Friday, February 27, 2009

Judson University Chapel Experience

Distruct U-46 had Institute Day today (I have no idea what that actually means), but it meant that I had the day off from working. Therefore, I headed over to Judson to hear a professor who I trust and respect greatly who was speaking in chapel. The topic of the mornings message was "The One Thing" that professors would want to leave students with. Warren Anderson was the speaker, and he did an absolute beautiful job giving a fitting message to an "otherness" approach in our spiritual lives.

Two different stories were told: (1) about a failure in Anderson's high school days to be Christ towards a neglected student who needed it, and (2) the success of his wife in reaching out to a disabled person at the YMCA. As I sat there, I was struck with the amount of opportunities I encounter each and every day to be a source of light and encouragement to people. I also realized how often I fail to do so. Warren gave the following acronym during his message:

Believe universally the best about another (Phil. 2:3)
Unlock regularly the fortress of your schedule (Luke 10:25-37)
Invite occasionally someone that needs encouragement into your life (Matt. 25:40)
Look purposely for creative ways to bless others (Matt. 10:42)
Deliver weekly a message of encouragement (Gal. 6:10)

I have been doing a whole lot of writing and thinking about our social responsibilities as believers in Christ, and Warren gave some very practical steps to live those out. It is another needed slap-in-the-face to realize how binding our schedules and time are, and how pervasively they prevent us from unlocking, inviting, looking, and delivering. I close with Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Heb 10:23-25.

Judson University Chapel Experience

Distruct U-46 had Institute Day today (I have no idea what that actually means), but it meant that I had the day off from working. Therefore, I headed over to Judson to hear a professor who I trust and respect greatly who was speaking in chapel. The topic of the mornings message was "The One Thing" that professors would want to leave students with. Warren Anderson was the speaker, and he did an absolute beautiful job giving a fitting message to an "otherness" approach in our spiritual lives.
Two different stories were told: (1) about a failure in Anderson's high school days to be Christ towards a neglected student who needed it, and (2) the success of his wife in reaching out to a disabled person at the YMCA. As I sat there, I was struck with the amount of opportunities I encounter each and every day to be a source of light and encouragement to people. I also realized how often I fail to do so. Warren gave the following acronym during his message:
Believe universally the best about another (Phil. 2:3)
Unlock regularly the fortress of your schedule (Luke 10:25-37)
Invite occasionally someone that needs encouragement into your life (Matt. 25:40)
Look purposely for creative ways to bless others (Matt. 10:42)
Deliver weekly a message of encouragement (Gal. 6:10)
I have been doing a whole lot of writing and thinking about our social responsibilities as believers in Christ, and Warren gave some very practical steps to live those out. It is another needed slap-in-the-face to realize how binding our schedules and time are, and how pervasively they prevent us from unlocking, inviting, looking, and delivering. I close with Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Heb 10:23-25.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fasting - A Social Aspect

With millions of Christians around the world now out of the starting gates in an observation and participation in Lent, I wonder what fruits are to bear as a result of such a unified experience? Will we be any different, but more importantly, will the world we live in feel the impact? We join together in this period - Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant's, and yes, even some of us free-church Protestants - in a practice that has happened for hundreds of years. And not only are we joined with the living, but participating in these practices links us with great saints who have gone before and lived lives of faithful obedience to Christ.

The texts that were read yesterday, at least in my tradition, come from The Book of Common Prayer, and include the following:
  • Joel 2:1-2 and 12-17
  • Isaiah 58:1-12
  • Psalm 51:1-17
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
  • Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21

After reading through and meditating on these texts throughout the past few days, I have been struck in a particularly profound way with the text of Isaiah 58:1-12. This seems to be one of those, "I desire not your burnt offerings" passages, that sheds light on the liberty of the faithful to do works out of spontaneous love for God and love for others, and not just because of the command. The people to whom the author of Isaiah addresses are, through the fast, serving their own intentions (3b), oppressing the workers (3b), and quarrelling and fighting (4). The fast that is acceptable to the Lord looks different though:

  • Loose the bonds of injustice (6)
  • Undo the thongs of the yoke (6)
  • Let the oppressed go free (6)
  • Share your bread with the hungry (7)
  • Bring the homeless poor into your house (7)
  • Cover the naked (7)

It is when these social aspects of the fast happen that their "light will rise in the darkness" (10). It is when these things happen that their own "needs will be satisfied" (11) When this happens, water will spring forth like a watered garden whose waters never fail (11). We have to ask ourselves what we are hoping to accomplish in our fasts? Is it just that we may grow closer to God? To hone in our disciplines and become a "better person?" Is it knowledge of Scripture, comfort, guidance, peace, patience, self-control, etc.? These are not bad things! But Isaiah makes clear that an acceptable fast to the Lord is others focused! It is a time to right injustice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. It is a time to serve your neighbor.

The prophets of old seem to all passionately be concerned with the social responsibilities of being in covenant with Yahweh. One of the primary themes running among the prophets is not just "returning to the Lord," but returning to righteous community. And so I ask, are we ready, in our private fasts, to reach beyond ourselves and give our hands to the community?

Fasting - A Social Aspect

With millions of Christians around the world now out of the starting gates in an observation and participation in Lent, I wonder what fruits are to bear as a result of such a unified experience? Will we be any different, but more importantly, will the world we live in feel the impact? We join together in this period - Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant's, and yes, even some of us free-church Protestants - in a practice that has happened for hundreds of years. And not only are we joined with the living, but participating in these practices links us with great saints who have gone before and lived lives of faithful obedience to Christ.
The texts that were read yesterday, at least in my tradition, come from The Book of Common Prayer, and include the following:
  • Joel 2:1-2 and 12-17
  • Isaiah 58:1-12
  • Psalm 51:1-17
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
  • Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21

After reading through and meditating on these texts throughout the past few days, I have been struck in a particularly profound way with the text of Isaiah 58:1-12. This seems to be one of those, "I desire not your burnt offerings" passages, that sheds light on the liberty of the faithful to do works out of spontaneous love for God and love for others, and not just because of the command. The people to whom the author of Isaiah addresses are, through the fast, serving their own intentions (3b), oppressing the workers (3b), and quarrelling and fighting (4). The fast that is acceptable to the Lord looks different though:

  • Loose the bonds of injustice (6)
  • Undo the thongs of the yoke (6)
  • Let the oppressed go free (6)
  • Share your bread with the hungry (7)
  • Bring the homeless poor into your house (7)
  • Cover the naked (7)

It is when these social aspects of the fast happen that their "light will rise in the darkness" (10). It is when these things happen that their own "needs will be satisfied" (11) When this happens, water will spring forth like a watered garden whose waters never fail (11). We have to ask ourselves what we are hoping to accomplish in our fasts? Is it just that we may grow closer to God? To hone in our disciplines and become a "better person?" Is it knowledge of Scripture, comfort, guidance, peace, patience, self-control, etc.? These are not bad things! But Isaiah makes clear that an acceptable fast to the Lord is others focused! It is a time to right injustice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. It is a time to serve your neighbor.

The prophets of old seem to all passionately be concerned with the social responsibilities of being in covenant with Yahweh. One of the primary themes running among the prophets is not just "returning to the Lord," but returning to righteous community. And so I ask, are we ready, in our private fasts, to reach beyond ourselves and give our hands to the community?

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Isaiah 5:7 - A Moment of Revelation

Remember the genre of the text? If this is really a juridical parable in the likes of 2 Samuel 12:1-14, 14:1-20, 1 Kings 20:35-43, and Jeremiah 3:1-5, which is a safe assertion, then a moment of realization has to come for the judged. In the seventh verse in this section we encounter the following revelation:


7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
but heard a cry!


