "Us" seat.  But in Obadiah, the story's different.  The Edomites grabbed the "Us" seat, to horrible effect.

So much of the push in Obadiah is a rebuke to the Edomites.  They stood by and watched...no, they lent a hand as Judah was pillaged.  They treated Judah as a "Them."

But from Obadiah's perspective, Judah was an "Us."  The Edomites were descended from Esau.  The people of Judah and the Israelites were descended from Jacob.  Jacob and Esau, they were brothers.

Again, there's the temptation to jump into an Arab, Israeli conversation.  Isaac and Ishmael were both children of Abraham.

But for my purposes, I'll let the political folks work for peace in the Middle East.

I'll hear Obadiah's echo and welcome Brian.  He's one of us.

Wait, Homelessness?

I realized as I was going to bed last night that I made a big, unexplained jump in yesterday's blog.

How did I jump from talking about just war and pacifism to talking about paying attention to the homeless folks standing in the medians in South Florida?

I've been wrestling with how to apply what I've been learning in Obadiah.  People in their 20s are always up for a good conversation about pacifism and just war, but not many of us are going to work for the DoD like Chris Tutor.

Some folks apply passages like the ones I've been studying as blanket endorsements of the nation of Israel.  Application becomes being anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian and doesn't really connect with real life.

But I think there's another vein of application to passages like the one I've been looking at in Obadiah.  The people of God had undergone a huge displacement.  The Exile had huge, disasterous implications.  People lost their lives.  People lost their homes.

I'm living today in a home that was sold in foreclosure last March.  Someone lost this home.  Hopefully, they moved on and found another, maybe even nicer place to live.  But I can't help but wonder.

What should the Edomites have done in the face of the Exile?

Does homelessness connect with Exile?

Bystanders Beware

Chris and I stayed up way too late talking about pacifism and just war.  Chris has this great character trait, where he refuses to sit on theory and is always trying to drill ideas into real life. 

Chris can't just talk ethics.  He lives it out.

We love that about Chris.

I wish I was more familiar with Obadiah back when Chris and I had our series of conversations about just war and pacifism.  I'm still on the fence between pacifism and just war.  And Obadiah doesn't take me off the fence.  But it is relevant.

In Obadiah, the nation of Edom is being taken down because they stood idly by when Judah / the Israelites were being sacked.  Sure, they did more than that, but their isolationism was a big part of the problem.

There's a bury-your-head-in-the-sand element in the pacifist camp, a keep-to-yourself-and-mind-your-own-business trend. 

But God doesn't absolve bystanders of responsibility when evil happens.  We are called to step in, to do something.

Now, whether that "something" involves violence or creativity is still debatable.  (Yes, that was a pacifist barb)  Pacifism and just war are still on the table.  But seeing evil and doing nothing is off.  That's part of the message of Obadiah.

And I wonder if this doesn't extend beyond issues of war and peace.  I wonder if this doesn't apply more generally to evil in the world.

Living in South Florida, we drive past homeless folks all the time.  I've become used to staring straight ahead, avoiding eye contact.  What's happening?

What Does This Say About Us?

When reading Obadiah we sometimes bump against values we don't value. 

This happens whenever we read, especially whenever we read ancient texts.

I remember reading Thucydides and coming face to face with the idea of a "good death" or a "noble death."  Throwing life away for the sake of honor, the notion "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (sweet and proper it is to die for one's country). 

Wilfred Owen, reflecting on WWI, called this "the Old Lie."  In the shell shocked fog of the world after the Great War, dying for one's country didn't smell particularly sweet.  That value wasn't valued.

This problem happens when we read ancient texts.  CS Lewis writes about the manifestation of chronological snobbery, the idea that we in modern times have advanced in all ways beyond the ancients.

Reading Obadiah, we run into this value of retributive justice.  Punishment.  And I really don't value it.

What does it say about me?  About us?

1) We ignore sin and evil more than the ancients.  Punishment seems strange, obscene if nothing evil's been done.  We move at a pace that keeps us from noticing the evil around us.  We fill our lives with distractions to occupy our minds, to blur the storm clouds on the horizon.  We compartmentalize and tribalize so that those problems are other people's problems. 

