Theodrama is back…

After two and a half years without any new blog posts I felt it is once again time to revive the habit of writing as a personal discipline in thinking aloud.

In the time since last posting on this site my life and family has needed some space from any sense that I “ought” to blog anything.  In the two and a half years we have had a very close family member die, we have had our third child, rescued a dog, enjoyed a couple years of seminary (still in process) and have been through a significant transition in our church leadership including a full re-org and a shift in my own role.  In a sense I feel I am just now catching my breath enough to think about writing anything besides a sermon or an email.

I hope to blog regularly in 2015, especially during my sabbatical months this next summer.  If you are an old or new reader, I am grateful for you taking the time to read and contribute to this conversation on the unfolding drama of redemption that is the glory of Jesus Christ.

Until He Comes..

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From a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon on taking the Eucharist and the following passage: “For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”—1 Cor. 11:26.:

Until Christ come. We are taught our interim employment—what is to occupy us until Jesus comes. Beloved brethren, until Jesus comes we have nothing left but to think of him. Till Jesus comes the main thing we have to do is to think of and set him forth a crucified Saviour. There is no food for the Church but Jesus; there is no testimony to the world but Jesus crucified. They have sometimes told us that in this growing age we may expect to have developed a higher form of Christianity. Well, they shall have it that like it; but Christ himself has left us nothing but just this, “Show my death till I come.” The preacher is to go on preaching a dying Saviour; the saint is to go on trusting that dying Saviour, feeding on him and letting his soul be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. There is nothing left us to occupy our thoughts, or to be the subject of our joy, as our dear dying Lord. Oh! let us feed on him. Each one, personally, as a believer—let him feed on his Saviour. If he has come once, come again. Keep on coming till Christ himself shall appear. As long as the invitation stands let us not slight it, but constantly come to Christ himself and feed on him.

On Lord’s-day Evening, August 6th, 1871.

Tuesday Morning Prayer: From Clement of Alexandria

Prayer of Saint Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215)

Be kind to your little children, Lord.  Be a gentle teacher, patient with our weakness and stupidity.  And give us the strength and discernment to do what you tell us, and so grow in your likeness. May we all live in the peace that comes from you.  May we journey towards your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne serenely along by the Holy Spirit.  Night and day may we give you praise and thanks, because you have shown us that all things belong to you, and all blessings are gifts from you.  To you, the essence of wisdom, the foundation of truth, be glory for evermore.

Why illusion keeps faith at bay…

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I will tell the truth about myself. I avoid activities that make me feel incompetent. I, like many people, don’t enjoy looking foolish or feeling like a failure. This means that there are a wide array of activities that I prefer to stay away from, such as: singing, dancing, sports requiring great balance or feats of physical strength, or making phone calls to people I have little clue as to how to speak.

You probably have your own list. You have also likely realized that the more you remain in the zone of activities that you are comfortable with, the smaller your world becomes.

And when our world grows small through comfort and avoidance of discomfort a monster grows up in the absence of a big world. The monster is illusion. It is the illusion of safety, security and control. When our world is momentarily controllable, we dupe ourselves into thinking our control grants us safety. Security comes by means of our certainty of the world’s boundaries and mechanics. We lock ourselves in the illusory box of “if…then…” thinking and feeling. “If I have enough money, then I will have what I need to be happy.” “If we do the right things, God will reward us with health and prosperity.” Etc.

The real disaster of illusory consciousness is not that we are deceived per se, but that we have kept something greater at bay. We have managed to avoid faith. Actually, we have placed our faith in our illusion of our little world of control and comfort. It is actually dealing with God that we have avoided. Faith is about actively trusting this God that remains forever beyond our control and our comfort. And yet, it is when we are faced with Him that we find what makes us most alive and the conditions in which we are most free to be ourselves.

While teaching through Jonah I came across Melville’s preacher in Moby Dick. One of the things he says is, “…(F)aith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.”