(The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989, S. Is 5:7)


The vineyard that has become the cause of distaste in our mouths is revealed as none other than the "house of Israel, and the people of Judah." The people, in hearing verses one through six, would have great sympathy for the vineyard owner. Verse three opens and offers the case for judgment to the very people who have produced nothing of the desired fruit, but only wild grapes. As the evidence has shown and as the story has been told, it is the owner who stands in innocence as the one who truly suffers. And although we never hear a voice of representation from the vineyard, we can imagine the shock and awe when realizing that it was they themselves who had produced so poorly and offended so greatly.

That this came as a moment of shock and revelation to the house of Israel and people of Judah is difficult to comprehend. We have become so ingrained with the association and condemnation of the prophetic voice to these people. The intention of the author/speaker of this parable is to delay that association so that the reader/hearer will make judgment on the case without siding subjectively.

In the finals lines of these parable we find out what designates good fruit and what designates bad fruit:

Good - justice and righteousness
Bad/Wild - bloodshed and crying

The "pleasant planting" of the vineyard owner was supposed to generate justice and righteousness. Instead, as the cry and witness of the prophets in Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah declare, it was injustice that sprung to life and spread as a wild fire. And now, the mighty One who had shown such love, care, and concern, would remove the walls of protection and leave his beloved vineyard to destruction. The text needs to be read within the context of the Assyrian invasion, already having ravaged the north, and after a collection of circumstances, veering its sight towards the southern people of Judah. This parable is rooted in a historical period and actual circumstances, and it is precisely because we continue in the faith, connected with those who have sought faithfulness and obedience to the Lord, that this text in Isaiah can shape our knowledge of God's character.

May we experience in hearts, in our communities, in our families and friends, in our work and in our play, the connectedness that creation shares with a creator who loves and cares. May we become more dependent on his protection. May we be aware of injustice and the voice of those crying. May we be agents of righteousness, a people who, under the watch of their owner, produce good fruit in order to bless others. This text speaks deeply and honestly of the heart of Yahweh for his people, of a bridegroom for his bride, of a vineyard owner for his vineyard.

Isaiah 5:7 - A Moment of Revelation

Remember the genre of the text? If this is really a juridical parable in the likes of 2 Samuel 12:1-14, 14:1-20, 1 Kings 20:35-43, and Jeremiah 3:1-5, which is a safe assertion, then a moment of realization has to come for the judged. In the seventh verse in this section we encounter the following revelation:


7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
but heard a cry!


(The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989, S. Is 5:7)


The vineyard that has become the cause of distaste in our mouths is revealed as none other than the "house of Israel, and the people of Judah." The people, in hearing verses one through six, would have great sympathy for the vineyard owner. Verse three opens and offers the case for judgment to the very people who have produced nothing of the desired fruit, but only wild grapes. As the evidence has shown and as the story has been told, it is the owner who stands in innocence as the one who truly suffers. And although we never hear a voice of representation from the vineyard, we can imagine the shock and awe when realizing that it was they themselves who had produced so poorly and offended so greatly.
That this came as a moment of shock and revelation to the house of Israel and people of Judah is difficult to comprehend. We have become so ingrained with the association and condemnation of the prophetic voice to these people. The intention of the author/speaker of this parable is to delay that association so that the reader/hearer will make judgment on the case without siding subjectively.
In the finals lines of these parable we find out what designates good fruit and what designates bad fruit:
Good - justice and righteousness
Bad/Wild - bloodshed and crying
The "pleasant planting" of the vineyard owner was supposed to generate justice and righteousness. Instead, as the cry and witness of the prophets in Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah declare, it was injustice that sprung to life and spread as a wild fire. And now, the mighty One who had shown such love, care, and concern, would remove the walls of protection and leave his beloved vineyard to destruction. The text needs to be read within the context of the Assyrian invasion, already having ravaged the north, and after a collection of circumstances, veering its sight towards the southern people of Judah. This parable is rooted in a historical period and actual circumstances, and it is precisely because we continue in the faith, connected with those who have sought faithfulness and obedience to the Lord, that this text in Isaiah can shape our knowledge of God's character.
May we experience in hearts, in our communities, in our families and friends, in our work and in our play, the connectedness that creation shares with a creator who loves and cares. May we become more dependent on his protection. May we be aware of injustice and the voice of those crying. May we be agents of righteousness, a people who, under the watch of their owner, produce good fruit in order to bless others. This text speaks deeply and honestly of the heart of Yahweh for his people, of a bridegroom for his bride, of a vineyard owner for his vineyard.

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James MacDonald - Down With Everyone! (But Me)

I apologize if it seems like I am picking apart James MacDonald's blog, and may in fact be contributing to a divisive mentality: know that this is not my mentality or hope. However, again I was deeply perturbed by a posting of MacDonalds. You will want to read the complete blog to understand the context of the following quote.

"Down with Eastern Orthodox Jesus, down with Emerging Jesus, down with western
world anti-supernatural dead bible church Jesus, down with mainline watered down
secular pseudo scholarly sentimental Jesus, down with Roman Catholic pomp and
circumstance we have him and you don’t Jesus, and down with heartless
self-interested felt need corporate mega church Jesus. Down with gospel Jesus
and OT prophecy Jesus, and Pauline Jesus, as partial sketches of the total
biblical Christ. God help all of us to stop tasting and sampling and swirling
Jesus in the glass of our own preferences. Only the light of total biblical
revelation is bright enough to expose the darkness of our own stagnant thinking
about a Christ who is caricatured by what we find most pleasing to our own
perspectives."

Thoughts?

James MacDonald - Down With Everyone! (But Me)

I apologize if it seems like I am picking apart James MacDonald's blog, and may in fact be contributing to a divisive mentality: know that this is not my mentality or hope. However, again I was deeply perturbed by a posting of MacDonalds. You will want to read the complete blog to understand the context of the following quote.
"Down with Eastern Orthodox Jesus, down with Emerging Jesus, down with western
world anti-supernatural dead bible church Jesus, down with mainline watered down
secular pseudo scholarly sentimental Jesus, down with Roman Catholic pomp and
circumstance we have him and you don’t Jesus, and down with heartless
self-interested felt need corporate mega church Jesus. Down with gospel Jesus
and OT prophecy Jesus, and Pauline Jesus, as partial sketches of the total
biblical Christ. God help all of us to stop tasting and sampling and swirling
Jesus in the glass of our own preferences. Only the light of total biblical
revelation is bright enough to expose the darkness of our own stagnant thinking
about a Christ who is caricatured by what we find most pleasing to our own
perspectives."
Thoughts?

Labels:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bright Flame in Dark Days

In thinking through Isaiah 5:1-7 over the past weeks, I have become overwhelmed with the care that God has shown towards creation and people who bare his image. But I have been impacted not only by the care that has been shown, but by the gravity of suffering that he feels when his children intentionally and unintentionally act in opposition to his will. There have been moments that I have been fatalistic about this, especially when studying verses five and six of chapter five. You begin to ask questions like, "can anything good come out of this?" "is there any hope?" As I was reading in Henry Flanders People of the Covenant for my Former Prophets course, I came across the following quote by John Bright:
Indeed, the darker the days, the brighter its flame. For Messiah does not come to a proud nation glorying in its strength, but to a beaten nation, a cut-down stump of a nation, a nation tried in the furnace of affliction. No humiliation could be so abject, no torment so brutally severe, but that faith might whisper: Who knows but that this suffering is the purge that is even now producing the pure Remnant; who knows but that tomorrow Messiah, the Prince of David's line, may come? (Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr., People of the Covenant (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 373.)