Who needs retributive justice in the world we've created?  Not us.  We're too busy, distracted and isolated to care.  Most of the time, at least.  But we live in the post 9-11 world, when, for a moment, our lives stopped, our distractions melted away and we held hands.  In that moment, retributive justice seemed like a good thing.  A hope.  Just.  Important.  Necessary.  Do you remember that moment?

2) Our sense of agency is dramatically inflated.  We believe that we can set the world to rights without any help.  A little technological advance, coupled with the right public policy and we'll be back in Eden.  God shouldn't be stepping in.  We have jails and most of the people them deserve to be in them.  We have electric chairs and most of the people in them deserve to be in them.  We legislate and patrol and market and think we can fix it.  But we can't.  We aren't that powerful.

News of retributive justice isn't good news for the Powerful.  When the Powerful are also the Guilty, the news is very bad news (and very rarely are the Weak the Guilty).  Even when the Powerful are innocent, God's coming to set the world to rights strips them of their power.  Our agency in the world pales in comparison to God's power to bring about justice. 

3) We pass off affection for love.  I have at times felt that modern people were more loving than the ancients.  We're certainly gentler, kinder, softer.  But much of what passes for love among us is actually just affection. 

The ancient world, with it's rigid hierarchies and honor tradition, had different, better access to a super-affection understanding of love. Love can't mean mere affection if divorce means death, if marriage is arranged, if your job isn't a choice, if your children aren't planned, if you eat what you grow.
Love is not always soft, not always accompanied by happiness.  When the Beloved is injured, abused, the Lover flies to defense.  If the Beloved is killed, the Lover seeks revenge or at least justice.  We wouldn't consider the Lover a loving lover if that didn't happen. 

We value mercy and that's beautiful.  The Bible teaches us about mercy, the great mercy of Christ.  But what is mercy when it comes at the expense of justice?  If love is just affection, just good feelings and warm fuzzies, then love and justice must be mutually exclusive.  God must either be loving or just.  But if we run the other way around the circle and ask God to teach us what love is, then we might find a way of looking at love that includes justice. 

And this is what we have.  We hear it, faintly and beautifully when Carton goes to that far, far better rest than any he has ever known.  We see it, shining and dramatic when Jesus says "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And then goes to the cross.

Love involves a deep commitment to people.  If we are to take seriously God's commitment to God's people, we should expect something to happen if the outlaws burn down the house but leave him alive.  Love.  Punishment.

But doesn't God love everyone?  Doesn't God so love the world?  Yes, of course.  And with real love, not mere affection.  That's what we see at work in the Exile.  That's what we see at Golgotha.  And that's what we see in Obadiah.

God's at Work (even when it doesn't look like it)

It's easy to find yourself doubting that God's at work.

So much bad stuff happens in our world.  So much bad stuff happens to us.  And, what's more, so much of life is so blah, so unexciting.

At church this Sunday, the pastor claimed that God's work is already great work, that God doesn't do mediocre work and doesn't call us to live mediocre lives.  I know what you're thinking, very "Rah! Rah!" but not realistic.  If you've ever stuffed prayer letter envelopes, you know that God's work isn't always exciting.

For most of us, the boredom outweighs the badness.

In Obadiah, God's people were overwhelmed with the badness.  Strangers carried off their wealth.  Misfortune.  Trouble. Destruction.  Disaster.  Disaster.  Disaster.  The descriptive language in Obadiah is devastating.  If ever dark clouds gathered on the horizon, it was then.

Where was God in the midst of their disaster, disaster, disaster?  Where is God in the midst of my boredom?

Even when it doesn't look like it, the continual claim of the Bible is that God is at work, setting the world to right.  In Obadiah, God is at work, righting past wrongs.  God ensures that the deeds of the Edomites would return upon their heads.

There are a lot of things I'd like to see God do in and around my life.  Paying back those who've done me wrong isn't high on the list.  What do we do with this?

We could ignore it, move on to something more "relevant."  We could write it off as a vengeful artifact and mock it.  We could wrestle with it.

In fact, what does it say about us that this passage doesn't resonate with us?

How Much Weight Should We Put On Tradition?

As I've been reading Obadiah, I got a little curious about the author.  There isn't a lot of autobiographical material in Obadiah to tell us about the author.

