I was at some denominational meetings in March, and throughout them I felt a discomfort. It wasn’t just the fault of church chairs or the brown colored water we usually pass off as coffee. There was something about out conversations about ministry together that left me feeling unsettled. I wasn’t until a few weeks later that things came together in my mind and heart around what made me feel as I did. These thoughts on ministry and the church were birthed from those rumblings.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Be missional,” he told him, and Matthew got up and developed a missional ecclesiology.

Matthew 16:24 - Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be relevant must deny themselves and take up their cross and start an intergenerational ministry.”

Ever since the church first sensed an inkling about 50 years ago that it may be on the outs with greater society, it has done everything that it can to try to re-introduce itself to the West. We have seen – and maybe been a part of – movements like fundamentalism, born again, Jesus freaks, big tent evangelism, What Would Jesus Do, friendship evangelism, emergence, missional movements, and a constant grasping for relevance. The most recent name tag for our lost identity seems to be intergenerational ministry. If we can just get the kids to talk to grown-ups, maybe even their parents, then the problems we sense with the shallow and innocuous faith evident in our churches will certainly be rectified so we can get on with the business of introducing people to Jesus. More than likely though, it’s likely just another bout with amnesia that has us struggling to know ourselves and experiencing crisis over forgetting the name of our beloved. If this name tag doesn’t stick though, it won’t be long before the next travelling book tour makes its way through the Christian publishing marketplace to rename our problem.

At the root of our problems is a lack of a path to real, deep, and transmittable spiritual growth. Even if we examine ourselves deeply enough to realize a lack of discipleship is the root cause of our trouble, how many of us or our churches could really explain what discipleship looks like? Church history has many examples of roads to growth that the early followers of Jesus encouraged new followers to traverse in order to grow in their faith and grow into functional members of the church. Unfortunately, our evangelical anabaptist heritage has left us almost devoid of roads to go down. We are surrounded with biographies, we are over-run with programs for kids, tweens, youth, young adults, seniors, offer small group experiences and Sunday school classes. Often though, these programs lead to the aging out of their members. Until we can define what a disciple is, how one is made, and what growth looks like, we’re likely to continue churning out Christians without a Christ-like identity.

Until we can look ourselves and our issues in the face and realize it’s Jesus we’re looking for we’re going to keep on nervously fumbling with the spiritual change in our pockets trying to look like we know what we’re doing. Discipleship is the lifelong process of coming to know Jesus and then to continually be formed more closely into his image as we humble ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Discipleship can start at any age, so we need plans and processes that can incorporate people into the life of Christ and his church however they may come. A forty year old single father with no church background who decides to follow Jesus won’t have the history of Sunday School to fall back on in conversation. Where does he begin? The high school kid who called Jesus Lord at age four and is now reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics doesn’t likely need an evening explaining how Jesus loves him and forgives all his sin. Where does he fit? People are more complex than our programs.

What we need are not age driven programs, but growth plans based on spiritual maturity giving people starting points and stepping stones to work from as they come to the church seeking to know Jesus and follow him faithfully. It’s going to take actually getting to know people, and letting them into our lives to let them know us. Until then we likely will just keep putting new name tags for Jebus on church ministries instead of introducing people to the life changing person of Jesus.

The Myth of the One-eyed Child

Posted: October 1, 2013 in kids, life
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As I was having lunch at home to day, the middle child was thrashing about and wondering aloud, “Where de top of my Combatacon Brawoollll?” For those unfamiliar with this particular English dialect, he was looking for the top of a wooden toy tank. I had no idea where the tank was having just arrived home for lunch, but I was quickly informed by Mom – the knower of the placements of all missing things – that Brawoolllll’s top had been confiscated and placed on the appropriate high shelf to protect the baby from injuring himself on the 5 inch long wooden dowel cannon. Initially it all made sense, but then I wondered to I, and aloud to the rest of those gathered, “Seriously, how many one-eyed kids do you know?”
It is the job of any good responsible North American progenitor to protect their progeny from life’s visible hazards. Don’t run with scissors! You’ll trip, you’ll poke an eye out, you’ll go blind! … Don’t throw those stones! You could hit someone in the eye and they’d go blind! … No you can’t use your own knife to cut your food! You’ll slip, you’ll cut your finger off, you’ll go blind … I mean you’ll lose a finger! We’ve all heard it, and I’ve certainly said it. All that being said, where are the teeming hordes of one-eyed and fingerless children? I’ve never in my life met a kid with an eye patch that wasn’t part of an ill conceived Captain Jack Sparrow Halloween costume. So what are we worried about?
I’ll suggest to myself first, and you second that maybe we all take a breath, relax, maybe do some hot yoga and just let kids enjoy life apart from our paranoia once in a while. I’ll still put the baby proof lock on the household cleaners cabinet – I’m not a MONSTER – but maybe if I learn to relax a bit more it will rub off on my kids too. Maybe.