It's too bad that it wasn't until this afternoon that I ran across this quote; it would have been great in Advent. What a joy to to read through Scripture as the story of God's faithfulness, concern, and care for his creation.

Isaiah 5:5-6 Destruction of the Vineyard

So far in the progression of the parable, we have moved from a love song to a judicial court room where the beloved requests judgment and proves his innocence. This is done in verses 1-2 through a poetic song that emphasizes the love and care that the beloved has shown toward his vineyard, the bridegroom towards his bride. Despite the preparations and care, the vineyard produced only “wild grapes:” the opposite of what he had intended. Verses 3-4 switch to the judicial setting where now, in the first person, the beloved opens his case up for judgment, and in a display of suffering that he has endured, reveals that he had done everything necessary to make possible a good fruit.

Out of the suffering and hurt, rather than mere anger, we arrive at verses five and six. All that had been done to safeguard the vineyard will be taken away. No longer will it be protected. And the certainty of destruction in doing so will bring “destruction” and “trampling.” No part of the land will have the possibility of producing anything good and instead will become a wasteland. Thorns will produce and mark what was once created for good. The final part of verse six throws in another curve in the section: this beloved, who has spoken in the first person and been spoken of in the third, now declares that he has the power to control other forces upon his vineyard. “I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” This final sentence in verse six does a few different things. (1) it emphasizes the care, concern, watchfulness, and power of the vineyard owner, and (2) emphasizes the vineyards un-natural production of good fruit.

If the vineyard owner chooses to command the rain to stop because of the bad fruit that it had produced, then we can deduce that the vineyard owner had control of the rain when it was still yet to produce. Not only had the owner put up protection, cultivated the land, plucked out the stones, planted a good seed, but he had control of the natural forces that would lead to a good fruit. This shows just how “unnatural” the bad/wild grapes were! It was not supposed to be like this! It is one thing to make a mistake and go in the wrong direction; it is another to constantly be in a state of rejection and denial. And when there is nothing left to do, no more anger to dispel, no more plucking, cultivating, pruning, watering that can save it, it will be left to destruction.

We have to continue reading the section and cannot be left with such a fatalistic message of a vineyard owner who leaves the vineyard to be destroyed. We need to read the rest of this chapter, the rest of Isaiah, the prophetic literature as a whole, and the gospels, to see how the owner cared so much for his vineyard, that he would actually die for it in order to save it. The owner never does abandon completely his cherished vineyard. But may we realize how much it hurt God, the vineyard owner, to not only see his vineyard go so waywardly wrong, but to have to have to act in renewing and refreshing ways that come after the destruction and trampling of the vineyard.

Bright Flame in Dark Days

In thinking through Isaiah 5:1-7 over the past weeks, I have become overwhelmed with the care that God has shown towards creation and people who bare his image. But I have been impacted not only by the care that has been shown, but by the gravity of suffering that he feels when his children intentionally and unintentionally act in opposition to his will. There have been moments that I have been fatalistic about this, especially when studying verses five and six of chapter five. You begin to ask questions like, "can anything good come out of this?" "is there any hope?" As I was reading in Henry Flanders People of the Covenant for my Former Prophets course, I came across the following quote by John Bright:
Indeed, the darker the days, the brighter its flame. For Messiah does not come to a proud nation glorying in its strength, but to a beaten nation, a cut-down stump of a nation, a nation tried in the furnace of affliction. No humiliation could be so abject, no torment so brutally severe, but that faith might whisper: Who knows but that this suffering is the purge that is even now producing the pure Remnant; who knows but that tomorrow Messiah, the Prince of David's line, may come? (Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr., People of the Covenant (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 373.)

It's too bad that it wasn't until this afternoon that I ran across this quote; it would have been great in Advent. What a joy to to read through Scripture as the story of God's faithfulness, concern, and care for his creation.

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Isaiah 5:5-6 Destruction of the Vineyard

So far in the progression of the parable, we have moved from a love song to a judicial court room where the beloved requests judgment and proves his innocence. This is done in verses 1-2 through a poetic song that emphasizes the love and care that the beloved has shown toward his vineyard, the bridegroom towards his bride. Despite the preparations and care, the vineyard produced only “wild grapes:” the opposite of what he had intended. Verses 3-4 switch to the judicial setting where now, in the first person, the beloved opens his case up for judgment, and in a display of suffering that he has endured, reveals that he had done everything necessary to make possible a good fruit.
Out of the suffering and hurt, rather than mere anger, we arrive at verses five and six. All that had been done to safeguard the vineyard will be taken away. No longer will it be protected. And the certainty of destruction in doing so will bring “destruction” and “trampling.” No part of the land will have the possibility of producing anything good and instead will become a wasteland. Thorns will produce and mark what was once created for good. The final part of verse six throws in another curve in the section: this beloved, who has spoken in the first person and been spoken of in the third, now declares that he has the power to control other forces upon his vineyard. “I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” This final sentence in verse six does a few different things. (1) it emphasizes the care, concern, watchfulness, and power of the vineyard owner, and (2) emphasizes the vineyards un-natural production of good fruit.
If the vineyard owner chooses to command the rain to stop because of the bad fruit that it had produced, then we can deduce that the vineyard owner had control of the rain when it was still yet to produce. Not only had the owner put up protection, cultivated the land, plucked out the stones, planted a good seed, but he had control of the natural forces that would lead to a good fruit. This shows just how “unnatural” the bad/wild grapes were! It was not supposed to be like this! It is one thing to make a mistake and go in the wrong direction; it is another to constantly be in a state of rejection and denial. And when there is nothing left to do, no more anger to dispel, no more plucking, cultivating, pruning, watering that can save it, it will be left to destruction.
We have to continue reading the section and cannot be left with such a fatalistic message of a vineyard owner who leaves the vineyard to be destroyed. We need to read the rest of this chapter, the rest of Isaiah, the prophetic literature as a whole, and the gospels, to see how the owner cared so much for his vineyard, that he would actually die for it in order to save it. The owner never does abandon completely his cherished vineyard. But may we realize how much it hurt God, the vineyard owner, to not only see his vineyard go so waywardly wrong, but to have to have to act in renewing and refreshing ways that come after the destruction and trampling of the vineyard.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spiritual Disciplines – Fasting as a Church

In a previous post I highlighted a quote by Scot McKnight: "They are so in tune with God, so in love with him, that the word "authority" is swallowed up in loving God" (Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, page 93). The word "authority" is not wrong or even inappropriate when describing Scripture, but the authority must be swallowed up in a love for God. In the same way, all good works done by believers need to be consumed and "swallowed up" in faith and the Word of God.


This post is the result of two different inspirations: (1) Martin Luther's The Freedom of a Christian, and (2) a testimony given this morning in church about fasting. First, Martin Luther's writing is a very good read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling or questioning spiritual disciplines and how we can keep from falling into a "justified by works" mentality. The reality is that we live, work, and breathe in conditional, cause and effect, reward and punishment systems. Therefore, we so quickly grasp and announce our good works (prayer, fasting, meditation, service, etc.) as deserving good merit; maybe not so far as justification, but at least a deeper relationship with the Lord. It is a trap that ensnares so many people, and is one of the greatest causes of guilt and shame in our churches. "I just didn't pray enough." "If only I had read more Scripture." "I missed the sacramental Eucharist." (Ok, that last one only applies to a few people who read this blog). In the same way that authority is authority only when it is wrapped inside of the love for God, good works fall servants to an inward faith in Christ. Luther desires not the cessation of good works, but good works done out of faith without the expectation of deserving righteousness because of the works. This falls in line with Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where Paul announces a willingness and appropriateness to become "a Jew to Jews," "under the law to those under the law," "outside the law to those outside the law," "weak to the weak." It is through faith that we are saved, and not by our works.