The book says that this was "The" vision, not "A" vision, so this could have been Obadiah's only vision.

In reference to the vision, there could be a debate over whether or not this vision was just Obadiah's or whether it was experienced communally.  Verse 1 contains the line "We have heard a message from the Lord" rather than "I have heard a message from the Lord."

But, really, that's about it.

There are traditions in the Jewish Talmud and the Catholic church that center around Obadiah.  Some of their claims include:
- Obadiah the prophet is the same person in 1 Kings 18
- Obadiah kept company with other prophets
- Obadiah was from Edom

How much weight should we put on these traditions?

Starting Small

Start small for lasting change.

I mentioned yesterday that I noticed a non-prophet reading gap in my pattern of Bible reading.  Not a huge deal.  Easily correctable.  But illustrative.

I picked a small place to start.  Obadiah.  How bad can Obadiah be?  O, bad?  Naw.  Not any worse than my puns.

Starting small is vital to making lasting change.

What have you ever wanted to change in your life?  Did it work?

Nine times out of ten, when I've tried to make an adjustment in my life, I've tried to do too much too soon. 

I'm an impatient traveler.  On the roads that run through the dark and deep, yellowed wood, my trouble comes less from the divergence of the roads than the miles to go before I sleep.  I make promises to myself, pick destinations, but don't pay close enough attention to the road ahead, the step ahead.

I need to start small.  Do you?

Lying with Your Life

I've always been a selective reader of the Prophets.

If you asked straight out "Are the Prophets important?", I'd have said "Yes."  If you watch my Bible reading pattern, hoping to discern my lived theology, you'd see a different picture.

I hate it when gaps appear between my verbal theology and lived theology.

This happens all over the place, to all of us.  I'm not the only one who lies with my life.  We all do it, don't we?  And with things much more significant than where in the Bible we read.

I remember seeing this so clearly at Mock Convention a few years ago.  I had been asked to pray in front of what I had assumed would be the entire W&L student body (someone neglected to mention that many, if not most of them would still be asleep).

I was nervous about praying on the platform.  (There's a fine line between being a minister of the gospel and being a grinder monkey.)  For some reason, Amy couldn't be there with me, so I was flying solo.

I pushed through my nervousness, even as it threatened to become fear.  I had to.  Prayer is powerful.  God is sovereign.  These students matter to God and, whether or not they knew it, they were cracking the door open to encounter the God of the universe when they invited prayer into their convention.

I asked a friend to sit with me that morning, to ease the anxiety.  But the friend couldn't make it.  He needed to stay at home.  But he promised to pray for me.

I was frustrated.  Pray for me.  Pray for me?  Prayer was the last thing I wanted.  It felt so cheap.  I was so frustrated.

There was a gap.

In my verbal theology, prayer was meaningful. 
In my lived theology, it wasn't.

I was lying with my life.  When I realized it, something started to change.  I forgave my friend, tried to value prayer.  I churned and rumbled and haven't really solved it, but feel like I'm headed in a healthier direction.

What do you do when you catch yourself lying with your life?

The Church is the New Temple

The only good reason to make the claim that the Church is the new Temple is if that idea shows up in Scripture.

Check out this idea in these two passages of Scripture:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
- Ephesians 2
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
- 1 Peter 2
In both of the passages, the Temple metaphor connects with the idea of unity in the Church.  As the Church is pulled together from various, diverse groups of people, it becomes, in some mystical way, the new Temple.

We, together, are the Temple, the Temple that was a source of pride, that was a place to worship, that was worth protecting.

To quote Jon Acuff: "That's neon awesome."

The Church is the New Temple?

If the church building isn't the new temple, then should we put this whole Temple comparison on the shelf? 

I'm tempted to do just that.  The passage still has meaning and application, even without this type of connection.  In fact, this type of equivalence usually drive me crazy and leads to poor application.

But, in this case, it's called for.

In John 2, Jesus goes from talking about the Temple to talking about his body.  He used an awkward pun to make that transition, working off the word "egereis," which means "to raise."  To clarify the awkward pun, John inserts a comment that the Temple Jesus was talking about was actually his body.

