Archives For Church history

On March 4, 2014

Ash Wednesday: Love Weeps

“I went back to church thinking it would be like an epidural, taking the pain away. But I realized that church is more like a midwife, standing next to me saying push…it’s supposed to hurt a little bit.” -Brene Brown

“Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken Hallelujah” -Leonard Cohen

Man of Sorrows Stained Glass

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, and I know for some of the readers of this blog, this may sound like a day that is just for Catholics.

But Ash Wednesday was going on long before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed  for over a thousand years, where we remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return.

It is profoundly ancient, biblical, and Christ-like.

Man of Sorrows

If you were just to pick up one of the Gospels and read it for the first time, one the of the more interesting things about that would stand out to you was how much Jesus talks about death, in particular how much he talks about his own death, what He thinks it will accomplish, and how intentional He was about not shying away from it.

And then you would probably notice that Jesus cried a lot.

Which is not something most of us are good at.

In Tim Keller’s recent book, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering” he talks about how uncomfortable most Western people are with suffering.  At one point in his book he referred to an interview the BBC had with Robert Spitzer a few years ago. Spitzer was one of the main psychologists who worked on classifying all the various mental illness and how they should be treated.

25 years later, Spitzer admitted that, in hindsight, he believed they had wrongly labeled many normal human experiences of grief, sorrow, and anxiety as mental disorders. When the interviewer asked: “So you have effectively medicalized much ordinary human sadness?” Spitzer said, “Yes, I think so, to some extent…”

In other words, what used to be just the natural response to the valleys of life has now become a disorder. We used to cry and now there’s a pill for that.*

It seems like our world has two different options for suffering, either to medicate it or to marginalize it.

And that’s all well and good, unless you are a Jesus follower. Because Jesus dealt with death and suffering much differently than that. Jesus, the Resurrection and the life, wept when he saw a friend die, a friend who he was about to raise from the dead! He wept over Jerusalem, even though He knew there would one day be a New Jerusalem.

Blood on the Floor

So this video is from Brene Brown (famous for her TED talk on vulnerability). In a world where everyone seems to be walking away from church, Brown a secular sociologist talks about her journey back toward faith.

But why she came back may surprise you. She says that she had always thought church was a way of avoiding suffering, but as she reentered the Christian faith she was surprised to find Jesus weeping.

When Brene Brown found herself back at church she said she knew that God was love, but she discovered that it wasn’t just that God is love, but that God defines love as well.  In reality, love is complicated and difficult and sacrificial. In reality, love bleeds, and love weeps.

In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. Like our expectations of how life should turn out, or how others should have treated us.

If we got to define love it would be all about puppies and unicorns, but in reality love is complicated and difficult and sacrificial. At one point in the video Brown talks about something her new minister said that I think is fascinating. He  said, “In faith communities where forgiveness is easy and love is easy, there’s not enough blood on the floor to make sense of it.”

What an interesting way to say that.

You know, unlike other Greek heroes, or even Jewish ones, Jesus doesn’t die like some stoic hero.Unlike Bruce Willis in Armageddon or George Clooney in Gravity (I’m realizing I watch too much sci-fi as I type this) Jesus weeps, a lot. He doesn’t brave it out, or just walk it off. He cries so hard he sweats blood.

In fact, this is the one thing that sets Jesus apart about how He died.

Because Love bleeds.

Now, if you know me, you know that I am very hopeful, I’m tired of the cynicism that pervades my generation, but this isn’t cynicism. This is the other side of hope. Death isn’t right, and there will be a day when death pays back what it owes.

But that day is not today.

I like the way one Lutheran Youth Minister says this:

It appears the world has little time for the church, not because we are broken people, people seeking to be honest about our loss and yearning. The world has little time for the church because it sees it as a very dishonest place–a place where people like Ted Haggard rail against others as immoral to hide the deep (sinful or not) yearnings that live inside of them, a place where people do not see their duplicity, where people hide from reality in religion.

In other words, if the world is going to believe the Church’s Good news, they have to see us be honest about the bad news too.