"Nevertheless the works themselves do not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things." (Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, page 295).

Secondly, this morning in church we heard some testimonies and commitments by people who are giving things up for the Lenten period of 40 days. As a church, we have decided that we will fast from television. People are encouraged to share their struggles through the time of fasting. One gentleman in our church has decided to give up smoking throughout the week, affording himself grace to have a smoke on Sundays. Giving up this worldly baggage is a course that must be taken, but will not be easy! Many who read Matthew 6:16-18, the section about fasting not to be seen by others but by the Father in secret, fear doing a public fast such that our church is embarking on, for fear that it is going against the heart and principle of this verse. But this mentality is a "works alone" vs. "works out of faith" argument. We do not think that we become more justified or righteousness because of fasting, but we do so in order to grow in our faith. We realize that we need one another in community. Our gospel choir has sung a song in the past that says just that, "I need you. You need me. We're all a part of God's body….I need you to survive."


Works and disciplines can be some of the most cunning villains in our understanding of justification by faith alone, but this does not give the right to forfeit their participation in. We are repeatedly called upon explicitly and implicitly throughout Scripture to do good works and participate in those things that sharpen our spiritual lives (disciplines). These things absolutely need to fall under the umbrella of faith. Many (most) Protestant churches have lost the practice of confession and spiritual directors (instead they have primarily focused on mentoring/discipleship). The primary difference is an emphasis in spiritual disciplines and guidance. May we learn again how to submit to one another and allow others to speak into our lives. This period of fasting from television will, sadly, be very difficult for me. I pray for strength and perseverance, and pray for the willingness to allow others to spur me on towards completion and commitment.

Isaiah 5:3-6 The Suffering of the Vineyard Owner

This is now the second post looking at Isaiah 5:1-7 (for the first, click here). In the first two verses, we encounter a person who tells a story about a vineyard owner who has taken great care to prepare his vineyard for the production of good fruit. These verses are written in the third person, and written much in the form of a "best man," who speaks with passion about the love that the bridegroom has for the bride.

Verse 3-6 completely reverse the "love song" of the verse two verses and no longer speak from the third person, but now the first:

3 "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.

4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?

5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.

6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it."


The genre of the fuller text of 5:1-7 is that of a story/juridical parable. We see other examples of juridical parables throughout the Old Testament, and most commonly acknowledged in the way Nathan speaks to David about his sin (2 Samuel 12). This way of storytelling delays expressing the allegorical meanings as a way to bring self-condemnation on the one who was in error. Here in Isaiah, in verse 3, the beloved vineyard owner invites all who dwell in Jerusalem and the men of Judah to make judgment on his case. And then we arrive at one of the most powerful and insightful verses I believe that I have encountered personally in Scripture. The beloved asks two questions, and conveys great sorrow at what had become of his vineyard which he cared for and nourished. I think about mothers and fathers who literally gave/give their lives for their children, only to see them go down paths that lead only towards destruction. There are certainly times when the parent feels anger and frustration, but more than anything, they suffer at the choices that were made. This verse illustrates the love of a father or parent for their children. It is a verse of suffering – and suffering not of the vineyard, but the vineyard owner. There are so many people who fail to turn towards God, fearing that he is angry, upset, or frustrated with them. Many who are on the path(s) of sanctification and trip are never able to pull themselves up because of a fear of punishment or anger. Righteous anger and the fear of God are certainly valid and needed discussions. But I believe that Isaiah 5:4 offers a look into the heart of our heavenly Father, the one who suffers with and for his creation, and reveals a heart and passion that God has for his creation.




For the sake of brevity and readability, I will not continue into verses 5 and 6 in this post. Look for those in the next few days, but let the reality of a God who hurts and cares for his creation sink into your heart. We are entering into Lent, and following Lent we observe the days of the Holy Week culminating in Easter. God's suffering for his creation was incredible. Most parents will give their own life, even for that child who has gone astray, if it means that he/she will survive. How much more is the heart of God, who sent Jesus Christ not only that we may survive, but that we may be filled with the knowledge of his goodness and care! That we may have life, and have it to the full! Our God suffered and cared enough to make this is a possibility for all who put their trust in him. As we enter into the observation of lent, may God grant us knowledge in our minds and hearts of his care and concern for his children, and grant us immeasurable commitment to his heart and mission. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Spiritual Disciplines – Fasting as a Church

In a previous post I highlighted a quote by Scot McKnight: "They are so in tune with God, so in love with him, that the word "authority" is swallowed up in loving God" (Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, page 93). The word "authority" is not wrong or even inappropriate when describing Scripture, but the authority must be swallowed up in a love for God. In the same way, all good works done by believers need to be consumed and "swallowed up" in faith and the Word of God.


This post is the result of two different inspirations: (1) Martin Luther's The Freedom of a Christian, and (2) a testimony given this morning in church about fasting. First, Martin Luther's writing is a very good read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling or questioning spiritual disciplines and how we can keep from falling into a "justified by works" mentality. The reality is that we live, work, and breathe in conditional, cause and effect, reward and punishment systems. Therefore, we so quickly grasp and announce our good works (prayer, fasting, meditation, service, etc.) as deserving good merit; maybe not so far as justification, but at least a deeper relationship with the Lord. It is a trap that ensnares so many people, and is one of the greatest causes of guilt and shame in our churches. "I just didn't pray enough." "If only I had read more Scripture." "I missed the sacramental Eucharist." (Ok, that last one only applies to a few people who read this blog). In the same way that authority is authority only when it is wrapped inside of the love for God, good works fall servants to an inward faith in Christ. Luther desires not the cessation of good works, but good works done out of faith without the expectation of deserving righteousness because of the works. This falls in line with Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where Paul announces a willingness and appropriateness to become "a Jew to Jews," "under the law to those under the law," "outside the law to those outside the law," "weak to the weak." It is through faith that we are saved, and not by our works.


"Nevertheless the works themselves do not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things." (Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, page 295).

Secondly, this morning in church we heard some testimonies and commitments by people who are giving things up for the Lenten period of 40 days. As a church, we have decided that we will fast from television. People are encouraged to share their struggles through the time of fasting. One gentleman in our church has decided to give up smoking throughout the week, affording himself grace to have a smoke on Sundays. Giving up this worldly baggage is a course that must be taken, but will not be easy! Many who read Matthew 6:16-18, the section about fasting not to be seen by others but by the Father in secret, fear doing a public fast such that our church is embarking on, for fear that it is going against the heart and principle of this verse. But this mentality is a "works alone" vs. "works out of faith" argument. We do not think that we become more justified or righteousness because of fasting, but we do so in order to grow in our faith. We realize that we need one another in community. Our gospel choir has sung a song in the past that says just that, "I need you. You need me. We're all a part of God's body….I need you to survive."


Works and disciplines can be some of the most cunning villains in our understanding of justification by faith alone, but this does not give the right to forfeit their participation in. We are repeatedly called upon explicitly and implicitly throughout Scripture to do good works and participate in those things that sharpen our spiritual lives (disciplines). These things absolutely need to fall under the umbrella of faith. Many (most) Protestant churches have lost the practice of confession and spiritual directors (instead they have primarily focused on mentoring/discipleship). The primary difference is an emphasis in spiritual disciplines and guidance. May we learn again how to submit to one another and allow others to speak into our lives. This period of fasting from television will, sadly, be very difficult for me. I pray for strength and perseverance, and pray for the willingness to allow others to spur me on towards completion and commitment.