Throughout the New Testament, the image of Christ's body is connected to the Church.  Membership in the Church...speaking about belonging in the Church as "membership" actually has it's origin in language about the body.  A body is made up of many parts, or "members."  Before anyone talked about "member of a club or organization," they talked about "members of a body." 

Normally, we wouldn't do this math.

Temple = Body
Body = Church
Temple = Church QED.

It's just as easy to show:

God = Love
Love = Blind
Ray Charles = Blind
Ray Charles = Dead
God = Dead QED.

So, why would we say that the Church is the new Temple?

The Temple is not the Church

I realize that I may have jumped without explanation to the conclusion that the Temple is not the same thing as our church buildings.  I mean, we so easily jump to the mis-applications that derive from Temple = Church Building. 

Here're three significant ways the equation collapses:

1) The Temple was a huge source of national pride

Solomon's Temple was a big deal, establishing Israel as a national power.  Ezra rebuilt the Temple during the return from the exile.  Herod built and built and built onto the Temple even during Roman occupation.

If that's not enough, look at Mark 13, where one of the disciples waxes poetic over the Temple: "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"

Sure, we have cathedrals, towering to the heavens, charting the establishment and reclamation of culture.  But rarely are they full of worshippers.  The Christian buildings that are packed to the gills tend to be cold, modern, functional.  And the building isn't central to our worship.  People, music, bread and grape juice, maybe.  But not buildings.  And certainly not A Building.

2) The Temple was considered the exclusive place to worship God

If you wanted to worship God, you had to go to the Temple.  You couldn't worship him on the bus, at home or even in Cincinatti.  You had to go to Jerusalem, to a specific building, to worship God.

Remember Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well in John 4?  "You Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."  Her verbal dodge failed (Jesus got her back on the conversational track), but the talk revealed something crucial about the Temple.

The Temple wasn't just a place to go to worship God, it was the place.

Do you believe that about your church building?  Is First Grace Community Church in the Oasis (which is, of course, a secret Baptist church) the only place to worship God?  Few of us would assert this about our church buildings.  None of us should.  Jesus' ascension and subsequent sending of the Spirit has removed that as an option.

3) The Temple was protected fiercely

Throughout the history of Israel, people fought and died to protect the Temple. 

The non-canonical books of the Maccabees record some of these struggles.  Tension.  Struggle.  Self-sacrifice.  Death.  All to protect the Temple.

One of the reasons Jesus was killed was because he talked about destroying the Temple.  Destroy this Temple...Jesus said...and I will raise it again in three days.

The Temple is not the church.  But still, in a way, the Temple is the Church.

More on that tomorrow.

What do we miss if we miss that?

How important is it that Jesus overturned the money tables in the Temple?

My tendency, and the tendency of most modern readers, leads us to run the wrong way around the Circle.

The Temple...okay...what's the Temple?  Building.  Walls.  People go there to worship God.  It's central to the life and rhythms of God's people.

What do we have that's like that?

Well...we have church buildings (some of us, at least).

So, we run around the Circle.  No selling of stuff in the Temple.  No selling of stuff in the church.  We got the moral, so we exit the story.  Right?

The Circle fails us when we run the wrong way around it.  It helps us miss the point.  This is a big problem is theology.

Imagine it this way:  Temple.  Church.  They sacrificed animals in the Temple.  Bring your pets to St. Francis of Assisi Church on 8th St. this Sunday!

We all see the problem with that.  How would your community react if your pastor or priest started killing cats on Sunday morning?

Maybe we'd have a rational conversation about the purpose of sacrifice in the Temple and viewing that in the larger gospel conversation.  We'd definitely have a gut-level reaction.  This is wrong!

It's easy to catch running the wrong way around the Circle when kittens are getting slaughtered.  It's a lot harder in situations like this one.

The church building is not the Temple.

What do we miss if we miss that?

Pragmatism and Church Sales

I'm a pretty pragmatic guy. I'm strategic. I think in steps, capacity, growth.

Pragmatism came up during our conversation on campus yesterday.

A lot of the things that are sold in churches are sold for pragmatic reasons.  We sell Bibles at church because they're too expensive to give away for free.  We sell CDs at church because we want to make it convenient for people to grow in their faith.  We sell books at church because Christian bookstores are closed on Sunday.