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Much has been made in recent times of the church’s need to understand embrace the strengths and ministry directions needed to include introverts. Much of Western church culture has been formed on the ideal of the extroverted pastor and church member. As an openly recognized and admitted introvert this has felt like welcome acceptance and vindication. All this being said though, I’ve been thinking lately if just the ecclesiology of the church being readjusted to include space for the quiet and thoughtful goes far enough. What if our very understanding of the gospel itself has become so culturally bound to an extroverted relational way of understanding that we need to re-evaluate that as well? Is there room in our understanding and explanation of the gospel to make it meaningful for those who are introverted and task oriented rather than naturally relational?

The common way of explaining and understanding the gospel in Western Christianity often sounds something like this:

God is love and the parts of the trinity began in perfect relationship with each other. Out of love and God’s relational nature, he created humans in his image to be included in this love relationship with him. Humans at some point broke off this relationship through sin and God sought to reconcile that relationship through covenant relationships. Humans continually failed God and lacked the ability to  reconcile things through their works, and as such God reached out to humanity in Jesus – coming in person to live amongst us. He came and lived out love and the message of forgiveness and reconciliation for creation with their creator. The greatest love of all was shown in Jesus willing death at the hands of those created in his image to in some way reconcile them with God. We now have hope for healed relationships with God and the rest of creation in this life and a life to come after death or when Jesus returns.
Now given this may not explain every denomination ‘s particulars and I’ve attempted to leave the details as broad as possible to include as many in the thoughts as possible, but I think this is a fair portrayal of the story. Relationship is good, tasks are insufficient at best and evil at worst.

Some of my thoughts and struggle with this came to a head a few months ago as I sat in church listening to a friend preaching and heard the message of, “Stop doing and stop trying to do anything to get God’s love. Just let yourself fall in love with the person of Jesus. (loosely quoted)” At that moment instead of feeling at peace and full of joy as the message was intended to do, I felt sad and helpless. I don’t disagree with the message in principle, but I wonder if there isn’t more to it than that. You see, I’m introverted and task oriented: I have little idea what to do with that message. Even in my most loving and intimate relationships everything is processed in the form of lists of things to do, to not do, and to work on getting better at. For me love does. There is always a next step to take, a plan to be made, a thing to do. Love is an action plan made with passion. To not work or seek towards doing something is to not love. This is the filter that everything has been processed through for me for as long as I can remember. Trying to conceive of relating to someone outside the context of task is confusing and borderline terrifying. When the task is clear the anxiety fades and life works. This doesn’t make the love any less real, it’s just a different frame of reference.

So, how can the gospel be explained in a way that is meaningful, and full of life, hope and love in this context?

I hope this gives you some things to ponder as you follow Jesus and share his gospel, and maybe even as you talk and think along with me. I have a number of more thoughts I plan on sharing and getting your input on hopefully in the weeks to come. I believe deeply in community hermeneutics, not just me figuring out alone with a bible in a broom closet. Is there a gospel for the task oriented?

I’m a Good Dad

Posted: July 30, 2013 in kids, life
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I’m a good dad. There, I said it out loud (ish). I’m a good dad and I, maybe for the first time, believe it.

It may come as a surprise to some people because pastors are these perfectly balanced and self-confident specimins of Christian perfection, but I have struggled with feelings of inadequacy, self consciousness, and insecurity for most of my life. In the last number of weeks and months I’ve been working through a number of these things again and exactly how they are affecting my life and even my ministry. It is amazing how seemingly small things can make a big difference.

I have never really felt that confident as a dad. I know I love my kids and I do my best to try and show it. It has been often been the case in my life though that what I am actually feeling does not get accurately perceived by those around me. I am complicated at best and socially awkward at worst. I thank God he blessed me with the wife he did who seems to understand me and enjoy my company, not just in spite of these things, but through and because of them. I noted a David Wilcox song “Hard Part” the other day that goes, “You have a whole heart, give me the hard part, I can love that too”, and was immediately grateful for Jenn. All this being said, I have for years struggled with feelings of doubt as to whether I could actually be a good dad.

Media and society is full of so many messages and mixed messages that have fed my feelings of doubt and failure. There is no end of parenting advice telling parents how they are coming up short, messing up their kids irreparably, and are generally to blame for every failure their children experience. Whether the news, magazines, social media, or blogs, there is no end of conflicting advice that has served well to convince me of my inability to be a good dad. When I am tired, frustrated, impatient, wanting to be alone, enjoying being at work, or thankful the kids have school there is always an article to convince me I am a moral failure.

Enough.