Without exception in the ancient world, all the heroes faced their final hours calmly removed and dispassionate. The Jewish heroes are hot-blooded and angry and fearless, but Jesus is nothing like that. Because Jesus doesn’t want to die. He thinks that this life matters, that this world matters, and anything not in tune with God’s dream for the world is worth weeping and bleeding for.

All is not as it should be, and there aren’t enough pills in the world to make it go away, nor can you just stuff it down deep enough to ignore forever.

This is the Wisdom of Ash Wednesday. Christians for over a thousand years have recognized that we need a season to remind ourselves of the one thing we most want to ignore.

We will die.

Suffering comes to everyone, but God suffers with us.

For God so loved this world, and His Love weeps.

 *This is not to dismiss the many psychological benefits and valid causes for medication like depression.

On July 24, 2013

Sacred: Only the Saved

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“Receive what you already are.”-St. Augustine presiding over Communion

So every July the Shepherds at Highland give me a month to get away and study and plan and pray for the coming year. It’s always a great gift, but it makes me miss Highland and the regular routine. So while I won’t be blogging as regularly for this month, I want to try and stay connected with what is going on at Highland.

This past Sunday, Jeff Childers preached during our Summer Series Sacred, by talking about Communion. He did a great job, and you can hear it here, but you should know, this is not a message for the faint of heart. But then again, neither is communion.

Did you know that back in the 4th century, after Constantine had converted the Roman Empire, the church had a very difficult time figuring out who they should let convert to Christianity? They had a legitimate problem. Now people wanted to belong to the church because it was the socially acceptable thing to do, Jesus was cool, and cross jewelry was just around the corner.

So now the church had a problem…how could they make sure that someone would take following Jesus seriously?

The Road to Communion

So the church developed a plan, that began with something called catechumenate, which was basically three years of hearing the “word of the Lord” and then the candidates who had done well with that, were taken on to the next round where they had their lifestyles examined and went through “daily exorcisms.”

Because let’s be honest, once a week just isn’t enough.

And then, if you went through that round successfully, then they would let you get baptized and take communion. Meaning that in the 4th century it was slightly easier to become the next American Idol than it was to convert.

Now chances are, we hear that and we think how primitive, and exclusive.

But then we get upset when we hear about that pastor having the affair, or the minister stealing or embezelling money. It’s all so cliche, which is a fancy word that means it happens so much we are tired of hearing about it.

But the sad truth is that Christians in America are very accepting and inclusive, but we aren’t that different.

A Different Kind of Discipleship

I read last year that in China, when someone becomes a Jesus follower, they are asked 7 questions:

  1. Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
  2. Are you willing to lose your job?
  3. Are you willing to go to your village, to those who persecute you, forgive them and share the love of Christ with them?
  4. Are you willing to give an offering to the LORD?
  5. Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny Jesus?
  6. Are you willing to go to prison?
  7. Are you willing to die for Jesus?

Now that’s a welcoming packet.

The churches that I’ve worked at, make following Jesus as easy and non-threatening as possible. And rightfully so, but never forget that the questions that Chinese Christians are asking now, are the kinds of questions that Christians have been asking for thousands of years. It’s not enough to just have a dynamic student ministry and great programming and the right facilities. When the Church gathers it is to make us into different kinds of people.

The ancient view of communion, was that through this moment God gives Himself to His people.

And in order to do that, for thousands of years, Christians have excluded those who weren’t ready to make that kind of sacrifice.

There’s lots of ways to be ugly about excluding people, in fact, I think most of us have experienced both sides of this. But the question isn’t whether or not your group excludes, every group does!

And if you doubt that, just find out how your group responds to someone who is exclusive.

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“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart

I’ll get back to this video.

For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.

And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.

And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.

I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.

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On October 27, 2009

Wheel of Fortune

There is a dangerous theology that is quite popular right now. It basically says that if you give to God than God will give more back to you. This way of thinking about God can reduce him into that cosmic E-trade in the sky. This theology tends to be preached by people who are asking you to give to their particular ministry/church/program so that you can be rewarded by God.

This idea has been around since Job’s friend. It’s called the Health and Wealth Gospel, and it couldn’t be more dangerous.