I wonder if there was a pragmatic goal for the Temple-turned-marketplace in John 2.  Maybe the cattle-sellers wanted to make it convenient for worshippers.  Maybe the sheep-sellers were selling at cost.  Maybe the dove-sellers were only selling because the Temple bookstore was closed on Sundays.

They were providing a needed service.  There was a demand for the products and services they sold.

It's hard for me back away from pragmatism.  Unconsciously, I think convenience, immediacy and strategy cannot be questioned. 

Can the market be questioned? 
Should the market be overturned?

Market Church

We had a great conversation about the second half of John 2 today, as the students at FIU-Biscayne Bay slowly work their way through the Gospel of John.

In John 2, Jesus keeps the wine flowing at a wedding in Cana, then heads to Jerusalem to destroy the temple-market.  The scenes carry a great deal of drama.  Joy. Violence.  Confusion.

We locked in on this phrase during our conversation: "How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

A lot of us attend worship in places that also sell stuff.  Bibles.  Sermon tapes.  CDs.  Books.

If Jesus came to our churches, would he bring his whip?

The answer, a you would probably expect, gets complicated.  Let's unwrap it over the next couple of days.

Which Desecration Catches Your Attention?

I know a woman who sliced up her Bible to make a point, a powerful one.

Kelly read through the entire Bible and cut out every passage that talked about social justice and God's concern for the poor.  As she flipped through the pages and showed us the huge gaps, some people filled with outrage.

How dare she cut up the Bible?
Doesn't she respect God's Word?

Respect for God's Word is a slippery concept.

There are lots of ways to disrespect God's Word.  Cutting it up may be one of them.  Ignoring it would be another. 

Kelly cut the Bible up to keep us from ignoring it.  A small desecration to prevent a big one.

If you were in the room, which desecration would you react to?  Would you be more upset by the slicing or the ignoring?

Notes from Myron's talk, Saturday

Deuteronomy 4:1-14

God is reminding them

God's Word flourishes when God's people counter the culture with God's Word

We prefer relevance to culture rather than relavance to God

You don't have to be anti-cultural to be counter-cultural

God's Word affirms, critiques and transforms culture

God is concerned about the nations.  We can live as God's people in any culture.  By being relevant to God, you will be relevant to the culture.

God's Word flourishes when God's people pass on the Word to future generations

Communal faithfulness must be taught and modeled

We need to be cultivating a bigger vision

Communal faithfulness looks beyond current time

God's Word flourishes when God's people tell a different story from the surrounding culture

God must be worshipped exclusively.  This is a different story from the one told in the ancient (and modern) world.  Worship of God alone contrasts with the strategy that says "Worship whichever god will get you what you want."

Some of our deities are named and some aren't (stock market for ex.)

To be a sinner is to try to be God but, in the process, to become less than human

Notes from Myron's talk, Friday

James 1:16-27

Jesus forces us to re-evaluate the Old Testament

God's Word is God's agent for us.  He works through the Word for our good.

God's Word is a mid-wife for new creation (v. 13-18)

God is Father, the Father of lights.  James is reversing the creation imagery from Genesis.  In Genesis, humans are created last.  In Christ, God creates a new humanity.  We are a firstfruits for God's new creation.

Firstfruits: this is how the whole crop is going to turn out

Our agenda submits to God's agenda

God's Word is a seed for transformation (v. 19-21)

Because God is good, everything he creates will be good.  But we're not like that.

Technology allows us to react instantly with anger.

Get rid of moral filth to make room for God's Word.

Seeds are intended to take root and bear fruit.  Roots keep going deeper.  We cultivate the soil of our hearts so the roots can grow deeper.  Nonsense can choke the Word.  God's Word is 100% lethal to foolishness.

God's Word is a mirror for reality (v. 22-27)

Reflects reality as God knows it.

Interprets, critiques, transforms.

When you look into the Word, the Word looks into you.

Personal doesn't mean private.

Let his Word be the mirror that interprets reality for me.

Actually read the Bible: big chunks, little chunks.  Ask hard questions of Scripture, work hard at it.