I am a good dad. Chances are you are too. Sometimes we have victories, and sometimes moments of unmitigated flaming dumpster fire failure.

I love God and try to exemplify it in my life publicly. I love my wife and tell her and the kids regularly. I tell my boys I love them multiple times a day and give hugs, kisses, and snuggles. I coach their soccer teams. I play toys with them. I share my interests with them and take on their interests as my own. I invest an hour and a half every night in the bedtime routine. I take them for ice cream for no special reason. I ask them about their days and take the time to genuinely listen. I am a good dad dang it.

I fail them regularly. I get mad. I lose my temper. I wish I was elsewhere and bargain with God to move the sun ahead ten stairs so bedtime comes sooner. I look forward to nights out and weekends away where I will not have to invest an hour and a half in the bedtime routine. And when I have done wrong I admit it openly to them and ask for forgiveness because that is what Jesus followers do. This makes me a good dad too.

I am not perfect at anything and that admission in and of itself is a good starting point for being a good dad. I am building on it.

Green Apple on BooksI have not always been an avid reader of books. I’m generally hesitant to enjoy anything that is demanded or expected of me – maybe I’ve got unexplored authority issues to go along with the numerous issues I’ve already discovered about myself – so the western educational system naturally ingrained in me a hatred of literature. College didn’t help anything as I was so overburdened with reading that I had to do, that I never made time for any reading I would want to do. I told myself that after my institutional education was done I would read more and love it. Amazon and I are pleased to affirm that I do.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been reading a book called “Salt, light, and a City”, and truth be told, it’s been a good book. It’s a helpful look at the ecclesiology (beliefs about church function, structure, etc.) of a number of theologians across the broad spectrum of Christian belief. It’s been wonderful to read and be challenged by theologians of Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed and Evangelical perspectives. The broader our scope of influences the better the chance we’ll actually wind up with the truth as we allow God to give us wisdom and discernment.

I certainly didn’t agree with some of the perspectives that I read, but I could understand where they were coming from at least. The one thing that made me cringe time and time again was the Latin. I can’t count how many times I had to read about the “missio dei”. I haven’t done a scientific study, but I have not met a person to this point who lists Latin as their language of choice. I give the author a great deal of credit for at least being wise enough to include the English translation in brackets for the numerous Latin phrases. It’s more than can be said for many works of theology.

If theologians want to be helpful to the church, they have to stop writing in Latin.

Seriously. Stop it. It’s not helpful. Not even a little. Stop. Just stop.

I understand that Latin was the language of the church and the bible for centuries. It’s not anymore though. One of the major factors motivating the reformation was to get the word of God in the language of the people. It makes no sense for our scholars to decide to stay behind. If scholars want to help the church they should likely speak its language. Leaders in general need to learn how to speak the language and dialect of the people following them if they hope to take those people anywhere.

Pastors could need to learn to keep their Greek and Hebrew word studies in their studies and out of their sermons. Nothing kills a room quicker than starting to drop “parousia” on a Sunday morning. We need to let those deep studies inform what we preach, not be the preaching itself. If we haven’t understood things well enough to be able to explain a Greek participle in usable terms, than we probably haven’t understood it well enough to teach it.

The problem is I think is it’s good for the ego, so it continues. Everyone likes to think they know something that others don’t. There’s power in it. There’s no place for the ego in ministry though. The servant of all and least of these needs to be concerned with people and not prestige. Let’s work to keep our “sarkos” in seminary, and just worry about being Jesus in the flesh in the world.

Given that it’s May long weekend, we – like many people – had hoped to go for some outdoor fun in the sun at the beach. However, in keeping with our Narnia like eternal winter here, sun and warmth were replaced with rain and cold. Fun though can still be had. Especially if you’re a little kid and rain and puddles and mess and the simple joys of throwing stones and then hopping like you’re riding an imaginary unicorn down the rainbow of happiness is your thing. From what I was told, this is “hopscotch”. It reminds me far more of a scene from Monty Pythons Quest for the Holy Grail.
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Lesson learned at the end of the day: Life is pretty much always what you make of it. This weekend we made rainonade.

The Special

Posted: May 20, 2013 in church, life
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Tonight I got to go to the birthday party of a ninety year old woman who is a part of my church family, who is the grandma of my close friend and who I consider a friend myself. I could try to wax eloquently here or say something profound, but reality is it was just kind of special to be included in the family and to have a chance to wish her a happy birthday. Birthday parties for ninety year old friends don’t come often.
The day in some other respects was a nuanced exercise in futility.
That birthday party though, that was something special.