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Isaiah 5:3-6 The Suffering of the Vineyard Owner

This is now the second post looking at Isaiah 5:1-7 (for the first, click here). In the first two verses, we encounter a person who tells a story about a vineyard owner who has taken great care to prepare his vineyard for the production of good fruit. These verses are written in the third person, and written much in the form of a "best man," who speaks with passion about the love that the bridegroom has for the bride.

Verse 3-6 completely reverse the "love song" of the verse two verses and no longer speak from the third person, but now the first:

3 "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.

4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?

5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.

6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it."


The genre of the fuller text of 5:1-7 is that of a story/juridical parable. We see other examples of juridical parables throughout the Old Testament, and most commonly acknowledged in the way Nathan speaks to David about his sin (2 Samuel 12). This way of storytelling delays expressing the allegorical meanings as a way to bring self-condemnation on the one who was in error. Here in Isaiah, in verse 3, the beloved vineyard owner invites all who dwell in Jerusalem and the men of Judah to make judgment on his case. And then we arrive at one of the most powerful and insightful verses I believe that I have encountered personally in Scripture. The beloved asks two questions, and conveys great sorrow at what had become of his vineyard which he cared for and nourished. I think about mothers and fathers who literally gave/give their lives for their children, only to see them go down paths that lead only towards destruction. There are certainly times when the parent feels anger and frustration, but more than anything, they suffer at the choices that were made. This verse illustrates the love of a father or parent for their children. It is a verse of suffering – and suffering not of the vineyard, but the vineyard owner. There are so many people who fail to turn towards God, fearing that he is angry, upset, or frustrated with them. Many who are on the path(s) of sanctification and trip are never able to pull themselves up because of a fear of punishment or anger. Righteous anger and the fear of God are certainly valid and needed discussions. But I believe that Isaiah 5:4 offers a look into the heart of our heavenly Father, the one who suffers with and for his creation, and reveals a heart and passion that God has for his creation.



For the sake of brevity and readability, I will not continue into verses 5 and 6 in this post. Look for those in the next few days, but let the reality of a God who hurts and cares for his creation sink into your heart. We are entering into Lent, and following Lent we observe the days of the Holy Week culminating in Easter. God's suffering for his creation was incredible. Most parents will give their own life, even for that child who has gone astray, if it means that he/she will survive. How much more is the heart of God, who sent Jesus Christ not only that we may survive, but that we may be filled with the knowledge of his goodness and care! That we may have life, and have it to the full! Our God suffered and cared enough to make this is a possibility for all who put their trust in him. As we enter into the observation of lent, may God grant us knowledge in our minds and hearts of his care and concern for his children, and grant us immeasurable commitment to his heart and mission. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Blue Parakeet - Final Thoughts


The final chapters in McKnight's book, The Blue Parekeet, provided a beautiful and generous understanding of a blue parakeet: women in ministry. The blue parakeets are "oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens" (page 208). McKnight addresses the two most controversial sections of Paul's writing on the topic, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15. But these are not our "theological gems" in the discussion. So much of the conservative/fundamental/"caging" understanding of women in ministry has happened by isolating these verses from the story of women throughout the story of scripture.

McKnight writes that, at a minimum, women served as teachers, exhorters, leaders, and prophetess as exceptions (his own understanding would be more than exceptions). Using the examples of Miriam (Exodus 15), Deborah (Judges 4-5), Huldah (2 Kings 22), Mary (gospels, particularly Luke), Junia (Romans 16), Priscilla (Acts 18), he contends that women were used by God in some of the most intelligent and faithful ways. He highlights that the sin and fall of Adam created a desire for man to dominate woman, and woman to dominate man. The work of Jesus Christ brought restoration (or neutrality - see page 77) to the Eikon (image, likeness of God - page 68), and therefore brings us to Paul's liberating understanding of the apostle's message:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ga 3:28-29.

The discussion about women in ministry will continue to be a hot topic in the church. McKnight challenges his readers to think through the issue, discuss it, and allow the blue parakeet to "sing and fly" (page 174).

Overall, it was a wonderful, easy-to-read book. I would highly recommend it, and hope that you are challenged as I was to think through the way in which we approach, discern, and live out scripture. McKnight, time and time again, urged his readers, that when they read scripture, they are not only encountering the story of God, but encountering the great author behind it. May we approach scripture with the expectation of meeting with the author of life and lover of creation.

Scot McKnight - Discerning Scripture


Continuing on in McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet, we arrive at one of the more purposefully contentious chapters. Chapter 9 deals with following Jesus and it questions whether or not we can or want to follow the modeled life that Jesus lived. He uses three different points to illustrate that we rarely see it necessary to follow exactly what Jesus says. These areas are: (1) prayer, (2) conversion, and (3) ethics. I highly recommend reading this book, and therefore do not want to give too much away in this blog. Just to give a taste of what McKnight is talking about here, let’s look at the area of prayer.

The setting is the life, words, and work of Jesus of Nazareth. In Luke 11:1-4, Jesus’ disciples question him as to how they are to pray. McKnight translates Jesus response as, “Whenever you pray, recite this…” The prayer that Jesus offers, what we have deemed as the Lord’s Prayer, are a familiar but distant friend to many of us. It is a rarity when the words of the Lord’s Prayer actually graze the mouths of worshippers in many Protest-Evangelical circles, yet, as McKnight observes, this obviously fails to do that which Jesus instructed. Why is it that so many of us have interpreted Jesus’ instruction here to be based on a principle and not literally? How does this discernment process take place? Why have we given ourselves authority in praying other ways than how Jesus explicitly instructed?

In an Introduction to Christian Ethics course that I took last quarter, we discussed the reality that we all uphold the principles behind law and that we are justified in doing so. Farmers do not typically spare the corners of their fields for the poor, and we do not condemn them for not doing so. But we do see giving to and caring of the poor as an essential principle. Most of us do not keep the regular Sabbath (or have ever), of sundown Friday night to Saturday. But most would stand firmly behind the importance of giving up time, energy, and needs to spend in service and discipline. But if you are like me, and as Scot McKnight intends, realizing that we apply principles to Jesus’ instruction rather than following explicitly, is disconcerting. For some reason I have been engrained with the thought that Jesus’ words need to be followed more exactly and literally than the rest of Scripture. McKnight says that, “this chapter is intended to provoke in order to get you to think together about how you are actually reading the Bible” (127). Those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will claim to know him relationally and follow him in obedience; that we discern and reinterpret Jesus’ instruction is a reality, and we need to be aware of this in order that we can speak properly and honestly about our faith.

The obvious super-question that arises from this post and McKnight’s chapter is, “So what?” When we have realized that we go through this process of discernment, how will it effect our future interpretation and application? Will we try and live more closely to the explicit/literal instruction of Jesus, or will we continue to humbly rely on the Spirit to apply instructions that will remain true to the principle? Any thoughts? Are you comfortable with this process of discerning Jesus’ instruction?