But the reason it is dangerous is because is partially true.

Before you start to think that I am drinking the Olsteen Kool-aid let me clarify what I mean by that.

Leslie and I just got back from a 3 day conference called Generous Giving. It was my third conference to be at within 14 days (I’m conferenced out) but I am so glad that I went. We got to hang out with Ruth Haley Barton, Chip Ingram and Fernando Ortega. We listened to Barton talk about generosity as a spiritual discipline that God uses to instill faith and deep joy in Jesus-followers, or Ingram talk about generosity as a first step toward incarnational living.

But the best part of all was the testimonies of the people doing it. One after another we heard from people who had given sacrificially. Like this one guy who had given over $100,000,000 in his life. He could have lived in a palace, but he chose to live off a very modest income to give to people who didn’t have as much.

We heard from person after person who had given sacrificially and the common denominator was a deep joy.

And here’s where the Health and Wealth gospel misses out.

See the partial truth of this preaching is that God does want us to give generously. But not for the sake of tricking him into giving us more.

The assumption under that way of viewing the Scriptures is that getting more is the best that could happen to you. And so they teach generosity for the purposes of eventually hoarding. But the truth is that when some people give stuff away they stay broke.

I’m reading about the Medieval world right now. And one of the most surprising things is how they generally thought about possessions. They had a metaphor for fortune that showed how fickle they viewed it.

It was the wheel of Fortune.

Seriously.

They said that this wheel constantly was turning, and that the fastest way to live a miserable life was to put your hope and trust in what you owned, or your government (this is one reason that Arthur’s legendary table was round). Because they recognized the instability of the things we have come to put the most trust in. They knew sometimes the wheel would move up and create a happy ending, and sometimes it would create a tragedy.

Think about the irony of this. We call these people primitive, yet if they were to have lived through the last two years they would have been trying to explain things to us.

They had a metaphor to explain this deep truth, and we use it to market a game show that teaches the exact opposite.

The wisdom of God does tend to go against common sense often. But never as much as here.
One speaker this weekend said, “Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightning.” Which means if you want to know how well you love, just look at your bank statement, or your day-planner. Are you generous with your life? Is your life oriented around values that you are willing to die for?

So here’s a question: Have you ever known people who embody this? Generous with their money, time, resources? If so, What did their example do to you?

On September 26, 2009

Causality

Sorry for the delay in blogging. For this semester I’m attempting to blog, once, maybe twice a week. I have a Grad Class on church history that requires quite a bit of reading and writing and by the time I sit down to write a blog I’m tapped out. So for the next couple of posts I’m going to write about some interesting, less talked about stuff from church History.

Like Julian the Apostate.

He was an emperor after Constantine (who’ll I talk about next week) who reacted to Christianity’s growing influence by trying to destroy the Christian religion.

Now he did this in a few fronts, but perhaps the most well-known stunt he pulled was his attempt to rebuild the Jewish Temple. Before you start thinking how philanthropic Julian was, you need to know the main reason he did this was because the Christian Scriptures quoted Jesus as saying, “This temple will not be re-built until I return.”

Julian’s entire reason for spending a whole lot of Roman money was to discredit the Christian story. But here’s where it gets interesting.

Because at some point during the rebuilding process there was an explosion. This is how one of his friends reported the event:

Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once
at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. They set vigorously
to work, and were seconded by the governor of this province; when fearful
balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the
workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up
the attempt.

Now what’s interesting is how historians talk about this even. Immediately afterwards Christians began to look back on this event and saw it as a Divine Intervention. The hand of God prevented Julian’s attempt to spread paganism. But other people saw it another way.

The general take on it from Rome was that it was an earthquake. The more recent historians believe that it was a natural gas pocket that was struck by construction workers, resulting in a huge explosion that can be naturally explained.

But what if both of these are true?

There is a modern assumption that if we can just explain how something happened that we have understood why it happened. But I don’t think that’s true. Just because we can trace back how something happened doesn’t mean that we have effectively written off providence.