What struck me about this is the way in which death confronts our illusions of control and safety like nothing else can. Whether the physical death of a person, the metaphorical death of a dream or ideal or the developmental and historical death of the way things are, we are forced to deal with the possibility that our small worlds are illusory. That there is a reality bigger than the one I have grasped. Avoidance is confronted by an ending that we can no longer run from.

Yet, the quote rings true. It is often in the absence of illusion that we cling to God. It is in the loss of perceived control that we are most likely to yield all control. Faith feeds among the tombs so to speak.

When we lean in a Godward direction, dealing with his mystery rather than our illusion we find an ability to live in a bigger world. The world that was previously too risky becomes safe for an adventure because we no longer have to be in control; we have encountered someone who is much better as Lord of the universe than we. Endings are really beginnings. Because in the end of an illusion we get the beginning of faith, but this time the faith we hold to is a lot more honest.

Afterall, Jesus said that life only comes as a result of a death.

Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am , my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me.

John 12:23-26

He is Risen…Hell is vexed

Found this in Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement. Whatever, your theology of hell and the days between Jesus’ death and resurrection, it underscores the notion of recapitulation found in the early church and the triumph of resurrection offered through union with Jesus found in the Gospel. Does our union with Christ, through faith, beget this kind of confidence and praise in the face of suffering and death? Here is a great articulation of Christian hope in Jesus’ atonement. The quote that follows is John Chrysostom’s paschal homily, read every Easter in the Eastern Orthodox tradition:

“He has destroyed death by undergoing death.
He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.
He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold it when he cried:
Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face
below;
filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;
filled with bitterness, for it was mocked;
filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;
filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains.
Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven.
O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages. Amen!”

Diagnosis: Fear

My service engine light just came on the other day.  I am not a big fan of this little dashboard display because it indicates that there is something wrong undeaneath the hood.  And when something is wrong underneath the hood, it inevitably leads to a mechanic bill and a lot less money in my bank.

In the long run, if I expect problems and set aside money for the inevitable mechanic bills, I will be prepared to pay the cost of addressing the problems under the hood.  Without a mechanical diagnosis I am left with the fear of the unknown.  Worse than the fear of the unknown, however, is the bliss of ignorance of the problem.

Because, when we are unaware of the problem the whole engine could become damaged to a point beyond repair.  While no relationship should compare to a well oiled machine, the illustration serves the truth that unresolved problems under the surface of our relationships can become true wrecks.  They can total us and the net impact of our lives.

In a recent conversation with a couple working through what seemed like a difference of opinion and communication style we quickly discovered that their “issue” was merely the warning light.  This is true for all of us:

Our spending habits.

Our sudden flares of temper.

Our avoidance of substance in relationships.

What was under the hood? For one person it was a deep seated passivity.  For the other a deep seated need to control.  There was oil and water mixing in the relationship.

What is true of passivity is true of control.  When we are passive we are afraid of failure and rejection.  When we are controlling we are afaid of failure and rejection.  We choose ways to respond to that fear that fit our personality, but the diagnosis is fear. Passive men are looking for ways of getting an ego boost without contributing anything that requires vulnerability.  Controlling women are looking for security without needing to trust someone else to be loving and responsibile.  The same is equalling true for controlling men and passive women.

While there are certainly gender sterotypes for a reason, this is ultimately a question of the human heart, not the male or female psyche.  When we can see each other for what we are really yearning for and truly afraid of we can address the problem under the surface and face the “service light” with compassion and grace instead of fear and avoidance.

But there is always a cost.  Can I bear with patience the fear that prevents my husband from taking the initiative to plan a date or ask for a raise?  Can I bear with humility and grace the fear that drives my wife to micro manage our calendar and over protect our children?

But the cost is not only how we are impacted.  It must go deeper.  The cost must involve facing ourselves.  Facing the source of passivity and control – staring into the eye of our fears of ultimate rejection and abandonment.  And in the face of that to cease trying and striving to alleviate the fear through performance or avoidance.