Membership - A Prayer for Guidance

My thoughts have been consumed with membership in the church for the past week, and I have attempted to approach the discussion objectively, realizing of course that this can never fully be accomplished. Factors that make objectivity in this study impossible are:


  • I am a part of church
  • I am in a leadership position at a church that believes in the process of membership (as do I)
  • I have emotion connection with this topic as I try and discern to what and whom I am a member of

Without absolute objectivity (which is a mere myth in itself), my prayer continues to be for the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit in the experiences and questions of life. I also have to approach such research with the expectation of knowing God more and falling more greatly in love with the body of Christ. Membership, just like the Eucharist, can be a divisive issue (as can any topic with a church – Lord have mercy). May all who think through such issues do so with a desire for unity with one another and work towards obedience on the paths of righteousness.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (prayer 58 in the Book of Common Prayer)

The Blue Parakeet - Final Thoughts


The final chapters in McKnight's book, The Blue Parekeet, provided a beautiful and generous understanding of a blue parakeet: women in ministry. The blue parakeets are "oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens" (page 208). McKnight addresses the two most controversial sections of Paul's writing on the topic, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15. But these are not our "theological gems" in the discussion. So much of the conservative/fundamental/"caging" understanding of women in ministry has happened by isolating these verses from the story of women throughout the story of scripture.
McKnight writes that, at a minimum, women served as teachers, exhorters, leaders, and prophetess as exceptions (his own understanding would be more than exceptions). Using the examples of Miriam (Exodus 15), Deborah (Judges 4-5), Huldah (2 Kings 22), Mary (gospels, particularly Luke), Junia (Romans 16), Priscilla (Acts 18), he contends that women were used by God in some of the most intelligent and faithful ways. He highlights that the sin and fall of Adam created a desire for man to dominate woman, and woman to dominate man. The work of Jesus Christ brought restoration (or neutrality - see page 77) to the Eikon (image, likeness of God - page 68), and therefore brings us to Paul's liberating understanding of the apostle's message:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ga 3:28-29.

The discussion about women in ministry will continue to be a hot topic in the church. McKnight challenges his readers to think through the issue, discuss it, and allow the blue parakeet to "sing and fly" (page 174).
Overall, it was a wonderful, easy-to-read book. I would highly recommend it, and hope that you are challenged as I was to think through the way in which we approach, discern, and live out scripture. McKnight, time and time again, urged his readers, that when they read scripture, they are not only encountering the story of God, but encountering the great author behind it. May we approach scripture with the expectation of meeting with the author of life and lover of creation.

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Scot McKnight - Discerning Scripture


Continuing on in McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet, we arrive at one of the more purposefully contentious chapters. Chapter 9 deals with following Jesus and it questions whether or not we can or want to follow the modeled life that Jesus lived. He uses three different points to illustrate that we rarely see it necessary to follow exactly what Jesus says. These areas are: (1) prayer, (2) conversion, and (3) ethics. I highly recommend reading this book, and therefore do not want to give too much away in this blog. Just to give a taste of what McKnight is talking about here, let’s look at the area of prayer.
The setting is the life, words, and work of Jesus of Nazareth. In Luke 11:1-4, Jesus’ disciples question him as to how they are to pray. McKnight translates Jesus response as, “Whenever you pray, recite this…” The prayer that Jesus offers, what we have deemed as the Lord’s Prayer, are a familiar but distant friend to many of us. It is a rarity when the words of the Lord’s Prayer actually graze the mouths of worshippers in many Protest-Evangelical circles, yet, as McKnight observes, this obviously fails to do that which Jesus instructed. Why is it that so many of us have interpreted Jesus’ instruction here to be based on a principle and not literally? How does this discernment process take place? Why have we given ourselves authority in praying other ways than how Jesus explicitly instructed?
In an Introduction to Christian Ethics course that I took last quarter, we discussed the reality that we all uphold the principles behind law and that we are justified in doing so. Farmers do not typically spare the corners of their fields for the poor, and we do not condemn them for not doing so. But we do see giving to and caring of the poor as an essential principle. Most of us do not keep the regular Sabbath (or have ever), of sundown Friday night to Saturday. But most would stand firmly behind the importance of giving up time, energy, and needs to spend in service and discipline. But if you are like me, and as Scot McKnight intends, realizing that we apply principles to Jesus’ instruction rather than following explicitly, is disconcerting. For some reason I have been engrained with the thought that Jesus’ words need to be followed more exactly and literally than the rest of Scripture. McKnight says that, “this chapter is intended to provoke in order to get you to think together about how you are actually reading the Bible” (127). Those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will claim to know him relationally and follow him in obedience; that we discern and reinterpret Jesus’ instruction is a reality, and we need to be aware of this in order that we can speak properly and honestly about our faith.
The obvious super-question that arises from this post and McKnight’s chapter is, “So what?” When we have realized that we go through this process of discernment, how will it effect our future interpretation and application? Will we try and live more closely to the explicit/literal instruction of Jesus, or will we continue to humbly rely on the Spirit to apply instructions that will remain true to the principle? Any thoughts? Are you comfortable with this process of discerning Jesus’ instruction?

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Membership - A Prayer for Guidance

My thoughts have been consumed with membership in the church for the past week, and I have attempted to approach the discussion objectively, realizing of course that this can never fully be accomplished. Factors that make objectivity in this study impossible are:


  • I am a part of church
  • I am in a leadership position at a church that believes in the process of membership (as do I)
  • I have emotion connection with this topic as I try and discern to what and whom I am a member of

Without absolute objectivity (which is a mere myth in itself), my prayer continues to be for the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit in the experiences and questions of life. I also have to approach such research with the expectation of knowing God more and falling more greatly in love with the body of Christ. Membership, just like the Eucharist, can be a divisive issue (as can any topic with a church – Lord have mercy). May all who think through such issues do so with a desire for unity with one another and work towards obedience on the paths of righteousness.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (prayer 58 in the Book of Common Prayer)

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

"The Blue Parakeet" - Encountering God in Scripture


I have just started a book, The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight, who is the Karl A. Olsson professor of religious studies at North Park College. I was first introduced to McKnight in '06 when I was doing a senior research paper on Protestants' understanding and appreciation of Mary. I have, more recently, found myself visiting his blog numerous times each day. He is most well-known outside of North Park for his award-winning book, Jesus Creed.

The Blue Parakeet was written out of years of McKnight's questioning and coming to grips with how we approach Scripture, and more specifically, how we deal with passages that seem to not always "fit." He says that we all try to 'tame' Scripture, in order to make it fit into a nice and neat puzzle. Approaching the Bible as a puzzle needing to be put together completely undermines the story of Scripture.

In the sixth chapter, McKnight illustrates the "authority approach" to the Bible that he, and most of us, approach the Bible with. Important to this approach are the words inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and submission. His suggestion is not that we do away with these words and descriptives, but they become "swallowed up in loving God" (page 93). He says that:
"those who have a proper relatioship to the Bible never need to speak of the Bible as their authority nor do they speak of their submission to the Bible. They are so in tune with God, so in love with him, that the word "authority" is swallowed up in loving God. Even more, the word "submission" is engulfed in the disposition of listening to God speak through the Bible and in the practice of doing what God calls us to do" (Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 93).
I really appreciate this approach to Scripture. It does not do away with the "authority" of Scripture, but makes it servient to the relational aspect of encountering the Almighty God through the words of God. I pray that when I read Scripture, I walk away not only knowing more about God, but knowing Him more deeply from having encountered the experience of a God who cares to make Himself known.