Deception and forgetfulness typify us if we read and don't do.  We might as well not read if we read and don't do.  We have to both listen and do.  Don't listen and not do.  Don't do without listening.  Hearing entails obeying.

Connecting...the "and" in "Yes, and"

In February, I discovered that I had a favorite word.

Lots of people have favorite words, words they like to say.  Doppleganger.  Cellar door. Those sorts of favorite words.

Mine is unconscious, apparently.

Some friends wagered how many words I'd say before I said the word "connect."  I walked into the room and they got me to say it in 5 words.

Connecting is a huge part of what we do in Christian ministry.

We connect with people.
We connect with God.

We connect our stories to other stories.
People's stories.
God's story.

We connect people to each other.
We connect people to God.
Or try to.

Connecting is a challenge.
An art.

Non sequitur ministry isn't what we're looking for.

In our distant and drifting culture, in our hyper-caffeinated ADHD lives, connection is rare.  Stories are constantly starting and stopping and breaking for commercial interruption (www.intervarsity.org/donate). 

A minister of the gospel who can both receive and connect is a real gift. 

How does your life connect to the larger story?
What connections do you make with what you receive?

Receiving...the "Yes" in "Yes, and"

Who do we receive from in ministry?

The people we serve

Whether they're heckling or encouraging us, we need to receive from the people we serve.  We can't get so caught up in giving that we don't receive.

Receiving forces us to treat our people as people (rather than objects).  They aren't just filling pew-space.  They aren't anonymous voices filling in the space behind our music.  We need to recognize faces, to learn names.  And to receive.

What have your people given you lately?  If you can't answer this, you're in trouble.

The people who came before us

When Paul talks about his ministry, sometimes it doesn't sound like it was just his ministry. Sometimes it sounds like he is passing along what he received from other people.

And that's his encouragement to Timothy. "Pass along what you received." This assumes that you're receiving.
Who are you receiving from that's older than you?
Who are you receiving from that's already dead?

Fellow ministers

We should support each other, especially if we have the same goals. Pray for each other, not on each other.

Our competitive orientation robs us of a tremendous source of encouragement and support. Who understands what we do better than the people we usually compete with us?

When I think about the fellow "vocational ministers" in Lexington who I received from (Jim, Hunter, Brad, Terry, David, Mike, Michael, Jon, and Steve), I'm so grateful. What would life have looked like if I had refused to say "Yes," to receive from these folks?

Who has God sent alongside you?

Jesus and his Spirit

This is the obvious answer to the question.  We receive our ministry from Jesus.  It's a gift.  We aren't in ministry because we are better than other people, but because we've been called by God.

We need to be constantly receiving from Jesus if we're to have anything valuable to give to the people we're called to love.  Not receiving and leaving.  But constantly receiving.  This is what Bruce Wilkinson calls "ministering out of the overflow."

What does receiving from Jesus look like?


Sure, there are dangers to receiving unthinkingly, without discernment.  But "Yes, and" provides us with tremendous opportunities.  What do you need to say "Yes" to?

Heckled at Large Group

I had the chance to get heckled at Large Group this week.

Speaking on Jonah 4 yet again, I said "Now, most of you probably don't have anyone you really want to see killed."  But David NoShoes has a vendetta against a boxer turned entrepreneur/endorser and yelled out "George Foreman."

So I did what any preacher would do, I immediately said "Yes, and" and, without a lot of thought threw back "His grills are impossible to clean" and then went on with my sermon. 

Actually, is that really what "any preacher" would do?  Is that what your preacher would do?  Is that what you would do?

The opportunity to use the "yes, and" technique from improv and comedic writing comes up all the time in ministry, even if you aren't being heckled.

So much of our frustration in ministry, whether we're Campus Staff or Small Group Leaders, stems from our inability to play the "Yes, and" Game.

The "Yes, and" Game is all about Receiving and Connecting.  Tomorrow, I'll write about Receiving.  Thursday, Connecting.  Then, I'll be blogging from Sonburst.

Two Theological Implications

"How is it just for God to punish Jesus for our sins?"

When this question came out during our session at FIU-S, I felt the temptation to back-pedal.  People throw out answers to this question all the time...

"Jesus is God, so it's God punishing himself"
"God defines justice, so if he does it, it must be just"
"Our sense of justice is off due to our fallen state"
"So you do believe in God and Jesus. Gotcha"
"Free will?"