We must give up altogether any attempt to deal with the fear through our own means.  Since it is in relationship that we are broken, it is in relationship that we must be healed.

This is why St. John tells us that it is perfect love that conquers our fear.  Where are we to find perfect love in a broken world?  Only in the one who shows us what love is, by laying down his life for his friends.

Only in relation to Jesus does our passivity grow the courage to be vulnerable in our contribution and responsibility.  Only in relation to him does our need to control melt in light of the one who yielded himself to death for our lives to begin.  Where does the courage to face the warning lights of life come from?  It happens when we see that the real cost has already been paid and the limitless resources of God’s grace have been given to us for his sake.

Afterall, God is in the business of repairing the world from its multifaceted fractures through his multifaceted grace.  What is there really to be fearful of when God is King? Why should those the King has endowed with responsibility shrink back?  Why should those that the King rules seek to control their world?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

Looking in all the wrong places…

It has become an axiom around my house that “man-eyes” are useless when it comes to finding misplaced items.

Yet, “man-eyes” are still sent on misplaced-item finding missions.  Without fail I seem to look right past the item in question.  “It’s not here!” I shout across the house.  And within minutes that area in question yields the lost item as soon as my wife looks for it. Bam. Found.

What is the main difference? It’s that I am looking for what I think the item “should” look like instead of what it does look like.

This observation seems to be true in area of Christian maturity.  A person will think of themselves as mature because they possess certain theoretical or theological knowledge.  Or a person will be thought to be mature because they are committed to certain practices.  Or a person will be thought mature because they do not participate in particular behaviors often thought as immature.

Not only does this have ramifications in the area of spiritual formation or Christian discipleship – but in leadership.  When we invite people to lead, whether hiring ministry staff, recruiting volunteers or appointing key leaders it is vital to look in the right places.

I am the first person to suggest that people, if they are to lead well, need good, relevant and adequate knowledge to the field of their leadership.  Equally, I am conviced that certain practices are key to a leader’s long term success.  I would also advocate for the avoidance of destructive, harmful behavior.  Yet, all of these are somewhat static items.  They are measurable to an extent and can be answered in yes or no questions: Does this person know how to read and apply Scripture; does this person practice prayer; does this person avoid getting drunk?

But I would argue that the more important place to look in a potential leader’s (or any disciple’s) life is the less measurable, more ineffable, dynamic qualities.

What do I mean?  It seems to me that at the core of Christian belief is that God is relational.  His eternal existence as persons-in-relation is the central theological distinction that we get from our theology – God is Triune.  This has enormous implications for everything.  I saw a comment by a theologian friend of mine the other day that said God is radically other oriented.  This is what it means for him to exist as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

If the goal of Christian life is to grow into the likeness of Christ, to become like God’s own character then the mark of maturity will be a radical orientation toward the other, one marked by sacrificial love.

Here is what I am getting at.  If we are really mature, then the static things we know and do rest on the surface of a deep well of who we are in relation to God, self, and others.  The good news is so profoundly relational to the core that anyone assuming maturity without being radically converted relationally, on a being (ontological) level, is looking in the wrong places.

When we look for leaders we really need to look at the relationships of the person in question.  What is the general relational effect of our lives?  Do people feel welcomed, as if they have space to be themselves around us? Do people feel inspired and challenged to grow to their potential around us?

What this will mean for growing disciples and leaders is that we must train our senses to look at the relational ethos of individuals instead of the merely measurable faculties.  The relational stuff is all about being.  This is dynamic, changing and often difficult to quantify.  But there is no static substitute for the dynamic kind of being that is Christ-likeness.

I will be posting some quotes/thoughts on the kinds of things required for growing into the  connoisseur’s of the soul that we must become in order to detect dynamic maturity beneath the static surface.

But first, what kind’s of lenses do you put on when looking at yourself/others to detect maturity?