"The Blue Parakeet" - Encountering God in Scripture


I have just started a book, The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight, who is the Karl A. Olsson professor of religious studies at North Park College. I was first introduced to McKnight in '06 when I was doing a senior research paper on Protestants' understanding and appreciation of Mary. I have, more recently, found myself visiting his blog numerous times each day. He is most well-known outside of North Park for his award-winning book, Jesus Creed.
The Blue Parakeet was written out of years of McKnight's questioning and coming to grips with how we approach Scripture, and more specifically, how we deal with passages that seem to not always "fit." He says that we all try to 'tame' Scripture, in order to make it fit into a nice and neat puzzle. Approaching the Bible as a puzzle needing to be put together completely undermines the story of Scripture.
In the sixth chapter, McKnight illustrates the "authority approach" to the Bible that he, and most of us, approach the Bible with. Important to this approach are the words inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and submission. His suggestion is not that we do away with these words and descriptives, but they become "swallowed up in loving God" (page 93). He says that:
"those who have a proper relatioship to the Bible never need to speak of the Bible as their authority nor do they speak of their submission to the Bible. They are so in tune with God, so in love with him, that the word "authority" is swallowed up in loving God. Even more, the word "submission" is engulfed in the disposition of listening to God speak through the Bible and in the practice of doing what God calls us to do" (Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 93).
I really appreciate this approach to Scripture. It does not do away with the "authority" of Scripture, but makes it servient to the relational aspect of encountering the Almighty God through the words of God. I pray that when I read Scripture, I walk away not only knowing more about God, but knowing Him more deeply from having encountered the experience of a God who cares to make Himself known.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Frustrated with James MacDonald's Blog

Okay, so I know that I am posting too much today, but I just finished reading one of James MacDonald's blog entries. The post itself caused some heated emotions, but even more so a comment left by one of the readers. The post title is, "Why Brian McLaren is like my Palm Pilot," which then goes on to say how innovation and flash of new gadgets eventually wears off and reveals the truth behind the flash. I am certainly disturbed by the disunity that this post tries to cause, but then take a look at one of the comments:

"Or perhaps pastor of socialism, since so many of McClaren’s ilk are big Obama Hussein supporters cause he’s “a friend to the poor.”

The definition of poor meaning those who wont work or take responsibility for their actions and feel they are entitled to everything."


Need I explain a frustration with this? AAAHHH!!!!!!

Isaiah 5:1-2, The Care of the Vineyard Owner

If you visit and read the blog, you are probably sick of hearing about membership by now. I am quite passionate at thinking through the issue though, because I am currently not a member of the church that I have called my home church for more than four years. Why haven't I made that step? Anyway, as a break from the discussion on membership, I will share what I have been learning in my understanding of God through Isaiah 5:1-7. I will most likely end up preaching on this on March 8th, 2009, so hopefully the blog will provide a way to stimulate thought and further contemplation.

Isaiah 5:1-2


Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Is 5:1-2.

In the first two verses, the author speaks as the friend/best-man to someone labeled as "my beloved." Although most translations of this section will describe verses 1-7 as, "The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard," we can really only call the first two verses the love song. Without falling prey to the scholastic/academic controversy regarding who the beloved is, I believe it to be most appropriate and accurate in this text to understand the author to intend Yahweh. These verses tell of the incredible care and concern that Yahweh has shown for his vineyard, the covenant (religious) people of Israel (again, more controversial than that, but just go with it).

First, Yahweh has made available a prosperous and good land. The hill in which he planted was fertile. All of the steps that would be required for this vineyard to produce good fruit were taken: preparing the soil, clearing the stones, planting the best vines, putting a watchtower among it, forming a container to store all the good produce. But the last third of verse two throws a curve-ball: despite the efforts and care shown, the vineyard produced "wild" grapes.

These first two verses prepare us to hear the remaining five in this section, and ultimately the remaining 28 in the chapter. And the whole point of these verses is to show how lovingly passionate and careful Yahweh was in preparing, so that those people that were called into covenant, would be blessed and be a blessing. This section illustrates the care that God has for his people. We are all created in His image, and created with care and hope of growing into what we were meant to be. May we look upon our God as a sovereign creator, but a creator that is truly in love with and caring for, his creation.

Applying Father Dulles

I will take a few moments to expand and clarify some of what was stated in the previous post, in regards to the four approaches to membership: Mystical-Organic, Juridical-dogmatic, Psycho-sociological, Personal-communal. These labels were given by the author, Avery Dulles, who yes, is a Roman Catholic that teaches Catholic ecclesiology and fundamental theology. The reason I have chosen to use this book as a springboard is that Father Dulle does an excellent job tracing membership, or as Vaitcan II states 'incorporation,' throughout history and clarifies the Roman Catholic's understanding of non-Catholic 'members" of the Church of Christ.

Of particular importance for my own thoughts and discussion about membership into our Protestant churches, are the first and third approaches: mystical-organic and psycho-sociological. The mystical-organic approach seems to be the most desired by those who currently question, "why we becomes members to a local church." This approach emphasizes a baptism into the Lordship of Christ, which unites all believers in the true faith (for Dulle and the Catholic belief, this mystical-organic is seen even more greatly in the Eucharistic fellowship). Connection to the jurdicial offices of the church or a local community are unnecessary, as are the social commitment through membership. "We can be connected to one another, not because we have declared our lives in membership and commitment to one another, but because we are united to Christ."

The second approach that I find particularly applicable to this discussion is the psycho-sociological. From this perspective, our membership is valid because of the way we are committed to one another. Emphasis rests on the participation of all members in the function, doctrine, and practice of the faith.

The one approach that we, as Protestants, still so strongly oppose, is the juridical-dogmatic approach. Institutions are still seen as evil purveyors of injustice and oppression, both socially and intellectually. We submit to Christ as the head of the Church, and no man or council. This seems very dangerous to me. Why are we so unwilling to submit to authorities in the church? Apostolocity has been contended over for since the Christian church began to take shape. Paul talks about the authority of his apostleship: "Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it."* The authority of the leaders and apostles was given in order to build up believers and non-believers. Capitalism has further damaged our ability to put trust in church leaders. We use a hermeneutic of suspicion when critiquing our church leaders decisions. If we are to commit to one another in the social and mystical sense, we need to also work on trusting our ecclesial leaders and the doctrines of our church.

All that to say, I think the fourth approach is very appropriate for how we view church membership. We are, through baptism and interior faith, first and foremost members of the Church of Christ, the Lordship of Jesus. In becoming members of a local church, we also become members of the people of God, and we commit to serve one another, and entrust our own being in the hands of other people. Finally, and the part that we find most difficult, we become members of a juridical institution, and we commit to fall under the authority of the church, so long as it aligns with the witness of Scripture. I am certainly coming to a point of placing even greater importance on the membership process, but still have some questions:

  1. What should I do when I no longer agree with all of the doctrinal/essential statements of the church?
  2. Should I become a member of the local community when I know that I will be moving in the near future?
  3. How will we accept those who have been members of other churches? And what if their view of initiation into the body (social) is different than ours (i.e. - infant baptism/adult, confessional, confirmation, etc.)?


*The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 2 Co 10:8.

Frustrated with James MacDonald's Blog

Okay, so I know that I am posting too much today, but I just finished reading one of James MacDonald's blog entries. The post itself caused some heated emotions, but even more so a comment left by one of the readers. The post title is, "Why Brian McLaren is like my Palm Pilot," which then goes on to say how innovation and flash of new gadgets eventually wears off and reveals the truth behind the flash. I am certainly disturbed by the disunity that this post tries to cause, but then take a look at one of the comments:

"Or perhaps pastor of socialism, since so many of McClaren’s ilk are big Obama Hussein supporters cause he’s “a friend to the poor.”

The definition of poor meaning those who wont work or take responsibility for their actions and feel they are entitled to everything."


Need I explain a frustration with this? AAAHHH!!!!!!

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Isaiah 5:1-2, The Care of the Vineyard Owner

If you visit and read the blog, you are probably sick of hearing about membership by now. I am quite passionate at thinking through the issue though, because I am currently not a member of the church that I have called my home church for more than four years. Why haven't I made that step? Anyway, as a break from the discussion on membership, I will share what I have been learning in my understanding of God through Isaiah 5:1-7. I will most likely end up preaching on this on March 8th, 2009, so hopefully the blog will provide a way to stimulate thought and further contemplation.
Isaiah 5:1-2

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Is 5:1-2.