I always like to throw the "Free will" answer out with a question mark.  It's such a decisive answer.  I mean, we pin everything on free will.

But I was talking about Atonement and the theology of our union to Christ, so I wandered into a better answer.

If we are truly united to Christ, God doesn't just punish Christ.  He also punishes us in Christ.  Just as we are glorified in Christ, so we suffer in him.  And so God is just.

Union always means a sharing of joy and sorrow.  And punishment and justice rarely impact a single person.  When a husband is dragged off to jail, the wife suffers as well.  The punishment that would have crushed us doesn't, because the one we are united to can stand up under it. 

There's a great illustration from Charles Spurgeon.  It goes something like this:
If men were trying to drown me, they could not drown my foot as long as I had my head above water; and as long as our Head is above water, up yonder in the eternal sunshine, the least limb of his body can never be destroyed. He that believeth in Jesus is united to him, and he must live because Jesus lives.

Justice and perseverance.  We have a just God who sees to it that we make it all the way through to the end.  That's the God we see when we look at the Atonement through the lens of Union.

What a God!

Who Chooses the Questions?



So what?

The Bible often answers the W questions without answering the H question.  In fact, the Bible often jumps over the How's to the So What's.

A lot of our errors in theology come when we press the How's and ignore the So What's. 

Think about Creation.  The Bible tells us that God created the Earth and everything in it and then jumps to So What's.  God gets to make the rules, God loves his world and the people in it, God is deeply involved. 

But we get stuck on the How's.  Was it 6 days or billions of years?  Was there a canopy of ice?  Was the moon originally made of cheese?  Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?  What kind of fruit was it in the garden?  Actually, it was bananas...very a-peeling.  Even though none of those questions contain the H-word, they're all How-questions.

Don't miss the So What digging for the How, especially if God's clearly given us the So What.

This is one of my big take-aways for my study on the Atonement.  I don't know How exactly we're united for Christ, but I've got a lot of So What's.  Whatever How's I come up with have to be consistent with the So What's I'm given.

What How's drive you crazy?
What So What's do you see people ignoring?

Two Ethical Implications

If we are really united to Christ, it should change the way we live our lives.

Think about sin and the pursuit of sanctification

If we are really united to Christ, our sin becomes Christ's sin.  We can't leave him behind to go off into our sin.  We can't turn our Christianity on and off.

When we cheat, Christ cheats with us.
When we lie, Christ lies with us.
When we step over or on the poor...Christ is right there with us.

Our union to Christ provides the foundation for our pursuit of a holy life.  We shouldn't lead good lives because we owe God something.  We shouldn't even lead good lives because we love Jesus.  We strive to live good lives because we're united to Jesus.

Sin also impacts the community, under this framework.  If I'm united to Christ and you're united to Christ, my sin impacts you, through Christ.  Sin is no longer private.  Sin is no longer just mine.

But this also means that my growth and selflessness impacts the community.  A small change in my life toward the better, even if no one around me notices, matters because I'm connected to the community through Christ.

Think about our call to mission and service

Christ cares about the weak and the broken.  He loves the defenseless and the downtrodden.  He carries what the Catholics call a "preferential option" for the poor.

Our union to Christ means that we are dragged with him into his activity.  If Christ is at work in the world today, then we must be also.  We can't hide in cathedrals, scurry behind pews and throw money at the poor.  Christ our Saviour is out among them.  And we must do likewise.

Evangelism, justice work, service, missions, engaging with the world...all of these exterior things are non-optional.  If God is truly at work in the world and we are truly united to him through Christ, then we must join him in his work.

Apart from the theology of union, the call to engage in mission and service feels like employment.  We do it because we have to, to pay the bills, to put food on the table.  Lots of Christians treat these activities this way.  Burdensome.  But with the theology of union, there's a different spin on it, a more natural adjustment, like the way you adjust your stride and rhythm in a three-legged race or when riding a tandem bike.

Perhaps God could have saved us without uniting us to Christ.  But what kind of salvation would that be?  We would be debtors still, worse, slaves. 

No, union is necessary if we are to be loved.  And we are, very much, loved.