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Long days happen. When they do, small moments of laughter can be the only thing saving you from a date for a swim with a large millstone. Today was heinous for a person who likes structure: me. Plans were made, cancelled, and changed. Issues long since thought deader than the batteries in that junk drawer you have – admit it – were resurrected to a new life no one really thinks will bring anyone’s salvation. Pants were pooped and replaced, and not for my infant son. Little moments of laughter… right… so on to the story:

Groceries were badly needed. I’ve been out of bananas for two days, denying me my customary two pieces of peanut butter and banana toast for breakfast. And I guess other people needed stuff too. So, we went to Sobeys and the boys quickly rushed to the sample tray in the cake section. They each got a 2oz. cup of white cake. When asked what it tasted like Devin said something like “good”. Good old, reliable, simple, Devin. Payton however said it tasted like mousse.

At that point I was kind of thrilled. We watch food network. I get giddy about Chopped. I kind of like to pretend in my imaginary world that Markus Samuelson is my roommate, Geoffrey Zakarian is my cool older friend and Scott Conant is my cousin with the sports car. Oh the adventures we have. All this said, Payton was eating a cake layered with Strawberry mousse and called it mousse cake without a hint or the ability to read the sign. I’m thinking, “Hey this kid’s got a future!” While Devin happily licked his cup clean and threw it away, I pushed my budding aficionado further: “What kind of mousse cake Payton?” I couldn’t wait to hear this young Morimoto’s answer!

Payton: “Blood.”

Me: “Blood?”

… yup, blood.

Payton: “It tastes the blood from a moose.”

Little moments of comedy friends. Little moments.

apocalypseAs I’ve been preaching through Mark over the last while there are a few things that have become painfully obvious:

1. When Jesus made a point of something, it was important.
2. If Jesus didn’t make a big deal over something it probably wasn’t worth getting too worked up over, or was so inherently integral to Judeo values that it didn’t need mentioning.

Now fast forward to Mark 13 where I’m currently working from. It contains some of Jesus more cryptic and seemingly apocalyptic sayings from his time here on earth. Interestingly, not a single commentary I’ve read fully agreed on what Jesus meant or what we should do with it. There were a few themes that stuck out that I think we can really take to heart:

1. themes of temple destruction and he as its replacement
2. suffering as a part of being one of his followers
3. resurrection, restoration, and reconciliaiton

And that’s about it. He gave some warnings about events soon to come that they could prepare for, but the long term advice was just to wait and watch. No signs, no tips, just wait and watch.

So, if he didn’t think it mattered and didn’t even know himself when he’d return, why are we wasting our time on trying to figure it out? Whether it’s the bible code, deciphering metaphors Jack VanImpe style, calling despots the anti-christ, reading “Left Behind” novels, or any of these scenarios. Not knowing when the world is ending isn’t like it’s the end of the world or something is it?

I often say it doesn’t matter your theories so long as we serve, but why have theories at all when even Jesus didn’t know or care? Do we sometimes become so preoccupied with the end of the world that we are in fact a part of it’s demise because of our inaction as part of God’s kingdom work to save it?

I’m just working on a sermon here from Mark 8:27-33 – that famous passage where Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is – and I was struck by the insights of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  Now they may not strike you as the most insightful of western theologians, but there are some stunning similarities between the life of Jesus and the life of the character in their song, “Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be Cowboys.”

Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings,
Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night.
Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do,
Sometimes won’t know how to take him.
He ain’t wrong, he’s just different but his pride won’t let him,
Do things to make you think he’s right.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect fit, but just let that sink in for a minute.  Jesus loved spending time with the base people of society (pool rooms and girls of the night).  Jesus often retreated to early morning mountain tops, and embraced the children (clear mountain mornings, puppies, and children).  The part that caught me the most from this song and this passage was the middle two lines: it seemed no one knew quite what to do with him, and even his closest friends were often shocked and mystified by what he did. Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do, Sometimes won’t know how to take him.

In this passage from Mark Jesus asked his closest friends who they thought he was and they were far from sure.  They offered the opinions of others and stared at their feet for a while before Peter piped up and called him the Christ.  Even then only a couple verses later it becomes obvious that Peter didn’t really even know what he meant by calling him the Christ.  The Sanhedrin didn’t know him for who he was and didn’t like him, and even the people who seemed to know him didn’t really get it.

Now obviously, I don’t think it was Jesus pride that kept him from trying to win people over.  It was more his holiness and focus on his mission that kept him from begging people to love him, but even there there are deep similarities.  As with any metaphor explaining Jesus, it ultimately breaks down at some point as nothing can fully explain God.  The cowboy in this song is kind of a sympathetic character.  Jesus often doesn’t get the credit he deserves for having lived such a difficult life.  He was constantly misunderstood, derided, and wrongly accused in public and even his closest friends didn’t really get him until he came back from the dead.  That was a hard, lonely, life I’m sure and today I’m thankful he didn’t just ride away.