In the first two verses, the author speaks as the friend/best-man to someone labeled as "my beloved." Although most translations of this section will describe verses 1-7 as, "The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard," we can really only call the first two verses the love song. Without falling prey to the scholastic/academic controversy regarding who the beloved is, I believe it to be most appropriate and accurate in this text to understand the author to intend Yahweh. These verses tell of the incredible care and concern that Yahweh has shown for his vineyard, the covenant (religious) people of Israel (again, more controversial than that, but just go with it).
First, Yahweh has made available a prosperous and good land. The hill in which he planted was fertile. All of the steps that would be required for this vineyard to produce good fruit were taken: preparing the soil, clearing the stones, planting the best vines, putting a watchtower among it, forming a container to store all the good produce. But the last third of verse two throws a curve-ball: despite the efforts and care shown, the vineyard produced "wild" grapes.
These first two verses prepare us to hear the remaining five in this section, and ultimately the remaining 28 in the chapter. And the whole point of these verses is to show how lovingly passionate and careful Yahweh was in preparing, so that those people that were called into covenant, would be blessed and be a blessing. This section illustrates the care that God has for his people. We are all created in His image, and created with care and hope of growing into what we were meant to be. May we look upon our God as a sovereign creator, but a creator that is truly in love with and caring for, his creation.

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Applying Father Dulles

I will take a few moments to expand and clarify some of what was stated in the previous post, in regards to the four approaches to membership: Mystical-Organic, Juridical-dogmatic, Psycho-sociological, Personal-communal. These labels were given by the author, Avery Dulles, who yes, is a Roman Catholic that teaches Catholic ecclesiology and fundamental theology. The reason I have chosen to use this book as a springboard is that Father Dulle does an excellent job tracing membership, or as Vaitcan II states 'incorporation,' throughout history and clarifies the Roman Catholic's understanding of non-Catholic 'members" of the Church of Christ.
Of particular importance for my own thoughts and discussion about membership into our Protestant churches, are the first and third approaches: mystical-organic and psycho-sociological. The mystical-organic approach seems to be the most desired by those who currently question, "why we becomes members to a local church." This approach emphasizes a baptism into the Lordship of Christ, which unites all believers in the true faith (for Dulle and the Catholic belief, this mystical-organic is seen even more greatly in the Eucharistic fellowship). Connection to the jurdicial offices of the church or a local community are unnecessary, as are the social commitment through membership. "We can be connected to one another, not because we have declared our lives in membership and commitment to one another, but because we are united to Christ."
The second approach that I find particularly applicable to this discussion is the psycho-sociological. From this perspective, our membership is valid because of the way we are committed to one another. Emphasis rests on the participation of all members in the function, doctrine, and practice of the faith.
The one approach that we, as Protestants, still so strongly oppose, is the juridical-dogmatic approach. Institutions are still seen as evil purveyors of injustice and oppression, both socially and intellectually. We submit to Christ as the head of the Church, and no man or council. This seems very dangerous to me. Why are we so unwilling to submit to authorities in the church? Apostolocity has been contended over for since the Christian church began to take shape. Paul talks about the authority of his apostleship: "Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it."* The authority of the leaders and apostles was given in order to build up believers and non-believers. Capitalism has further damaged our ability to put trust in church leaders. We use a hermeneutic of suspicion when critiquing our church leaders decisions. If we are to commit to one another in the social and mystical sense, we need to also work on trusting our ecclesial leaders and the doctrines of our church.
All that to say, I think the fourth approach is very appropriate for how we view church membership. We are, through baptism and interior faith, first and foremost members of the Church of Christ, the Lordship of Jesus. In becoming members of a local church, we also become members of the people of God, and we commit to serve one another, and entrust our own being in the hands of other people. Finally, and the part that we find most difficult, we become members of a juridical institution, and we commit to fall under the authority of the church, so long as it aligns with the witness of Scripture. I am certainly coming to a point of placing even greater importance on the membership process, but still have some questions:
  1. What should I do when I no longer agree with all of the doctrinal/essential statements of the church?
  2. Should I become a member of the local community when I know that I will be moving in the near future?
  3. How will we accept those who have been members of other churches? And what if their view of initiation into the body (social) is different than ours (i.e. - infant baptism/adult, confessional, confirmation, etc.)?

*The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 2 Co 10:8.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Four Models of Membership - Avery Dulles

From what I can gather, the Roman Catholic Church has decided that there are three different levels of membership. This arose from questions that were raised as to "whether one could be in the Church as a communion of grace but not as an organized society, and whether one could belong to the Church of Christ without being a Roman Catholic." 2. Robert C. Dodds, in 1968, published an article that proposed a "general membership" for the Catholic Church and a number of Protestant bodies (Robert C. Dobbs, "The Meaning of Membership," Christian Century 85 (July-December 1968) 1135-40). Is it this common membership that we are seeking after when we question membership of a local community? Or, should we be questioning membership into any institutional body at all?

Avery Dulles (Church Membership as a Catholic and Ecumenical Problem (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1974) offers four positions of membership in the church:

Mystical-Organic: Christ is seen as the head, the Church as his Body. Membership into the mystical-organic model is through interior faith and external baptism. Thomas Aquinas is cited as a representative of this view. He says that, "unbaptized believers are said to belong to the Church mentally but not sacramentally; baptized believers, both mentally and sacramentally; baptized unbelievers, sacramentally (through the baptismal character) but not mentally. (7-9)

Juridical-dogmatic: This Church is described here as "a socially structured religious body, charged with the custody and disbursal of the treasures of grace" (13). Baptism is the mode of entrance into the community. There are three requirements for this type of membership: "One must believe the true faith, as taught by the legitimate pastors; secondly, one must be in sacramental communion with the pastors and faithful; and thirdly, one must be subject to the ruling authority of the pope" (14) (remember, I am using a book written from a Roman Catholic's perspective: if you are Protestant, bare with this and give some grace). Failure as a member is witnessed not in sins against one's neighbor, but in refusing to submit to church authority (15). Dulles attributes Vatican II's approach to membership partially out of the juridical-dogmatic method (16).

Psycho-sociological: This method has arisen in modernity, and particularly defines Protestant understandings (24). The Church "results from the consensus of its own members." "Dulle says that, "Membership cannot exist in any meaningful sense unless the individual shares the ideals and goals of the group, feels a sense of identity with it, and is inclined to participate in some of its activities" (25). Quoting Herve Carrier, Dulle says that in this view, "the measure that the individual sees himself as taking part in the group, identifies himself with it, receives motivation from it, and interacts with it" (27).

Personal-communal: This method deals with the ancient notion of koinonia. Dulle quotes Ludwig Hertling in saying, "the bond that united bishops and the faithful, the bishops among themselves, the faithful among themselves, a bond that was both effected and at the same time made manifest by eucharistic communion" (50). This is rooted in the Holy Spirit, who gives to all who have responded to the grace of God. This method is a combination of the other three:

"Communio, thus understood, is a vluable category for unifying and illuminating the concepts of membership proper to each of the three preceding approaches. Communio is initally given through the spiritual and sacramental incorporation of all believers into Christ--an incorporation clarified in the mystical-organic theory. Secondly, communio is strengthened and sealed by the societal bonds that are the focus of the juridical-dogmatic approach. Thirdly, communio is expressed and fulfilled through the voluntary commitment and common effort that constitute the principal theme of the psycho-sociological theory of membership" (53).


I wonder, do any of these four models resonate with your understanding of church membership?