Donald Miller makes a profound observation in Blue like Jazz. He says:

“My most recent struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore.
Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in
God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and some other guys who do believe
in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being
about god a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly
I don’t care.”

I think that’s pretty indicative about the conversations that we have about faith vs. science. We talk over ourselves so much that the conversations no longer are about what we say they are about. They’re about which one of us is smarter.

But the truth is that these two sides, at least much of the time, are talking about different things. What if God used a pocket of natural gas to stop the rebuilding of that Temple. Just because we can explain what happened doesn’t mean we have the answers to what all is going on behind it.

The truth is when these two sides of interpreting history are in conversation that they both have faith. People with faith that everything can be explained by what is seen will probably gravitate to a worldview that sees God as either non-existent, or very distant and unconcerned with this world.

People who see a fireball from Heaven will probably gravitate toward a worldview that says God is intimately involved, or at least was, in human history and will tend to be religious.

But neither side is addressing the thing they think they are. Proof, Science, Evidence, Apologetics, these words talk about what happened, but nobody can explain causality, or why things happen with any certainty.

Because what they are really talking about is faith.

On July 6, 2009

The Heresy of Love

So Rick just finished up a series on the book of 1st John, and if you were going to summarize that book in one sentence it’s pretty easy…God is love, so love each other.

It’s not even a long sentence.

And John repeats this simple idea over and over again in different ways. For John, someone who spent some years with Jesus, you could boil down what it meant to follow Jesus into the simple call to love your brother because God is love. But he’s not the only one. Paul gives love an entire chapter, Jesus says all the law and the prophets (or the entire Hebrew Scriptures) hang or revolve around this simple idea to love God, and love others.

Scot Mcknight has a book called the Jesus Creed, in which he describes coming to this simple, but profound realization. That love really was what following Jesus was all about. And so he would just repeat this mantra everytime he thought of it. Love God, and love others.

He found himself doing it about 50 and 60 times a day. And he said something that I think is interesting, he said that he knows now why we tend to gravitate toward the rules of the Bible, because the commandments are easier to follow than that simple creed. They can keep a safe distance from you and God, or you and others. But if you are called to love God and others, that’s a whole different story.

During the whole Reformation period, the church was battling different points of doctrinal disagreements. Protestants had just broken with the Roman Catholic church and were trying to navigate what it meant to be a follower of Jesus without the structures of authority defining that for them.

And all kinds of different ideas were emerging that were slightly…out there.

One guy named Michael Servetus had this idea that Jesus as the Son of God, wasn’t eternal. It wasn’t an idea that was looked kindly upon by the emerging leaders of the Protestant faith, and so eventually John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned at the stake for heresy.

That’s John Calvin. The guy that Calvinism is named after (also Calvin and Hobbes…no joke).

So here’s a man who knows the Scriptures extremely well, brilliant thinker, deeply devoted to the Lord and to the church. And he had a man burned at the stake for heresy.

Greg Boyd makes a great point on this issue. He asks, “If we are thinking Biblically, how can we not conclude that Calvin was the greater heretic? Burning someone alive is not loving them, doing good to them or blessing them (Lk 6:27-28, 35). And without love, whatever other truth Calvin may have been defending becomes worthless. If we’re thinking biblically, how can we avoid concluding that Calvin was not only a worse heretic than Servetus, but that he committed the greatest heresy imaginable?”

Which is a bit of a touchy question.

Augustine was the first Christian to justify persecution in the name of Jesus, and since then millions of people were tortured or killed for their heretical beliefs, whether it was their beliefs on communion, baptism, or the nature of Jesus. But not one person in church history was persecuted because they lacked love.

I think that the Church that carried out these acts in the name of Jesus was much more heretical than all the heretics it persecuted. They bought into the lie that as long as you don’t mess with what we put our faith and hope in, then we don’t care about the heresy of not loving.

There are all kinds of heresy’s that are out there right now. Some people believe that Jesus is going to build a spaceship and take us to another galaxy (which is a relatively new heresy) some say that Jesus is their homeboy, or that you can earn forgiveness. The world is filled with heresy.

But the greatest of these is love.